140 Years and Counting
In the 140th year of Riverton Christian Church, historian and writer Julie Klebe set about to gather as much about the beginning and growth of Riverton Christian Church. Faithful to truth and detail, Julie researched local archives, gathered original documents, and interviewed many senior members. The following is the result of her labor of love for her church family.
Riverton Christian Church
Origin of the Village
Before we talk about the church’s history, let’s take a quick peek at the history of the Village of Riverton …
Around 1825-1826, Riverton was first known as “Judy’s Ferry,” named after John Judy, one of several men who operated a ferry across the Sangamon River. Then around 1831, (the year Abraham Lincoln first arrived in Sangamon County via the river) the name was changed again to “Jamestown” after James F. Reed, who operated the sawmill used to cut timber for the railroad and to manufacture cabinets. The name “Jamestown” was officially platted on Dec 11, 1837. Here’s an interesting fact about James Reed: he and his family became part of the ill-fated Donner Party that left Springfield in 1846, and was one of the 45 survivors to make it to California. Getting back to Riverton though–in 1862, Parley Howlett, a distiller, bought the town of Jamestown after it had fallen on hard times. The name was changed in 1864 to “Howlett” in in his honor. The town of “Howlett” flourished during this time. A coal mine, flour mill, saloons, a doctor’s office, and general store were all added to the area. However, some of Howlett’s investments didn’t pay off and the town was then sold to James Bunn (Howlett’s main creditor) in 1869. After a state ban on naming towns after individuals the name was finally changed to “Riverton” in 1873.
The Early Years
And this is where our church history begins!!
William A. Mallory was an evangelist, physician, and Captain of the Company C 114 th Regiment of the Civil War. He resided in the Riverton area and is known to have given the first “sermon” in 1873 in the Village School. People would gather in Dr. Mallory’s home and in the homes and lawns of others to hear him preach the Word. However, the official date for the beginning of what is now known as the “Riverton Christian Church is 1876, when “Elder” Mallory began a series of “meetings” heard multiple confessions of faith, and with around 50 converts, a small building was rented and the regular work of the church began. As needs/situations changed over the next few years, a former butcher shop, the Good Templar’s Hall (also known as the “Bee Hive”), The Riverton Opera House, and the Masons’ Hall would all be used in order to worship! Elder Mallory passed away April 21st, 1884, but not before bringing many people to the Lord!
Tired and frustrated with renting, it was decided the church needed a permanent home!
Knowing funds were tight, the Christian Co-Workers (formed by a group of dedicated women in 1884), found ways to earn money to pay for the building and its upkeep. They’d meet weekly to quilt, serve meals to the teachers next door at the grade school, and work together with other community churches to hold an annual Chicken Dinner. The meal was so good that Bressmer’s Dept store in Springfield would charter a car on the Interurban just to bring their employees to the dinner! Meals were also sold to the local miners and other local workers to bring in whatever money they could. Their dedication to helping the church was instrumental in keeping the church going!
Certainly better than renting various rooms around the town, having their own building to worship still wasn’t always easy. Before the church was built, members who wanted to be baptized would do so down in the Sangamon River (present-day member, Marsha Jones, recalls this is how her mother was baptized!) Past member Ernie Knox recalled that even though they did have a baptistery, he had to pump water out of the cistern to fill the baptistery for his own baptism in 1909, and a fire was lit in a small heater so the water would be warm enough for an evening baptism! Records also show that around 1921, depending on the time of year, members would go to the First Christian Church in Springfield to be immersed since there was no good way to heat the water in the church’s baptistery!
Today, it can sometimes be difficult for churches to have enough volunteers to help with the week-to- week operations such as helping in the nursery, greeting guests on a Sunday morning, teaching a class, or preparing communion. However, back in the early years of the church (besides having to pump their own water to fill the baptistery) church families would also volunteer for ‘janitor’ duty for a month at a time. Besides the typical duties of a janitor, this assignment also included “furnace duty,” meaning if it was your month, you’d need to head to the church at 3:30am, build the fire, and return every hour to stoke the furnace so the building would be warm enough for worship service!! But this is what needed to be done in order for the church to continue doing God’s work–so the members gladly did what was needed! We can all be thankful we can fulfill our service to the Lord by simply preparing coffee once a month or helping with the children in Sunday school! No need to get up at 3:00 a.m. now, praise the Lord!
As you can see, the early years of the Riverton Christian Church were not easy. But thanks to the dedication and determination of those who came before us, we now had a beautiful building in which to worship!
