A Publication of the History of The Little Church on the Prairie (Lakewood, Washington)

The original “A Brief History of The Little Church on the Prairie” was prepared in 1961 and was reproduced as a Lenten project of the church’s Senior High Youth Club in 1981.

It has been revised several times over the years to reflect major facility improvements and staff changes. This edition was compiled by Kate Burch.

At this time the pastoral leadership is being provided by:

Pastor James H. Kim and Associate Pastor Brad Epperson.

Where it all started…

The year was 1937. The place was an expanse of open prairie covered with Scotch broom and flowing quack grass. It was a small country store, a combination grocery and hardware store. It stood alone in the middle of several hundred acres of land that had been purchased by a man named Norton Clapp. The area was well known to many Tacomans because it was to the nearby shores and beaches of Steilacoom, Gravelly and American Lakes that people came to get away from life in the “big” city. The little store on the prairie is where they purchased needed items for a weekend at the lake. Many people were in residence for the entire summer. The background was the spectacular Mt. Rainier with its snowcap of over 25 glaciers. Scattered across the prairie were stately Douglas firs and oak trees. In every direction the work of the Almighty was in evidence.

The Church in 1938

The main purpose for Mr. Clapp’s purchase was to develop a shopping center, later named by the parent corporation of Lakewood Development Corporation “Lakewood Community Center.” The little store was a part of that purchase, but it was not included in the original design of the center. At the urging of his wife, Mary, that little store would be transformed into the beginnings of what is now known as “The Little Church on the Prairie.”

Central to the design of the center was the Lakewood Theater. The Clapps (especially Mary, who was an architect) and a small group of area residents, meeting in the basement of the theater, created the church’s initial design and décor with a strong preference to keep the building in conformity with the colonial appearance of the buildings in the shopping center. The single-story feature was retained, and the group’s thinking flowed into creation of a small, white building resembling what might be considered a New England-style country church. Can you picture the church’s nave originally being the hardware department of a small store and the choir room and vestibule being a grocery store? The building, the congregation, and God’s presence created a warm, comfortable atmosphere that attracted a large portion of the populace and marked the beginning of extraordinary growth.

At 10:00 a.m. on Sunday, September 18, 1939, a church was created with seventy-one charter members. At this writing one charter member remains, Betty Lampert. The first meeting of the Session was held on January 8, 1939. On March 9, 1939, Emmanuel Presbyterian Church presented a gift of the Church Register to the Clerk of the Session. The Ladies Aid Society provided the church with hymnals. The pastor’s monthly salary was $100.00.

On Saturday, members of the Jewish faith utilized the facility, and on Sundays a variety of Christian faiths (Roman Catholic, Evangelicals, etc.) could be found in worship.

The Senior Choir of 1939

1st Row (left to right): Jacquiline Freeman, Emily Metzigar, Jill Lockerby, Margery Davission, Pat Crall, Maurice Owens, pat Henzell, Marnie Keller, Dorothy Witt, Eileen Lemon, June Gale. 2nd Row: Molly Fowler, Madaline Pitts, Bibbitts Strong, Ula Rutherford, Patty Ford, Betty Dunn, Betty Fowler, Louise Gale, Betty Grow, Garnet Miller. 3rd Row: Morton Keller, Sam Andrews, Wayne Brown, Don Lemon, John Hewitt, Foster Cronyn. Members not present: Edith Davission, Jim Hewitt, Betty Martin, and Marilyn Hale.

Last Sermon of Rev. Hugh Miller 1939 The Little Church on the Prairie

Early Pastors were:

Rev. Hugh M. Miller September 18, 1938 – September 10,1939
Rev. Morton Hickman September 1, 1939 – September 1940
Rev. Paul L. Crooks March 1, 1940 – August 31, 1942
Chaplains from McChord Air Force Base 1942 – 1943

Rev. Hugh Miller Pastor Morton Hickman Pastor Paul Crooks
Rev. Hugh M. Miller Rev. Morton Hickman Rev. Paul L. Crooks

The first elders elected and installed on January 1, 1939, were Fred W. Schwab, Norton Clapp, Mark B. Whitman, Edward P. Wilson, Alexander Baillie, and Frank Gillett. These elders were joined by five others, who were elected and installed on April 20, 1941: Allan Link, A.H. Reeder, W.C. Hewitt, Sam B. Stocking, and C.W. Ramsdell.

