OLEAN — On Saturday morning when people were seen shopping at the Farmer’s Market in Lincoln Park, across the street at the historic church at 201 E. State St., Della Moore was working inside the building which will soon house the African American Center for Cultural Development.

Moore, who is the director of the Center, showed up at the church early with tools in hand to unscrew church pews from the sanctuary floor to have them removed, thereby providing space for future displays and activities.

As she sat on one of the pews waiting for building owner, Kevin Dougherty to arrive from a coffee stand that he and his family run during the Farmers’ Market, Moore talked about the long road to finding a permanent home for an African American Center in Olean.

“Almost since I landed here (in August of 1972) I wanted something for black history and all of that,” she recalled. A native of Philadelphia, she had almost taken a job at the African American Museum of Philadelphia while attending Temple University.

During that period of her life, she had been married to her late husband, Jimmy Moore, a veteran of the Air Force and native of Olean. The two had met in Philadelphia, married and later had two children. When Jimmy Moore returned to his hometown of Olean with their two children, and found employment at the former McGraw Edison (Cooper) plant, he sent for his wife to join them. Ironically, Della Moore had just received notice she was to be hired at the museum in Philadelphia, but moved to Olean to be with her husband and children.

Although she was hesitant about moving to the little town in Western New York, her concerns soon vanished when she met the area residents.

“Every day, every minute I thank God for the kindness of people in Olean,” Della Moore said.

Through the years, while raising her family, she attended a satellite campus for Alfred College in Olean, receiving her associate’s degree. Later, she attended St. Bonaventure University where she received a bachelor’s degree in English and education, as well as a master’s degree in American history. She also worked at Tops Market in Olean for 32 years where she met and befriended many people in the community. After she retired from Tops, she returned to Temple University in 2003, where she earned a degree in black history.

Through it all, she never gave up the dream to establish an African American Center in Olean.

The dream was first realized in 2010 when the Neighborworks program, under the direction of Mark Sabella, acquired the former Bethel AME Church on West Green Street. He and Rev. Carrie Wolf offered it to Moore, and the Center’s co-founders, Dr. Beverly Twitty-Terrien and Ola Mae Gayton, to use for the facility.

A year later, Moore found a new home for the Center at Bethany Lutheran Church on Leo Moss Drive, which generously provided a large room in a building used for the Olean Food Pantry. After three years, the Center moved again to the former Showers United Methodist Church on West State Street to free up space for the expanding food pantry. When the Center moved from the Showers building at the end of 2017, Moore continued activities, events and fundraisers at various venues, businesses and churches in Olean.

“I had people from all around say, ‘Della, you can use our space,’” she shared. “God is so good.”

That goodness came to fruition in July of 2018 when the state awarded $225,000 in a Downtown Revitalization Initiative Grant toward the renovation of the historic East State Street church to house the Center. Work on the building has been slow to come about as the Center has to raise $103,250 as its part of the share before state funds will be released for the $312,500 renovation project. To date, the Center has raised $12,000 to $13,000 for the project.

A number of weeks ago, however, Dougherty, a local contractor, businessman, Olean Common Council member and father of four children, began repairs on the roof of the church with volunteers. They feared the building wouldn’t last another winter if left undone and leaking.

Until the funding can be raised by the Center, Dougherty plans to continue to do inside repairs on the ceiling and other parts of the building. When that is completed in October, and following code enforcement inspections, he plans to eventually move his church congregation in to pay the rent while Moore sets up her operations in the space, as well.

“The volunteers will help me continue to repair the roof before winter,” he added. “The roof is in progress, so that’s not holding anybody up” and is not leaking anymore.

Dougherty and Moore said they can use volunteers to help with every aspect of preparing the facility for its opening. In addition to removing the pews, individuals will be needed to help repair the ceiling and participate in other general repairs and restoration.

For more information on volunteering, contact Dougherty by email at kevin8134@gmail.com or by calling (716) 378-1724. For more information on the Center, or to donate, contact Moore by text at (215) 704-6608 or send mail to: African American Center for Cultural Development, P.O. Box 240, Olean, NY 14760.

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)

(Contact reporter Kate Day Sager at kates_th@yahoo.com. Follow her on Twitter, @OTHKate)