Relocation and Rededication
Though the old church on Jefferson had served its members well for many years, they were quickly outgrowing the space and it was showing some “wear and tear”. Member Marsha Jones chuckled as she recalled “most weeks one could count on ruining a pair of stockings on the splinters from the wooden pews”! After thoughtful prayer and consideration, a committee was formed in 1965 to look at the options available for a new building. Finally, land was purchased at the corner of 7th Street and Powell here in Riverton. Once again, after the work of many dedicated people, groundbreaking for our present-day church happened October 23, 1966. Member Gary Brenizer seemed to recall the Dambachers (long time past members) hauled loads of dirt in from what is now the area by Francis Pizza (once the Red Fox grocery store) to fill in some of the swampy areas before work could begin. Construction began early November 1966, and on August 6, 1967 the first service was held in the new building! What ever happened to the old church over on Jefferson St., you might wonder? The old church was purchased by the school district for the price of $12,000, and the property was used to add on a band room and kindergarten classroom. Since things were quite old and beat up, there were no plans to bring the furnishings to the new building. So the members were allowed to take mementoes before the building was demolished. Stain glass windows found new life in the homes of members of the church, as did some of the pews. Those who were handy, crafted things such as jewelry boxes and book ends from the trim work found in the building. Of course the bell made the trip to the new church, as did one piece of stained glass and the podium that is presently in our chapel.
When all was said and done, the new building, costing $138,000 mortgaged over 20 years would seat 342 people in the sanctuary, or a total of 600 if you included the fellowship area. It also included an education wing, kitchen, pastor’s study, office area and five restrooms! In August of 1967, the members and the community enjoyed their first ever air conditioned classrooms for VBS! Member Sue Tisdale remembered her first time worshipping in the new building, saying it was “Awesome”!
No time for standing still, the church continued to grow! The ladies in the church began volunteering at the Christian nursing home in Lincoln, IL around 1971. Several “Timothy’s” were sent out into the mission field during this time, and giving to the missions was increased as well. The old parsonage at 129 N 9th Street in Riverton was sold for $10,000.00, but part of the land was retained for the construction of a new parsonage at 820 E. Washington St ($25,000.00).
In 1974, a choir was formed by Mrs. Wendall Turley, and by the year 1976, the church attendance set a record of 326! The women’s quilting group who had worked so hard raising funds for the old church, by the time they had moved to the new building, its members were growing old, so eventually the group was no more. However, the men in the church continued their Men’s Fellowship meetings until sometime in the late 60’s-early 70’s. Don “Sarge” Jones recalls every month they’d meet at a different area Christian church for dinner and fellowship. Pauline Orme would be in charge of cooking at our church, and it was affectionately known as “Bean Supper”! Sarge also recalls he and longtime member of the past, Bob Griffin had their own men’s ministry called S.H.A.R.E., Sharing Hearts at Riverton are Eager, where they would help others in the church family with projects they might not be able to do on their own!
Not only were the children’s Bible classes bursting at the seams, the adult classes were as well. The Christian Workers, The Friendship Class, and the Ambassadors class were just a few of the adult classes who would meet weekly for Sunday school. Karen Davis recalls when her husband Norm led a class, they met in the old kitchen. Every chair around the table was filled, so people would sit up on the counters, filling those as well! Every Christmas the class would meet out at the Davis country home and celebrate with their families. Longtime member of the past Mike Steele would dress up like Santa Claus, and parents would wrap a gift for their child for Santa to hand out at the party! The Ambassador’s class also enjoyed each other’s company! Halloween parties were a fall favorite, and everyone would dress in costume. Marsha Jones recalls one year Sarge dressed as Frankenstein complete with elevated boots! He had such a distinctive walk, Marsha said, that everyone would know Sarge just by his gait. However this year, the boots did the trick at keeping his identity a secret! In addition to having lots of fun and being like family to each other, the adult Sunday school classes when not studying the scriptures in class, always supported the “Timothy’s” of the church as well as several missions. Many fond memories began in Sunday school!
