Dr. LaVern and Barbara Rippley’s Gift of a Social Hall for the Parish of St. Boniface
Holy Cross seminarian and Army veteran. Received a Fulbright fellowship, studied in Germany, earned a PhD and authored 18 books. Dr. Lavern Rippley’s story is international, but it starts locally.
Dr. LaVern Rippley grew up in Waumandee, a small farming town about 42 miles northwest of La Crosse. His family were parishioners of St. Boniface Parish, where many family members are still parishioners to this day.
After completing his education at the Holy Cross Seminary High School in 1952, the Holy Cross Seminary College in La Crosse, UW-River Falls and eventually a doctorate in German from Ohio State University, Dr. Rippley started a teaching career at Ohio Wesleyan University in Delaware. He finally made his home with his wife, Barbara, at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., where he taught German for almost 50 years.
In addition to his teaching profession, Dr. Rippley was a successful businessman in real estate and construction, which included managing apartments and office buildings and developing properties, some of which were entire subdivisions. As a result of these endeavors, he amassed a sizable financial estate.
“Let’s Go Ahead and Do This.”
Despite his financial success, Dr. Rippley never forgot his roots in Waumandee and St. Boniface Church and School. Although the church and school underwent several remodeling projects over its almost 150-year history, he remembered that the church still lacked running water and handicap access, and that the school building did not have adequate space to hold any but the smallest of social functions. These shortcomings came into sharp focus following his brother, Charles’ funeral and reception in 2020. The reception had to be held at an empty farm dealership building to accommodate family, friends and neighbors because the parish simply did not have any gathering space that was large enough. His brother’s funeral was a decisive moment for Dr. Rippley, and he was determined to do something to help.
That evening, Dr. Rippley emailed Loren Wolfe, a St. Boniface Parish Council member, saying he would be willing to donate money to build a new facility. Loren said, “My job was to contact the rest of the Parish Council and explain the request, which I did. The Parish Council, along with Father Doss, said, ‘Let’s go ahead and do this.’”
A Building Committee was formed in March to start the project. Dr. Rippley donated $100,000 in seed money to start the planning process. Committee members included Cletus Foegen, Justin Wolfe, Les Brommer, Carrier Reuter, La Verne Pronschinske, Chris Ellis, Father Doss (Father Aruldoss Savarimuthu, pastor) and Loren. Dr. Rippley and Barbara joined the committee to offer ideas and suggestions; otherwise, they let the committee decide how to proceed.
The committee’s primary consideration was deciding where to locate the social hall. The existing parish grounds could not accommodate a structure of the size that was planned. However, the committee realized there would be enough space if the rectory, built in the early 1900s and empty for six months, was removed. Father Doss invited parishioners to meet with the committee to discuss the proposal to remove the rectory and use the space for the new social hall. They agreed, and the proposal was accepted.
The Vision Becomes a Reality
Ultimately, plans for the new facility were completed, then construction began in May 2022. Loren said that Dr. Rippley initially estimated the cost to be $500,000 for the social hall. However, considering everything he envisioned for the building and the parish, the amount he donated grew to approximately $1.5 million.
The building project, known as the St. Boniface Parish Rippley Social Hall, was completed in December 2022. Sadly, Dr. Rippley passed away in January 2022 and did not see the groundbreaking and final realization of his dream. However, his wife, Barbara, continued the effort and helped ensure that her husband’s vision became a reality. Bishop Callahan joined her on Jan. 6, 2023, to dedicate the social hall. The new facility connects to the church via a hallway and includes full bathrooms, parish offices, a large fully featured kitchen and a spacious meeting place for about 200 people.
The entire parish community was involved and eagerly supported the effort, said Father Doss. One small example was the Parish Council of Catholic Women (PCCW) leading key planning efforts. They spent countless hours determining the best approach to furnish sections of the social hall and how to best integrate carpeting, flooring and bathroom fixtures. The PCCW donated all the appliances for the kitchen.
Father Doss reflected, “As pastor, I could see the providential care of God through many people in this parish. Among them are LaVern and Barbara Rippley. God has blessed us in this building with the help and generosity of the Rippleys, council and Building Committee members and the support of the entire parish community.”
Story and Photography by Robert Rogers
Published in the September/October 2023 issue of Catholic Life Magazine