Former Neosho church will become an art and event center

Former Neosho church will become an art and event center
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12 years after a tragedy, a Neosho church is coming back to life in a new way for the community.

On August 12, 2007, during a Micronesian church service, 52-year-old Eiken Elam Saimon shot and killed three people, including a pastor.

Five others were injured.

After pleading guilty, Saimon told the judge that he was mad after being ridiculed at a barbecue with family and friends earlier that week.

He was sentenced to three life terms without the possibility of parole.

While members of First Congressional continued to hold services there, the congregation dispersed after Pastor Thomas Thorne died in 2017.

Now, the new owner is looking forward to molding the future of the building into something new.

For longtime locals, the First Congregational Church is a landmark: a historic building that was built in 1907.

“The church has been there for a number of years, it’s seen both triumph and tragedy,” said Stuart Puckett, who grew up in Neosho.

Triumph, tragedy, and now new leadership.

Jeffrey Jones, who owns the coffee shop across the street, hopes to convert the church into an art and event center.

“It’s a gathering place, and so what we have in mind is to lean all that into the arts, for the performing arts: a music venue, a wedding venue, a lecture hall, concert hall, as well as there may be opportunities to have a pop-up gallery in here, or even a pop-up theatre,” explained Jones, the new owner of the former church he plans on calling “North Wood Arts & Event.”

Jones says he’s focusing on the future.

“A church is not the building. A church is the congregation. And so, the congregation has moved on, they’ve grown, they’ve evolved to be who they are, as a result of being a member of this congregation. But now we have this amazing facility as a result of their stewardship along the years.”

Jones is adding new bathrooms to the building and a dressing room for performers and potential wedding clients. “North Wood Arts & Event” will also feature art classes downstairs.

“I’ve always wanted to put in an art school so I could teach not only pottery, but also sculpture and painting, and employ some of my professional friends around the country who can come for seminars and classes to teach in our facility here,” said Jones.

“It’s gonna continue to be a part of Neosho, and not just taken apart in bits, and so I’m very happy to see that,” said Puckett.

Jones plans on hosting an open house at the art and event center on June 29 during Neosho’s Independence Day Celebration.

The memorial plaque honoring the victims of the 2007 shooting will be relocated to a Micronesian church in Goodman, Missouri.