Many years before Redeemer Lutheran was founded in Richland in 1945, Lutherans of Norwegian and German descent had settled here in the Columbia valley. These people were attracted to this community because of irrigation along the Columbia river area,. As early as 1909 a congregation, known as the St. John’s Lutheran Church, affiliated with the Wisconsin Synod, was formed in Richland and was located on Jadwin and Gillespie. This church was served by Pastor H. Brockman of our sister congregation, Bethlehem Lutheran, Kennewick. When Pastor Brockman accepted a new call to another congregation in this state, the pastor of the Lutheran church in Pasco, Pastor Woker, continued to conduct services at St. John’s. He began his pastorate here in 1912 and served here until 1917 when, due to ill health, he resigned. Pastor Messerli was called as the new pastor of Bethlehem, Kennewick, and he served the congregations of Richland, Pasco, and Prosser. The Lutheran Church at Albany, Oregon called Pastor Messerli to take over the work of the church there, and he accepted the call. In 1924 the mission board of the Northwest District Missouri Synod, sent Pastor Weert Jannsen into the mission field in Eastern Washington. He continued his ministry here when suddenly the “Old Richland” passed away.
In the beginning of 1943, the people of Richland, Hanford, and White Bluffs were surprised and dismayed as they saw new personnel disturb their daily rounds of work. In March of that year orders were given from the government that all inhabitants of the three villages should vacate within thirty days. Prompt settlement was made to property owners. The Army Corps of Engineers obtained title to 428,000 acres of land for the government and called it the Hanford Engineer Works. The village of Richland was demolished and a new city for 17,500 inhabitants was being constructed. Only a few houses, business buildings, and churches, remained intact. In the same month of March, work on the plant at Hanford began that from physical size has been called the Eighth Wonder of the World. More than 150,000 persons streamed into this part of the Columbia River valley to labor on the Great Secret, a project whose meaning few of those many thousands could even guess; For the next two years this area boasted a peak population of 51,000. There were many discomforts to endure. Thousands of men left their families at home by order of the government and ensuing loneliness was a hazard to many workers. When you speak to people who were here ‘in those early days they will invariably draw a sordid picture of the dust storms which were the cause of termination of work for many hundreds of workers. When the winds began to blow, the dust swirled so thickly that visibility was down to zero. The houses were filled with dust to such an extent that people used shovels to scoop it out of their homes. The veil of secrecy that hung over the work in the area was troublesome to many, to say the least. National newspapers speculated as to the product being made at Hanford. Some surmised that nylon was being manufactured for war-time use; others said that the president is having a mansion built for his wife; still others claimed that fifth term presidential buttons were being manufactured and that most of the buildings were for a concentration camp for all the Republicans; others insisted that a chemical explosive was being prepared for army uses. All these wild conjectures came to an end on August 6, 1945 and then everybody knew. It wasthe Manhattan Project — the atomic bomb!
Pastor Martin Kauth, Bethlehem Lutheran, Kennewick, was interested in the possibility of conducting services for the Lutheran people who were connected with the construction project at Hanford and who made their home in Richland. Early in 1944 he conducted services in the old high school on Cullum Street. Mr. and Mrs. Reinhold Fergin were also highly interested in having Lutheran church services. They gathered together as many Lutherans as they could find and welcomed them into their home. This situation continued until October, 1944 when the missionary at large for Eastern Washington, again, made his appearance in Richland. Pastor Jannsen took over the work in the fall of that year and ministered to the people here. The idea of forming a congregation soon found root in the hearts of the people. However, there were some problems to be solved. The government did provide places of worship for the workers living in Richland. Two building were erected. These were to be used for worship by the Catholic people, and the Protestants. Efforts were afoot to unite all the various protestant groups into one church. Billboards even featured this idea with the words: Where the atom is divided, the churches are united. Also, there were no buildings in Richland suitable for congregational worship. However, the small group that had gathered at the home of Mr. Reinhold Fergin proceeded with their plan of worshipping together on the basis of Lutheran doctrine and practice. Through the efforts of Mr. Reinhold Fergin who was the superintendent of schools in Richland, a room was rented at the Lewis and Clark school located on 505 Jadwin Avenue. Here the families worshiped together in the fall of 1944. The Northwest District of our Lutheran Church provided a pastor in the person of Reinhold Jaech. He was formally installed on December 3, 1944. The group continued to worship at the school through the year 1944, and on January 22, 1945 the first organizational meeting was conducted. Pastor Jaech was appointed chairman to open the meeting. By this time the small group had nineteen eligible voting members eleven were present for this meeting. Officers were appointed pending a regular election. A. L. Brockelman acted as chairman and Harry Womack as secretary. The name Redeemer Lutheran Church was chosen as the official title of the congregation being formed. A constitution and by-laws of the Lutheran Church were read and approved and an election committee was appointed to prepare a slate of candidates for church officers. The committee consisted of Howard Donahue, W. H. Thaemert and Paul Meyer. In the first regular congregational meeting the election was held which showed the following results: Robert Kamprath was elected chairman, Herbert Fricke, secretary, and A. Brockelman, treasurer. The first building committee was appointed by the chairman. There were five members on this committee: R. Kamprath, A. Gerdes, G. Morthole, A. Rodeman, and H. Fricke. In the meeting the congregation also decided to incorporate under the laws of the state of Washington. The dual envelope system was adopted for offerings. A roster of thirty communicant members was adopted.
