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Judi Staab remembers the outing that didn’t quite go as planned.

Several years ago, the local woman was part of the youth group at First Baptist Church.

One time, the youth leader and his big group of students walked to Fremont Lakes State Recreation Area. They swam and then roasted hot dogs at a bonfire.

“Unfortunately, some of the firewood had a lot of poison ivy in it,” she said.

So some students went home with an unexpected souvenir — a poison ivy rash.

Neither Staab nor other members should have to worry about poison ivy on Sunday.

That’s when the Fremont congregation of about 110 attendees will gather to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary. The event starts with a 10 a.m. worship service in the main sanctuary in the church at 505 N. C St.

At 12:30 p.m., congregants and their pastor, the Rev. Richard Crooks, will open a 1994 time capsule in the church’s fellowship hall.

An open house, which will include cake, church tours, door prizes and a historical display, is set from 2-4 p.m. in the handicapped accessible basement.

Crooks said the church’s actual birthday is July 15. That’s when — in 1869 — a small group of people met to organize the church.

Early services took place in a private home and in the courthouse. The first baptism occurred in 1869, when Sarah Campbell was baptized in the Rawhide Creek.

A second baptism took place for another person, this time in the Platte River — after the ice was broken.

The first church building was built in 1871 on the lot where parishioners still worship today. That building was razed later and a new building dedicated in 1901.

Staab remembers the story she heard about what happened on Jan. 22, 1922.

Because her grandparents didn’t have a car, cousins picked up Staab’s mom and her sister and took them to Sunday school and church.

“This one particular morning, they roared up in their car and rolled the window down and said, ‘No Sunday school today — the church is on fire!’ Everybody jumped in and they went down to — unfortunately — watch the church burn all the way to the ground,” she said.

Church leadership met that afternoon and voted to start right away to construct a new building.

Work continued at a feverish pace until the current building was complete and it was dedicated in February 1923.

Four years later, the congregation was very grateful when it came close — but didn’t lose — the building to another fire on Thanksgiving Eve, Nov. 24, 1927.

As years have passed, members like David Christensen, who’s served the church in numerous capacities, have collected lots of memories.

And Christensen’s own church history spans generations.

His grandfather, Alfred Christensen, became a Baptist in 1915 and his first job was pumping the pump organ for Sunday worship services.

David Christensen was baptized here and participated in many activities including the church’s youth group, basketball and softball teams.

He and his wife, Cynthia, sang in the choir together.

They married in this church and will celebrate their 65th wedding anniversary on Sunday.

The heritage has continued. Christensens’ four children were baptized here and their daughter, Dian Christensen Hillis, was married at this church.

Staab’s family has a long church history, too. Her grandparents were members. Her mom and aunt were baptized here in 1928.

As a teenager, Staab was baptized here and she and her late husband, Larry, married in this church in 1965. Their daughter and granddaughter have attended as well.

Staab has good memories of Christmas Eve services when each child got a small, brown paper bag with hard candies, walnuts and oranges.

Sunrise Easter services always took place in some windswept, scenic place, like the Fremont Lakes or near the Platte River Bridge.

It was cold that early in the morning, she recalled.

Staab remembers the big and boisterous pastor, the Rev. Harold Shaw. She recalls when he and the congregation sang the hymn, “It is Well with My Soul.”

“He had a booming voice and when we’d sing ‘sea billows roll’ his voice would bounce off the rafters in the sanctuary,” she said, smiling.

Shaw served the church from 1944-64, doing custodial and even maintenance work.

One day, he came to see Staab’s dad — who worked for a parts store — because Shaw needed a part for the church furnace.

The family’s little dog, Nick, who didn’t appreciate the pastor’s gruff voice, grabbed the minister’s work coveralls and hung on. Her mom had to pry off the dog, but the pastor remained good-humored.

“He was pretty good-natured about everything,” Staab said.

Throughout the years, some members have gone on to be pastors or missionaries. One pastor, the Rev. T.L. Ketman, later became president of Sioux Falls College.

The church has served the community in many ways throughout the years.

The Baptists bought the property for the Moses Merrill Camp and Convention Center at Linwood.

It’s brought people to services via a bus or van. It had a daycare for children from 1982 to 2015.

The church provides birthday cupcakes at the LifeHouse homeless shelter. Two Alcoholics Anonymous groups meet at the church.

For the last eight years, the church has been involved in many ways in helping staff, students and families of Washington Elementary School.

The church also has a youth minister, Kristy Horstman, who’s taken youth on a mission trip. Wednesday night programming includes a meal and kids’ club. The church is working to expand relationships with the families involved.

It’s also worked on building renovation.

“I’ve always been amazed at the participation of the membership, willing to do so much,” Christensen said.

During Halloween Hysteria, the church gave away hundreds of hot dogs downtown to hungry children and their parents.

After mid-March flooding, the church worked to help supplement disaster relief.

It provided some funding and supplies to help residents make repairs. It has coordinated work teams to help install skirting and insulation at trailers at Regency II Mobile Home Park in Fremont.

“The things we’re doing is to supplement the disaster relief that so many others are already doing,” Crooks said. “We can’t do a lot of the stuff, but we can help fill some little gaps here and there.”

Last month, the church also sold hot dogs and pop for 50 cents apiece during John C. Fremont Days, provided children’s crafts and gave away Christian children’s books.

The church plans to continue to serve area residents.

“We’re looking for a lot of creative ways to support the needs of families in our community,” Crooks said. “We want to become known as a church that’s a blessing to its community.”

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News Editor

Tammy Real-McKeighan is news editor of the Fremont Tribune. She covers news, features, religion stories and writes the weekly faith-based, Spiritual Spinach column.

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