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The Church History is a fascinating story that begins with two small churches, shortly after the Land Run of 1889. Its namesake, Robert Boger McFarlin, died of typhoid fever after only nineteen months of life, leaving grieving parents to the care of a sympathetic and Christian congregation.
The Robert M. and Ida McFarlin Story
In 1890 Robert M. McFarlin and his wife, Ida Barnard McFarlin, moved from Texas to engage in cattle farming and also opened a feed store.
The McFarlin's only son, Robert Boger, was born here December 18, 1891. Tragically, young Robert died of typhoid fever nineteen months and 10 days later on July 28, 1893. He was buried in the IOOF Cemetery where a sundial and benches now mark his grave and those of his father and mother.
During that sad time, the McFarlins were the beneficiaries of much sympathetic care and Christian concern by the local M.E. South congregation. This kindness was never forgotten, even though in 1895 Mr. McFarlin moved his cattle to better grassland near Holdenville. In 1906 he joined the Methodist Church in Holdenville and remained a devout Methodist leader wherever he lived. (Oklahoma became a state in 1907.)
In 1903 the McFarlins mortgaged their house in Holdenville for $800 to buy 40 acres of land near Kiefer, Oklahoma, near what became the fabulous Glenn Pool field where oil was discovered in 1905. In 1906 Mr. McFarlin and his nephew, James A. Chapman, decided to drill on his land, and they found oil in great quantities there. This made the McFarlins very wealthy. James Chapman married Leta McFarlin, the McFarlin's older daughter, in 1908. In 1912 he and Mr. McFarlin formed the McMan Oil Company that went on to even more financially successful endeavors, including a share in the development of the Cushing and Healdton oil fields. In 1916 the McMan Company was sold to Magnolia Oil Company for $38,700,000 including 20,000 shares of Magnolia stock, making Mr. McFarlin and his partners the largest shareholders in that company. Thus, the stage was set for the dramatic denouement that brought into being McFarlin Church.
In December, 1915, Mr. and Mrs. McFarlin and their younger daughter, Pauline, followed the Chapmans to Tulsa where they became civic leaders and philanthropists. Pauline McFarlin married Frederick P. Walter in Boston Avenue Methodist Church, the McFarlin's home church. Boston Avenue and other churches and institutions received much financial support from the McFarlins, the Chapmans, and the Walters through foundations they established.
Mr. and Mrs. McFarlin moved to San Antonio in 1922 where the climate was more beneficial for Mr. McFarlin's health, and that is where they lived at the time of the construction of McFarlin Church, but returned to Tulsa in 1931. Ida McFarlin died Nov. 18, 1938, and Robert M. McFarlin died Aug. 11, 1942. Both of their funerals were held at the McFarlin Memorial Methodist Church that was said to have meant more to them than any of their many other philanthropic donations. The memorial recalled their early days in Norman and the baby boy who was born and died here.
How McFarlin Church Came to Be
When the WW I veterans began returning to the University of Oklahoma, two facts were obvious to members of the M.E. South congregation. Their church on "Silk Stocking Row" in the north part of Norman, was "off the beaten path." And the little church where they had worshiped for more than 20 years was outgrown and obsolete.
Under Pastors E.R. Welch and C.S. Walker, the congregation began to plan for a new building, with the corner of S. Webster Ave. and W. Eufaula St. as the proposed site. By 1919 that plan called for $75,000 to be raised.
In 1914 Gilbert Smith, a Sociology professor and ordained Methodist Minister, arrived at OU and began teaching a student Sunday School class, the Sooner Bible Class. Even before the end of WW I, he recognized the challenge to the church created by large numbers of Methodist and unchurched students coming to the University.
With about 100 members, the class raised $5,000, and in 1916 three 25 foot lots on the northeast corner of S. University Blvd. and Apache St. were purchased. The class began to meet on Sunday mornings in a building located on one of the lots, within sight of the University of Oklahoma. Later they erected "The Sooner Shack" on the lots, and began a statewide fund raising campaign. The plan for the $75,000 building on Webster St. was abandoned, and hope for a new $200,000 church materialized.
Professor Smith was Chair of the fund raising campaign that initially went slowly. As he discussed the financial needs for the new church with members of the class, he stated the obvious - someone was needed who would contribute a large amount of money for the new church project. As he reported it, "One of the girls, Eugenia Messenger, spoke up and said, 'Brother Smith, I know who could build this church.' I said, 'Who?' She said 'Mr. Bob McFarlin.' I said 'Would he be interested?' 'I think he would,' she said, 'He had only one son, and his son was buried here in Norman.'"
Rev. C.S. Walker, knew Mr. McFarlin, so the Sooner Bible Class paid his expenses to go to Baltimore, Maryland, where Mr. McFarlin was seriously ill in a hospital. The wealthy oil man made the astonishing proposal that if he survived his illness and if there was a fortunate outcome to a lawsuit with another oil company, he would build a new church in Norman himself in memory of his infant son!
Because of the uncertainty of Mr. McFarlin's proposal, a statewide building campaign continued for two more years. However, Mr. McFarlin called to make good on his promise, with two stipulations - first, that he would pay all the bills, and second, it was to be so well built that "if a tornado blew it over, it would still hold together."
In 1922 Dr. L.S. Barton, McFarlin's Pastor at Boston Avenue Church in Tulsa, was transferred to Norman to supervise the construction of the building that was to become the most impressive religious edifice to be erected in the entire Southwest during that time. A new architect, H.L. Hunt, was chosen to work with Mr. McFarlin on his dream of a much larger and more elaborate church than had been envisioned originally even by Professor Smith.
Contributions of $200,000 already received were used to purchase five more lots making a total of 200 feet for the new church. Professor Smith said that many people thought that he was "crazy" for buying so much land, but he later said, "I think I was crazy for not getting twice that much."
A $25,000 parsonage, "one of the finest in the United States," was built at the NW corner of Symmes St. and S. University Blvd. with the local contributions. It served as the home for McFarlin pastors and their families for more than 30 years. This cornerstone from McFarlin's predecessor church rests just outside the sanctuary's east entrance, a reminder of its rich history.
This historical account of McFarlin Memorial United Methodist Church was excerpted from "A Priceless Heritage" by Mary Joyce Rodgers. If you are interested in a more complete history of this venerable church, contact the church office for a copy of the book.