The church family continued to grow, but as with all families, much loved members went on to be with the Lord. Ray Barclay remembers the day when his neighbor Bob Griffin, came to ask him for a favor. At the time, Ray and his wife Charlotte were not attending the church. However, Bob wanted the church to have a memorial board to honor the memory of all those who had passed. So Bob approached Ray and asked if he would build a board that would include engraved brass name plates of passed members. Ray thought about a design and knew it should have a cross as a focal point. When he visited an area lumber store one day, he saw a piece of walnut laying on the floor. And at that moment, he saw the cross within it! If you look closely, you can see how he arranged the pieces of the cross to where one can envision the blood stains from Jesus’ hands and feet! Ray remembered it was while working on the memorial board that he realized the church is where he and Charlotte needed to be, and they’ve been members ever since! Ray continues his ministry today of adding name plates whenever the church family loses one of their members. If you notice, the very first name plate on the upper left side is blank. When asked, Ray said it was his way of connecting all those who came before with the others on the board! He hopes that when he is no longer able to continue this ministry, someone else in the church will step in. He said there is still plenty of blank name plates, and even when those are filled, it was designed so that new rows can be created between the old rows. Ray is thankful to Bob Griffin for bringing him to the church simply by reaching out to him knowing his love of carpentry! Once the Barclays were attending regularly, Ray found another ministry in the late 80’s where he could use his carpentry skills yet again! Up until this time, the chapel area was mostly made of cinder block and was used as storage. Ray began working to create the small, intimate worship area we now enjoy. Having a deep connection with crosses, Ray wanted to be sure the chapel pointed others “to the cross” as well! He designed the woodwork on the chapel ceiling so the beams would meet to form crosses, and the cross on the altar was crafted so the center points meet as a way to show “Christ is the Center”. The pews were all donated in memory of others, and a plaque was placed at the back of the chapel in their memory. After many long hours of love and hard work, the chapel was complete! Since that time, it has been used for worship services, Sunday school classes, prayer groups, weddings, communion services, and even converted to a “campsite” a “space ship control room” and many other wonderful destinations for our VBS programs over the years!
Education Brought Growth
While continuing to serve the community, the leadership decided to provide an alternative to public school for the children in our area. So in 1993, the church opened the doors to the Riverton Christian Academy, which provided a Christian education for grades K-12. The academy had three paid employees and the rest was done by dedicated volunteers. Member Angela Mueller, one of the three salaried positions as Kindergarten teacher, remembered her years at the Academy: Early on, Sharon Zake was the secretary, followed by Cindy Moore (present day church secretary). Rob Bjerk held the position of principal, and these were the three paid positions. Every day, Charlotte Barclay would come and help prepare the kids lunches and supervise during lunch time. Jack and Karen Nichols, Mary Jane Dunn, Shirley Lee, Sue Tisdale, and Joan Stone were also among the devoted volunteers who helped on a daily/regular basis. Pastor Frank Lewis helped out with chapel time, and Renee McCoy came for years to do music with the students. Once she wasn’t able to come, Phyllis Merritt stepped in and provided musical programs and dramas. Anne Baldridge came for a couple years on her lunch hour to do PE with the kids in the old fellowship area (pre family life center), then Rob Bjerk continued after Anne was no longer able to help. Linda Lewis would come in weekly for special history classes with the older students and they’d work on larger history projects. Carol Norton would come in for music weekly with Angela’s kindergarten kids, as well as another grandma who came for library time. Juanita Smith, Amy Szoke and Jason Nichols and several others were also among the people Angela recalled as part of the Academy’s family of volunteers. The Academy continued educating the students for nearly ten years, with the highest enrollment somewhere in the 30’s. The leadership decided to close the doors at the end of the 2002 school year, but many children had been blessed by the love and dedication of the staff and volunteers during those ten years!
As the church membership continued to grow, space became a concern once again. So the leadership began to pray about the best way to meet the needs of our growing family. After much discussion and prayer, it was decided we’d build a Family Life Center (FLC)! The suggestion was made to hire a consulting firm who would help guide us in order to get the funds and support needed for the extensive building project. Member Jerry Van Meter remembered how many in the church were nervous about hiring a consulting firm to help coordinate the fundraising efforts for the FLC. Spending $17,000 just to learn how to raise money was something the church had never done before, but it proved to be money well spent. In response to the advice given, the “Lift Up Your Eyes” campaign began in earnest! Cottage prayer meetings were held weekly in the home of Elder Gary and Janelle Brenizer, and other members also hosted their own small prayer groups and informational meetings. The campaign resulted in an overwhelming majority vote from the congregation to proceed with the building.
As with any large project, it required the dedication of many helpers to be sure the project stayed on track. Elder Richard Carlson, a construction worker by trade, was one of those who gave of his time to help from the beginning. Richard recalls initially there were two different designs they were considering. The first was a school based design that would have been two floors with classrooms running along the upper side of a gym. However, this design was more costly and even though the Academy was still in operation, the attendance didn’t see to warrant the extra expense of this design. So it was decided to use the design that is now part of the church. Jerry Van Meter, chairman of the Board of Elders during this time, was a builder by profession, said the building was constructed like a pole barn with metal on the outside in order to help keep costs down. Richard also recalled that this was during the time when handicap accessibility was on the forefront of construction projects, and this design worked better in tying the two buildings together while allowing us to add the handicap accessible restrooms.
Having been blessed with several people in our congregation who had a background in construction, the project was in good hands! Richard remembers visiting the construction site most days as a type of “quality control”. He said trucks would come and unload large prefab pieces that were labeled, then the construction crew would come in, sort through the pieces and start putting them together. The area was not yet paved, so if it rained, the grounds would often be muddy. But being the professionals they were, the construction crew would do their best to try to straighten up the area as best as they could!