Among the first infants to be baptized were Lloyd Loren Alton, Clifford Eugene Alton, Brewer Bovett Thompson, Jane Thompson, and Donald Fowler. Among the names of newly baptized adults were Pearl Rehbock, Ann Barlow, and Elizabeth and Mary Rough.

The church, very early on, became an active participant in community affairs and was responsible for starting a Cub Scout Pack on September 1, 1939. That Cub Scout Pack is still active at The Little Church on the Prairie.

In January 1940, the Prairie Guild purchased a communion service for the church. In August of the same year, a new sign was authorized for placement in the front of the church (it was installed in March 1941). Minutes of the Session reflect a monthly salary of $15.00 for the custodian.

Dr. William McCormick
The McCormick Years

Dr. William Perry McCormick accepted a call to serve as pastor in 1943 and remained seventeen years. His initial “Terms of Call” was salary of $3,000 per year and $75.00 moving expense (the total operating budget was $4,500). During this time, the congregation witnessed a rapid increase in membership, a significant number of Sunday School participants, and a much-needed expansion of the facilities. It was during Dr. McCormick’s tenure that the Session embarked on a plan seeking to purchase the building and the land from the Lakewood Development Corporation. The church had been paying $20.00 per month for rent, but had fallen into arrears in the amount of $1,000 for rent and utility bills. Mr. and Mrs. Norton Clapp put forth 25% of the money needed to make the purchase. With great enthusiasm, the ninety-two remaining members subscribed and raised the balance of $6,000!

The congregation almost doubled in size, and new demands for additional space were obvious. There was an urgent need for more Sunday School rooms and a place for a variety of fellowship gatherings, and work was started to meet those needs. World War II caused a halt in the construction program, but the members of the congregation continued their fund-raising activities for the future additions. In 1945, there were one hundred seventy-one members, and $32,000 had been raised.

Building Plan

By war’s end, the cost of the Sunday School building had skyrocketed from the initial budget figure of $60,000 to $90,000. To keep within the available fiscal resources, the Session eliminated one wing of the building plan, lowering the cost to $68,000; and construction began immediately. Mr. C.A. Strong provided invaluable leadership throughout the planning stages of the building. However, his illness and subsequent death, just days before completion of the building, placed deep sorrow on the church. Alan Link succeeded him and finished the supervising of the construction. In May of 1948, the new church school building was dedicated. Its colonial style served two purposes: to harmonize with the community architecturally, and to be in keeping with the simplicity that was, and still is, characteristic of The Little Church on the Prairie. That same year saw the purchase of new pews; and for the first time there were three worship services on Easter Sunday. At the beginning of the prior year, January 1949, the church had initiated sponsorship of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 53.

Many changes were made during the years between 1949 and 1954. In 1949, Prairie Hall was erected and dedicated. In 1950, $5,000 was raised toward expansion of the sanctuary. The dream of “Operation Bulge” was closer to becoming a reality when Hall Construction Company won the bid. The seating capacity of the sanctuary was increased to four hundred-fourteen, the ceiling of the sanctuary was raised two and a half feet, and the narthex was almost doubled in size. A choir room was added, and space for floral arranging and preparing for communion services was created

Shortly after the expansion project was completed, the Balcom & Vaughn Organ with Main and Echo Organ were added. The Echo Organ was a memorial gift in remembrance of Virginia Irene Mann from her husband, F.A. Mann. An anonymous donation of $6,000 enabled the church to purchase the Balcom and Vaughn organ. The local newspaper, Lakewood Log, carried a detailed description of the new organs and announced the dedication date of May 4, 1958. The Service of Dedication featured Dr. R. Byard Fritts, from Pacific Lutheran University, as guest organist.

