This is a continuing history of our church body and the ways that God has continually provided for us. The people who were instrumental from its beginning continue to impact us today. Some of you are related to these pioneers. As you recognize your relatives and friends from long ago, please let the church know so that we can continue to flesh out this history with your stories and photos.
Since 1968 Lolo Community Church has been known as the little red church on the corner. But long before that, the congregation held Sunday School and church in a schoolhouse. Land for a church was given by Fred and Sophia Gilbert on May 6, 1905 a Methodist Episcopal Church was to be built. Mr. Gilbert stipulated that a cross should always be on the church or it would revert back to him. One Halloween some boys cut down the cross, and the church was almost lost before it was hastily nailed back in place. During the schoolhouse days, preaching services were conducted by a Reverend Ellis, a District Sunday School superintendent and several other men from Missoula. After the church was built, Reverend William Tester held service at night after preaching at Carlton in the morning and 8-mile in the afternoon. Sunday School was held in the morning with August Hollensteiner as superintendent.
1905-1912 This was an active time of many fund-raising dinners, bazaars, plays, and special music at the Highway 93 location. The last of the ministers to serve was Reverend Roberts.
1912-1917 Quite a few names dot the landscape during this period, but individual loyalties divided the congregation until services stopped completely.
1923 Three stalwart women and one couple reactivated the church. Mr. and Mrs. John Schroeder came in a horse drawn hayrack. The came early so John could build the wood fires. They had no official pastor so they ran a Sunday School, fellowship time, and kept church records. John, being a Gideon, was always a stickler for records—money, Bibles, and people.
1924-19 Methodist preacher, Holtzinger, preached and instituted sending money to missions—a practice that has continued. L.E. Simes preached in 1926, anointing John Schroeder as exhorter, with the authority to hold services as needed. John continued to building fires when needed. An interesting list of names preached and taught during this time. Sunday nights were crowded with community members.
1940 The first Vacation Bible School was held. Reverend H.W. Woods taught and preached until December of 1943. He also built pews, a pulpit and a communion table. (Note: The pews were given to Frenchtown church in 1959.) This “Little white church on the highway” was always considered Lolo Community Church according to Melva Campbell. “And many people considered they were members who never attended services.” When the “new church” was constructed on the current property, all records were given a fresh start. The church was incorporated in 1967. (Note: For newcomers, the “little white church” was on the west side of the two-lane highway, across from the second-hand store, at the corner of Highway 93 and Lewis & Clark Drive.
1950’s W.L. Schroeder bought a bell for the church from the Florence school. Many men helped install it. (And yes, this same bell was later moved to the new church building and later still, on to Camp Utmost.) Church business was conducted by a committee of Edna Tucker, Fred & Clara Kester, Helen & John Schroeder, and Ross & Frances Middlemist. Early records of this era list John Schroeder as teacher and superintendent of Sunday School. Mrs. Edna Tucker (Wally is her son) took up this position and held it for many, many years. Sigrid Larsen was secretary-treasurer until 1954 when Frances Middlemist took up the duties clear into the 90’s.
1955-1959 Attendance grew and an addition was built. Darrell & Betty Burch began serving the Bitterroot Valley community in 1957. They saw the huge challenge and began writing two friends from Bible school days: Don & Ferris Rust and Gale & Elsie Fister, who with their families joined the couple. Sam & Marjorie Gupton of the American Sunday School Union replaced Burchs’ in 1962. The original challenge was, “Take a week and look for places without a Gospel witness.” They came, and as Gale said, “When we came there were no Christians at all in the rural communities. You can’t start churches where there are no Christians. You have to understand, television didn’t reach into the rural areas and the kids were bored to tears. We didn’t come with a plan to start children’s work. But the most openness was with these bored teenagers, so that’s where we began.”
