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Before the turn of the century DeRidder was a very small sawmill town. The first religious organization in town was a union Sunday School which met in the Oddfellows Hall. It was out of this that the first church in DeRidder was organized, The Methodist Episcopal, South, in 1901. Rev. Nelson Hoffpauir was appointed by Bishop Charles B. Galloway to the Neame, Rosepine and DeRidder Circuit. In 1902 the Rev. J. M. Alford served Leesville and DeRidder where the meeting place had been moved to the lower floor of the Masonic Hall. With the Rev. R. V. Fulton as pastor in 1903, the Board of Stewards was composed of Robert Jones (father of future Governor Sam H. Jones), Dr. Sam McMahon, and Addison Heard. An active layman of this period was J. E. McMahon. The membership of seventy-eight (78) raised $212.00. The Rev. S. L. Riggs was the first full-time pastor in 1905-06.


It was during the ministry of the Rev. Riggs that the Hudson River Lumber Company donated to the church the two lots on the northeast comer of the present courthouse square, and the first church building was erected, a frame structure with a bell tower, a gabled roof and high arched windows. The cornerstone was laid July 2, 1905, but a yellow fever epidemic prevented use of the new building until November of that year.


In 1913 DeRidder became the county seat of newly formed Beauregard Parish, and on September 11th the church property was sold to the Police Jury so that the new court house and jail buildings could occupy the entire east half of the downtown block. The selling price was $7,500.00 and the building was moved to the New Heights Road, now Martin Luther King Drive, where it is still used by the Starlight Baptist Church. Two months later, property at the corner of Pine and Port Streets was purchased from James E. McMahon for $2,000.00, Mr. McMahon having turned down other offers in order to save the location for his church.


In December of 1914 the Rev. Walter S. Henry was appointed pastor, having been specifically selected by Bishop James Atkins as a minister capable of building the new church in DeRidder. The Building Committee was composed of Charlie Sills, A. S. Hamilton and A. E. Stewart. One member gave a contribution to the building designated for a stained glass dome to top the structure; the dome was to match the beautiful windows. After many meetings of the committee, pastor and the architect, William Draco, the dome became a reality. However, it was found that the cost of the dome was far more than the large donation for it. For all the beauty of the design, it was impractical, causing leaks and much disturbance to the acoustics of the auditorium. The Rev. Henry was an able administrator and managed to hold his flock together to finish the building, the first brick church in DeRidder. First services were held there in 1915, and some years later the first wedding in the sanctuary was that of Miss Longino Titus and Mr. Fred Schweitzer who were both active in the church for many years to follow. The wedding was a large and beautiful one and was the social event of the year. Truly, the congregation was proud of the new church and its beauty, even though the comforts were few. No one had heard of air-conditioning, and for years the congregation could not even afford ceiling fans. In an attempt to stay cool in the summertime, the windows were opened and hand fans were kept busy; however, then mosquitoes became the problem!


FUMC’s new building contained a large meeting room at the rear of the sanctuary, planned for use as a recreational room. It was surrounded on three sides by Sunday School rooms on the first level and the mezzanine level. So artfully designed was this unit that all twelve (12) of the Sunday School rooms could be opened to the recreational area and could become part of the main auditorium with the use of folding chairs. Even so, there were never enough Sunday School rooms, and some classes had to meet in the sanctuary. One member recalls a large placard that hung on the wall just above the inner door of the sanctuary on the Port Street Side that read, "What kind of Church would this Church be if every member were just like me?”


First United Methodist is proud of its record of cooperation with other churches in the community. In the early days, there were no Catholic, Presbyterian, or Episcopal Churches in DeRidder, and the congregations worshipped in the Methodist Church. On another occasion Methodists, Baptists and Presbyterians joined together to have a two-week revival.


One of the highlights of the history of this church was the hosting, in 1920, of the 75th session of the Louisiana Annual Conference. In those years the Conference was held in a different city each year, and such an undertaking for DeRidder, a town of 3000 people, was an epic occasion. Preachers and delegates were guests in almost every home in town, and even the jury rooms in the Court House served as dormitories. Public eating places were completely inadequate so it was up to the membership to provide food for these many ministers and laymen during this Diamond Anniversary of the Louisiana Methodist Conference.