From its beginning, The Little Church on the Prairie operated in accordance with Presbyterian polity and had Presbyterian ministers, but it did not become identified officially as a Presbyterian Church until January 11, 1957 (Reference: Session minutes).

At the Annual Meeting of the Congregation held on January 15, 1959, Dr. McCormick was granted “Pastor Emeritus” status and was provided a lifetime stipend of $225.00 per month plus a car allowance as long as he was active. At the same meeting, the Board of Deacons was created in accordance with the Book of Order, and eighteen members were elected to serve as Deacons: One-year term: Mr. and Mrs. Gene Brus, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Burkhalter, and Mr. and Mrs. Roland Holsapple. Two-year Term: Mr. and Mrs. Ernest Grant, Capt. Kenneth D. Garis, Mrs. James G. Fowler, Mr. Frank Gresham, and Mr. Charles Ion. Third-year Term: Mr. Norman Rowley, Mr. and Mrs. Ted Moberg, Mrs. Richard Metzger, and Mr. and Mrs. Harold Silke.

Dr. Koopmans
Dr. Theodore Koopmans

Following the “official” retirement of “Dr. Mac” on November 27, 1959 (he actually left in March 1960), the church called Dr. Theodore Koopmans from the Woodland Presbyterian Church in Seattle. Rev. Robert Grove was the Assistant Pastor and Mrs. Mary Latimer served as the Director of Christian Education.

By 1964, the church membership roll was over nine hundred. Nursery facilities were provided for infants during services, and a preschool program had been initiated where the children began studying Jesus* life, the Christian Church, and the Bible. Church school included youth from first grade through twelfth grade. Various programs and ministry groups existed, reaching out to the people of the church and to the community; and benevolence giving created a worldwide ministry. By 1966, over-crowding in the church school forced consideration of expansion to provide additional space to accommodate the increase. This ambitious expansion called for the church to:
1. add a library and reception room to the sanctuary building,
2. enlarge Prairie Hall,
3. build a new administration addition,
4. remodel an existing education wing,
5. add a new education wing,
The cost? A whopping $225,000!

A unique plan was devised whereby church members would contribute $1.00 per week for each $1,000 per year of income for 156 weeks. The congregation could reach its goal of $175,000, and a mortgage for the balance could be retired without putting a strain on the budget. In one year, enough money had been accumulated to begin construction. The new education wing was dedicated January 21,1968, and was named McCormick Hall. The other revisions were made in 1969.

In the fall of 1968, The Little Church on the Prairie took on a new challenge by creating a cooperative nursery school. Classes for three-year olds were held two mornings per week, while four-year olds were taught three mornings per week. The teaching was Christian based and involved the parents in Christian education. Small study groups were formed and seminars were conducted to nurture the parents of our nursery school children.

Pastor Vernon Elgin
Vernon G. Elgin, Pastor Emeritus

Another change in pastoral leadership came in 1970. The Pastor Nominating Committee put forth to the Congregation the name of Reverend Vernon G. Elgin, Ph.D, for election to the position of Head of Staff to replace Dr. Koopmans. The following year, Reverend Carl F. Bosteels was called by the Session as Assistant Pastor, later being designated as Associate and then as Co-Pastor in 1977. In 1979, Rev. James W. Watt, M.Div., was called as an Assistant Pastor, becoming Minister of Education. Sunday Worship Services were held at 8:45 and 11:00 a.m. with a full church school program at 9:50 a.m.

A strong youth program following the “Youth Club” model, was begun, with annual mission trips for the senior high youth being a highlight.

As the years progressed, the number of Elders grew to twenty-one, as did the number of Deacons. The youth programs continued to be quite strong and very active with Senior Mission Trips being made to a variety of places. The childcare center opened in 1979, becoming one of the first to care for children less than one-year of age. Quest Groups (10 – 14 people) gathered in homes for a period of prayer, fellowship, Bible study, and good food. Presbyterian Women (formerly United Presbyterian Women) has become a most effective organization of the church and provides strong financial support to various local, national, and international missions.