During those early years Gale Fister, Don Rust and others held youth group meetings in Drummond, Stevensville, Victor, Frenchtown, Alberton, St. Regis, Saltese, Haugan, Garrison, Ferndale, Ovando, Trout Creek, Tarkio, Plains, Camas Prairie, and DeSmet Montana. They also held one in Gibbonsville, Idaho. They met in one-room schools, farmhouses, bars, or any spot that could fit a crowd. (One other couple, Bob & Millie Lukey, is mentioned, but they came later.) Each Sunday morning Elsie Fister bundled up their five children to go to church so the entire family would be where Gale preached. When Gale became the regular evening minister, the Fister family moved with their children, Carol, Jack, Tim, Bob, and Ruth, to Missoula. In 1964 son Bill was born. February 1, 1962 Gale Fister began conducting regular evening services. In 1963 the Sunday School raised enough money to buy another tent for Camp Utmost (which began in 1952). Throughout this period the Women’s Club and Farm Bureau made regular contributions to the church.
1964 March of 1964 Sunday School records list $28.82 in the treasury. All money collected in Sunday School was kept separately. Little wooden chairs were purchased from Joe Halm for downstairs, later to be replaced by plastic.
1965 An old pipe organ was replaced with a newer one (donated in memory or Linda Breuer). The piano in the present sanctuary was donated by Bud & Lou Ozmun. Norma Rossignol provided gold velvet covers for both instruments. These are examples of just a few of the many, many donations. Many were quite substantial.
1966 “The old oil stove went poof!” one too many times, the last being during Christmas, showering the congregation in soot. So a new furnace was purchased. That same year attendance increased, as did parking problems. The highway was widened through Lolo which brought it to the church steps! Thus a search for new property began. Ross & Frances Middlemist donated the land for the present property on Lewis & Clark Drive. An additional piece of land donated was to be used by Graeff(Hunk) & Mamie Fister (Gale’s parents) during their lifetime. After their deaths, the house became the office of the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission until 2009 when it became the church office and Youth department. The old church was sold to Max Hughes for $4,800 with the provision that the building be burned. Release of Methodist interest in the property was purchased for $400.
May 11, 1967 Articles of Incorporation were written and adopted and trustees elected.
1968 Plans were drawn for the present church and the cornerstone was laid in July and building began in August. John Maier, complete with wooden leg that was a legacy of WW II, headed construction. Picture him driving his pickup into the auditorium, setting up and climbing the ladder in the truck bed to complete the arches. This dedication and diligence was replicated by Duane Eggers and many, many others who donated their labor. The first service was held in the basement at Christmas time that year. Jerrie Rock was the first bride in September of 1970.
1969 The Rocky Mountain Bible Mission was incorporated with Gale Fister as president and Frank Jackson as treasurer. Lolo Community Church became a charter member. Melva Campbell became the first church secretary followed by Clarice Reimer and then Bonnie Viegut. Frances Middlemist kept the Sunday School books followed by Bonnie Viegut. Gale Fister was the evening service minister from 1963 forward. By 1969 he was preaching three services a Sunday, five youth groups one week, a second set of five the next week, then looping back so each group met twice a month.
1970 The congregation held their first services upstairs, having met in the basement all during construction. Gale became the full-time pastor in 1975. Until that time only Sunday School was held in the mornings.
1976 The growing congregation recognized the need for more space and an addition on the north side was built. The AWANA program was started by Alan & Bonnie Viegut in 1979. They met in the Lolo Community Center and ran a program that included pre-schoolers through 8th graders. They averaged 140 kids and both church buses were used to transport children. As today, many adults were involved in teaching, running games, driving buses, and listening…always listening to Bible verses being memorized.
1980 By now the active AWANA program birthed the need for a gymnasium. Don Tripp sold the land for the gym. The story is told that when the congregation had funds for either a baptistry or a gym that Pastor Gale said emphatically, “I’ll vote for kids every time!” Gale repeatedly underscored his heart for kids…from the pulpit and anywhere else people would listen.
1983 Jean Rock Tucker sold land for what became the additional wing to the south of the sanctuary. The Ladies Fellowship has been an integral part of the church since started in the early 1970s by Clarice Reimer. In addition to the predictable receptions, dinners and monthly meetings, the group sent support to Pine Haven (Children’s) Ranch in St. Ignatius and to a Rocky Mountain Bible Missionary.
Lindy & Lola Myers, Smalleys, Beebes, Smiths, Hightowers, Heaths, Barndts—all these families and many others have served in every conceivable position ever since in the church, camp and wider community. Look for the many fascinating family connections in our congregation.
