May Memorial

Unitarian Universalist Society

Our Glorious History

Quick Links to Our History


Our Society’s History

Our Church Buildings

Our Ministers

Our Church Namesake – Sam May


Our Various Names


May Memorial has had four names in its nearly 170 years. The first was the Unitarian Congregational Society. The second was the Church of the Messiah. Our third was May Memorial Unitarian Society in honor of our second minister, Rev. Samuel May. Finally, we became the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society after the Unitarian and Universalist organizations merged.


May Memorial Settled Parish Ministers


We have had eleven settled male ministers and one settled female minister [this does not include our religious education leaders/ministers, assistant ministers, or interim ministers]. Following is a brief bio on each of the settled ministers (the years in parentheses after each person’s name represents their years of ministry in Syracuse). Click here for a biography of material written by or about some of our ministers. [Photos of settled ministers are courtesy of Bob Burdick.] A beautiful display of these photos now resides in the Memorial Room of our church between the two large marble busts of Sam Calthrop and Sam May, along with descriptive information, past church religious and music leaders, past church presidents, and annual award winners. This “memories wall” was formally dedicated on August 12, 2007.




Rev. John Parker Boyd Storer (1838-1844)

Rev. Storer was our first minister. He was born in Portland, Maine, in 1794. He graduated from Bowdoin College in 1812. He next became a theology student at Bowdoin College that same year. He became a Tutor at Bowdoin College in 1816. He was ordained a minister in the Unitarian Church at Walpole, Massachusetts, in 1826. He moved to Syracuse in 1839 to become minister of the Unitarian Congregational Society (our first name). He worked tirelessly to build the Syracuse congregation and was so successful that it quickly outgrew the first church, a small chapel known as the Little Tabernacle, and this led to the building of a larger church. His exertions in these efforts led to poor health and he died in Syracuse in 1844.




Rev. Samuel Joseph May (1845-1868)

Rev. May was our second minister. He was born in Boston in 1797. He was educated at Chauncey Hall School and graduated from Harvard College in 1817. He then taught school while attending Harvard Divinity School, graduating in 1820. He was ordained at King's Chapel in Boston, in 1822. He became minister of the Unitarian Church, Brooklyn, Connecticut, in 1822. Next he was Minister of the Unitarian Church, South Scituate, Massachusetts, in 1836. He became Principal of the Female Normal School, Lexington, Massachusetts, in 1842. Here is a very early photo of Sam, without his trademark beard and a description of this role. He moved to Syracuse and was minister of the Church of the Messiah (our second name) in 1845. He retired in 1868 and died in Syracuse in 1871. Here is one of his famous writings entitled, What Do Unitarians Believe? Here are some of Rev. May’s views on the death penalty. Read one of his sermons entitled The Rights and Conditions of Women. Here is a paper written about Sam May, Heretic in Syracuse, a speech about him entitled, “The Remarkable Mr. May,” and a 1964 master’s thesis about his educational efforts entitled Saint Before His Time: Samuel J. May and American Educational Reform. All three were by Dr. Catherine L. Covert. Permission to include them here were given by her estate executrix, Carolyn Stepanek Holmes. Here is a manuscript, an unpublished biography of Rev. May, entitled, God’s Chore Boy by Dr. W. Freeman Galpin. Permission to include it here is given by his daughter, Harriet Galpin Hughes. Here is an interesting sermon about Sam May, Rev. May Has Shown Me the Way by the Rev. Richard (Rick) R. Davis, First Unitarian Society of Salem (Oregon). Here is a second sermon about Rev. May, Samuel J. May: The Peaceful Warrior, also by Rev. Richard (Rick) R. Davis. Here is a paper by another minister, Rev. Armida Alexander entitled, Abolitionist Minister: Samuel J. May Opposes the Fugitive Slave Law. Click here for information on the Sam May marble tablet memorial and a pictorial display of the hanging of the repaired tablet on our outside east wall. Here is a brief tribute to Sam May. A church in Syracuse was named for him, the May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society. A service celebrating the 50th anniversary of the current May Memorial Unitarian Universalist building on October 11, 2015, included a presentation by Roger Hiemstra entitled Rev. Sam May: Social Revolutionary in Syracuse. Click here for information on 12 letters (eight of them by Sam May) written in 1852-1858 and now residing in the Syracuse University Archives. They pertain to Rev. May’s efforts to develop a school and farm for the benefit of youth on the Onondaga Reservation. They are worth reading. See the May Memorial web page for more information on Sam May. Finally, read a wonderful tribute to Sam May written about his death, funeral, and burial: In Memoriam. Samuel Joseph May.




