Rev. West to be honored in Cattaraugus

CATTARAUGUS — For nearly 40 years, Pastor Harland West has shepherded his flock at St. John’s Church on Ellicott Street in Cattaraugus. Commuting 39 miles from his home in Fredonia in all kinds of weather, he has presided over countless Sunday services, marriages, baptisms and funerals.

Pastor West was born during the Depression years. He recalls his mother reminiscing that soon after his birth she heard the news that Herbert Hoover had won the presidential election. His father, employed in construction, moved the family frequently as he followed the available employment opportunities. Despite the hardships of the time, Harland was raised in a loving home where the importance of hard work and Christian values were instilled early on.

In 1946 Harland graduated from John Marshall High School in Rochester New York. He decided to work for a year to gain money for a college education. Many life lessons were learned as he worked with his father in construction and also as a laborer in the paper mill at Eastman Kodak. In 1947 he enrolled in the University of Rochester to begin his undergraduate work. In his spare time Harland was an active participant in the many activities of his church which resulted in two very positive outcomes that would shape his future. First he felt his calling to be an ambassador for Christ. Secondly, he met his future wife, Thelma Sue McEntush, at a youth fellowship gathering. Sharing similar goals and a passion for a faith-filled life, they were later united in marriage and recently celebrated their 68th anniversary.

In his third year of undergraduate study the young couple moved to Batavia. Life there was very busy for them as Harland continued his studies in addition to serving two churches concurrently as an unordained supply pastor in Elba and as an assistant at the Batavia United Methodist Church. As if that was not enough, he also signed on to be a paid firefighter with the Batavia Fire Department. The years flew by and after graduation from the University of Rochester in 1951, the Wests decided to remain in Batavia for another year in service to the people who had opened their hearts to them.

Pursuing his educational goals, Harland enrolled in Boston University. To save money, initially he stayed in a men’s dormitory on campus while his wife Sue lived with her parents. Eventually the couple managed to afford a small apartment in a building located in a poverty stricken section of Boston. The apartment building mostly housed young academics reaching for a professional career. There was a sense of shared purpose and camaraderie among the residents.

In sharp contrast the surrounding neighborhood mirrored the desperation and hopelessness of the homeless and unemployed as realistically portrayed in the movie “Sister Act.” Harland graduated in 1955 with two degrees: Master of Divinity and Master of Sacred Theology. During that same year he was ordained as an elder in the Methodist church. At the time of his ordination, Harland and Sue were awaiting the birth of their first child. Imagine their surprise a few months later as twins boys Harland and Charles arrived.

The Wests moved to Geneseo where they were assigned to a struggling church. The church grew by leaps and bounds as many of the college students identified with the energetic young couple. During this time, Harland was approached by the chair of Geneseo College’s Speech Pathology Department. Following in the footsteps of many other pastors with a dual career, Harland enrolled in and completed the course of study and graduated in 1969 with a master’s degree in speech pathology. Combining faith with healthcare, he worked subsequently for the Gowanda Psychiatric Center and for Lakeshore Home Health Groups. A highlight of his speech pathology career was when he was awarded an honorary doctorate by Lakeshore Hospital.

Other pastoral assignments included a stint as an assistant pastor in Asbury First Methodist Church (the largest Methodist Church in upstate New York), a college chaplain at SUNY at Fredonia, and pastor of First Christian Church Disciples of Christ in Dunkirk. In 1978, Harland received a call from Russell Coles of St. John’s United Church of Christ in Cattaraugus asking for him to come and preach to see if he would be a good fit for the congregation. It did not take long for the congregants to decide that Rev. West was an answer to their prayers. For many years Rev. West would do the service at 9 a.m. in Cattaraugus and then drive back to Dunkirk to lead the service for the First Christian Church. He did this for 39 years until the Fredonia church closed due to dwindling attendance.

Rev. West’s title of Pastor Emeritus will serve as a reminder of his dedication, love and service to a grateful congregation. His life is a blessing to many and he is wished all the best. He will be honored at a service of worship and luncheon on Sunday at St. John’s Church, located at 28 Ellicott St., in Cattaraugus, beginning at noon.