A tape ministry extended sermons and special programs to people working with children during the regular service, plus those unable to attend. Principally for shut-ins, those out due to illness and also friends of the congregation.
Marion McHatton started Friendship Bible Coffees which sprouted many other weekly home Bible study groups through the years. Marion served for over 20 years before her death.
Elsie Fister began a nursery ministry during the church service so parents could attend service. The nursery was an integral part of the first addition and has been remodeled twice since then.
DeLon Potter, Skip Barndt and others knocked out walls and moved the bathroom. Heidi Smalley and Celina Barndt painted Heidi’s drawings on the walls.
2002-2003 A transition in leadership began as Gale Fister moved into retirement. Don & Dale Oberg, missionaries with the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission, had been serving in Lincoln and were asked to come to Lolo in 1990 as Assistant Pastor. Don remained as assistant and David Moring became Interim Pastor as a pastoral search committee began the process of “filling Fister’s shoes.”
God blessed those efforts and Jeff Boschmann became the full-time pastor in January of 2004. Don was “loaned out” to fill several spots in need, including the church at Ovando. Chuck Kear came as Assistant Pastor in 2011. The tradition continues of “many hands make light work.” Sharp eyes will observe many quiet servants working throughout the week in various locations and activities of ministry.
By the way, when the original church was torn down, do you know what happened to the bell and belfry? Yes, the bell eventually went to Camp Utmost. But did you know that the belfry is atop the Hayloft Restaurant and Saloon?
From inception, Lolo Community Church, Camp Utmost, and the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission (RMBM) grew and were intertwined in the singular vision for spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ in rural Western Montana. Hal & Nancy Anderson from Frenchtown as well as Frank & Betty Jackson were prominently involved. Starting 1974 Frank served as the RMBM director for many years as well as directing Camp Utmost. Not considered a spin-off of Lolo Church, but integrally involved, is the Rocky Mountain Bible Institute which began in 1985. Initially, Prairie Bible Institute credited coursework from this Bible training for laymen. This valuable Biblical studies program is now carried out by the Rocky Mountain Bible Mission with three sites around western Montana and is taught by various qualified pastors within the Mission.
The single-most closely related ministry is Camp Utmost.
1. Camp Utmost
Camp Utmost stared in 1958 at Nine Mile Community building. Later camp was moved up Blanchard Creek on land leased from Anaconda Copper Company. This abandoned logging camp came with three buildings. Lolo church bought a tent and later the camp had a total of eight tents. This camp and its rich memories is still fondly referred to as “Old Camp”, and if you want greatstories ask Evalina Heiberger, Doris Gruver, Elaine Boyd and others.
In 1996 Camp Utmost lost its lease on the Plum Creek Land & Timber Company. Building began on its current location, the Blanchard creek site owned by Rancher, Frank Vannoy, who sold part of his land to RMBM for the camp at an extra-ordinarily good price. The camp director at the time, Steve Fawcett, got a Sanitarian’s license for the plumbing, saving a great deal of money. Angie Barndt’s dad, Sterling Sloan, came from Canada to handle the backhoe. Lindy Myers “button-holed” Wayne Hightower at church one Sunday asking, “OK, Hightower, you’re retired now; what are you doing for the Lord?” These two became three with the addition of Orion Heath. They joined Steve Fawcett to become the Four Musketeers—an formidable force, tirelessly volunteering their time and notable skills. Fawcett was also serving Potomac Bible Church as pastor during this time.
Of this lovely time of building “New Camp”, probably the most fond memories are of Wayne Hightower’s frequent announcements from the church pulpit, “Progress is progressing.”
These men and women were surrounded by a continual stream of diligent and committed workers, many of whom are still at work. Among them are Camp directors, teachers, counselors during the summer, and building and maintenance crews who consistently show up every Monday, year around, headed by DeLon Potter.
Camp Utmost directors included the following: Frank Jackson, Dennis Nobles, Steve Fawcett, Skip Barndt, Paul Skogland, Don Oberg, and presently, Lloyd Dailey.
