The First Baptist Church of Wood River was organized on Sunday afternoon, June 10, 1916, in the home of Mr. & Mrs. Arthur Herr, who lived on Lorena Avenue in the same block as our current location. Following the reading of the Articles of Faith and the Church Covenant, a motion was made for their acceptance and that a church be organized which would be named, “The First Baptist Church of Wood River.” This meeting adjourned with a motion that the next meeting be held at the home of Mr. & Mrs. Matt Freeman on Penning Avenue on Thursday evening, June 15, 1916. It was at the close of that next meeting that “the doors of the church were thrown open and a hearty welcome was extended to all present.” This sentiment has characterized our congregation to this day.
For about five months the church held regular meetings over Max Nissenholtz’s shoe store on Ferguson Avenue. During this time, the first church building, known as the Tabernacle, was erected on Second and Acton. (A drivers license office would later be located on that spot.) The Tabernacle was a one-room frame building constructed by the men of the church who represented fewer than fifteen families. This building was dedicated on November 26, 1916. In 1917, Roy Thompson, Kathryn Williams, and R.C. Smith, three of our outstanding members who are noted for their long-time service to our church, were baptized. Two years later, when the Wood River church itself was only two or three years old, it sponsored a mission in South Wood River which later became the First Baptist Church of Hartford.
Work on the current church building began in 1921. The basement was finished and used for services until the remainder of the building was completed in 1922 by the contracter, Mr. John Sullivan, at a cost of $20,000. Much finishing work remained to be done by the families of the church themselves, which they did as time and money became available. Approximately twenty years later, on September 4, 1942, the mortgage on our current church building was burned and a dedication service was held.
One of the charter members, Mr. Joe Eckman, who labored so hard to complete the building, did not live long enough to enjoy its use. His funeral, the first to be conducted in the new church, took place in March of 1923. Among other notable “firsts” was the wedding of Kathryn and Don Williams on December 23, 1922, and our first Vacation Bible School program in 1924 under the direction of Mrs. A.W. Judd, the wife of one of our early pastors.
On April 10, 1958, plans were made for the construction of a new educational building which was completed in 1961. Dedication services were held on October 29 of that year. At that time there was also some structural work done on the church building. This also included redecorating, new lighting, and the addition of a public address sound system. At present, our congregation is making use of all these facilities. The final mortgage on the educational building was paid off in February, 1971 and burned on June 13, 1971 in correlation with the church’s anniversary.
Immediately upon final payment on the Educational Building, the church again began a building fund and line of credit to air condition and tuck-point the original church building as well as repair & preserve the stained-glass windows.
Although, in this brief history, we have seemed to place much emphasis upon buildings and their dedication, a church, in its truest sense, consists not of buildings but of the dedicated people who make up its membership. Through the years, from 1916 when the first group of thirty-one met in the Herr home until 1971 when the group has grown to over 500 members, our church has been blessed with devoted servants of Christ. Today we salute those who continue their task. May we, the present members, accept the challenge of continuing to increase the spiritual growth and missional influence of the First Baptist Church of Wood River. May we do our work as thoroughly and well as those who have preceded us.
Pastors of the First Baptist Church of Wood River
1916 – 1917 Rev. D.C. Blunt
1917 – 1918 Rev. M.T. Webb
1919 – 1923 Rev. C.W. Webb
1923 – 1926 Rev. A.W. Judd
1926 – 1929 Rev. John Patterson
1929 – 1930 Rev. Milo Moore
1931 – 1932 Rev. J.B. Hyde
1932 – 1934 Rev. J.W. Moffatt
1934 – 1942 Rev. Ray C. Johnson
1942 – 1945 Rev. Herbert P. Rumford
1945 – 1954 Rev. Earl White
1954 – 1966 Rev. Walter C. Burk
1966 – 1969 Rev. Donald K. Herrick
1969 – 1978 Rev. Jerry L. Belden
1978 – 1987 Rev. Leonard A. Harmon
1988 – 1995 Rev. Steven Van Ostran
1996 – 1998 Rev. Stephen Disney
1999 – 2008 Rev. Ivan Greuter
2008 – 2010 Rev. Joel Lohr
2011 – 2017 Rev. Robert K. Kirbach