It is reported that financial problems of the Church always seemed to be a constant cause of worry. The Depression years were particularly hard. The men of the church actually "knocked on doors" to collect enough money to pay the minister's salary. Up until 1935, the highest salary paid for a minister was $125.00 per month and very few extras went with this.


The DeRidder Church has attained great spiritual growth during times of crises. One of these times that stands out is the period of World War II, beginning in 1941. When Camp Polk, now Ft. Polk, was built, many soldiers came to worship at First Methodist. Most of these were not career soldiers but had been drafted from every state in the Union. They represented every walk of life-college professors, lawyers, teachers, college students, and representatives of all kinds of industry. They had been trained for combat, and Polk was their last stop before being assigned overseas. This was a time when church members gave their time unselfishly to welcome the soldiers and assist in every possible way. Housing was so scarce that many soldiers and their wives had a difficult time finding even a room to rent. During this period Rev. Willie Poole and his wife, Helen, exhibited such unselfish devotion and service to these army families that was an inspiration to all. The parsonage was small; however, the Pooles almost always had a soldier and his wife sleeping at their house. (The congregation wondered if the Poole boys ever got to sleep in their beds because they always seemed to be sleeping in other parts of the house.) Everyone who was a member of the church and had an extra room had a soldier and his wife living with them. "Mom" Graves gave many hours cooking and serving hot meal in the fellowship Hall for these Sunday visitors. A Young Adult Sunday School Class was organized for soldiers, their wives, and a few young women in the church. Mary McLaughlin was the teacher (this later bacame the Triple L Sunday School Class, which continues to this day!). The congregation’s young men were away serving in the military, so members opened their homes and their hearts to these other young men who were a long way from loved ones. Each Sunday most families would take home two to four soldiers for Sunday dinner. The guests would eat dinner, spend the afternoon, eat supper, then go back to church on Sunday night. For years after the war was over, letters were received from these soldiers who had shared the church's fellowship.


In 1951 under the pastorate of Rev. George Pearce, the the sanctuary was inadequate for a membership now grown to 602, and the Sunday School enrollment of 376 was literally bursting the seams of its quarters in the rear of the building. Classes were being held in the parsonage; a residence across Pine Street (later the site of Hixson Funeral Home) was rented for additional classrooms. On April 3, 1951, the ground was broken for a three-story brick educational building on church owned property at the rear of the sanctuary to face Port Street. Cost of the building was $75,000.00, and $32,000.00 had been raised before the building was begun. The balance was paid off in three years. The new building contained a church office, pastor's study, parlor/classroom, and a large fellowship hall with an adjoining kitchen. Upstairs were quarters for two divisions of the Sunday School, newly designated as Church School. Then renovations were made in the sanctuary. The dome was removed and permanent pews were installed in the former recreational area to enlarge the auditorium for regular services. The ceiling fans gave way to new air-conditioning units whose noise could be endured, almost enjoyed, in the luxury of cool comfort.


As the 1960’s dawned, it was evident that a new church building was a necessity, and under the leadership of the Rev. Robert Jamieson, serious planning was begun. Property at the corner of Shirley and Broad Streets was purchased from the J. D. Frazar family, and work began on a new sanctuary in January 1965. The building of Georgian Colonial design was planned by the architectural firm of John M. Gabriel, Associates, and it was built by Robira and Managan, General Contractors, all of Lake Charles. The cornerstone was laid during impressive ceremonies by the Grand Lodge of Louisiana Free and Accepted Masons. Dignitaries in attendance included Bishop Aubrey G. Walton and District Superintendent R. Leonard Cooke. First services were held in January 1966, by the pastor, the Rev. Robert Jameison, whose eleven-year stay in DeRidder is a record for longevity.


