An indomitable spirit: Historic Handy Chapel celebrates gift of renovation

“We were always there to help the needy, so the Spirit helped us,” said Josephine Dickey, whose great-grandfather helped build Handy Chapel. Dickey is shown with grandson John Dickey on Sunday after a service that dedicated long-sought improvements to the chapel, which was built in 1892 and is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Just as members of Grand Junction’s historic Handy Chapel helped blacks and the less fortunate, the local sanctuary received help in return.

That’s how Josephine Dickey, whose great-grandfather helped build the small church at the corner of White Avenue and Second Street, sees it.

Dickey said when church members wanted to make needed renovations to the chapel built in 1892, they first thought they might need matching funds of about $15,000 to qualify for grants. That amount was more like $50,000, but with the community’s help, the funds came together.

“We were always there to help the needy, so the Spirit helped us,” Dickey said.

Handy Chapel served as a refuge for blacks and those passing through town who were down on their luck as hotels weren’t available to them.

Church-goers attended service during Sunday’s dedication inside the freshly painted white church with burgundy trim thanks to state and federal grants of more than $200,000. Inside, new carpet has been installed and gleaming new bathrooms are off to one side. The structure received heating and cooling improvements and remodeled meeting space in the former parsonage. A wheelchair lift has been installed outside to get folks inside.

Aaron Wirth, who attended the dedication, said he’s impressed with the improvements. Securing grants, raising money and having the renovations completed took years. The church has been open for services for the past few weeks, but having a cool breeze of an air conditioner carried by ceiling fans was worth the wait Sunday.

“It doesn’t look like it’s going to fall down,” said Wirth, who is Dickey’s grandson. “I’m glad for her. She puts everything she can into this church.”

John Paul Dickey, also a grandson of Josephine Dickey, offered the service.

He shared a story of witnessing a near fatal crash recently when a boy on a bicycle abruptly burst onto a busy roadway. A speeding motorist somehow was able to stop in time, but the boy continued along, never knowing he was nearly struck by the car.

“Today we just kind of gingerly walked in here but we’re not aware of the dangers around us,” he said.

“We’re here today for a very specific reason,” he added, saying people who come to Handy Chapel are seeking God’s love.

Josephine Dickey said, just as it’s always been, the church is open to all people, “you, drunks, the homeless,” she said. “We were once like that and someone helped us.”

Conrad Pyle, who offered a closing prayer, said he didn’t want people to forget the symbolism of love that Handy Chapel embodies. With only 10 pews and adorned with one large wooden cross at its front, the chapel is sparse in decorations. But it’s rich in history of helping African Americans and others who sought relief from life’s hardships.

The building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The symbolism for the building in the community perhaps is not as well known as it is observed,” Pyle said.


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