The collapse of the economy in 2008 left a wide swath of destruction ranging from small businesses to homes and even churches.
Many churches across the nation had to scale back their giving or shut down operations altogether as members suffered pay cuts or job losses.
Christ Lutheran Church at 111 N. Torrey Pines Drive survived the downturn and, thanks to donations from the estates of two members of the congregation, the church is becoming debt-free.
Church members will gather at the church at 4:30 p.m. Sunday for an official “Burn the Mortgage” ceremony. A debt of $755,000 will officially be eliminated for the church, founded in 1963 and known for its big white cross visible from U.S Highway 95.
The estates came from Lenise Christopher and Arleen Quick, both longtime members. Neither seemed overly well-off, but both believed in the importance of helping their place of worship.
Both women were unpretentious and sincerely caring people, according to those who knew them.
Christopher was a teacher for 32 years at Western High School. She took her background in education to Christ Lutheran, where she taught Sunday school for many years.
Quick was an auditor with the Internal Revenue Service. She was active in the church’s quilting group while also donating thousands of quilts to the homeless in the Las Vegas Valley.
It’s not hard to find fellow church members who are thankful for the estates left behind by Christopher and Quick. At the forefront of the praise is the Rev. Bill Phillips, who has headed the church for the past several years.
“In the 50-year history of Christ Lutheran Church, we have been blessed by many members who have loved their Lord and loved their church,” said Phillips, who has served in the ministry for almost 30 years.
“Lenise Christopher and Arleen Quick are two of those saints in our 50-year history. We will remember their legacy as we burn the mortgage and move forward in ministry here in Las Vegas.”
Marie Milham was especially close to Quick although she knew both women.
“It just really shocks you when you find out these ladies had this kind of money and left it to the church,” said Milham, who moved with her husband, James, to Southern Nevada from Minnesota in 1975.
Milham said Quick was 90 years old when she died. The two grew up on farms, although Quick spent her time on one in Wyoming.
“We had really good times together right up until the end,” Milham said. “I took her to the doctors a lot and always checked on her. We’d always sit and visit.”
Milham said Quick was an avid UNLV men’s basketball fan and also loved to watch golf on television, adding, “We finally got her to get a big-screen TV.”
Considering that Quick had a sharp mind, it clearly extended to her handling of money.
“She was smart as a tack,” Milham said of her late friend. “I had no concept how much money she was worth.”
Laurie Moss, who graduated from Western High School in 1975, said Christopher started teaching at Western in 1961.
“She had a great influence on students who wanted to learn,” Moss recalled of Christopher, who taught American literature. “We got to know each other when she was my teacher. At church, she encouraged me to be on the scholarship committee for Western.”
Moss said her former instructor also fought polio and showed the same dedication battling the disease that she did helping students achieve their goals.
“In those days, she had those canes that wrapped around your arms,” Moss said. “Just moving around was a real challenge for her, but she never gave up and I really admired that. It wasn’t easy for her to get around. She really dealt with a very serious disability and she was very intelligent.
“She required the best of us and was always eager to get involved.”
Like everyone else, Moss was surprised at the wealth of both Quick and Christopher.
“I was stunned,” Moss said. “You would never have guessed.”
Doug Doerr, a 1975 graduate of Western High and one of Christopher’s students, said: “Never in my life have I learned as much from one teacher. She was my finest teacher ever, and that includes elementary, college and getting my master’s degree.”
“We are already embarking upon new outreach programs as a result of the gifts,” said Church Council President Alisa Koot.
Pastor Phillips concurred. Thanks to the gifts left behind by Christopher and Quick, his church can now look beyond the debt and instead concentrate even more on helping others.
“We have been blessed with the legacy gifts of Lenise Christopher and Arleen Quick,” Phillips said. “To use biblical language, we have been born again for the second 50 years in the life of this church.”
Further information regarding Christ Lutheran Church can be found at www.christlutheranlv.org.