At this time the older facilities were rearranged for more effective use. The Methodist Men led the way and did much of the physical labor to convert the old sanctuary into a fellowship hall and recreational area. This allowed the former fellowship hall in the educational building and the old kitchen to be redesigned for classrooms and a nursery. The old parsonage, which had been serving as the nursery, was moved from the lot to give that space for a play area. Purchase of the LeCompte lot and home for $25,000.00 gave the church more than three-fourths of the city block bounded by Pine, Port, Broad, and Shirley Streets. Some years earlier a dwelling across Shirley Street from the new sanctuary had been bought to provide space for a future parking lot. All church property was then valued at $460,000.00.


In the late 1980's the corner lot of Pine and Shirley Streets was donated by Mr. and Mrs. T. R. Sartor, Jr., and plans were begun on a Family Life Center. The $1.2 million project was designed by Architect Tom Holden of Baton Rouge. Pat Williams of Leesville served as general contractor and John Gates of DeRidder as the project engineer. Rick Tanner donated the site preparation which was the first step after the ground breaking ceremony. This project was started during the ministry of Rev. Rick Hebert and completed during the ministry of Revs. John and Marie Williams. Completed in 1994, this facility includes gym, conference room, classrooms, media and workroom, and choir room. The old sanctuary (which had been converted to a gym/fellowship hall) was remodeled to provide a beautiful reception/fellowship hall, a modern kitchen, and a craft room. A much needed storage building and garage were given by Mr. and Mrs. Bob Allen.


Recent renovations of our physical plant were made possible by the "Refreshed by Love" campaign. These improvements were a commitment by the congregation to a ministry that assures the spiritual vitality of the city and the region. With over a century of service to the community, First United Methodist Church of DeRidder looks back in grateful appreciation to the pioneers and those who followed them. The sacrifices of these dedicated persons laid the foundations of the Church, and it is fervently hoped that it may always be said of this Church that it welcomes: "Those who feel their need of light, Those who need comfort in their sorrow, Those who find doubts in their hearts, Those who need courage in their daily tasks, Those who feel lonely and friendless, Those who sin and need cleansing, Those who wish to give service, Those who want rest, peace, happiness, and fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord." -Author Unknown



In the summer of 1983, R. L. "Bill" Terry, President of the Mattie Lucius Cain Bible Class, brought the idea of building a Prayer Garden in memory of Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Cain to the Class. The Cains were longtime dedicated and devoted members of the church and class teachers for many years. All class members agreed, and went to work immediately.


Dr. Neil G. Odenwald, Landscape Architect of L.S.U., Baton Rouge, drew the plans for the Garden. His services were made possible by Mrs. Lee. Work began November 1, 1983, and the Prayer Garden was dedicated May 27, 1984 as a memorial to Mr. and Mrs. J. H. Cain and to the glory of Almighty God. Rev. Jack Wiengeart presided at the dedication. The dedication service was well attended by many local friends and friends from throughout the state.


Mrs. Miriam Cain Cook and other members of the Cain Family along with the Mattie Lucius Cain Bible Class and friends established an endowment so that the interest from the money could be used, when needed, to maintain the Prayer Garden. The enclosed garden has a beautiful fountain, benches, and seasonal plants that enhance the church by its natural and spiritual beauty.



Through the years the music of the First United Methodist Church has been an important part of its ministry. Both adult and youth choirs have had talented, gifted directors and members. Among names remembered as directors are Mrs. A. R. LeCompte, Wilson Young, Mrs. Bob Ahrens, Mrs. C. B. Roark, Mrs. Don Gibson, Louis Blankenbaker, Linda Green and Judy Kay. Miss Emma McKennitt was the pianist when the church was located on First Street. When the pipe organ was installed in the Pine Street sanctuary, Mrs. T. R. Sartor, Sr., was the organist (mother of Mary Seale). Some of the many pianists and organists who served were Mrs. Otto Hood, Beverly Allen (daughter of Glynn Kinchen), Mildred Hanchey, Billie Ann Yawn, Mary Blankenbaker, Carolyn Burton, Merlene Perkins, Elizabeth Love Mitchell, and Elizabeth Vincent.