The congregation did not give up its search for a church building which would be more suitable for worship than a classroom. Their search finally centered on an old church structure on Goethals Drive which somehow was not demolished. It was a church formerly used by another group. Early in 1945, a special meeting was called to consider renting this old church building. Government authorities granted the use of the building if necessary repairs would be made. The congregation decided to proceed with the repairs which were considerable and extensive. A new roof, painting of the walls, inside and outside, were needed as well as heating and air conditioning facilities. The chairs, altar, and pulpit were provided by the housing authorities. After many weeks of work the building was finally dedicated May 6,1945. The new congregation had twenty children of school age. The parents were concerned as to their Christian education. Contact was made with Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Kennewick, and a joint committee meeting was held in May, 1945. Bethlehem Lutheran agreed to cooperate with the plan of sending the school age children of Redeemer Lutheran to the parochial school of Bethlehem. The members of Bethlehem Lutheran were willing to enlarge their school facilities to accommodate the children of Redeemer. The cost of this additional construction at the school was $3000 not including the labor which the members of Bethlehem Lutheran donated. The problem of transporting these pupils to Kennewick and an additional teacher for the parochial school was assumed by Redeemer Lutheran as its responsibility. Subsequently the Northwest District of our church was petitioned to provide the necessary funds as salary for a parochial school teacher for this venture. The congregation extended a call to teacher Melvin Pohl of Vernon, Texas. He accepted the call and was installed in August 1946. The school board members were Howard Donahue and N. Roberts. Teacher Pohl was also assigned to be the choir director, to assist in teaching Sunday School, and to drive the bus to Kennewick. In a few months, Bethlehem Lutheran asked for the use of the bus to transport children from Pasco to the parochial school. This arrangement of transporting the school age children to Bethlehem, Kennewick, continued for two years. In the spring of 1948 the congregation decided to discontinue this service. Teacher Pohl was called by Bethlehem congregation to be their teacher in the parochial school. The school bus was purchased by Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
During 1947, Pastor Jaech was stricken with illness and upon his doctor’s recommendation asked for and received a two month rest period. Pastor Walter Georg who had retired, was willing to be interim pastor until Pastor Jaech’s recovery. However, Pastor Jaech’s physical condition did not improve and thus he resigned from Redeemer as of January 1, 1948.
Our Lord blessed the work of pastor and the congregation. Soon the small, renovated church on Goethals Drive proved inadequate to carry on the work of the church. There was a continual search by the members for a parcel of ground large enough for a permanent church home. Attention was centered around the southern area of Richland. Suddenly one of the members informed the congregation that a spacious area was available on Thayer Drive. After due consideration, the congregation leased the 500 by 275 foot lot from the government on which our church property is located.
After Pastor Jaech’s resignation on January 1, 1948 the congregation immediately began calling a new pastor. On April 13, Pastor Edward Imme was called by Redeemer. He accepted the call and was installed on May 30, 1948. The work of the church continued to flourish and the need for more room was the constant concern to the members. Definite steps were taken in 1948 to construct a parish hall and chapel unit on the ground leased from the government. A building fund was initiated with a goal of $20,000. In the mean time, the congregation rented several room in the Lewis and Clark school for Sunday School use. The congregation finally appealed to the Northwest District for a loan to construct the parish hall and chapel unit. The meantime intensive mission work was carried on by the pastor and people. Pastor Imme began a weekly broadcast on the local radio station, then known as KPKW located in Pasco. A number of congregations in the immediate vicinity helped finance this program. This weekly radio service brought the name of our church into many thousands of homes. In addition to this, Pastor Imme, together with the help of a parish worker Miss Clara Reinke, began a mission in North Richland where over 10,000 people lived in trailer homes. The Sunday School and worship area was located in the John Ball school. These two undertakings carried the work of Redeemer Lutheran forward especially in winning souls for Christ.
