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Chapel keeps alive a WWII soldier's vow
Family has perpetuated patriarch's promise by taking care of landmark.By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News - email@example.com
SELKIRK - Deep in a foxhole with artillery firing around him during World War II, Willis Reimer made a pact with God.
If he made it home to the little town of Selkirk alive, he'd build a church, he silently prayed.
Nearly 70 years later, not much remains of this Wichita County town where Reimer grew up, except for a few houses, an elevator and a depot, along with what some claim to be the last hand-dug railroad well in existence.
But venture just a short way north off Kansas Highway 96, and passers-by will see that God answered Reimer's prayers and that the farmer didn't forget his vow.
For on the High Plains of western Kansas sits a small, redwood chapel with vaulted ceilings. Three antique pews from an old church in the county rest inside, along with a pulpit, a prayer altar and a guest book, as well as a blue-glass window outlined with praying hands.
It took 35 years, but on Christmas Eve in 1980, the family put a steeple on top of the structure the late Reimer named the Wayside Chapel - a chapel that is always open for those who want to traipse inside, said Reimer's niece, Beverly Whipple of Dighton.
"Some have accepted Jesus as their Savior here," Whipple said, adding that there have been a handful of weddings, and one of her children had her wedding reception around the chapel.
"He was a walking testament," Whipple said. "He came home from the war knowing God had saved him for a purpose."
Keeping a promise
Willis Reimer wasn't drafted into World War II.
His younger brother - Whipple's father, Keith - did receive a draft notice. But Keith, in his early 20s, had a young family. So the elder Reimer, in his mid-30s, offered to take his place, allowing his brother to stay home and run the farm.
"Instead of taking my young father, they took him," Whipple said of the military. "(Willis) went into the English Channel and fought on the front lines. He sacrificed a lot for my family."
He would send poems and letters back home to his mother. During his time in the war, he learned of the town's church being razed.
It saddened him, said his stepson, Karl.
But God was watching over him, Karl said. One night in the foxhole, Reimer heard someone tell him to get out.
A shell hit where he had been hiding.
When he came home after the war, he went back to the farm work, keeping his vow to himself.
A few years after Keith died, Willis Reimer married his late brother's wife, Janie, who was Karl's and Beverly Whipple's mother. He told her of his plan to build a church, and then helped her raise her five children on the farm west of Leoti.
Karl Reimer said his stepfather talked about building the chapel about 10 years before it happened, noting the project was something that stayed on his mind for all those years.
The year the chapel opened, more than a thousand visitors signed the guest book, Whipple said.
The weary traveler still comes to the chapel on occasion, which sits on the family farm where Karl Reimer lives and farms.
Caring for their father and grandfather's chapel remains important to the family.
With wheat harvest completed by July, Karl Reimer and his children decided to tackle repairing the roof of the 10-by-16-foot structure earlier this month.
Willis' grandchildren have especially taken ownership of the chapel, Whipple said. They spend time in it when they come home, as well as clean it and paint it, and when wheat harvest finished up in early July, some of the grandchildren helped reroof it.
A verse on the wall from the Book of Deuteronomy talks about loving God, Whipple said. And that was what her father did daily.
The chapel is a testament to a lot more than just a pact with God, Whipple said.
"It is a testament of his life."
IF YOU GO:The Wayside Chapel is a half-mile north and one mile west of Selkirk on County Road P. Also in the area is the Selkirk hand-dug well. The 1887 well is believed to be the last hand-dug railroad well in existence. An iron fence surrounds the 102-foot-deep, 24-foot-in-circumference well. Wire panels cover the well opening, but you can still look down and see the bottom.
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