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 2x4’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!”
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!
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!