Rev. Dr. Samuel Robert Calthrop (1868-1911)

Rev. Calthrop, our third minister, was born in Swineshead Abbey, Lincolnshire, England, in 1829. He was educated at St. Paul's School in London and at Trinity College in Cambridge. He moved to the U.S. in 1853. He became minister of the Universalist Church in Southold (Long Island), New York, for three months. He next ran a school for boys in Bridgeport, Connecticut, for six years. He was ordained as a Unitarian minister in 1860. First he was a minister at Unitarian churches in Marblehead and Newbury­port, Massachusetts. He moved to Syracuse and became minister of the Church of the Messiah in 1868 and then May Memorial after its construction in 1885. He became Pastor Emeritus in 1911. He received the L.H.D. from Syracuse University in June, 1900. He was an individual with many interests who contributed much to May Memorial and the Syracuse community. Click here to learn more about this renaissance man and here to see one of his earliest photos when he was the 1880 New York State chess champion. He died in Syracuse in 1917. Read some very interesting material about Sam’s boyhood years written by his daughter, Edith Calthrop Bump, in 1939. Finally, read this very delightful article written by a man who remembers Rev. Calthrop as a very important mentor, person, and colleague: Recollections of the Old Master: Rev. Samuel Robert Calthrop. Click here to see Rev. Calthrop and his various family members’ burial headstones. Read two of his interesting sermons entitled The Preacher of the Twentieth Century and The Aid Given By Science to Religion During the Nineteenth Century.




Rev. Dr. John Henry Applebee (1911-1929)

Rev. Applebee, our fourth minister, was born in England in 1867.  He moved to the United States with his parents in 1878. He was educated at the Boston High School and the Meadville Theological School, graduating in 1894. He first served the Parkside Unitarian Church in Buffalo for four years. Next he was in West Roxbury, Massachusetts, until 1905. His next assignment was for six years at the Pilgrims Church in Attleboro, Massachusetts. He was the minister at May Memorial from 1911 to 1929. During World War I the Applebees went on a leave of absence, he to overseas service with the Red Cross and she to social service courses in New York City. He received an honorary doctorate from Meadville (1924). In the spring of 1929 he officially retired, staying on as an active member and settled down for a life of service in the community. He died in Syracuse in 1938. He was known as an eloquent speaker. Read one of his these wonderful sermons entitled UNITARIANISM: What It is Not, and What It Is. Another one that is very stimulating and well worth reading is entitled A Challenge to the Unitarian Church.




Rev. Dr. Wendelin Waldemar Weiland Argow (1930-1941)

Rev. Argow was our fifth minister. He was born in Dayton, Ohio, in 1891. He was educated at the University of Louisville in Kentucky and the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He received a Doctor of Theology from that seminary in 1921. A fifth generation minister, the three Ws in his name stood for Wendelin, father of transcendental philosophy, Waldemar, bishop of West Goths, and Weiland, father of spiritualistic or idealistic poetry. He was ordained a Baptist minister in 1913. He served the Baptist church in Lorain, Ohio, from 1914 to 1919. He then became a pacifist and resigned his ministry. Next he worked for two years at the 23rd Street YMCA (New York City) while studying at New York University. He was accepted for Unitarian Fellowship in 1920. His first Unitarian ministry was the People's Church in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1921. He became minister of May Memorial in 1930. He became minister of the Unitarian Church in Baltimore from 1941 to 1961. He died in 1961 in Amherst, Massachusetts. Read one of his sermons entitled When Is a Person a Unitarian. Another one is entitled The Challenge of an Inheritance.