2. Lone Rock Bible Church
Back in the early ‘80s, Skip Barndt got a call from Buck Buckingham who needed a substitute speaker for a small group of believers in the Lone Rock area. Buck said, “Once a month I drive my horses and covered wagon from town to town preaching. Here’s your directions—go to 3 Mile store, go right, two houses, preach in basement.” Skip adds, “There were two little kids in the yard—Andy and Ann Weldy.” (Andy later became Skip’s son-in-law.) This was the beginnings of a church “plant”.
That group outgrew the basement and moved to the 3 Mile store backroom. People from Lolo Church took the church bus, Dale Risdon led singing each week with pianist Barb Smith. Skip preached some of the time but as Skip says, “It was mostly Gale. More bus riders came than people from the community.”
The growing group moved to Lone Rock School. Skip, Gale, Dave Moring, Don Oberg, and anybody else they could find would preach. Jim Carlson, who was the RMBM director at that time, became Lone Rock’s full time pastor in 1997. Land was bought by Larry & June Dvorak, a building program was begun, and a new church building was constructed with no debt. Men from Lolo helped with the building (2002-05). That was but the first of Lolo Church people involved in RMBM communities and churches.
Here are a few more:
3. Thirty five men from Lolo and all over the Mission went to Alberton (97 men total), and built the church in one day! The community fed them supper. Al and Ken Lake were involved, it was their construction company that provided materials.
4. Next came Frenchtown, with Jim Boorman (Miriam Boschmann’s dad), as ramrod. Crews came from Lolo to help them build from 6 until 10-10:30 at night, after work.
5. In the late ‘90s, Lolo men went to help build Lincoln’s new church. Their church member, Lee Mason, roughed it in. Lolo men worked weekends to finish the inside. Dave Carpenter and Gary Collins did the electrical work.
6. Potomac wanted to build a church and again Lakes provided materials. 56 men built it in one day! Steve Fawcett was pastor, and Lindy Myer’s sawmill provided lumber for Potomac. Lindy’s mill provided lumber for many other churches as well as both camps.
7. Way up in the northwest corner of the state, near Libby lies Pipe Creek. When people went to church, sometimes it rained inside the church (condensation) from the exposed tin. One Fri- day a busload of a dozen men came from Lolo church to re-roof the building. They slept in the Sunday School rooms, however, Bob Schieder slept in the trailer-a good thing! His snoring woke up David and Skip Barndt all the way inside! They moved from the south side to the north side of the building! The next day the crew removed the tin, sheeted the entire roof, replaced the roof,
and came home that night. Skip Barndt adds, “it’s important to note that Gale Fister came up at 2pm on Saturday just to talk to everyone and encourage them. Four hours up and four hours
back…just to encourage!” Gale always gave great encouragement. He would say, “We men aren’t the guys who just meet together and sit around and drink coffee, we WORK and drink coffee!”
8. Glen & JoAnn Sherwood led the church in The Yaak in those early years and requested help to build a cabin for a pastor’s retreat. Once again a busload of men went up on a Friday. Skip stoked the fire in the community center where they held church. The kitchen area was separated by a curtain. The directive was, “Snorers go to the church area, others stay in the kitchen.” Dan Wall had sleep apnea and snored mightily. Gary Russell who had been sharing space with him moved and said, “I was afraid I’d get sucked in!” Dave Carpenter and two others took their sleeping bags and slept outside!
9. For many years there was no state or district AWANA missionary. Skip & Mary Barndt helped different churches with their AWANA programs and helped some churches establish their programs. When Drummond asked for help, they spent a year driving back and forth once a week. For many years the church offered bus transportation to Lolo children that attended
AWANA. In more recent years van transportation has expanded to include Sunday School and nursing home residents.
Major Property Enhancements/Accomplishments
2005 Church constitution reviewed and updated
Replaced sanctuary and back hallway carpet
2008 Remodeled nursery
2009 Revised Church constitution
Installed sewer pump and hook up to Lolo sewer system
Converted south end of church office building to a youth room.
