A Later History of Bethel

written by Sylvia Cook, long-time member

In 1946, Bethel still had the big box stove for heat in the winter, and air conditioning in the summer was open windows. All of the Sunday School classes were still meeting in one room. Mrs. Bertha Rice had the preschool class on the stage behind curtains that pulled back and forth on a wire stretched across the building in front of the stage. Mrs. Neatherton, Evelyn Ziegelgruber, and other ladies of the church had made new curtains for the windows, and purchased carpet for the stage.

Rev. James Robinson was the minister; a young man with wife who sang and a small daughter. They were with us for two years and loved by all. Rev. Robinson was followed by Rev. C. C. Fulton, a student from Bethany Nazarene College. He and his wife organized a youth group on Sunday evening, and a prayer meeting on Wednesday evening.

The Deer Creek school board decided in 1950 to sell the Prairie Bell school building – the same building where the pioneers had their first Sunday school, the beginning of Bethel Church. The building had been unused for six years and was in disrepair. The church bought the building, and moved it one mile west to the church site in September. All came and worked to get the building repaired for Sunday School classes and recreation.

Before that time, when the annual Homecoming was held, dinner was served by placing two large boards across the back of pews, which then got covered with tablecloths and dinner food spread out. Many people came with baskets filled with food.

Rev. Fulton was with us through buying and moving the school building, but moved on in 1950. Rev. John Elam was there for about a year; He was from the college in Bethany. One year before Homecoming, we spent all day Saturday scrubbing and polishing the church. Everything was set and in order, but that night, a severe dust storm blew in, covering everything in the church. Mrs. Bertha Rice went to the church at daylight. Everything was dusted and cleaned by Sunday school time! She loved the church and loved the Lord.

Another Bethany student was to come into our lives in 1951. Rev. E. E. Garnett had graduated and was called to Bethel. Rev. Garnett, along with wife Mary, three daughters and one son, moved into the neighborhood and remained with Bethel for five years. He and Mary now live in Colorado Springs, CO. Their daughter, Rose, still lives in Colorado Springs,  but their son Keith and daughter Katherine live in other states. They keep them traveling to visit grandchildren.

The interior of the school building was painted, new floor covering installed, and new curtains for windows. It was a joy to have space for Sunday School classes and recreation. Folding tables and chairs were purchased. Benton Cochran made a nice church sign for the yard and a cable fence was installed around the property. Some of the youth at that time were Jaynee Murphy, Shirley Kibby, Sharon Gambill, Gary Gambill, Bob Cook, the Boschen children, Charlene Cook, the Ward boys, the Briscoes, and the Bass children. Marvel Fay Boling played the piano.

A retired Salvation Army major was our next minister, Rev. J. H. McCullah. His wife played the piano with gusto and was a great organizer. All meetings were held on schedule. Rev. McCullah was good with young people, and had regular Sunday evening meetings. A number of youth were baptized during Rev. McCullah's two years at Bethel. The goal for Bethel was to join the school building to the church building by removing a window, replacing it with a door, and building in-between the two buildings, making room for two with a hall. Ice cream socials and turkey dinners were held to raise money. Mr. & Mrs. Homer Young donated $200 (equivalent to about $2,090 in 2023).

The goal was reached and work started in 1961. A gas line was put in and a propane tank purchased. That marked the end of the big box stove that had been installed many years before. Three gas heaters were purchased.

A number of ministers from the Bethany College again filled the pulpit at Bethel. Some a few months, some a few weeks until 1964, when Rev. Harley Holcum came and served for two years. After leaving Bethel, Rev. Holcum learned sign language and worked with the deaf.

Two gas stoves in the sanctuary with a very high ceiling left our feet cold. In 1968, a furnace was installed and the floor was redone with a beautiful red carpet. Mr. Smith, a member of Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oklahoma City, was responsible for getting the furnace and installation.

Mr. Smith’s son, David, worked with Bethel youth in the 1970s, We had a large group during that time with meetings Sunday evenings and Bible school during the summer. Mrs. Katy Murphy was Sunday school superintendent. Susan Boscham, Sam Bass, Cathy Wilson, Carl Briscoe, and Helen & Vernon Boling’s children (Rose, Donna, David and Tom) were in this group.

Rev. Dickerman and Rev. Zimmerman were both older couples and good ministers. Rev. Zimmerman spent all of 1970 at Bethel and did a lot of work with the youth. Quite a few were baptized and still in church work in areas where they now live. Lee Ziegelgruber’s mother, Pauline Alden, lived in the community for several years. She was a wonderful teacher and a lovely lady who taught the Bible class. The Ogden girls, the Poindexters, the Matheson and the Ward boys were there when Mr. Shimells, a preacher and teacher at Deer Creek school filled the pulpit many times. He was loved by children at school and church as well as adults.