Rev. Robert Eldon Romig (1941-1946)

Rev. Romig, our sixth minister, was born in Fort Scott, Kansas, in 1908. He received the B.A. degree from the University of Denver in 1929. His theological studies were at the Hoff School of Theology in Denver. He graduated from Meadville Theological School in 1936. His first minister position was at the First Unitarian Church, Duluth, Minnesota, in 1936. He became minister at May Memorial in 1941. Because of the wartime housing shortage Bob and Ellen Romig could not find a suitable home, and the church bought a parsonage for them, a large colonial house on Comstock Avenue near the university. There the Romigs entertained students interested in liberal religion and built up the campus organization that had been started by Rev. Argow. Rev. Romig was United War Fund Area field representative for New York northern counties in 1944 and 1945. He resigned the ministry in 1946 to become an advocate for the United Nations. He returned to Syracuse in 1951 as Assistant to the President of the Davis Distributing Corporation. He died in Syracuse in 1986. Read one of his sermons entitled Can Modern Man Believe in Immortality?




Rev. Glenn Owen Canfield (1946-1952)

Rev. Canfield was our seventh minister. He was born in Topeka, Kansas, in 1907. He was educated at Texas Christian University and then at the McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago. He became a Presbyterian minister in Woodstock (IL), Tulsa (OK), and Hobbs (NM). He then sought a more free religion and became interested in social reform. He became a Unitarian minister in Clinton and Berlin (MA) in 1945. He became the minister at May Memorial in 1946. In 1951 he became Minister-at-Large in Atlanta, Georgia. He started a racially integrated United Liberal Church in Atlanta in 1954. He was minister of the First Unitarian Church. Miami (FL) in 1956. He was Executive Secretary for UUA districts in New England and the Southwest from 1959 to 1969. He died in Tulsa, Oklahoma, in 1973. Read one of his sermons entitled Man’s Deepest Needs.




Rev. Dr. Robert Lee Zoerheide (1952-1961)

Rev. Zoerheide, our eighth minister, was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1914. He received an A.B. from Western Michigan College in Kalamazoo, Michigan. He graduated from Meadville Theolog­ical School in 1943. He was ordained in 1943 by the First Unitarian Church of Chicago. He did graduate study at Harvard and later received the D.D. from Meadville Lombard. He was minister of the Universalist church in Hoopestown (IL). Next he was minister for Unitarian students in greater Boston and worked with the Unitarian Service Committee. He ran a hostel for Japanese-Americans in Boston in 1945. He was minister of the Unitarian Church in Peterborough (NH) in 1946. He became minister of May Memorial in 1952 and helped facilitate tremendous church growth. He was minister of Cedar Lane Unitarian Church in Bethesda (MD) in 1961. He was minister of First Parish in Lexington (MA) in 1971. He became minister of First Unitarian Church in Baltimore in 1978. He retired in 1985 in Baltimore and died there in 2003. Read one of his sermons entitled New Dimensions of Unitarianism. Another one is entitled Unitarianism – An Opportunity.




Rev. John Channing Fuller (1961-1973)

Rev. Fuller, our ninth minister, was born in Cambridge, Massa­chusetts, in 1921. He was a New Englander, related to our first minister, John Storer and also, as his middle name suggests, to William Ellery Channing, one of the founders of the Unitarian movement. He graduated from Williams College in 1943. He served in the Navy during World War II. He graduated from Meadville Theological School in 1949. He also did graduate studies at the University of Basel in Switzerland and Cambridge University in England. He became minister of the Unitarian church in New London, Connecticut, in 1951. He was minister of the Unitarian church in Orlando, Florida, in 1953. He became minister of May Memorial in 1961. Finally, he became minister of the Unitarian Church, Scituate, Massachusetts, in 1973. He died in Scituate in 1974. Another minister known for his eloquence, you can read one of his delightful sermons entitled Why I Am a Unitarian. Here is another one that delved into some of his interest in our church history entitled, The Good Doctors Calthrop, Applebee, and Argow. Here is one entitled That Troublesome Wall. Finally, here is a beautiful housewarming sermon he gave in our brand new church on October 4, 1964 entitled The Religion We Built It For.