At last, the day had finally arrived! On Palm Sunday, March 28, 1999, the congregation celebrated communion for the first time in the Family Life Center! Linda Lewis recalled the day very clearly: After the worship service, the choir proceeded out of the sanctuary and create a pathway from the sanctuary to the brand new FLC. As the choir sang, children who had been placed between the choir members waved palm fronds as the congregation made their way into the new building. Families sat together at tables while everyone received communion together! Linda remembered just how dedicated the members of this committee had been to see the project to the end: “Ray Barclay coordinated all the plans and the selection of the builder, but we were blessed with a number of men who worked in construction and therefore added their skills at every point. Men, like Jerry VanMeter and Ray Lee were among this group. Ray Barclay was there as much as he could with a full-time job, but Richard Carlson was the one who oversaw the day to day construction. With his background in heavy machinery and building, he was a great blessing. Also Charlotte and Ray headed the selection of materials, paint colors, the protected wall coverings, etc. which became a real boon and really helped us during VBS. They were particularly careful to find ways to keep the Family Life Center as useful as possible for all kinds of activities and therefore, really strived to keep it as sound sensitive as possible. A group of us had visited several such buildings and found them so noisy that we were concerned how to deaden the sounds so that the gatherings, dinners, plays etc. could be a friendly as possible. That’s why there is a special ceiling and carpet on the walls. It is truly a blessing that so much careful thought, investigation, and dedication went into every square inch of the construction. Praise God!”
As do all the others who were involved in the FLC project, Linda Lewis knows without a doubt the reason why this undertaking was so successful is because the entire congregation stood behind the project and it was continually covered in prayer! She continued with her memory of the events surrounding the project: “One other story that is special is one that member Ruth Keener tells. When the talk of a the Family Life Center first began, Ruth’s husband Herb, one of the deacons at this time, thought it was too out of reach for our congregation. Then, Frank Lewis, pastor at the time, asked him and Ruth to head up the prayer committee, which oversaw the cottage prayer meetings, etc. That’s where God really did His work in all of us, as He took us from “this is a huge project and though we know we’d like to do this, it seems so very big” to a congregation of believers who “knew nothing could stop us from accomplishing what God wanted for the growth of His Church!” Herb, too, shared how his mind and heart became convinced that “nothing is impossible with God!” Those months were alive, as day after day God showed His glory! It was such fun to be part of it all!” Clearly, the Lord’s hand was with them as always and the building continues to be a blessing not only to the congregation but the community as well!
As you can see, nothing in the church just “happened”. Behind every decision, every detail, someone or many have prayed and dedicated much love and effort into creating this beautiful building we call our “home”! Before leaving today, take a few minutes to stop and really look at the many ways the Lord has blessed us over the years, give thanks for His grace and pray He continues to bless us as we continue to bring more people to the Lord!
The Bell: A Call to Worship
Be honest. Did you even know it’s there, hanging high within the crosses on the front lawn? Be sure to catch a glance when you leave church today. The bell has a history!
For centuries, church bells have been used to call people to worship, to commemorate important events, to announce funerals, and served as a community’s “time piece”, often marking the hour, and the quarter hours as well. But, for most modern day Christians, the ringing of bells from a church tower is thought to be more of a “joyful noise” rather than serving a need in the community.
Looking back at our church history, records show that on January 21, 1926, the members of the Riverton Christian Church (while still located on Jefferson St) purchased the bell from the Stuckstede & Bro Bell Foundry (St. Louis) for the price of $379.20 (this did not include the freight charge of $7.06). Why was it so important to the members to purchase a bell, especially knowing how hard they had to work to make the payments and keep the church going? Apart from the obvious “joyful noise” it would provide, we’ll most likely never know the reason this little congregation felt the need to spend that kind of money to buy a bell. But we do know this: From the beginning, the bell meant a lot to the members of the church!
Apparently, the arrival of the bell was a big event! The day the bell was to arrive, people headed to the train station (near the present day softball fields) to watch as it pulled in on the freight car. Imagine the excitement of the families as they watched while it was loaded onto a wagon and lead by horses through the streets to its new home in the church bell tower! Orlee Crane, a longtime member from the past, was a child during this time. She had recalled her family did without new winter coats one year in order for them to donate toward the cost o the bell. The congregation must have known that investing in this bell would serve as a forever reminder to all in the community to “come to the Lord” whenever they would hear its “joyful Noise” ring out across the village!
