Women’s History Month
MORELAND – During the early 1900’s in the coal fields around Punxsutawney in Jefferson County, PA, a young woman developed characteristics preparing her to be a future leader. Unions were urging miners to seek higher pay and better working conditions. Siding with the cause, Naomi Siverling Sholtis actively encourged people to attend union meetings where she stood and spoke. As both her father and father-in-law were killed in mining accidents, she had first hand knowledge of the miner’s plight.
In 1920, Naomi married Charles Sholtis who’d immigrated with his parents through Ellis Island from Hungary. “When he became a teenager, my dad went to the mines working there 36 years, a future he didn’t want for his sons,” said son Phillip. Born to the couple were three sons: Charles Junior, Richard “Dick” and Phillip.
Meanwhile, in and around Moreland Township, a traveling evangelist named Ed Wagner was holding prayer meetings in area homes. Wagner knew Mrs. Sholtis and that she was well versed in the Bible having taken home study courses. The Sholtis family took this opportunity to relocate and continue Wagner’s vision of establishing a church of the Assemblies of God (A&G), a charismatic movement new to the area.
“Charlie was just learning to drive when we left,” Phillip said. The destination was Moreland Township’s southeastern section and a 20-acre farm on the opposite side of the creek from Laurel Run School. They rented from M. Paul Houseknecht purchasing the place soon afterward. “The house had been empty for awhile. Former occupants were Houseknecht’s daugher Mary and husband Leroy Ohl. “It was June 1942, I remember Houseknecht coming with a team of horses to mow the overgrown lawn,” Phillip said.
The minister’s monthly salary was ten dollars, her husband began work at Jones & Laughlin (J&L) at Muncy. The boys found part time work on neighboring farms and later all three graduated from Muncy High School.
“Mother spent many hours in preparing for sermons and eventually was ordained by the Assemblies. She was a prolific reader, a well educatied woman for the times,” Phillip said.
Mrs. Sholtis had no driver’s liscense so her husband drove her everywhere including visitation to homes and hospitals. “Dad was a very devoted man and supportive of mother’s work,” Phillip said.
Mrs. Sholtis was a pianist and put emphasis on music as an important part of worship. So much so, that the two eldest sons learned the trumpet and Phillip the trombone. Helen, Mrs. Sholtis’s niece whom the couple raised in their home, played the accordian.
As for their upbringing, Phillip said it was ‘very strict’ and supplied examples. “On Sundays, listening to radio broadcasted ball games or playing pitch and catch was forbidden. Appearance was important too. Women wore long dresses and long sleeves and never cut their hair short. Mother wore her hair in a french twist,” the son said.
As the fledgling flock of the faithful grew, larger accommodations were needed. The congregation rented the empty one-room Glenn school house near Exchange and later met Sunday afternoons in the Bethel Methodist Church near White Hall.
Seeking a site to erect a church, a parcel of land was donated by a couple from the congregation. Located along Route 442 less than a mile east of the Moreland line, the cellar was dug and blocks lain where the group gathered several years.
In 1954, the Reverand Sholtis turned the pulpit over to the Reverand Forrest Nelson. Sholits went on to become an integral part in establishing other churches in Riverside, Bloomsburg, Enola and on Carpenter Street in Muncy, the latter currently the site of the ‘Son Light’ house.
The Sholtis’ sold their Moreland property to William “Bill” and Frances (McKee) McCoy and moved to Bloomsburg for a short time before building a home near Iola in 1959. A year later, Mr. Sholtis died suddenly in the shower room at J&L. Mrs. Sholtis last resided at Muncy Hospital’s Skilled Nursing Unit. The couple are interred in Muncy Cemetery with son Charles who succumbed at age 29.
Nowadays, women with careers in ministery are commonplace. Namoni Sholtis was not only Moreland’s first resident female minister, but the first minister and only female minister ever assigned to what is currently known as The Radiant Light Assembly of God.