Throughout the year of 1948 there were lengthy discussions in regard to the proposed building program. Finally in February, 1949, the congregation definitely decided to accept the loan of $17,000 which the Northwest District had offered. Contacts were made with several architects to draw up plans and specifications for the new parish hall and chapel. The building committee for 1949 was composed of the following members: Herbert Fricke, chairman, Arthur Rodeman, Paul Knutson, Gordon Chick, and Earnest Sebade. The architects engaged by the church to make plans for the new house of worship pleaded for time to complete their work. Hence no construction was undertaken in 1949 and the work was delayed until August 1950 when the ground breaking ceremony took place. The architect chosen was Mr. George Peickert. In the meantime William Rinck was appointed in the place of Gordon Chick as a member of the building committee. The congregation decided to build the parish hall and chapel by donating time and labor. This was a stupendous venture for a small group of men. However, they began the project and worked patiently and constantly whenever there was any free time available. Often the schedule had to be revised since materials were not available or were delayed. When the parish hall and chapel were completed, the congregation rejoiced and gave thanks to God for the beautiful house of worship and the spacious parish hall for Sunday School. The first service conducted in the new chapel was on June 3,1951. However, all the work had not been completed at that time and so the dedication of the building was tabled until September 13, 1953. In the meantime, work continued into the year 1952. The completed unit included an office, two storerooms, lavatories, kitchen, nursery, and a vestry. The estimated cost was $26,000 but because of the many hours of labor and items donated by the members, the total indebtedness was lowered to $21,000. The members constantly kept in mind that this unit was just a beginnings of the church which they had in mind. The congregation had planned for a church that was to cost $200,000. For the time being the new unit was supposed to take care of the needs of the congregation. It should be added here that the congregation was offered the free use of three Quonset huts placed on our property by the Carmichael school authorities. This was a very fortunate favor for the congregation because the Sunday School enrollment climbed steadily and all the space of the parish hall and the Quonset huts were utilized.
In September of 1951 Pastor Imme received and accepted a call to Palmer, Alaska, because of its mission opportunities. On October 14 he preached his farewell service. God had richly blessed the congregation through His servant, Pastor Imme. Many souls were won for Christ and the congregation was placed on a sure footing. Pastor Paul Harting, Messiah Lutheran, Prosser, was asked to be the vacancy pastor. He also took over the North Richland mission station. The congregation immediately began calling a pastor. A call sent to Pastor Walter Wendland in July 1952 was accepted. He was installed at Redeemer on August 10.
The work of the church to spread the Gospel of salvation continued, and within two years the congregation was faced with the problem of providing space for Sunday School and worship services. The space provided by the three quonset huts was no longer available to the church because they were removed from our property. Rooms were rented for Sunday morning classes at the Marcus Whitman school. Also during 1954, the government was preparing to sell the homes in Richland to the families living here. The congregation decided to relinquish the ranch house which was used as a parsonage and to construct a parsonage and a daylight basement for Sunday School purposes. Definite plans were underway in the beginning of 1955 to purchase the land being leased and to build the parsonage next to the chapel. The congregation decided to procure the funds for this project from the AAL Institutional Financing Plan. The trustees for this fund were Howard Donahue, Orlando Kroll, Don Semmern, and Florence Ungefug. The goal of $35,000 was set, which included $8,000 for the deficit remaining on the chapel and parish hall, the plot of ground for $6,400, and the cost of the parsonage at $22,500. Bids for the construction of the parsonage were set late in 1955 and Mr. Allen Opp, Sunnyside, Wash. was tendered the contract for the parsonage. The building committee, during the construction of the parsonage and Sunday School basement were: Robert Hueschen, chairman, Toivo Hamaleinen, Ralph Altman, Kermit Wright; Herbert Fricke and Ernest Sebade were advisers. During the construction period Robert Hueschen was transferred to Milwaukee, Wis. and Harvey Lindbloom was appointed to be building chairman. On April 15,1956 the ground-breaking ceremony took place. Construction of the parsonage was completed in December and was dedicated December 9. Pastor Edward Imme, Aberdeen, Washington conducted the service. The members of the congregation installed partitions for the Sunday School rooms. Pastor and family moved into the parsonage just before the year ended. Our Lord continued to bless the congregation with an increase in membership. In 1958 the local pastor made an extensive survey of the Benton City area in regards to establishing a mission. A confirmation class of ten children was already in progress. The survey forwarded to the officials of the Northwest District convinced them that a mission pastor should be located in that area. Four families were released from our congregation to form a nucleus in the new mission. Pastor Vincent Larson, Messiah Lutheran, Prosser, WA., served the new mission church. He reported that the average attendance for the first month was forty to sixty in the worship service and forty children in the Sunday School. Redeemer Lutheran remembered the daughter congregation, after our house of worship was built, with pews, pulpit, communion ware and the Lydia Guild donated a refrigerator for the ladies in Benton City.
