FINDLAY — Gene Wooters saw the old church in Findlay as a little piece of Heaven.
He had a vision that the building, which once housed worshippers, could be transformed into a club for those who have a passion for live music.
Ironically, the Church of Christ, built in 1892, had never been a place for music, as the former congregation never had a musical instrument used there.
The church family had dwindled and it had reached the point where it could no longer keep the building.
Now called The Ole Country Church, this new venture took some work to get it ready for live musicians and dancers. It is located at 108 N. Main, Findlay.
A musician himself with passion for "real country, classic style" music, Wooters, 69, is also a member of Jim Allen and the Country Classics band, and Pastimers, a group for former band members.
"When I first drove by (almost a year ago) and saw some people inside the (former) Church of Christ, who were selling things, I stopped in and talked to them about the building. At that time, they were selling pews from the church. As I looked around, I thought it would be a nice place for music," said Gene Wooters.
In the soon-to-be vacant building, Wooters saw an opportunity to help the community, help the congregation and fulfill his passion for live, old country music in his hometown.
Now starting its third month as a venue for dance and music, the lineup includes Mattoon resident Dale Wines on Oct. 20. Slated on Nov. 2 is Gunny Sack Revue.
Live music and dancing is from 7-9:30 p.m. on scheduled dates.
"I didn't want to come in here and start playing music and have it be a surprise to them (the former congregation). I told them we were planning to have music in the church and they were very receptive. We made them an offer, and they were very happy to sell it to us," said Wooters.
Having lived in Findlay most of his life, he is connected to the community and has also served as the mayor for an estimated 20 years in the past.
He and his wife, Tickie, 67, have owned Wooters Sports Shop there since 1971.
But with the new venue now serving the community as a music and dance hall, the idea seems to be taking off.
Beverages can be purchased there, but are limited to soda and water that are kept cold in a 1943 Coke machine. There is no smoking or alcohol allowed at The Ole Country Church.
"We come mainly to enjoy the music and the variety of live music that they have. I love the inside and these hardwood floors," said Phyllis Meador of Findlay.
The Wooters operate The Ole Country Church by donations and hope to clear enough to at least break even on expenses and give the musicians a little something for their travel to Findlay.
Wooters, a percussionist and guitarist, said he was impressed by how good bands sound inside the former church.
The sanctuary offers plenty — nearly perfect acoustics, original hardwood floors, seating for at least 80 people. It also has a full basement.
A back room that was added onto the original church in the 1940s has now been converted into a small kitchen, bathroom and storage area. Improvements followed guidelines for Americans with Disabilities Act, Wooters said.
A small stage was also added at the front of the sanctuary. A baptismal was removed.
The couple credit their son-in-law, Scott Ohm, and grandson, Mason, for much of the building's improvements. The facility is air-conditioned and heated for comfort.
"He (Gene Wooters) fell in love with this church when he saw it, and he didn't want to see it destroyed. He loves the old country-style music and the town is supportive (of the new venue)," said Tickie Wooters.
While the building was in mostly sound condition, it needed a new roof — badly. The weather had taken a toll on the asphalt shingles. Today, it boasts a striking red metal roof against its stark white exterior.
"I think this is great for Findlay and for the community. It is great to see this church redone, and not torn down or burned," said Sharon Land of Shelbyville. "I'm looking forward to the gospel group coming. This audience is mostly a senior audience. It is a nice place for the performers to come, as well."
The Findlay Park is its neighbor and Wooters hopes someday to add an exterior stage to the back of the building for the listening enjoyment of those outdoors.
The church hall has been used for dancing and live music; an anniversary celebration; a graduation party; a last-minute change of venue for a wedding; and a funeral.
"We had someone stop by while we were working on it and asked us about helping to make a last wish. Her father was dying of cancer and he had always said it was his wish to have his funeral in this church. About a month later, his funeral was held here," said Tickie Wooters.
Impending bad weather caused a couple to change their wedding plans from an outdoor setting to The Ole Country Church.
Sally Sprague of Findlay said it is a great place for some "foot stompin' fun."
She'd like to see some line dancing get started.
"There are so many possibilities for this church," Gene Wooters said. "I thought when I got old we'd sit around in a rest home and play music. It doesn't always work out that way."