Blackstone Presbyterian Church

My grandmother Dorothy “Dot” Longenecker Hopper was born March 26, 1920 in the Belgian Congo to PCUS missionaries Jay Hershey and Minnie Hauhart Longenecker.

She earned her B.A. in English at Queens College and received her Master’s in Christian Education at the Presbyterian School for Christian Education in Richmond (formerly The Assembly’s Training School) with a thesis entitled “The Advantages and Disadvantages of the Second Generation Foreign Missionaries of the Presbyterian Church U.S.”

After graduation in 1943, she moved to Blackstone, Virginia (40 miles southwest of Richmond) to serve as Director of Christian Education at Blackstone Presbyterian Church, pastored by Rev. Thomas Fry. While church could not afford to pay her a salary, she was paid by the PCUS Defense Counsel due to its proximity to Fort Pickett where Army solders were trained for World War II; the church, according to my grandfather, “was doing all it could to minister to servicemen, and Dot was assisting in that program.”

Dot served at Blackstone church until March of 1945 when she returned to Richmond to prepare to return to Belgian Congo as a missionary. According to my grandfather, she was much loved by the Blackstone church and left “in a blaze of glory, and the church had given her a generous gift of money which she had used to buy luggage for her Congo venture.”

In Richmond, her friendship with my grandfather (soon to graduate from Union Theological Seminary) quickly turned to romance. Before the end of the semester, they were engaged to marry, and Dot decided to break her commitment to return to Congo with the PCUS Committee on Foreign Missions.

Soon after,

[Rev. Tom Fry] invited us to return to Blackstone for a Sunday morning service, at which he announced our engagement from the pulpit with a suitable explanation. The congregation (particularly all the old ladies) were highly pleased and immediately insisted that we be married in their church.

They were married at Blackstone on July 19, 1943. My grandfather recounts the wedding day:

Members of the Blackstone Church opened their homes to take in all the guests, besides making all the preparations for the wedding which normally would have been our responsibility. Decorating the church, putting on the rehearsal dinner and wedding reception, and all the other correct things were beautifully taken care of by the ladies in the church, and about all we had to do was to be present.

Tom Fry performed the ceremony on that warm summer evening. Because of Dot’s work in the church for two years, there were many of her local friends present as well as members of our immediate families. But because of the difficulties of travel in those wartime days there were no relatives or friends from other places, with the exception of several carloads of young people from the Tabb Street Church of Petersburg, about thirty miles away. They were the ones I had worked and played with while serving in their church a year or so before. Dot’s sister Alice was maid of honor, and Graham McChesney (a seminary classmate) was the best man. I am sure Tom performed his part properly, but about the only thing I now remember took place as we, the bride and groom, went out of the church by a side door. It was one of those swinging doors, and somehow hit me squarely in the face and nearly knocked me down.

My own preparations for the occasion had of necessity been meager. I had driven to Blackstone, and due to the wartime rationing system, had carefully saved up enough gas coupons to cover the trip. I had calculated the route and estimated mileage and gas consumption for the honeymoon but (as I realized later) had cut my budget a little too close (actually another matter of necessity). Aside from having paid in advance for a hotel room in nearby Farmville, I had fifty dollars cash in my wallet.

Suspecting the usual harassment of bridal couples, during the day of the wedding I parked the car in what I thought was a sufficiently hidden vacant lot somewhere in town and arranged for someone else to take us to it after the wedding reception. This was an underestimate of the abilities of the Tabb Street young people who somehow located it and when we reached our car it was appropriately covered with toothpaste and lipstick remarks designed to advertise to the world that Joe and Dot were now bride and groom!

The following appeared in a Richmond, VA newspaper and is recorded in my grandfather’s memoir:

The wedding of Miss Dorothy Longenecker and Mr. Joseph Barron Hopper took place Thursday, July 19 at 7:30 o’clock in the Presbyterian Church, Blackstone. The ceremony was performed by the bridegroom’s father, assisted by the Rev. Thomas A. Fry, pastor of the church.

The bride’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. J. Hershey Longenecker, who were formerly of Mt. Joy, Pa., and St. Louis, Mo., respectively, are Presbyterian missionaries to the Belgian Congo, temporarily residing at Mission Court, this city. The Rev. Dr. and Mrs. Joseph Hopper, parents of the bridegroom, served as missionaries to Korea. Dr. Hopper is now pastor of the Royal Oak Presbyterian Church, Marion.

The bride, who was given in marriage by her father, wore a gown of white satin fashioned with a white marquisette yoke, fitted bodice and long tight sleeves. The full skirt ended in a wide circular train. Her fingertip veil of illusion fell from a Juliet cap of matching satin. She carried a shower bouquet of white gladioli and swainsona.

Miss Alice Longenecker, sister of the bride, was the maid of honor. She wore a dress of dusty blue marquisette, made with an eyelet embroidered bodice and elbow sleeves. She carried a bouquet of mixed flowers and wore a matching coronet in her hair.

Little Miss Gloria Jane Pritchett, of Blackstone, served as flower girl. She wore an old-fashioned dress of pale pink and carried a nosegay of summer flowers.

The bridegroom had as his best man, Mr. Graham McChesney of Asheville, North Carolina and Suffolk. The ushers were Apprentice Seaman George Hopper, of the University of Virginia, and Mr. James Longenecker.

After the ceremony, a reception was given by the ladies of the church. Following a short trip, Mr. and Mrs. Hopper will make their home at Callaway, where he is pastor of the Presbyterian Church.

A friend and I recently stopped by Blackstone Presbyterian Church (which continues as a congregation of the PCUSA) and happened to find a friend ruling elder in the office. He allowed me the take the pictures below of the sanctuary where Joe and Dot were married as well as the church roll showing Dot’s reception as a member in 1943.

Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone exterior
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Blackstone sanctuary
Roll of the church showing Dorothy Longenecker's reception as a member by reaffirmation of faith in June 1943