In 1973, Rev. John Westhof was called to Bethel and stayed 13 years, the longest of any minister. Rev. Westhof started in the old church building and sustained us through the construction and moving into the new building.

Music and having someone to play the piano was always left to the local talent. Sometimes, the minister’s wife would play; also Marvel Fay Boling, Jaynee Murphy, Olive Rogers, and Rae Brown played. Kim Ziegelgruber, David Boling, and the trio Minnie Smith, Wynelle Higdon, and Melva Griffin are a few that had a hand in song leading. Alfridene and Lawrence Foster sang specials together. Lawrence sang solos and directed the music for a number of years. Good music is an asset to the church!

In 1978, the granddaughter of the late Mr. & Mrs. D. P. McGill decided to follow in her grandparents’ footsteps. Dr. Thacker and Dorothy Jane McGill Manning gave Bethel Church a parcel of land, across the street to the north of the original church. The
requirements were to begin building within eight years, or the land would revert back to her.

A building fund was started. Friends and members were very generous. Jesse Rapp was appointed building director. Rapp was a clothing salesman but all had confidence in him. Jesse drew up floor plans for building in the shape of a cross. Plans included a sanctuary, four Sunday school rooms, a kitchen, and a dining/recreation room and two rest rooms. Jesse consulted with Ray Cook who was board chairman before illness took over. Sadly, Ray did not live to see the building finished. Howard Snyder worked closely with Jesse, as did everyone else. A crew was hired and work got under way. About a year after ground breaking, the new building was dedicated to the service of the Lord in August 1983. The members and all those who attend are very thankful and grateful to all of the many friends of Bethel Church who made it possible to dedicate the church building debt-free.

Rev. John Westhof was with Bethel for three years after the dedication. Everyone had worked hard and the goal had been completed, but attendance dropped. It didn’t seem quite the same. Sometimes, people want change but are not ready to cope with it. For those who attend regularly, the new building is now home ⁠— to some, it will never be.

Rev. Gilbert Hughes and his wife, Martena, came to Bethel in August 1986, along with their son, Randy. Martena played the piano and Gilbert sang. Rev. Hughes served the church well for four and a half years.

During the next year, Bethel’s pulpit was filled by several interim pastors. Bethel Church is different than in the pioneers’ day. At that time, when people drove their horses, the church was the center of the community. Now, with hard surface roads, fast transportation, and more churches in the community, our hitching posts (parking places) are no longer full. God is still the center of Bethel, which is now under the direction of Rev. L. G. Parkhurst, Jr., his wife, Pat, and their son and daughter.

Bethel Church celebrated their centennial year in April 1994. The church was filled for the morning service. Mr. & Mrs. Barry Ward presented a plaque to the church in memory of Barry’s mother, Mrs. Frankie Ward, a long time Sunday School teacher. A corsage was presented to Leona Boling for her long attendance at Bethel, since 1923. Lawrence Foster sang a special. Rev. L. G. Parkhurst, Jr. preached the morning sermon. Two former pastors were present – Rev. John Westhof and Rev. Gilbert Hughes. All brought food, the tables were filled to the point of overflowing, and everyone enjoyed a delicious dinner at noon, making new and renewing old acquaintances.

The afternoon program was led by Earl Rice, the master of ceremonies. ElRoy Rice read the old history. Earl and ElRoy Rice and his sister, Opal Fern Bateman, were also present, along with her husband and daughter. They are the children of Mrs. Bertha Rice.
Also present, was cousin Versel Rice and family. Paul Miller, representing the Mid-America Congregational Fellowship, spoke and presented the church with a book entitled “Following in His Steps”, a biography of Charles M. Sheldon – writer, crusader and pastor of Topeka Kansas Congregational Church from 1889-1919. Florence White, daughter of Mr. & Mrs. Coyner who lived in the neighborhood and were embers of Bethel, was present and told us about her years at Bethel. She presented a Bible to the church that had been given to her oldest sister, Matilda Coyner, on her 16th birthday on January 18, 1903. There were 13 children in the Coyner family. Dorothy Jane McGill Manning, giver of the land and granddaughter of Mr. & Mrs. D. P. McGill, was present along with her brother, Pat McGill and his son, John. Everyone enjoyed a skit; “The Pioneer Woman”, given by Geneva Hudson of the Edmond Historical Society.

The annual Homecoming is always the last Sunday in April. The good work started by the pioneers is being carried on by the Rev. L. G. Parkhurst, Jr. and those who now attend.