By Dan Hust
WHITE LAKE October 10, 2003 David Coon arrived in White Lake in 1978 wondering if he really wanted to stick around.
Twenty-five years later, hes still here, and in the intervening years, he found a wife, raised three kids and led a reorganization effort that transformed the ailing White Lake Reformed Presbyterian Church into a vibrant, active congregation.
Indeed, the churchs Route 17B roadside sign displaying a different Christian witticism every week is one of White Lakes best-known landmarks.
Coon, the churchs pastor, is the one behind that sign which last week was displaying a congratulatory message for his 25 years in the local ministry.
For many reasons, Reverend Coon is glad he never left.
I felt the Lord was leading me here, and time has confirmed that, said Coon.
A native of Chicago, he earned a bachelors in biology from Geneva College in Pennsylvania and taught the same at a Christian school near Philadelphia for three years.
A call to the ministry prompted him to enroll in Westminster Seminary again, near Philadelphia and upon his graduation in 1978, he served an internship at a church in Coldenham, not far from Newburgh.
Later that year, while searching for a church in which to fully employ his skills and calling, Coon discovered White Lake and its 170-year-old Presbyterian church overlooking the lake itself. He was hired on a two-year trial basis.
There was not much hope for this place, he recalled. It was deader than a doornail.
With an aging, small congregation, Coon was uncertain about its and his future.
But he and the church ended up surviving far beyond those first two years, and since that time, theres been a lot of change, said Coon.
For one, the churchs membership has mushroomed from 25 regular attendees to more than 125 members, some from as far away as Newburgh, Middletown, Mountaindale and Callicoon.
For another, Coon has become an integral part of the community, from being there for all as a local pastor (including Daytop residents in Swan Lake) to teaching second- and third-graders for the past 13 years at the Duggan Elementary School down the road.
And the Mongaup Valley resident found his wife, Cathy, through the church. Together, they have raised three now-adult children Rachel, Chad and Alyson (who has a daughter, Janessa) and ministered jointly to a congregation they call their continually growing family.
Similar to Rev. Coons immediate family, its a blended family of divorced or remarried couples, adopted and step-children, and developmentally disabled or physically handicapped people. The diversity is high, with all ages, backgrounds and ethnicities attending the nearly 200-year-old church.
We find it a privilege to have these people as part of our church family, said Cathy Coon, whos been married to Pastor Dave for 18 years.
Our own blended families, said Rev. Coon, allowed us to enhance and enlarge the ministry of the church.
And the people of the church his family love him for it.
We come from far away because he preaches the word of God, said Diane Holland, one of numerous people to speak about the Coons at a 25th anniversary party for them at the church on Sunday.
Some spoke affectionately of Rev. Coons erratic driving habits (not helped by parishioners who aimed to make him laugh on long trips), while others poignantly talked about his and Cathys positive influence in their lives.
Longtime members like Mabel Brucher thanked him just for staying.
It must have been difficult, she remarked matter-of-factly. Yet he persevered. . . . If you needed him in the middle of the night, hed get up and come.
I thank you for all the time youve helped me in all my troubles, she concluded then smiled. Just stay here until I die!
From the laughter to the tears to the hanging, heart-shaped messages of love to the Scripture verses to the touching poetry of one young member named Marina Lombardi, it was evident the Coons have become permanently tied to this little part of the world.
Indeed, even their daughter Rachel, who is thousands of miles away in Georgia, made it a point to write a letter of love to her parents.
In between memories of Rev. Coons wild and crazy games and playing as a toddler with the briefcase he still carries around, Rachel wrote that her parents are two of the most upright and giving people Ive ever known. . . . I hope my lifelong legacy follows in your footsteps.
After the many thanks and messages of love, the congregation presented the Coons with a tree that will be planted on church property as a tribute to their efforts to be joined later by a plaque.
And thats when Rev. Coon finally responded, with tears in his eyes.
I dont want a plaque, he said. Were not finished here.
Youve been very supportive and forgiving, and my wife and I count it a privilege to be able to minister here with you, he continued. We truly feel the best is yet to come.
And that may very well be the case. Currently, the congregation is working toward completion of Faith Hall, a meeting hall equal to the size of the church next door.
And Coon said the church which already offers regular Sunday morning services, Sunday School, weekly Bible studies, mens and womens groups, and a youth ministry is looking to expand upon its current offerings and add a seniors ministry.
The congregation is also embarking upon a nationwide campaign to discover lifes purpose, said Coon, called 40 Days of Purpose.
And all this is going to require the Coons participation for many years to come.
This is a great halfway point for us, he said.