Leader on the Homefront (1876–1959)
It was over 75 years ago that the United States was forced to fight in the largest global war in history.
It was over 75 years ago that the United States was forced to fight in the largest global war in history. Thousands of troops regularly arrived in New York from all over the country to board ships that would take them to Europe and an uncertain future. While in the city, many attended worship at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, where they received a warm welcome from the church’s Military and Naval Armed Services Committee, chaired by Kata Sargent Wolff.
The committee had been formed in 1942 by the Women’s Association. Kata Wolff pursued this work not just as hospitality, but as outreach. As our church historian, Elfrieda Kraege, described it: “Together with the Fifth Avenue Young Adults, the Women’s Association served not only those who randomly came to our church services, but also those who were invited by Mrs. Wolff through the many serviceman’s organizations then in existence.”
The committee offered to write letters home to the wives and families of the young service men, and thousands took them up on the offer. The committee received hundreds of appreciative replies from around the country.
The New York Times reported on a “tea and entertainment” event for service members that Mrs. Wolff hosted at the church on Nov. 6, 1943. Among the dignitaries attending were Sir Godfrey Haggard, the British consul general. “If this kind of work continues,” Sir Godfrey told the assembled guests, “we will have a greater understanding of ourselves, which we did not have after the last war.”
Born Katharine Evon Sargent on Oct. 3, 1876, in Texas, “Kata” married Herbert W. Wolff in March 1898, in Michigan. They joined Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on March 4, 1928, and she remained an active member for the rest of her life. Herbert, a senior executive with the American Car and Foundry Company, served as an Elder and Trustee.
Her work on behalf of the church and in support of the war effort came during what surely was a difficult time for her personally. In July 1940, Herbert Wolff died at their summer home in Michigan. Yet Kata Wolff pressed on in her vigorous support of the church. She served on the Women’s Association board of directors, including a term as president from 1950–51. She was also on the editorial staff of The Fifth Avenue Voice for many years. As the head of the Church Aid Committee, Kata Wolff left an indelible mark on the church by redecorating and beautifying the Chapel, Sunday School rooms, the Women’s Association office and the Board Room. Among the items she donated is the large, hand-carved wooden cross that still hangs in the front of the Chapel–dedicated to the memory of her husband.
Kata Wolff died on Oct. 30, 1959, and was buried beside her husband in Ogemaw County, Michigan. The church held a memorial service for her on Dec. 6, 1959, bidding her farewell with the words, “Well done, you good and faithful servant.”
About the Writer
Gail Crane joined Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in 1962 and has been active in the Women’s Association ever since, including serving as president. She has also served as a Deacon. Gail and her husband, John, met at the church and were married in the Chapel by the Rev. Dr. Bryant M. Kirkland. The Cranes have two children, Karen and Neil. Gail received the Kenneth O. Jones Distinguished Service Award in 2016.