This grain elevator is the only structure of any significant size.
The average traveler would view it as simply another small town dying a slow death. I imagine that is how most Amarilloans think of Umbarger which lies 27 miles to the southwest. Matter of fact I'd say the only time the average Amarillo residents think of Umbarger is when the small community has it's annual sausage festival each November. Here is the blurb about the upcoming event.
Umbarger German Sausage Festival, Nov. 9
St. Mary’s Church of Umbarger will be hosting their annual fundraising dinner on November 9, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. German sausage will be served along with sauerkraut, green beans, mashed potatoes, gravy, applesauce and homemade baked bread. Tickets are $8 for adults, $4 for children 6 to10, and children under 6 eat free. Take outs are available and sausage and sauerkraut can be purchased. Homemade crafts and baked goods will be for sale to the public at the Country Store. There will be a drawing for prizes. The church will be opened for public viewing.
If you've never attended I highly recommend you do so this year. And while the food is good, the real hidden gem and the subject of this particular My Town Monday post is the last line of that blurb. I'll enlarge and italicize it in case you were skimming.
The church will be opened for public viewing.
So what you say. What's the big deal about a tiny little Catholic Church in some Podunk town on a state highway in Texas?
For the answer to that let me take you back 62 years, to a time when the world was involved in a war against Hitler and the Axis powers, including the Mussolini led Italians.
St. Mary's church in Umbarger was built a decade before in either 1929 or 1930. Originally it was described as a drab structure both inside and out.
In 1944 Rev. John Krukkert was assigned to St Mary's Church. That very same year the United States Government built an 800 acre POW encampment in nearby Hereford, Texas. The Hereford Military Reservation and Reception Center housed nearly 4,000 Italian prisoners of war, many of whom were artists and craftsmen.
Word got out about the prisoners talents and Krukkert asked the cam commander of some of the men could be given work assignments to beautify his church in Umbarger.
Permission was granted and a group led by Franco Di Bello, an English-speaking Italian officer went to work.
The "volunteers" painted two murals. The Annunciation and The Visitation each lined a side of the altar. An oil-on-canvas, The Assumption of Mary, was created to hang behind it.
But the Italian men did not stop there. A wood carver created a bas-relief scene of The Last Supper, which fronts the white marble altar and along both sides of the Assumption of Mary painting, they carved more vertical bas-relief featuring grapes, olives and crosses. Christian symbols such as crosses, anchors, olives, grapes and lions ring the walls.
Krukkert earlier ordered stained-glass windows in jewel colors from his native Holland, and the POWs installed them.
Here is an AP photo I found of the church but it truly does not do it justice, so for those of you who live in the area I urge you to visit if you get the chance and see the beautiful work of the captives left behind.
Thirteen men died at the encampment and today there is a memorial on the site for those men.
The next time you speed through one of those don't-blink-or-you'll-miss-it kind of town slow down and take a look around. You might be surprised by what find.
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