Bob Mitchell: First Christian building sees 50th anniversary

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Itís been what might be termed a fast 50 years since the main auditorium of First Christian Church was dedicated, marking a significant milestone in the history of the 133-year-old congregation.

Forgive the personal or family information that might add to the significant part of this column since an observance of the anniversary will be held this Sunday.

Initial meetings of the group were held on my grandmotherís porch at Ninth and Townsend at the Ray House. She and the Trolinger family were the instigators of the founding. She was Jennie B. Ray, known as aunt Jennie most of her adult life. The group first met in various locations around town, once settling in the second floor of the former Reynolds Building on the southeast corner of the square, whose structure now houses Willis Insurance.

The first building for the group came into being in 1901 at Seventh and Gravel, which later became the Lutheran congregationís property.

Land for the present building was secured by option by a few members who offered the property to the church if they desired to relocate, which started the process of decisions by the congregation, which were not only interesting, but enjoyable.

First congregational move

Since there seemed to be more interest in a building project among some of the more senior members, building committee members started thinking of the first move they might make in stirring interest in a new church building. Their first step was calling a meeting of the women of the congregation who had expressed a direct desire to move from the crowded existing church building.

Hereís where some real leadership names come in line, most of whom have been forgotten over the span of years. So, here are those who took leadership roles in the decisions to proceed with the project. I would be remiss not to place by mother, Kathryn Ray Mitchell, at the head of the list. Then would come Maud Trolinger Wilson, Vi Ware, Melba Sullivan, Della Stehlik, Tommy Tomblin, Mary Frances Baker, Helen Nicoll, Lona Dingler and Wilma Hawk.

There could have been a couple of more names involved in this group that could have slipped my memory.

It was quite handy to have this kind of strength in the congregation when problems might exist.

A smart move

Once during the project, opposition was beginning, even in the building committee, regarding the cost of the project and what the payment schedule would amount to each month. At this point, Church Designer and Builders of North Little Rock, Ark., presented a program by film to the men of the church that featured a similar project, costing about the same in funds. There was in the program an opposition factor similar to the one we were facing.

Putting what issues that might have existed in the forefront was the solution to any problems. That part of doubt in the plans completely disappeared following the meeting.

Construction delay

There was only one construction delay during the project, which occurred when the electrical contractor ran wiring throughout the building without a ground wire, apparently attempting to save cost from his contract. Little did he realize this phase of the building would be inspected by Barry Electricís Karl VanZandt, who turned down the workmanship.

When this happened, building committee member Herschel Stehlik nearly blew his top to the prime contractor, who sent the electrician back to Cassville to comply with regulations.

There were other happenings to the processes that proved interesting and somewhat of an education, as there would be in any such undertaking, which need not be published even today.

Just two remaining

Mentioning Stehlik and his leadership leaves to mention there are only two members of the committee living today, Herschel and myself. Long departed were Wayne Tomblin and Truman Baker, committee chairman. Earl Hutchens, board chairman at the time often participated in decision matters.

Bert Ward was pastor of First Christian Church at the time. He is scheduled to be a part of this Sundayís 50th anniversary program, which is open to the public during regular church services.

Present-day pastor Dr. Chuck Terrill said there was a possibility items placed in a cornerstone at the original dedication might be opened, reviewed and then replaced during the upcoming program.

A Cassville Democrat first

It was thought to be presumptuous at the time by some people when we published the first full color picture in the history of the paper on the front page of that weekís issue. It was of the just completed building January 13, 1971. Since the process required a large color negative for processing the separate colors for the plates, we had to call on Max Fields to make the exposure.

Issues kept for our viewing didnít last long around our household, so, it will be interesting to once again view the January 1971 paper.

Bob Mitchell is the former editor and publisher of the Cassville Democrat. He is a 2017 inductee to both the Missouri Press Association Hall of Fame and Missouri Southern State Universityís Regional Media Hall of Fame.