Fred Lewis, Steve Hansen and Deb Copple
By: Steve Hansen
On June 4, while other delegates at the 2023 Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church listened to a presentation, three pastors gathered in the lobby for a quick picture. Besides being United Methodist pastors, they had something else in common: They all grew up within a block-and-a-half of each other on 5th Street in Griswold, Iowa.
Fred Lewis and Steve Hansen graduated from Griswold, Fred in 1972, and Steve in 1977. They followed a somewhat traditional path to becoming United Methodist pastors. Both received bachelor’s degrees from Morningside College, with Fred attending The Methodist Theological School in Ohio and Steve attending Perkins School of Theology in Dallas. Fred was ordained elder in 1980, and Steve followed in 1988. Both grew up in the Griswold United Methodist Church, which provided much encouragement and support throughout their faith journeys.
Deb Copple took a more nontraditional route. The Church of Christ in Griswold provided the foundation for Deb’s faith. Eventually, she found a better fit in the United Methodist Church, leading her into ministry. A 1980 graduate from Griswold High School, she is finishing a Master of Divinity at Saint Paul School of Theology in Kansas City and will seek full ordination upon completion. Deb transferred her conference relationship to Iowa this year and began serving the United Methodist Church in Nevada in May.
One more thing the three pastors have in common is that none came from families known for producing pastors. Fred’s parents worked in the family grocery store before his dad began selling insurance. Steve’s parents ran a family grain elevator in Griswold. Deb’s family moved into their house on 5th Street, and her dad opened a custom cabinet-making business in a former service station building next door.
The Hansen family has connections to both of the other pastor’s families. Steve’s parents were friends with Fred’s parents, and Fred even babysat the Hansen kids. Steve was also childhood friends with Fred’s younger brother, Tom. Before graduating from high school, Deb’s mom (Betty Riepe) lived with Steve’s grandparents (Ernest and Grace Hansen), who also lived within that same block-and-a-half. Steve gave one of Deb’s older sisters (Christie) rides to school.
Fred had known Deb’s older sister, Janie, in grade school and officiated the weddings of Janie and her husband, Rod’s daughters, when Fred was appointed to Ames First UMC.
There are more connections.
When he was growing up, Fred and his family lived next door to Harold and LeVetta Hansen, Steve’s uncle and aunt. In the early 1980s, Harold and LeVetta moved to a new house they had built four blocks down the street. The house was built by Lawrence Riepe, Deb’s father, and is currently owned by Shirley Drake. Shirley is the grandmother of Melissa Drake, the current District Superintendent of the Aldersgate District, which covers the southwest quarter of Iowa. Although she never lived on 5th Street, Melissa grew up on a farm outside of Griswold and was also raised in the United Methodist Church in Griswold. Melissa attended seminary at Drew University Theological School and was ordained elder in 2013.
As she settled into her new appointment in Nevada, Deb discovered that the church’s Worship Arts Director was Jo Drake McFarland, who is Melissa’s aunt and was in youth group with Steve. Jo attended school in Atlantic, but her family was members of Griswold United Methodist Church. Fred’s grandmother, Wilmuth Mueller, was Melissa’s great-great-great aunt.
Griswold isn’t a big town, but it’s apparently pretty fertile ground for United Methodist pastors—especially a block-and-a-half of 5th Street.