And “ring out” it did! Even when our present-day church was built back in 1967, very few things made the move from the old church to the new, but the bell was indeed among the items. Don ‘Sarge’ Jones recalled the day they were moving the bell from the tower to its new home. Members Roy Roberts, Richard Hurt, and Sarge were working up in the tower trying to remove the clapper. Somehow the clapper, which Sarge guessed to weigh around 100 pounds, fell and hit him on the forearm. This resulted in a tri to the ER, where the doctor splinted the break, rather than putting it in a cast. In hindsight, Sarge said with a smile, “It never did heal quite right even after all these years!” In Spite of the trip to the Emergency Room, the men managed to carry the bell down by hand (all 1250 pounds of it! And transport it to its home here on Seventh Street.
At first, the bell was stored toward the back of the church property before being moved onto a concrete slab near the church entrance. Long time past members Jeannie and Harley Hanson, wanted to have a bell tower constructed as a way to honor Jeannie’s parents George and Pauline Orme. Member Ray Barclay envisioned three crosses, constructed a small plastic prototype complete with a PVC bell, and showed it to the Hanson’s to see if it fit their vision of a bell tower. Once Ray received their approval on the idea, he took the design to member Mike Beiermann. Being an architect, Mike then created the plans to make the bell tower structurally sound. Then, on a chilly Saturday morning in the fall of 1989, many gathered at the church to help erect the tower and bell. Gary Brenizer, recalled the events of the day: Lascody Trucking delivered the crosses, which were in several sections. It snowed lightly that day, but because it did, they were able to finish the project! How was it that snow actually helped? Gary had spoken with crane operator/friend Bob Dagner earlier about the job, but wasn’t available to help due to a previous job lined up for that day. So they found another crane operator (?Scott) who could work that day. But for some reason, crane operator Scott had to leave early. However, due to the snow, Bob Dagner’s original job had been canceled, so he stopped by the church just to see if by chance they needed help! So they were back in business! Harley Hanson and Dick Sharp were there for the main welding needs, (yet anyone who was on hand that day was able to take a quick turn with the welding torch in order to preserve the memory of the day, according to Ray Barclay). Dick Sharp and Paul Lewis (age 19 at the time) were able to help set the bell on the rung of the cross, which was no easy feat! The sections were welded as they went up and the holes drilled for the bell brackets had to be placed just at the right spot. But , thanks to the volunteer efforts of many that autumn day, whether working out in cold or preparing meals for the workers, the bell and it’s three crosses had been secured two and a half feet into the ground on three pillars sitting on 11 yards of concrete!
Given that it was turning cold, it was decided to wait to paint the crosses. When spring 1989 arrived, the ‘team’ had to use a grinder to remove rust that had formed over the winter. From there, they first used an anti-corrosive paint, and then followed up with the regular paint. Members Paul Lewis and Scot Shriver had the honor of painting the crosses. Gary added a future “housekeeping” note that whenever someone decides to paint the crosses again, not to grind it down like they did because it will remove the anticorrosive layer of paint – just use a simple wire brush where needed. He also added the paint that is on the bell tower today (Oct 2016) is the same original coat!
The bell was rung to welcome people to service for many more years. Over time, there was the desire by Jeannie and Harley Hanson as well as other members of the congregation to have an electronic bell system in place which would share music with the community at set times during the day. Thanks to the memorials donated for the project, the bells were installed and currently ring out three times daily for the community to enjoy!
Clearly, the bell has watched many people come into God’s house to worship over the years. It would have pealed and tolled to commemorate births, deaths, war, victory, sorrow, and joy. It now sits high among the crosses as a reminder of all who came before us, dedicating their lives to follow Jesus, and ensure others will always have a church “home” in which to worship! In closing, it does make one wonder though why, with such a rich history, do we no longer ring the bell?? Ray Barclay had an answer as to why the bell is now silent. It was “Because the rope broke!” Apparently, not everything has to have an exciting story behind it!
Nostalgia I : Fellowship and Love
As the church history was being prepared, so many people had memories that were too good not to share! So in this final installment of the church’s history, let’s read about some of the interesting facts, tidbits, and memories that have been a part of our church and family over the past several years!
Did you know that Walt Collins, father of former-pastor Ron Collins, made the pulpit currently in the chapel as well as the cabinets (each has a cross on the front) that are in several of the Sunday school classrooms?
Did you know the wooden collection plates we still use were made by long-time past-member John Waltz? Linda Lewis recalls that “He was a giant of a man in many ways, both physically and spiritually. As a young man, he and his brother used a two man saw to fell trees and make railroad ties all the way from Rolla, MO to Riverton. Even into his nineties, he still wore cowboy boots and ordered a new Stetson every year. His hands were massive, but so was his heart. I’ll never forget the Sunday morning when he needed emergency surgery and we rushed to the hospital, he looked at Frank and said, ‘I’m fine. You go get everything ready for worship!’ Bless his heart, he was fine spiritually, but his body was rapidly wearing out. Every time I see the offering trays passed, I think of this good man who always spread so much joy wherever he was!!”