2010 Total electrical system retrofit to save energy
Expanded and remodeled the Youth Room
Repainted the church exterior from red to cream
2011 Major remodel of sanctuary
Developed our Ministry Sandbox Document
2012 Installed exterior arch with LED sign and flower bed
Installed a new furnace and water heater in the church office
Monitors installed for side wings
Major remodel of office building interior
2013 Remodeled the hallway-to-gym
2014 Sealed asphalt surfaces of parking lot
Purchased 7ft enclosed tandem axle cargo trailer
Purchased chairs and later, round plastic tables for the gym. Beth Tephila bought a rack of chairs.
Re-established benevolence fund which started in 1980
Completed major maintenance on rubber roof
2015 Installed two drywell drainage structures and graveled the parking lot west and south of the gym
Updated church directory
Completed official survey of church property and reestablished property corners
Installed air conditioning unit for sanctuary
2016 Disaster plan updated
Sanctity of marriage constitutional amendment added
2017 Upgraded sanctuary speakers
Additional Early Records
1905 Tom Lee and Mrs. McClain were assistant superintendents. Mrs. Bessie Irwin and Mr. Hannifen were secretaries. Della Dent was treasurer
Teachers: Mrs. Watterson, August Hollensteiner, Mrs. Thayer, Miss Oxford, Mrs. Irwin, Mrs. Frakes, Mr. Lee, Mr. Griffins, Mrs. Rebecca Hughes and Mr. Abbot
Organists were Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Frakes
Among the Sunday School attendees were: Tim, Marg, Moncel, Hertha & Billy Hannefin, Lil & M. & C. Watterson; Dorothy, Norman, Daisy, and Charlie Thayer; Ma & Evelyn Hughes; Ena, Jim, Violet, Lawrence and Earl Ostberg: Lester & Della Dent; Ethel, Ruth and Marg Ayers; Ralph, Mae and Harold Kuney; Silvia, Clarene, William and Ed Moore; George, Harriett, Mark, Grace, Woody and Isabelle Bentham; Les & Major Art; Ray, Roy and Ralph Hughes; Dudley Allen; Aurel and Neola Hollensteiner: T.C. Wurth, Carl Jones, Beatrice Atherton, Hilda Miller, Esther Miller, Audrey Allen, William Allen, Harold Smart, Harold Jones, James Dunbar, Ila Dye, Ester Dye, Elmer Thompson, Mr. Spark, Marian Schroeder; and Clarence, Frances and Marjorie Kern Men who filled the pulpit from 1912-1917: C.F. May, William Long, Leo Horst, Chester Boddy, Peaody, Chessmore and Russell
Members of the Elder and Deacon Boards
(Leadership was under a Church Board structure prior to 2010)
2010 Gary Hoffman, Chair; Gary Russell, Bill Foy, Jeff Boschmann
2011 Gary Hoffman, Chair; Bill Foy, Dan Smith, Jeff Boschmann
2012 Bill Foy, Chair; Gary Hoffman, Dan Smith, Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear
2013 Gary Hoffman, Chair; Bill Foy, Dan Smith, Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear
2014 Gary Hoffman, Chair; Bill Foy, Dan Smith, Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear
2015 Bill Foy, Chair; Gary Hoffman, Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear, Jack Walton and Gary Evans, associates
2016 Bill Foy, chair; Gary Hoffman, Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear, Jack Walton, and Gary Evans
2017 Jack Walton, chair; Jeff Boschmann, Chuck Kear, Gary Hoffman, and Gary Evans
2010 DeLon Potter, chair; Ralph Huseby, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen
2011 DeLon Potter, chair; Ralph Huseby, Jim Calcaterra, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen
2012 Jim Calcaterra, chair; Ralph Huseby, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen, DeLon Potter
2013 DeLon Potter, chair; Ralph Huseby, Jim Calcaterra, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen
2014 Jim Calcaterra, chair; Gary Lorenz, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen, DeLon Potter
2015 DeLon Potter, chair; Jim Calcaterra, Bill Cramer, Gary Lorenz, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen
2016 Bill Cramer, chair; DeLon Potter, Jim Calcaterra, Gary Lorenz, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen
2017 Bill Cramer, chair; DeLon Potter, Jim Calcaterra, Gary Lorenz, Marvin Goffena, Tim Petersen