The first Sunday School in DeRidder was a cooperative effort of all denominations that met in the lower floor of the Oddfellows Hall. J. O. Stewart, a Methodist, was the first superintendent. Even after the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, was organized the Union Sunday School continued as before, but in 1903 was moved to the Masonic Hall with Frank P. Moss, also a Methodist, as superintendent. In 1904 the Methodist Sunday School was organized with seven officers and teachers; J. 0. Stewart was superintendent, followed by J. D. Robertson, J. W. Tooke and A. S. Hamilton. The ecumenical spirit prevailed even at this early date in history. The Northern Methodist Church, a small but active group on East Port Street, was in need of a Sunday School superintendent, so in 1915 the Rev. Henry "lent" to his neighbor church one of his own members, J. H. Cain. Soon Mrs. Cain was also "borrowed" as a Sunday School teacher. The Cains continued to serve there until the dwindling membership disbanded this branch of Methodism in DeRidder. A number of those members, notably the Coward, Cole, and Spencer families transferred to the First Church.


Vacation Bible School has been for many years a highlight in First Methodist's ministry to children. The church leadership fully supports this program, and when the building of the Family Life Center in 1993 made it impossible to use Methodist facilities, VBS was held at the First Baptist Church through the courtesy of that congregation.



One of the earliest fellowship groups for young people was the Epworth League. The 1906 record lists the following elected officers: President, F. P. Moss; First Vice-President, J. D. Robertson; Second Vice-President, Miss Minnie Morrison; Third Vice-President, Miss Araabella North; and Secretary- Treasurer, Mrs. A. J. Hanchey. Mr. A. S. Hamilton was counselor and some of the active members were Mrs. J. D. Frazar and Mr. and Mrs. L. C. Kern. In 1919 the League was reorganized with Mrs. C. E. Fike as counselor. Some members were Mrs. W. E. Kilman (Gertrude Mattison), Miss Ted Cole, Mid Cole, and Mrs. Gladys Swilley (Gladys Spencer). Other remembered names are Misses Mamie McKenzie (later Mrs. Mid Cole), Helen Sailor, Febe Jones, Mamie Gray, the Bennett brothers, Henry and Louis, the Young brothers, and the Rickey children, Frank, Henry and Octavia. Mrs. H. W. Rickey and the Rev. H. E. Pfost succeeded Mrs. Fike as counselors. In 1912 the "DeRidder Epworth League Cook Book" was printed by the Reliance Press of DeRidder "to place before the public a collection of tested recipes, that will at once commend itself through its merits to all housewives interested in the culinary art."


In 1939 at the Uniting Conference of the Methodist Church the name of the Epworth League gave way to Methodist Youth Fellowship. In October 1950 Fellowship Groups were organized for Primary, Junior, Intermediate, and Adult ages. The following year the Kindergarten Fellowship was included, and all groups met on Sunday evening prior to the evening worship service. Today the youth groups are for grades 7-12 and are entitled United Methodist Youth.


The DeRidder Methodist Missionary Society was organized in 1905 with five members, and the first president was Mrs. E. A. Morrison. In some ten years the membership had grown large enough for three circles, all meeting in the homes of members. In 1917 Mrs. Robert Jones organized a night circle for working women, named the Susie Jones Circle, and Mrs. J. H. Cain founded a Young Peoples Missionary Society that met each Sunday afternoon. She later became State Chairman of Young Peoples Missionary groups in Louisiana. On September 17, 1940, following the church merger, the Women's Missionary Society became the Women's Society of Christian Service with Mrs. E. L. Ingalls as its first president. The Susie Jones Circle retained its name but became part of the Wesleyan Service Guild. In 1949 a new guild was formed, the Maye Youngblood Circle, with Noni Barrie as its first president. In 1973 the women's groups underwent complete reorganization becoming now the United Methodist Women (UMW) with Rosa McCullough as the first president. The annual UMW Bazaar began in 1968 as a small crafts fair and has grown to become a greatly anticipated event that involves all the women of the Church (and lots of men, too). Proceeds from the Bazaar enabled the UMW to heartily support Methodist institutions as well as selected local charities. Three cookbooks, in addition to the Epworth League Cookbook, have been published for money making purposes. They were: "What's Cooking in DeRidder, LA" published by the Mary- Martha Circle in 1948, "Our Favorite Recipes" published by the Alexa McCain Circle in 1957, and "Recipes, Old and New" published by the Church in 1995.