Monica Jones recalls the fun the church would have at Halloween! Her folks’ Sunday school class (the Ambassadors) would get together and throw an annual Halloween party. Monica remembered one year, George Orme lay on a slab for a spook house, and also remembers the year she and her Dad (“Sarge” Jones) and others hid in an abandoned house waiting for the youth group hay rack ride to tour the “haunted house!” Monica hid under an old bed and would touch the kid’s feet as they’d pass by (the beginning of her fear of spiders, she added!). Monica shared other memories she has of long time members from the past: “I remember the time Melvin White stood on top of the roof dressed like Satan and yelled at the people as they entered the church! And Holmes Greene would sit up toward the front of the church and would keep an eye on the time. When he felt it was time for the pastor to start “wrapping things up,” Holmes would stick his arm straight out then bring it back to his face so the pastor would get a clear look at Holmes checking the time on his watch!!”
Jerry Van Meter Sr. remembers the first and last Burgoo Festival here at the church! Long time members from the past Richard and Norma Hurt, planned a “Fall Festival” where burgoo would be served. A tent was set up out back, and during a cold November night, several of the men from the church stayed up all night stirring a giant pot of deer, raccoon, squirrel, and who knows what else! Jerry said it tasted ok around 2 a.m., but when the time came to serve it nearly 24 hours later, it was a big glob of brown mush (didn’t look very appealing!). Jerry remembers Don “Sarge” Jones wasn’t able to return to eat at dinner time because the smoke from stirring the pot all night made him sick! On another note, Jerry also recalled what a dedicated member Norm Davis was to the church. Norm would sometimes be the only person who would show up for a “work day.” He wanted to serve in whatever way he could, so if one year he wasn’t an elder, he’d be a deacon. Everyone enjoyed his teaching in Sunday school because they really studied the Bible. Jerry said it was Norm who helped him and Judy feel so comfortable here at the church!
Jerry also remembers when we’d have the Thanksgiving and other big dinners before the Family Life Center was built. Al Dunn would set up ladders from his paint shop, and they’d put 2×4’s between the rungs of the ladders to act as serving tables! He also remembers his wife Judy cooking a meal for over 200 people who attended the mortgage burning celebration back in 1984! Finally, Jerry recalled when the old bell used to sit out in front of the church and Mike Steele would always give the bell one ring before he came into the building! And as a housekeeping note for future reference, Jerry added that the outer walls of the church building were reinsulated with funds donated by members, Morris and Ethel Taylor.
Did you know the cross hanging in the Family Life Center was once hanging in front of the sanctuary above the baptistery?
Did you know Jeff Van Meter made the framed wooden scenes hanging in the lobby area of the church? They were initially made to be a part of a VBS setting for the Narnia theme, but everyone thought they looked so nice that they should be displayed!
Did you know Jack and Jason Nichols took their first trip to Nino’s de Mexico the same year the academy opened? Thanks to long time member Ray Lee, who was the missions chairman for years, many members of the church were able to head to Mexico for work projects to help the young children in the Mexican community. Ray said he’d traveled to Mexico at least 17 times, and most of those trips included groups of 12 members who wanted to be a part of the mission work. Those who couldn’t go would help in other ways such as collecting over-the-counter medicines (which were very expensive in Mexico) for the group to take and donate to the mission work. Ray and his wife Shirley have always had a love for missions!
Did you know that in 1984, when the church had a “Mortgage burning” celebration, the church opened the time capsule that had been placed in the building when it was built back in 1967? In it were a couple of record books from the old church on Jefferson St, along with a Bible and some pictures. Once it was opened, nothing new was added back into the “time capsule.” Where was this time capsule, you ask?! If you go down the hall to the office, you will see across from the men’s room a brown panel in the wall. On the other side of the wall in that same location, you will see the cornerstone. The time capsule had been placed inside the wall behind the stone, with the access panel in the hallway! If you look closely at pictures before the Family Life Center was added, you will see the cornerstone brick was once outside. Now, it’s enclosed in the lobby area of the church!
Richard Carlson remembers member Dottie Kissock, who’d played piano in the chapel for years for the early service. Eventually, the early service outgrew the chapel as it was often standing room only. This, and other reasons, is what led to the new family life center. Richard also remembers the old gravel parking lot and the grass lot out in back!
