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Claudia Papenmeier grew up attending St. John’s United Church of Christ in Larimer, and she remained active in the church well into her 70s.
Mrs. Papenmeier met her husband, Arthur, at the church, where he served as a pastor in the 1950s. It was a role that she herself took on four decades later.
“The church was extremely important to her,” said her son-in-law, Sean Murphy. ”She devoted her life to the church and helping people.”
Claudia Papenmeier, 86, of Irwin, died on Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021. She was born on Feb. 16, 1934, in Fayette County, a daughter of Paul and Maude Beatty.
Demonstrating a lifelong spirit of community service, Mrs. Papenmeier started a preschool in the Irwin area in the 1960s and provided similar leadership in early education in Iowa, one of the states where she accompanied her late husband of 44 years as he followed his pastoral calling.
Later in life, she also took up that calling.
After completing a double degree in biology and music at Seton Hill University, she earned a master’s of divinity degree from the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and was ordained as a minister in 1990.
She served United Church of Christ flocks in McKeesport and DuBois before she took over leadership of the St. John’s congregation in 1993.
“She was a wonderful minister,” said Lillian Woleslagle of North Huntingdon, a longtime custodian at St. John’s whose granddaughter was among church members whose weddings were presided over by Mrs. Papenmeier.
She was known for memorable sermons that relied closely on the Bible.
“They left an impression,’ said Woleslagle. “Sometimes you thought maybe she was talking about you.”
Her involvement extended well beyond worship services. She took active roles with the the Westmoreland County Food Bank and with the food pantry at the church.
She also was a key member of an ecumenical women’s group, with representatives from several local churches, that sometimes met at her home.
“She always was friendly and cared about you and your family,” said Woleslagle. “She was always there for you.”
Murphy noted that his mother-in-law loved to sing with the church choir and enjoyed reading from her extensive collection of books on religious topics. She served as a United Church of Christ representative at a conference on science and religion in Oxford, England, he said.
He said she also took an interest in causes including women’s rights and reached out to assist women who had suffered abuse as well as LGBTQ youth.
“She was very generous and was always trying to do the right thing,” he said.
According to the church website, Mrs. Papenmeier retired as the minister at St. John’s in 2010. Family members noted she continued to fill in as needed for services at other churches.
Survivors include: four daughters, Pamela and her husband Karl Hoffman of Rosslyn Farms; Patrice and her husband Don Anesin, of Bolivar; Paula and her husband James Luther, of Mt. Lebanon; and Paige and her husband, Sean Murphy, of North Huntingdon; eight grandchildren and four step-grandchildren.
Viewings will be held 2 to 4 p.m. and 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at William Snyder Funeral Home in Irwin.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at St. John’s United Church of Christ in Larimer.
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