Rev. Dr. Nicholas C. Cardell, Jr. (1974-1995)

Rev. Cardell was our tenth minister. He was born in Smith's Falls, Ontario, Canada, in 1925. He moved to New York City in 1928. He had Army service in World War II, including time spent in a German prison camp. He graduated from Columbia College, New York City, in 1952, and from Meadville Theological School in 1957. He received a D.O. from Meadville in 1987. He was ordained a minister at First Unitarian Society, Plainfield, New Jersey, in 1957. He then was minister of First Unitarian Society, Albany, New York, in 1962. He moved to Syracuse and was minister of May Memorial in 1974 until his retirement in 1995. An activist in so many ways, he demonstrated standing up for his convictions when, with other May Memorial members, he protested the detested School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. It trained South American military in techniques that repressed citizenry. He was subsequently arrested and served a six-month jail sentence. He was Minister Emeritus until his death in 2002. Read one of his sermons entitled The Most Original Sin. Read another sermon entitled, Judas by Proxy. Here is another sermon (undated) entitled, From POW to POC and the church newsletter article that describes the history of this sermon. Click here to read the opening words he used for most Sunday morning services.



Rev. Dr. Elizabeth May Strong (1988-2001)

See the section devoted to Rev. Strong shown just below the information on Rev. Wahlstrom.




Rev. Scott E. Tayler (1997-2004)

Rev. Taylor is a Midwesterner whose father was a minister. He often describes himself as a spiritual non-theist who believes in grace. Scott's ministry emphasizes the importance of spiritual development and is shaped significantly by his Christian upbringing which stressed the power of kindness, humility, and service. He became the minister of May Memorial (his first church) in 1997 and served in that role until 2004. While in Syracuse he helped organize our efforts with the Southside Interfaith Housing Corporation and facilitated numerous Soul Matters adult education groups. Scott also has a family therapy degree. He is the former Director of Congregational Life for the UUA. Read his sermon, The God In-Between, and another one entitled Thank God Gore and Bush are Saved.




Rev. Jean L. Wahlstrom (2007-2015)

Rev. “Jean” is a native of Massachusetts and the daughter of a UU minister. She is a graduate of Colby College and received the Masters of Divinity degree from Harvard Divinity School. She served as a minister with congregations in Burlington (Iowa), Clarklake (Michigan), Flint (Michigan), Portland (Maine), and Phoenix (Arizona) before coming to Syracuse. Jean’s ministry emphasizes worship, pastoral care, and membership. She notes, “I treat the Sunday morning worship hour as absolutely the most important of the week – sacred time and space; a rich experience for the heart, mind, and senses.” She loves nature and the out-of-doors and is particularly fond of hiking. Rev. Jean maintains a close relationship with her extended family in Massachusetts. In addition, she enjoys photography, reading, music, and local cultural opportunities. Hear her sermon at this link: What We Fight For.




Rev. Dr. Elizabeth May Strong, Minister of Religious Education, Our First Settled Female Minister; 1988-2001

Rev. Strong is a third generation active UU. She began teaching religious education at the Old Stone Universalist church in Schuyler Lake, NY when she was in the eighth grade. She is now a mother and grandmother. She became involved professional and was named Director of Religious Education for First Unitarian of Rochester, NY, in 1978. She was ordained a Minister of Religious Education there in 1983. She became Minister of Religious Education at MMUUS in 1988 and served us until 2001. While minister here she was heavily involved with Planned Parenthood. In addition, she coordinated a strong adult education program for May Memorial. Along the way she earned a doctoral degree. Now retired, for years she was a UUA Religious Education Program Coordinator for the Massachusetts Bay District. Her son, Douglas Taylor is a minister at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Binghamton, NY. Read one of her wonderful MMUUS sermons entitled MMUUS History and Legends.




Rev. Jennifer Hamlin-Navias, Associate Minister for Religious Education, 2005-2014

Jennifer Hamlin-Navias, M.Div., M.S.W., was called as our Associate Minister for Religious Education in April, 2011. She was our director of religious education from August, 2005, through June, 2014. She came to this position with a bi-vocational 20-plus-year professional life. Jennifer is an ordained United Church of Christ minister who has specialized in education. She also is a clinical social worker and a Fellow in the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. She also is ordained as a UU minister. Currently she is the minister of First Unitarian Universalist Society, Syracuse, NY. Jennifer has lived in the Syracuse area since 1985. She and her husband Geoff have a lively five-children blended family that includes three adult children, Betsy, Isaac, and Toby, and two children still at home, Jesse and Naomi.