Gary Brenizer remembers how Roy Roberts made a big wooden Noah’s ark the church used for years, as well as the podium used in the sanctuary donated in memory of Roy and Merlene’s son, Roy Jr. Gary also credits past member Al Dunn for getting him involved in the church. Because of how Al took him under his wing, Gary now knows how important it is for the older men to help guide the young men in the church in growing closer to the Lord. And Gary shared one other memory: “I remember one year for our ‘Thirty Pieces of Silver’ campaign, we wheeled a wheelbarrow down the aisle of the sanctuary and people put their donations right there in the wheelbarrow as it was brought up to the altar!”
Julie Klebe remembers long time member, Joan Stone: “Somehow I got it into my head that I should join the choir! I knew I couldn’t sing, but still wanted to be a part of the program! I wasn’t a soprano and my voice, if it fit anywhere, fell more into the alto range. Joan had a beautiful alto voice, so I’d make sure to sit by her every week so I could try to match (at least get close) to the notes she sang! If I couldn’t stand next to Joan, or she wasn’t there for some reason, I’d just mainly move my lips!! I’m sure it drove her crazy having my voice in her ear, but she was always so gracious! Because of this gracious nature, she was the perfect person to always teach the 6th grade girls in VBS, as she’d not only teach them the Bible lessons, but would also model how to be lady! At the end of the week, she would give the young ladies a gold Sacajawea dollar to remember the time at VBS!” Julie realizes how many of the women in the church including Joan, had/have been such Godly role models to her, first as a young wife and mother, as well as now, 22 years later!
Mary Rusciolelli, and many others in the church remember Melvyn White, who was known as the “candy man” because he always had a pocket full of candy he’d hand out to the children in the church!
Ruth Keener has many fond memories of church life at RCC! Some of her favorites were when Pastor Frank Lewis married her and Herb on June 4th, 1994. Then, after they attended for a few months, Mary Jane Dunn asked Herb if he would consider becoming a member. He was baptized here and they became members! She also recalled the time when Herb was asked to serve as a deacon. He helped to start the morning men’s prayer breakfasts at a Springfield bowling alley. One morning when he was at breakfast, he reached into his shirt pocket for his cell phone and pulled out the remote control for the TV instead. Some of the men still chuckle about that moment!! Ruth also remembers fondly Norma and Richard Hurt. “Norma was always a happy, positive woman. She collected clocks and had most of the walls covered with clocks in her living room. Richard faithfully helped Norma in and out of her wheelchair with his crippled hands. They were inspiring Christ followers!” Ruth, along with many other long-time members, recalls the small group meetings/classes that were held in homes such as Harley and Jeannie Hanson, Ray and Shirley Lee, Don and Marsha Jones, Ron and Sherrie Esserine, Richard and Virginia Carlson, Rob and Carolyn Bjerk, and several other homes during these pleasant years. “We always had great fellowship, fun, and food! RCC certainly had a friendly, family atmosphere and we felt connected and worked together. I have good memories of those days!”
Nostalgia II: The Gospel through VBS, Choir, and Drama
Of course we all remember VBS! For many years, RCC has provided the children of our church and community with a fun, loving place to come learn about Jesus! Years ago, VBS would be held for two weeks and for a number of years there would be a VBS parade when the kids would ride their decorated bicycles around the neighborhood, adults would dress up in costumes based on the theme of the year’, and invite the community to join them for VBS! Ask anyone familiar with VBS here at RCC and they’ll tell you Linda Lewis could really rally the troops and get everyone excited to participate! Because of Linda’s great love for the children and passion for the Lord, she always had those who would regularly sign up to be at her side! Karen Nichols and Sharon Zake handled registration like seasoned professionals! Virginia Carlson was the nurse at hand, the ladies in the kitchen, the men on parking lot detail, teachers, storytellers, the music folks, nursery workers, craft helpers, behind the scene ladies who spent hours cutting out craft projects and name tags…too many to name, but all were/are dedicated to the kids and the VBS program! Though the program has changed over the years and moved to the evenings, we all fondly remember those summer mornings we’d all gather in the church along with 150-200 children and helpers to learn about Jesus!!
Karen Davis remembers the big musical productions the church used to do back when her children were in school. One that really stands out to her was called “Kids’ Praise”. Rob VanMeter played the part of “Psalty the Hymn Book”, Selena Schibley (sp?) was “Charity Church Mouse,” and Debbie Crosby made the “Music Machine. Karen remembered some of the other kids from the church who took part in the production were Lori Anning Hanson, Jay Davis, and Jason Boyd, When asked, Lori Hanson further recalled that Michelle Griffin and Robyn Churchill may also have been in it as well. These productions would be held on a weekend evening and everyone had a great time!
