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Warren Wilson College, Presbyterian Church mark 84th Harvest Celebration

Livestock, produce, tools fill chancel of the College Chapel

The shared history between Warren Wilson College and Warren Wilson Presbyterian Church (WWPC) was on full display Sunday. In a nod to the College’s agricultural programs and products, the “harvest celebration” took over the chancel for the Church’s Thanksgiving service. From produce to livestock and products to tools, the display depicts the bounty of the harvests from the College’s farm and garden.

A note on the Church’s website called Sunday’s service a “special gathering in the sanctuary.” It also encouraged parishioners “to make sure to thank the student crews for all their hard work!” In the same vein, WWPC Pastor Steve Runholt traditionally offers his “sincerest word of thanks” to the students and staff members who created the display and are “keeping this grand tradition alive and well.”

Chapel Harvest Display 1935

Then-Farm Manager Bernhard Laursen started the Harvest Celebration display in 1933, before Warren Wilson College had a chapel. In the early days, the display was built inside Laura Sunderland Hall. Photo: Warren Wilson College Archives

The celebration dates back to 1933. Bernhard Laursen, farm manager when the College was known as Asheville Farm School, “felt that sharing the visual aspect of the harvest would add to the air of Thanksgiving,” according to WWPC’s newsletter. The campus had yet to build a chapel for the church congregation, so the first harvest displays were presented in Laura Sunderland Residence Hall where services were held.

Upon his father’s retirement, Ernst Laursen, a 1949 graduate of Warren Wilson High School and a member of WWPC, took over the duties as farm manager and subsequently the Harvest Celebration display. Until retiring in 1996, Ernst Laursen and his students created vignettes that included corn shocks, wheat, barley, vegetables, farm equipment and live farm animals.

“I looked forward to it because I just enjoyed the fact we put the different things up there, and people seemed to enjoy it,” Laursen said.

Chapel Harvest Display installation

Students on the Warren Wilson College Landscaping Crew install the 2017 Harvest Celebration display. Photo: Kyle McCurry

Warren Wilson College students and staff have continued the tradition, which marks its 84th anniversary in 2017. In addition to Runholt, College staff members Farm Manager Asher Wright, Landscaping Supervisor John Odell and Garden Manager Benjamin Mackie designed this year’s display.

To learn more about this tradition, watch this recent news story from WLOS-TV. They capture the Landscaping Crew as it puts the finishing touches on the display. Ernst Laursen and senior Maureen Grubb are interviewed.