First United Methodist Church
DeRidder

 

HISTORY
OF
FIRST UNITED METHODIST CHURCH
DE RIDDER, LOUISIANA
1901-1998

Pastors:

N.F. Hoffpauir, 1901
J. M. Alford, 1902
R. V. Fulton, 1903
T. J. Hollady, 1904
S. L. Riggs, 1905-06
B. T. Crews, 1907-08
J. W. Booth, 1909-10
J. F. Foster, 1911-13
W. S. Henry, 1914-16
P. M. Brown, 1917-18
C. E. Fike, 1919-20
H. W. Rickey, 1921
H. T. Young, 1922-24
E. C. Gunn, 1925
J. L. Evans, 1926-27
H. W. Ledbetter, 1927-28
K. W. Dodson, 1929
H. E. Pfost, 1930-32
C. D. Atkinson, 1933-34
G. W. Pomeroy, 1935-36
A. S. Lutz, 1937-39
S. A. Seegars, 1940-41
D. W. Poole, 1942-46
C. R. Hardy, 1946-49
W. J. Reid, 1949-50
G. F. Pearce, Jr., 1950-56
J. C. Whitaker, 1956
Robert H. Jamieson, 1957-67
Charles E. Fike, Jr., 1968
W. C. Blakeley, 1969-70
J. C. Wallace. 1970-71
Odell Simmons, 1972-77
Henry Bowden 1977-80
Jack Wiengeart 1980-1984
Clyde Averett 1984-90
Rick Hebert 1990-1993
John and Marie Palmer Williams 1993-1997
Jon Tellifero 1997-


For nearly one hundred years the Methodist Church has been a vital part of the DeRidder community. All through these years the Church has tried to fulfill its mission to make Christ real to the people of this community and to help its members grow in faith and Christian service. The Methodist Church has been active in Louisiana since 1805. During the Civil War the southern conferences of the church withdrew from the original Methodist Episcopal Church to form The Methodist Episcopal, South, and it was not until 1940 that the southern conferences rejoined the original church and the DeRidder Church became "The Methodist Church." The last change came when, in 1968, the Church united with the Church of the Brethren and its affiliates. The official name of the Church is now "The First United Methodist Church."

Before the turn of the century DeRidder was a very small sawmill town. The first religious organization in town was a union Sunday School which met in the Oddfellows Hall. It was out of this that the first church in DeRidder was organized, The Methodist Episcopal, South, in 1901. Rev. Nelson Hoffpauir was appointed by Bishop Charles B. Galloway to the Neame, Rosepine and DeRidder Circuit. In 1902 the Rev. J. M. Alford served Leesville and DeRidder where the meeting place had been moved to the lower floor of the Masonic Hall. With the Rev. R. V. Fulton as pastor in 1903, the Board of Stewards was composed of Robert Jones (father of future Governor Sam H. Jones), Dr. Sam McMahon, and Addison Heard. An active layman of this period was J. E. McMahon (grandfather of Mackie Bienvenu). The membership of seventy-eight (78) raised $212.00. The Rev. S. L. Riggs was the first full-time pastor in 1905-06.

It was during the ministry of the Rev. Riggs that the Hudson River Lumber Company donated to the church the two lots on the northeast comer of the present courthouse square, and the first church building was erected, a frame structure with a bell tower, a gabled roof and high arched windows. The cornerstone was laid July 2, 1905, but a yellow fever epidemic prevented use of the new building until November of that year. The Trustees were J. 0. Stewart, Frank P. Moss, W. B. Lindsey, Thomas Fears, A. I. Shaw (father of Mrs. G. H. Olds, Mrs. J. C. Nichols and Jewel Shaw Clymer), George W. Heard, Robert Jones, J. C. Bilbo, and Dr. H. McMahon. In 1906 two other trustees were added, Charles A. Paxon and Johnny Jones (father of Mrs. Paul Strecker, Booth Jones and James Jones).

Sometime before 1905 the Baptists had built their church. An amusing story is told that illustrates the closeness of the Baptist and Methodist Churches. It seems that one Sunday a man was passing the Methodist Church, and the congregation was singing, "Will there be any stars in my crown?" Then as he passed the Baptist Church their congregation was singing, "No, not one."

In 1913 DeRidder became the county seat of newly formed Beauregard Parish, and on September 11th the church property was sold to the Police Jury so that the new court house and jail buildings could occupy the entire east half of the downtown block. The selling price was $7,500.00 and the building was moved to the New Heights Road, now Martin Luther King Drive, where it is still used by the Starlight Baptist Church. Two months later, property at the comer of Pine and Port Streets was purchased from James E. McMahon for $2,000.00, Mr. McMahon having turned down other offers in order to save the location for his church.

In December of 1914 the Rev. Walter S. Henry was appointed pastor, having been specifically selected by Bishop James Atkins as a minister capable of building the new church in DeRidder. The Building Committee was composed of Charlie Sills, A. S. Hamilton and A. E. Stewart. One member gave a contribution to the building designated for a stained glass dome to top the structure; the dome was to match the beautiful windows. After many meetings of the committee, pastor and the architect, William Draco, the dome became a reality. However, it was found that the cost of the dome was far more than the large donation for it. For all the beauty of the design, it was impractical, causing leaks and much disturbance to the acoustics of the auditorium. The Rev. Henry was an able administrator and managed to hold his flock together to finish the building, the first brick church in DeRidder. First services were held there in 1915, and some years later the first wedding in the sanctuary was that of Miss Longino Titus and Mr. Fred Schweitzer who were both active in the church for many years to follow. The wedding was a large and beautiful one and was the social event of the year. Truly, the congregation was proud of the new church and its beauty, even though the comforts were few. No one had heard of air-conditioning, and for years the congregation could not even afford ceiling fans. In an attempt to stay cool in the summertime, the windows were opened and hand fans were kept busy; however, then mosquitoes became the problem! For many years there was no kitchen in the Church until a six by 8-foot storeroom was converted into a kitchen with a two- burner hotplate and a sink.

