NASELLE — On Dec. 27, with signatures completed and notarized, the Naselle Congregational Church building and property changed ownership becoming the Naselle Community Center.

This transfer of ownership was the culmination of months of deliberation by the church membership and, more recently, by the members of the Finnish-American Folk Festival Committee (FinnFest Committee).

With no pastor and membership numbers dwindling down to half a dozen or so, maintenance of the church had become an untenable burden on the few remaining parishioners. Ultimately, those members came to a bittersweet decision.

“We had a two-fold purpose in mind,” said Audrey Ullakko. “We wanted to donate the church to a local not-for-profit organization and for it to be used in a way that provided a continuing benefit to the community.”

The FinnFest Committee was approached with the idea. At first, the concept was met with mixed emotions and there were many questions to be addressed. Is this going to be a drain on the already limited funds for the festival? Will the property continue to be tax exempt? Will a costly interior sprinkler system be required? What about the cost of insurance?

To address these questions, a subcommittee was created and communications ensued with the Department of Revenue, Pacific County and Strand Insurance agency. At the same time, discussions continued with the church membership. Church members did a record search and developed totals of annual operation and maintenance (O&M) costs for the previous five years. Having recently sold the neighboring parsonage, the members decided to use some of the funds to donate an amount calculated to cover routine O&M costs for three years. This would ensure the church would not start off as a financial burden and give the FinnFest Committee breathing room to develop uses for the building to become a means of raising funds.

Following the report of the subcommittee, the FinnFest Committee unanimously approved acceptance of the donation package offered by the church members. A subsequent vote by committee members on a list of suggested names for the church building resulted the selection of “Naselle Community Center.”

“I can’t say enough about the thoughtfulness of the church members,” said FinnFest Committee Chairman Mike Swanson. “I know tears were shed over the decision to give up the church. This church has been a fixture in our community since the 1930s. It speaks volumes that they want the building to continue to benefit the community and we will do our best to try to make that happen.”

Under the guidance of Debbie Aust, notary and public relations representative for Pacific County Title, church members Connie Mercer, Annette Boslar and Steve Ullakko gathered in the office of Swanson Realty on Thursday to sign the documents officially gifting the church property to the FinnFest Committee. Swanson and his wife Barbara were on hand as directors of the FinnFest Committee to accept the donation.

The subcommittee is now charged with developing uses for the newly named Naselle Community Center that can make the center both self-sufficient and raise funds to support the biennial Finnish-American Folk Festival. A public kickoff with a concert and open house tour is currently in the planning stages for mid-February.

The public is also invited to attend a closing service and celebration of the ownership transfer hosted by the church membership in the chapel of the Naselle Community Center at 2 p.m. on Jan. 13. The center is at 14 Parpala Road just west of the Timberland Library.

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