Speaking of great times, Karen also recalled the family weekends down at the church camp. Everyone would gather on the hillside for devotions, and would all join together for meals that the Lee’s and VanMeter’s would help prepare. Karen laughed as she also remembered one particular evening: The ladies were all staying in one of the dorms, and member Pat Martinez decided to put her bathrobe on top of her bed to find it easily so when she went to bed later on, she wouldn’t disturb anyone already asleep. When the time came to quietly go to bed, she reached for her robe on the bed. However, there in the dark room, the pompoms on the robe suddenly felt like a spider and Pat let out a big scream, thereby waking everyone she tried so hard not to awaken! Everyone always had fun at camp on family weekends!
Sally Combs remembers that Pastor Ron Collins baptized her husband Mike in the old church on Jefferson St back in the 1960’s! They moved away but returned back to Riverton to be a part of the church family again!
Member Angela Mueller has life long memories of the church: “I have grown up here. It’s the first place my parents took me as a newborn baby when I was just 2 weeks old. My mom, Linda Turner, was the secretary for most of my childhood. I remember learning to roller skate in the hallways, crawling under the pews with Max Johnson’s son, Duane, and “spying” on choir practice! I also remember climbing over the pews and getting caught by Richard Hurt, the custodian! I remember being baptized on a Friday night at the end of a revival by the youth minister, Jay Beeman, and all of the wonderful Godly people helping me grow as a Christian. I remember so many fun times with the youth group and our sponsors, going on mission trips to Mexico and Haiti, plus teaching kindergarten and first grade at the academy. Rob and I were married in the church and we dedicated our daughter, Faith, there when we brought her home from Russia. I remember so many fellow believers coming together to not only pray, but give monetarily to help us adopt Faith. And Rob baptizing Faith in the same baptistery I was baptized in will always be a special memory for me!”
Many of the men in church remember Dart ball! Brought to the church by Mike Moore, it was a monthly activity where the guys would play a game where they’d toss darts at a board that looked like a baseball diamond. They’d all laugh around a pot luck dinner and have some good ol’ friendly Christian competition while getting to know each other! They all loved dart ball night!
The men weren’t the only ones who knew how to have fun! The women had their night out once a month as well! They’d have snacks, a devotional, then the fun would begin with the white elephant game! Everyone would bring their most hideous ‘white elephant’ and wrap it up in a bag or disguised some other way. They’d play the “7 or 11” dice game, and at the end, everyone would go home with someone else’s “treasure”!! Nothing was off limits to give…even an old bathroom sink! Many were afraid to get whatever it was Vicki Streb managed to find for her white elephant as her sense of humor would lead to some crazy things! But the best memory of all that came from these evenings together, was Mary Jane Dunn’s infamous ‘red bead’ story! She was such a wonderful Christian example to all the women in the church, and no one knew how to have fun like Mary Jane Dunn!
Member Sue Tisdale has wonderful memories of all of the fall festivals held at the church, complete with the vegetable soup plus the chili and pie contests!
Remember all of the programs, dramas, and Christmas pageants long time member Phyllis Merritt has directed over the years?! It wasn’t Christmas without the children’s angel choir announcing the birth of Jesus, while the magi would come down the aisle with their wonderful homemade costumes and gifts for the baby Jesus! The kids all loved Phyllis’ puppet ministry and the weekly “Kid’s Club” program she had for several years. Her children’s programs always involve lots of fun and love!
As with everything, over the years, many traditions of the church have come and gone as the members pass away or move along to another church. Also, with each pastor comes new activities to try and new traditions to create. In the years to come, our members will think back fondly of our current tradition of “Journey to Bethlehem”, a live, interactive presentation held each December! After weeks of hard work beforehand, the Family Life Center is transformed into the area in and around the small village of Bethlehem, complete with an angel choir, a visit from Gabriel, local businesses, shepherds out in their fields, tax collectors, census takers, live alpacas and a living mange scene where the visitors meet the baby Jesus! Over the years that it’s been held, community participation has been reaching close to 300 visitors who travel through Bethlehem over that weekend!
So Others Can Find Him
In closing, it’s always fun to think back and remember good times and the wonderful people who have shaped the history of the church over the years. But as we close this recollection of the church’s 140th anniversary in the year 2016, let’s always remember why we remember: It’s to remember the sacrifices made by others so we can all be sitting here in this beautiful building, worshipping the Lord and continuing His work! Will we remember every person by name or every program ever offered here at church? No. But we must honor that history and realize that if it weren’t for the people of the past doing what they did, we wouldn’t be where we are today! More importantly, we can’t stop creating new memories and a history that will continue to encourage and possibly sustain future generations as they come to the church in hopes of finding the Lord! Let’s all head into the next 140 years ready to do God’s work and make the sacrifices needed for others to know the ultimate sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us!
Thank you for being a part of the Riverton Christian Church 140th Anniversary!