DeRidder's new building contained a large meeting room at the rear of the sanctuary, planned for use as a recreational room. It was surrounded on three sides by Sunday School rooms on the first level and the mezzanine level. So artfully designed was this unit that all twelve (12) of the Sunday School rooms could be opened to the recreational area and could become part of the main auditorium with the use of folding chairs. Even so, there were never enough Sunday School rooms, and some classes had to meet in the sanctuary. One member recalls a large placard that hung on the wall just above the inner door of the sanctuary on the Port Street Side that read, "What kind of Church would this Church be if every member were just like me?" This challenge faced every member every Sunday as no one ever entered the Church by the front door. The pews faced that way! When anyone entered by the front door, he was quickly "pegged" as a stranger.

First United Methodist is proud of its record of cooperation with other churches in the community. In the early days, there were no Catholic, Presbyterian, or Episcopal Churches in DeRidder, and the congregations worshipped in the Methodist Church. On another occasion Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians joined together to have a two-week revival.

In 1917-18 the Rev. Paul M. Brown served DeRidder First Church as minister. He had requested upon his death that he be buried in Woodlawn Cemetery beside his son, Ellis Brown, who died while in the service of his country in World War I. These names are familiar to all Louisiana Methodists, the Ellis Brown Memorial Chapel having been given by his two surviving brothers, Paul M. and Perry Brown. The mother left a living memorial to her dead son, a pecan tree that she planted in his honor on church property facing Pine Street, land that was then the front of the parsonage. Mrs. Brown lived out her remaining days near Woodlawn Cemetery in a retirement cottage that she bequeathed jointly to this church and Centenary College from which her husband and all three of her sons had graduated.

One of the highlights of the history of this church was the hosting, in 1920, of the 75th session of the Louisiana Annual Conference. In those years the Conference was held in a different city each year, and such an undertaking for DeRidder, a town of 3000 people, was an epic occasion. Preachers and delegates were guests in almost every home in town, and even the jury rooms in the Court House served as dormitories. Public eating places were completely inadequate so it was up to the membership to provide food for these many ministers and laymen during this Diamond Anniversary of the Louisiana Methodist Conference.

It is reported that financial problems of the Church always seemed to be a constant cause of worry. The Depression years were particularly hard. H. R. McLaughlin (husband of Mary McLaughlin) was the church treasurer during this time, and the men of the church actually "knocked on doors" to collect enough money to pay the minister's salary. Up until 1935, the highest salary paid for a minister was $125.00 per month and very few extras went with this. Unfortunately, this salary could not command an outstanding minister, so the Board of Stewards raised the salary to $150.00 in 1915. Then the Bishop sent one of the finest young ministers in the Conference, G. W. Pomeroy, to the DeRidder Church. Later when the treasurer gave his annual report, the amount received and spent for the year was $3400.00. One of the Board members responded, "We're spending too much money in this Church. We're going to have to do better." The Church didn't have many members who earned big salaries and even the professional men didn't earn much in those days. Extra money was hard to raise. The story is told that one year the Chairman of the Board was a local political leader, and when the Church was short of money, he would "shake down" those who were obligated to him for political favors. One member of the Baptist Church said he was giving more money to the Methodist Church than he gave to his own church. When one of the Methodist members complained to his minister that it was sinful to take "tainted" money given for political favors, Billy Pomeroy replied, "The only thing wrong with it is, it "taint" enough."

The DeRidder Church has attained great spiritual growth during times of crises. One of these times that stands out is the period of World War II, beginning in 1941. When Camp Polk, now Ft. Polk, was built, many soldiers came to worship at First Church. Most of these were not career soldiers but had been drafted from every state in the Union. They represented every walk of life-college professors, lawyers, teachers, college students, and representatives of all kinds of industry. They had been trained for combat, and Polk was their last stop before being assigned overseas. This was a time when church members gave their time unselfishly to welcome the soldiers and assist in every possible way. Housing was so scarce that many soldiers and their wives had a difficult time finding even a room to rent. During this period Rev. Willie Poole and his wife, Helen, were serving First Church. Their unselfish devotion and service to these army families was an inspiration to all. The parsonage was small; however, the Pooles almost always had a soldier and his wife sleeping at their house. (The congregation wondered if the Poole boys ever got to sleep in their beds because they always seemed to be sleeping in other parts of the house.) Everyone who was a member of First Church and had an extra room had a soldier and his wife living with them. "Mom" Graves gave many hours cooking and serving hot meal in the fellowship Hall for these Sunday visitors. A Young Adult Sunday School Class was organized for soldiers, their wives, and a few young women in the church. Mary McLaughlin was the teacher (this later bacame the Triple L Sunday School Class). First Church's young men were away serving in the military, so members opened their homes and their hearts to these other young men who were a long way from loved ones. Each Sunday most families would take home two to four soldiers for Sunday dinner. The guests would eat dinner, spend the afternoon, eat supper, then go back to church on Sunday night. For years after the war was over, letters were received from these soldiers who had shared the church's fellowship.

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