Feature: Kansan kept World War II vow, builds chapel that welcomes all

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FROM TOP: Karen Ann Bland stops outside the chapel that Willis Reimer built on the edge of his family farmstead outside of Selkirk, Kan. The chapel remains open to all passersby. Above, a set of praying hands can be seen inside the window at the chapel's back. Inside, visitors will find a small wooden pulpit.

It took more than 35 years, but a Kansan was able to keep the vow he made during World War II.

Willis Reimer promised God if he made it through World War II, he would build a chapel. That was in 1945, when Reimer was a young soldier stationed in the Harz Mountains, 50 miles outside of Berlin. After serving three years in the Army, Reimer did safely make it back to his beloved home on the western plains of Kansas. And eventually, he kept his promise – some three and a half decades later.

Reimer admits that it took a while to fulfill his promise, what with farming, getting married and raising a family. Finally, though, on Christmas Eve in 1980, the Reimers’ two sons, Milan and Karl, positioned the steeple on top of the little church and officially opened it to the public.

Located on the edge of the Reimer family farmstead just outside the tiny town of Selkirk on U.S. Highway 96 in Wichita County, the chapel is open to anyone who is willing to venture off the two-lane pavement.

Open-door policy

While they were still alive, Willis Reimer and his wife, Janie, welcomed anyone who stopped at the chapel and were often heard to say, ‘It’s not just for us. It’s for everybody who wants to take a minute and reflect and relax.’

The chapel is an 8-foot-by-12-foot A-frame redwood structure with a vaulted ceiling. It contains a small wooden pulpit, a prayer altar and three antique oak pews salvaged from an old church in nearby Leoti. In the wall behind the pulpit is a sky-blue crinkle glass ‘Praying Hands’ window. It and the same type of glass in the south-facing door help illuminate the inside of the building. On the front of the pulpit, the couple attached a brass plaque dedicating the chapel to the ‘Glory of God and to our Grandchildren.’

Today, the couple’s son Karl lives in the farmhouse near the chapel and, in the tradition of his parents, keeps the chapel doors open year-round for visitors. The Reimer family invites travelers to sign the guestbook on the table near the pulpit. There’s also a notebook there for any sentiments visitors would like to share about their experiences at the little country chapel.

Poetry awaits among pews

Inside Willis Reimer’s chapel outside of Selkirk, Kan., is a notebook of poems he wrote. Many record his sentiments while serving abroad. Good Old Kansas, for instance, begins, ‘When the war is over, And I leave this foreign shore, I’m heading straight for Kansas, That’s what I’m waiting for.’

A framed poem on the wall invites passersby to stop and pray. It reads:

Oh, come to the chapel by the side of the road;
Stop for a while and talk with your God.

It’s waiting for you just to stop there and pray;
Pray for your safety as you travel life’s way;
Pray for your problems that you face every day.

The little brown chapel by the side of the road
Is waiting to greet you and help lighten your load.
May it brighten your spirits and help you to know
That God cares for you wherever you go.

So talk with Him now as you travel this way
And stop at the little brown chapel by the way,
Where it waits to welcome each traveler that passes­ this way.