By 1960 the enrollment in Sunday School reached 185 and the membership increased to the 450 mark. In the fall months a committee was chosen to study the possibilities of expanding our present facilities either by adding on to the chapel and parish hall building or construct a complete new church. Visits were made to new churches in the surrounding area and a goal of $75,000 to $100,000 was decided upon. This planning continued into the year 1962 when it was definitely decided to construct a church with a seating capacity of 350. In the intervening time the various committees were busy with the search for an architect, pledges for funds, and the type of church desired by the members. By the end of 1962 the architect of the firm of Austin and Johnson, Tacoma, Wash. was chosen, $100,000 was borrowed from our synod through the Northwest District, and preliminary sketches of the new church were posted. The building committee members during the construction of our new church were Dick Beck chairman, Howard Donahue, Sidney Attend, and Paul Mercier. Poland Construction Company, Kennewick, Wash. was the Builder. Groundbreaking took place on May 19,1963 and construction began a few days later. Building continued into the month of December, 1963 and on the fifteenth of that month the new church was dedicated. Dr. Carl Bensene, President of the Northwest District, was the dedication speaker. The cost of the new house of worship reached a total of $114,000. This did not include the organ for $5000, nor smaller expenditures. The new church structure also enclosed two spacious rooms for Sunday School, a large office, nursery, and vestry. The congregation entered the new year of 1964 with rejoicing.
In 1967 pavement was added to the entrance from Thayer Drive at a cost of $1000, and a new pastor’s office and secretary’s office were added in the parish hall.
In 1966 Pastor Walter Wendland, after serving the congregation for almost fourteen years, was forced to resign due to ill health. Pastor Fred Riess of Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Kennewick, became the vacancy pastor. In the fall of the same year, Pastor Mervin Kellerman, McMinnville, Oregon accepted the call to Redeemer and was installed on October 23, 1966. The growth of the membership of Redeemer has not been phenomenal over the years; still there was steady progress. Richland was a one industry town until the late 1960s when the town began a diversification program. It was hoped that this program would tend to make the residents more permanent than in the past. Redeemer experienced a constant change of membership. Records show that 249 family units were transferred to the congregation and 169 units were released to other congregations over a twenty-five tear period prior to 1970. This fluctuation disrupted many goals and programs within the congregation. Many families remained as members for a one or two year period. However, during that time many of these members were with Redeemer, they worked faithfully to promote the work of the church. In those difficult times, Redeemer’s members grew stronger, clinging to the truth of God’s Word. Pastor Kellerman left in September,1980 to take the pastorate at Faith Lutheran, Mountain Home, Idaho.
During the following eighteen months, Redeemer was in a pastoral vacancy period with Pastor William Haak serving as vacancy Pastor. This was a difficult time in the LCMS because of doctrinal arguments in its seminaries, and Redeemer’s call committee and voters worked carefully and diligently to identify call candidates in which we could have confidence. Finally, Pastor Laurence Meyer was called, accepted the call, and was installed on March 14, 1982.
Upon complete payment of the church building loan, the note was burned May 9, 1982. Redeemer’s fortieth anniversary was celebrated in 1985. The first observance was held on January 20 since this date was close to Redeemer’s initial charter. Guest speaker was Rev. William Hernmenway. On May 4 a banquet was held at Roy’s Smorgy. Pastor Kellerman preached on May 5, the date most closely commemorating the date of Redeemer’s first church building dedication.
On November 8, 1987 groundbreaking was held for the addition and renovation of the Parish Hall. The ceremony was highlighted with all of Redeemer’s members pulling a horse drawn plow guided by Bill Siefken to turn over the first section of earth. Siefken and Sons acted as General Contractor. The Parish Hall was dedicated on April 17, 1988 in time for Redeemer’s Men’s Club to host the 1988 Washington-Alaska District Lutheran Laymen’s League Convention on April 23-24. The debt was paid in full May,1990 and mortgage burning was October 28,1990. In February,1991 a new sound system was installed.
Additions were made to enhance our worship. Through memorials and thank offerings a four octave set of handbells was put into use on Easter, March 26, 1989 and a two-octave chime set dedicated on September 10,1989 ringing the Lords praises. On July 10, 2005 a new three octave chime set was dedicated. A new electronic piano was dedicated on December 16, 1990. In February, 1991 a new sound system was installed, pew cushions were installed in the sanctuary and padded chairs replaced balcony pews during 1992.