In 1948 Mid Cole, as chairman of the Official Board, took the initiative in the organization of a Methodist Brotherhood. W. N. Riddick was the first president. The Brotherhood met monthly for dinner and fellowship; meals were served by the WSCS circles. On March 22, 1951, this group became a chartered member of Methodist Men by authority of the General Board of Lay Activities of the Methodist Church. The first officers were President, W. E. Hall, Jr.; Vice- President, R. H. Crosby, Jr.; and Secretary-Treasurer, Brent Seale. The organization has provided leadership to the scouting units of the church as well as actual physical labor in repairing and restoring buildings and facilities.



Scouting has long been one of the projects of this church, and the first scoutmaster in DeRidder was J. H. Cain in 1919. Names from that first scout group, still remembered in the DeRidder church include Terry, LeRay, Bennett, Lewis, and Mattison. Also from that group came Mid Cole whose name became a legend in scouting in the entire area. The Rev. Pfost was the scoutmaster in 1931 followed by H. R. McLaughlin, in turn followed by Mid Cole. Emerald Rathburn was a well-loved scoutmaster who served in the 1960s and 70s. The Church presently sponsors Troop 30 which is the oldest operating troop in this district and has helped many young men attain the rank of Eagle Scout (see the brass roster in the south entrance of the sanctuary).



One of the outstanding, perhaps the most worthy of all endeavors of the First United Methodist Church, was the sponsorship of a second Methodist Church in DeRidder in the year 1952, named for the founder of Methodism, John Wesley. The first pastor, Al Smith, was assigned by the Bishop to the Church in June 1953. A nucleus of the new membership was made up from stalwart members from First Church who assumed leadership roles in the new undertaking. Some of those remembered families were the A. J. McGredes, the Floyd and Normand Terrys, the J. B.Paynes, the Gilbert Blankenbakers, the Floyd Martins, the R. E. Adamses, and Ida Belle Swearingen Hassell. For a number of years the First Church contributed financially to its young offspring, but as the seasons passed, the Wesley United Methodist Church has come into full maturity, an entity in its own right.



With all its growing pains, a certain spirituality has always pervaded First United Methodist Church, and a number of full-time Christian workers have come from its ranks. O. E. Sandene, Jim Sensintaffer, Henry Rickey, Douglas Williams, Sr., Jerry Fuller, Dr. Irving Lee Smith,, Louis Blankenbaker, Eddie Sims, James Poole, and Jon Tellifero are pastors who have roots in First Church.


That above mentioned spirituality has led to outreach and church growth today through expanded mission projects; for example, the year-round food pantry for needy families, "Socks for Needy Children" given to local school children, support for missionaries through the Covenant Relationship, distribution of Christmas food baskets, financial support for Methodist institutions, and help for local needs such as the Pastor's Discretionary Fund and the June Jenkins Women's Shelter.


With a history of over one hundred years of service to the community, First United Methodist Church of DeRidder looks back in grateful appreciation to the pioneers and those who followed them. The sacrifices of these dedicated persons laid the foundations of the Church, and it is fervently hoped that it may always be said of this Church that it welcomes: "Those who feel their need of light, Those who need comfort in their sorrow, Those who find doubts in their hearts, Those who need courage in their daily tasks, Those who feel lonely and friendless, Those who sin and need cleansing, Those who wish to give service, Those who want rest, peace, happiness, and fellowship with Jesus Christ, our Lord." -Author Unknown


Compiled by Helen Lee, Mary McLaughlin, Elizabeth A. Jones and Marcia Ades, 1998; edited in April of 2016.

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