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Sterling Heights, Utica

July 31, 2013

Memorial ‘squeezes your heart’ at historic church

By Sarah Wojcik
C & G Staff Writer

» click to enlarge «
Vietnam veteran David Burin, of Shelby Township, sits in the audience during the dedication ceremony for the Utica United Methodist Church’s veterans’ memorial on Sunday, July 28, 2013.

STERLING HEIGHTS — More than 100 people turned out for the Utica United Methodist Church’s veteran’s memorial garden dedication ceremony on Sunday, July 28.

The garden features a 4-foot statue of a Marine facing the church’s American flag, as well as 500 paver bricks — 81 of them engraved with names of church veterans representing all five branches of the U.S. military.

Robert Renner, 82, of Shelby Township, has two bricks for his service in World War II and the Vietnam War.

“They couldn’t squeeze it all on one brick,” he said. “[The memorial] is very impressive.”

Utica United Methodist Men Secretary Al Manning had the idea for the memorial in March and asked Robert Clark, president of Utica United Methodist Men, to help him make it a reality. Both men served in the military.

“I had seen other ones in the area and the thought just came to me,” Manning said. “I wanted to do it more for other people than so much for myself so that people can see it and their bricks and reminisce.”

He said a few veterans in the church’s congregation have passed away and he wanted a way to remember them and honor the living veterans.

Clark said the $5,000 memorial was paid for through fundraisers, such as a garage sale, but members of the 470-person congregation provided the bulk of the money through donations.

Church members first had a chance to see it the previous Sunday.

“I saw one lady had tears in her eyes,” Clark said. “To actually see it really squeezes your heart.”’

Boy Scout Troop 80 served as the color guard at the ceremony.

Clark and Manning read the names of the 79 veterans — both alive and deceased — represented in the memorial, accompanied by the somber tolls of a bell from the bell choir.

Joshua Sparling, a disabled 82nd Airborne Division veteran, spoke at the dedication, commending the church on its remembrance of veterans year-round and not just on Memorial Day.

U.S. Rep. Candice Miller sent Sparling after the church appealed to her for a guest speaker. Sparling said he met Miller while recovering from the amputation of his right leg in Washington, D.C.

Members of the church plan to have another ceremony on Memorial Day next year, when more bricks are engraved.

The Utica United Methodist Church is also celebrating its 190th birthday throughout the month of August with something special at each Sunday service, such as a trivia question or a skit.

“We don’t know the exact date, but we know it was founded in (1823) by five people and the first minister’s name was Elias Pattee,” Clark said.

He said founders built the church in Utica, and then moved the building to Cass Avenue in two pieces, and it still stands. The current Sterling Heights building came to house the church in the early 1960s.

The Sterling Heights location, however, still has an original church bell, donated in 1862 under the stipulation that it only be rung during happy occasions.

“And it still is,” Clark said.

The Utica United Church is located at 8650 Canal Road.

You can reach C & G Staff Writer Sarah Wojcik at swojcik@candgnews.com or at (586)498-1029.