In the mid-sixties when Gloria was married with children, she and her family moved out to Waterford, Wisconsin. She joined St. James Episcopal Church where she led the adult and youth choirs, and had a very happy life in a ranch home overlooking a river. During that time, she remembers meeting a very young Barbara Lawton (former Lieutenant Governor), who became her children’s first babysitter.
Unfortunately, the world at large impinged on her happiness in Waterford. The assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stirred up the social consciousness of many, and Gloria joined with others in the Waterford/Burlington area in a variety of Human Relations groups. Although hers was the only African-American face at most of these meetings, everyone shared her passion for righting what was wrong.
During this time, Gloria and her husband were invited to the home of Helen Smith, Barbara Lawton’s mother, for a dinner. The other invitees were the newly called Pastor Joe Ellwanger, new to Cross, and his wife Joyce. As a past member of Cross, Gloria found much to talk about with Pastor Joe and Joyce, and they began to forge a friendship. Pastor Joe asked about Gloria’s various work in the Human Relations area and beyond, and also soon discovered Gloria’s passion for children and music – two passions he shared. He commented that Cross didn’t currently have a youth choir, but, given that she lived in Waterford, Gloria let the subject drop.
However, the circumstances of their lives continued to push Gloria and her husband. They made the difficult decision to move their family back to Milwaukee in 1969. It wasn’t long before Gloria approached Pastor Joe, saying “What would you say if I offer to start a Youth Choir at Cross?” And just to clarify, she asked, “Well, I need to ask you if we would have the freedom to sing a variety of music.” Cross’s music director and organist at that time was oriented toward the traditional liturgical music of the Missouri Synod, the kind found in the old Green Hymnal, and played classical organ preludes before the Sunday service. Gloria wanted to expose the children to a variety of music, and excite them with its many possibilities. The Youth Choir was born.
Gloria led the Youth Choir from 1969-1976. During those years, she worked with the children of the church; she also connected with the church’s outreach program and invited neighborhood children whose families did not attend to Cross to join the choir. Children in the area heard about the choir and came to see what it was all about. At one time, Gloria had nearly 50 young people singing, some whose families did not attend church, and others whose families attended other churches.
Gloria’s professional work gave her regular interaction with parents, but she discovered that it was the children she truly loved to work with. She soon became the Youth Coordinator at Cross (1970-1975), overseeing and coordinating the church’s various youth programs. She also hosted regular events for the children, including game nights, bible studies, and more. To this day, she is periodically surprised by adults she encounters who pull up beside her and wave, once children whose lives she touched. One of her favorite such stories was a paramedic, called to help a friend, who, when he had finished with the patient, turned to her and gushed over how happy he was to see her again after all these years. Although Gloria admits that she didn’t actually remember the boy he had been, when she tells the story, it is clear that her heart was warmed by the encounter. “You grow the young people,” Gloria says, “to be able to take on leadership in the church and beyond.” There are many names that come instantly to mind for Gloria: Marilyn Miller, Theresa Thomas, Rose Dotson, and a long list of others – generations of them, each bringing up the next.
When Venice Williams came to Cross to work on its youth programs, Gloria worked with her as she led the Vacation Bible School and other programs. It was around 1991 when Venice developed the Choices program for young ladies, along with help from Gloria and a chaplain from Marquette. The group took shape, and soon became a model that was implemented at other area churches – many of them of other denominations – a couple area schools, and even two churches in Africa. In 1999, the Challenges program was added to address the similar but unique needs of young men.
But Gloria’s participation didn’t stop there. She brought the idea of an Adult Center to Pastor Joe, to provide a social outlet for seniors, and Pastor Joe was completely on board. Gloria says, “You don’t actually ask Pastor Joe for permission to do something. You come to him with your dream, and he and everyone work on it.”
Along the way, Gloria had the pleasure of being interviewed by a woman writing a book about churches and the people who become driving forces in them. She remembers being given a copy of the book by Carolyn Jackson, only to realize they needed to find a parting gift for a young Intern whose term was about to end. Gloria offered that book, which was gratefully received. She laughs when she adds that she herself has never had a chance to read the book, and has no idea what stories finally made it into print.