On February 12,1990 the church’s daily operation was brought into the computer age with the addition of computers in the pastor’s and secretary’s offices. These have been updated in 1992, 1993 and 1996 with computer also added to the vicar’s office. On May 31, 1992 Beverly Darsow retired after serving as office secretary for 11 years. On June 1 Audrey Jenkins assumed that role. On June 1, 2000 Gwen Schienbein began her service to Redeemer as secretary.
A constitutional change ratified a second time during the February 7, 1991 Voters meeting brought women into congregational service more directly by incorporating women’s suffrage.
Celebrations emphasized joy at Redeemer. On September 22, 1991 the congregation celebrated Pastor Meyer’s 25th anniversary of ordination. Throughout 1995 Redeemer celebrated its 50th anniversary under the theme Celebrate the jubilee! Glorify His Name! On January 29, former Pastor Mervin Kellermann preached, focusing on God’s action in the congregation’s history. During May the church bathrooms were remodeled to meet Richland code for the handicapped. On June 25 laymen shared faith stories of what Redeemer’s ministry has meant to them under the theme Rejoice! To complete the anniversary theme, Northwest District President Warren Schumacher preached on rededication as Redeemer entered its second half century of ministry.
1996 was a year to begin the second fifty years of ministry. Under the theme “Growing through Prayer” each standing board, committee or fellowship organization led a month’s ministry emphasis highlighting their particular ministry. The end result was that the congregation’s entire ministry was highlighted and prayed for in public services by lay leaders. By the end of the year three major actions were made: dedicate a new church identification sign on March 17, dedicate a 15 passenger van on October 31 and start the process to add a Director of Youth and Education to the staff with a calling to start in 1997.
On March 19, 1997 work began to construct a circular drive and miniparking space including handicapped parking in front of the Parish Hall. Use of it began on April 19. This lot blacktop projects begun in June, 1988 when the church’s north back parking lot was constructed and the south back parking lot black topped the week of April 20, 1994.
In 1977 David Seegar was inducted as the first of 27 vicars to receive their third year of practical pastoral training up to the current time. Ten have been students at Concordia Seminary, Ft. Wayne, Indiana and seventeen have been students at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Redeemer and its pastor are in partnership with the seminaries to provide this opportunity for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
On May 8, 2005 groundbreaking was held for the construction project to connect the church and Parish Hall, creating a choir/music section on the main floor, Mother’s Cry Room, Nursery, enlarged sacristy, and a Music Room. Also, a fire sprinkler system and refrigerated air conditioning was added to the sanctuary. The cost for this construction was estimated at $350,000 and a loan from LCEF was obtained. The congregation engaged Laborers for Christ to head the construction project with congregational volunteers assisting. Seven Laborers for Christ worked on the project and were encamped on a temporary RV Park created at the back of Redeemer’s property.
Pastor Meyer conducted his farewell/retirement service on July 17, 2005. District President Warren Schumacher assisted Pastor Meyer in returning the stole as a symbol of the pastoral office to the congregation and led the closing dialogue of leading Redeemer into the pastoral vacancy period.
The congregation also shared its ministry with the Northwest District when Pastor Meyer was elected to serve as the District’s Fifth Vice-President first by the District Board of Directors to fill the Inland Empire Region Vice-Presidential vacancy 1985-88, and upon his election to the same position at the 1994, 1997, 2000 and 2003 District conventions.
Pastor Leland Wendland consented to be Redeemer’s vacancy pastor following Pastor Meyer’s retirement.
At Pastor Meyers’ retirement, the Redeemer’s voters decided to go into an “intentional vacancy” period as recommended by Northwest District President Warren Schumacher. During this period, the congregation went through a period of introspection under the guidance of a trained vacancy pastor to identify our strengths and goals and to help us find the best shepherd to guide us along the path. Rev. Dr. Joel Haak consented to assume the role of intentional vacancy pastor for Redeemer and officially assumed his office during December of 2005.
In the Spring of 2006, a call committee, with the assistance of the Northwest District office and with member’s input, formulated a list of 10 call candidates. These candidates were subsequently interviewed by telephone and in person. In a call service, in which prayers were offered for Gods’ guidance, Rev Todd E. Schroeder was selected to receive the first call. Rev. Schroeder had served his vicarage at Redeemer in 1999-2000. On August 13, 2006, Rev. Schroeder accepted the call to be Pastor of Redeemer and assumed his office in September 2006.
To be continued………..