Rev. Elizabeth Padgham – An MMUUS Favorite Daughter

One of our own became a well loved and respected Unitarian minister. Elizabeth Padgham was born on June 10, 1874. Her father, Amos Padgham, was very active in May Memorial, serving for many years as clerk and treasurer. Professionally he was a County Supervisor in Onondaga County. Elizabeth grew up in the May Memorial church and noted that Rev. Calthrop was her role model. She graduated from Meadville in 1901 and was ordained at May Memorial on September 17, 1901. Delivering the ordination sermon was Rev. Marie Jenney, who also grew up in the May Memorial church and who was a childhood friend of Elizabeth. Rev. Padgham’s first church was in Perry, Iowa, in that same year. While there she overcame a life threatening problem involving a cherry seed and her appendix. She moved to the Unitarian Church in Rutherford, New Jersey, in 1905. After her retirement in 1927 she moved back to Syracuse and once again became active at May Memorial. Besides occasional sermons, she was a lay delegate 1928-1930 and became a trustee in 1933. She retired from the Board of Trustees in 1946. She died on December 4, 1952. In her will she bequeathed much of the furniture now residing in the memorial room from her own home and also left significant funds to May Memorial. Read her very interesting sermon delivered at May Memorial in December, 1929, entitled When Half-Gods Go.



May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society - Our Church Buildings - 1838-2006

“From East Genesee St. to East Genesee St.”

May Memorial’s first church building was on East Genesee Street in Syracuse, NY. After a couple of moves to new buildings, the last move to our fifth and current building was back to a new location and new building on East Genesee Street. Click here to find out more information or here to see information about the process of building our current church. Here is a brief tribute to the May Memorial church buildings. Finally, on August 12, 2007, the History Committee under the leadership of Rog Hiemstra and Harsey Leonard conducted the Sunday Service that focused on the history of our church buildings. Here is a photo of the cornerstone for our James Street church. Click here for the order of service and click here for the supplemental information sheet distributed that day. Here are some photos representing May Memorial’s interest place in the history of Syracuse. Finally, here is a story of a journey taken by our most famous James Street church stained glass window.



Miscellaneous Information

Currently MMUUS has considerable information at the Syracuse University Library’s Arents archive and at the church, itself. There is much research potential for scholars interested in church history. In addition, here an historical sketch of the May Memorial church from 1838-1938, entitled A Backward Glance O’er Traveled Roads. There is a booklet on the dedication, October 20, 1885, of the May Memorial Church on James Street. Here is a portrayal of our church history through 1988 in a web enhanced version of the book, May No One Be A Stranger. A collection of all the past Marvelous History Corner newsletter articles are now available in book form: May Memorial’s Historical Tree of Life: Marvelous History Corner Newsletter Articles 2006-2014, by Roger Hiemstra, 2015, May Memorial Unitarian Universalist Society, 3800 East Genesee Street,  Syracuse, NY 13214 (phone number: 315-446-8920). Contact the church office for sales information. This book was developed to help celebrate a 50 year anniversary of the dedication of our current building. Check here to find a list of the MMUUS annual award winners. Check here for a list of past Associate Ministers, Interim Ministers, Religious Education Leaders, and Music Directors. Here is a list of the tremendous men and women who have served as church president as representatives of all the wonderful people who provide leadership in some way to May Memorial. Here is a peak at the repaired Sam May Marble tablet. Before Doris Sage went to jail as a prisoner of conscience because of her protest pertaining to the School of the Americas, she created a related book for her grandchildren. It is a touching portrayal of From Truth to Justice. Poignant and heart wrenching are the testimonies of Doris and 24 others who went to jail. It is well worth reading and to feel pride in their bravery and sacrifice. Many members of May Memorial were involved in the Inter-racial Group of Syracuse some 60 years ago. Here is a 1947 document that includes some of their contributions: Highlights of Negro History in Syracuse, NY. Finally, here is a marvelous book published many years ago by Dorothy Keens Ashley, mother of David and Joann Ashley. It describes her career as a portrait artist and contains many of the portraits she painted over the years. Finally, go here to examine many of the past church annual reports.


Created by Roger Hiemstra, Past Chair MMUUS’ History Committee.

Updated June 3, 2017.