"It turned out greater than I ever imagined," retired Rev. John Dennis said this week during a visit to First Presbyterian Church's newly completed John and Nancy Dennis Community Center and Fellowship Hall.
Dennis Hall is at the corner of Ninth Street and Monroe Avenue. Tall windows let in light along the north and west walls. Ceiling-high partitions can be used to break the cavernous 6,600-square-foot addition into three rooms.
The hall also includes a professionally equipped full kitchen, restrooms and a connection to the existing brick building. In total, the project cost more than $2.2 million, of which the church still must raise $400,000.
Plans for the new hall began 15 years ago, when the congregation realized that it would face space problems in the coming years. It marks the fourth addition to the church completed since John and Nancy Dennis arrived in Corvallis in 1969 to lead the church.
John Dennis retired in 2006, before plans were announced to name the new building for the years of service the couple gave to the community. The Dennises were both gratified to learn the new hall would be named for them.
"I never expected that," Nancy Dennis said. "He was really the leader."
"Nancy made a lot of it possible," John Dennis said. "She gave the gift of time."
John Dennis' human rights, civic and personal achievements easily fill several pages. One that he is particularly proud of is that 26 people who attended the two churches where he has served as a minister (in Philadelphia and Corvallis) later chose to enter seminary.
John Dennis continues to be very active as an advocate for people living without limbs in Cambodia, a country that still has many undetonated mine fields left over from conflicts in the second half of the 20th century. He has traveled to the Southeast Asian country 16 times over the years - most recently in 2009. He also is a member of a national board on "Godly Play," an education program in which First Presbyterian participates.
Nancy Dennis has led many community groups over the years. A church trustee, she is a past president of the board for Assistance League and of the Oregon Coast Aquarium.
John Dennis credits many people's tirelessly planning and fundraising efforts over the years in making the new hall a reality.
Key contributors to the new hall's development included the steering committee led by Charlie Bruce; the building and grounds committee led by Tony Van Vliet; the capital campaign team of Lynne Neville and Larry Stuber and project manager Lyle Hutchens. The Rev. Linda Gebetsberger also served as a liaison to church staff throughout the years.
"It is truly a group of tremendous folks who have worked with great care to ensure the success of this project from every angle," the church's new senior pastor, the Rev. Gordon McClellan, said earlier this year.
The excellent acoustics in the main sanctuary are a point of pride for the church, and the new hall was constructed with the same principles in mind to make it an attractive location for concerts and other community events.
"It's very well-designed," Nancy Dennis said.
The church will dedicate the hall during the 10 a.m. service Sunday. Speakers will include John and Nancy Dennis, current church pastors McClellan and Gebetsberger, and recognitions and histories by Bruce and VanVliet. The Dennises' sons Michael and Andrew will also be at the dedication.
The congregation's hope is that the space will become a popular venue for community events.
John Dennis had a special request for Sunday's dedication - that the church hang Tibetan prayer flags around the hall. "As a sign that while we are decidedly Christian, we want this to be a place that is open to all faiths," he explained.
The church also will host a community open house from 3 to 5 p.m. in the new hall with musical performances, tours and refreshments.