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Ward Memorial Congregational Church
A little church in Lesterville was established temporarily in 1888 as an independent church by Rev. Joseph Lee
who gathered together a tiny congregation to form the church. Church records list six active members at the
end of 1888. This little church closed in 1889 due to lack of interest. Further attempts to revive interest in a
Lesterville church were met with little interest among the local residents.
In December of 1890, Mrs. Sarah Frances Ward came to the community as a Home Missionary. Mrs. Ward
was the widowed wife of Rev. Joseph Ward, founder of Yankton College. Wishing to continue the work of her
late husband, Mrs. Ward became interested in the lack of religious organization in Lesterville. She visited
each home and spent the majority of her time helping the residents of the town while working to create interest
in a new church plant. She preached her first sermon on Dec. 14, 1890, in a closed saloon and dance hall.
Worshippers sat on planks laid on boxes; the place was unheated; and the bar was the room's predominate
The power of Mrs. Ward's faith would not be diminished by such trifles, according to one early member who
wrote, "She came to us with the same spirit and faith that filled her heart when, with her husband, she left her
home in New England to brave all dangers and pave the way of Christ in the new west." Mrs. Ward tended the
church lovingly for a number of years and brought it into the fold of English Congregationalism.
Frequently during church services, men would come in for liquor, and be taken aback at seeing religious
ceremonies. Throughout all the meetings, laughter, the popping of corks, and the rattling of glasses was
heard. The congregation decided that a new place of worship should be found. The waiting room of the train
depot, which would hold about 50 people, was next used for a gathering place for the Lesterville
Congregationalists. Because few trains went through the town, the group was undisturbed.
Sarah Ward's youngest daughter, Margaret, later wrote of her memories during the time her mother served as
pastor of the Lesterville congregation. "My memories of these years was the joy I had in going with my mother
every Saturday by train to Lesterville, about 30 miles from Yankton. We had a room upstairs in the depot,
provided by my mother's fine and staunch friends, the station master, Mr. Plumb and his wife. Each weekend
was a thrill for me, the train ride up, the sleeping room so near the trains that went by at the night, and the
riding back on Monday or Tuesday morning in the caboose at the end of the long freight train... It was many
years later before I came to realize how hard this work was for her - the preparation of the weekly sermon, the
harder task of delivering it, and the leaving of the other children alone those 2 or 3 days."
Early in 1891, the congregation in Lesterville was meeting in the railroad station, but plans were being made
for building a church. The congregation constructed a church building which was dedicated on October 24,
1891. Years later, after Mrs. Ward's Death, the church was named Ward Memorial Congregational Church in
The close association the church enjoyed with Yankton College because of Mrs. Ward continued over the
years. Its pastors were almost exclusively theological students coming from Yankton College. On April 10,
On September 8, 1963 the Ward Memorial Church celebrated its 75th anniversary. Rev. Donald Ward,
grandson of Sarah and Joseph Ward served as the guest preacher for the event. Rev. George LaVoo was
the pastor at the time. He served as pastor of a yoked parish consisting of both Ward Memorial Church and
In the late 1960's Ward Memorial became part of a Tri-Parish that included the Lesterville congregation and
Congregational churches located in Wakonda and Mission Hill.
Ward Memorial Congregational Church closed its doors in 1983, and most of its members took membership in
the United Church of Christ in Scotland. They were received and welcomed into the full life and ministry of this
The property in Lesterville that once belonged to Ward Memorial Congregational Church has been converted
into a community park. A 24-foot by 40-foot shelter house now stands where the old church building once
stood. The church's bell is still on the property and remains a reminder of the faith that rang out from this
congregation into the surrounding community for nearly 100 years.
Here is a listing of all of the pastors who served the Ward Memorial Congregational Church.
Special thanks goes out to Yankton College for providing us with a photo of Mrs. Sarah Ward and other historical information from her time
serving as pastor of the church here in Lesterville.