Pastor Charles Carlson
Charles H. Carlson, D.Min.

The church has witnessed at least five of its members being called to serve as Ministers of the Word and Sacrament:

Ken Onstot
Donna Alora
Ben Sigman
Garrett Lordahl
Jon Paul Carlson
Brad Epperson  is currently serving as the Associate Pastor at Little Church

With Associate Pastors and Heads of Staff being called to other positions, the church has had the benefit of some very fine interim pastors:

Rev. Genville Daun August 9, 1983 – December 31, 1986
Rev. Charles Griffin December 1, 1988 – August 31, 1989
Rev. Mark S. White May 1, 2006 – 2010
Rev. Cheryl McClanahan January 8, 2006 – October 31, 2013


Pastor Mark White Pastor Cheryl McClanahan
Interim Senior Pastor Mark S. White Interim Assoc. Pastor Cheryl McClanahan

The church was also fortunate to have the services of the Rev. Ernest Krug, M.Div, and M.D., to serve as Parish Associate prior to his discontinuing his military service and relocating to North Carolina. The Rev. Jim Probert, BD, also served Little Church as a Parish Associate from April 9, 2001 – April 5, 2002.

A gala event, consisting of an evening of fine food and entertainment, marked the 50th Anniversary of the Little Church on the Prairie in 1988. Prior to that big event, problems with the organ were experienced and the church was finding it increasingly difficult getting materials to refurbish the bellows and also securing tradesmen, who were capable of doing the work. About the same time, it was noted that some of the roof areas needed attention, so a major effort was born to correct the problems. The Organ and Carillon Task Force was appointed on March 20, 1984 and was chaired by Ruth Sherrod and these members: David Asplund, Sandra Dickinson, Peter Dietz, Lorraine Hedlund, Richard Swope, Anne Tremaine, Norman Tremaine, Betsy Buck, and Bob Barlow. Through their good works, a new tracker organ was secured and installed in the rear of the sanctuary with a dedication service conducted on February 15, 1987.

Many times down through the years the necessary maintenance of the buildings had to be performed at a less than desirable level, or not done at all because of fiscal constraints at the time. In 1994, it was recognized that the need was far more real than most could visualize, and a revitalizing and modernization program was undertaken. The minutes of the time reflect the names of the many who brought about the success of this program but a few, because of the roles they played, warrant special recognition – Elder Ted Wier, who provided the insight very early on for the work that needed to be done and for the overall leadership throughout the various phases of the program. Elders Bob Aldag and Peter Sloan’s very successful fund raising efforts are most noteworthy, reflecting an initial goal of $487,800, and securing pledges over a three-year period totaling $631,182. Elder Norm Tremaine, Session chair of the Properties Committee, devoted an extraordinary amount of time and talent in overseeing the actual work. As of this writing, work has been completed.

“Civic, industry giant Norton Clapp dies at 89,” was the headline of the News Tribune on April 25, 1995. Not mentioned in the article, but a source of great pride for the members and friends of The Little Church on the Prairie, was that he was the first Clerk of the Session.

The church has always valued the connectional nature of the Presbyterian Church and its pastors, and elders have supported this concept by serving in various capacities. Elder Helen Hamilton has served in a number of positions at the local, Presbytery, Synod, and General Assembly levels. Two of its pastors, Dr. McCormick and Dr. Bosteels have served as Moderator of the Presbytery of Olympia as have Elder Bob Barlow and Jack Gehringer. Helen was most influential in having Elder Marj. Carpenter, Moderator of the 207th General Assembly, visit LCOP and assist with the conferral of Pastor Emeritus Status on Dr. Elgin. Many members and friends of The Little Church on the Prairie, too numerous to mention, have played leadership roles in many of the civic, fraternal, and social activities of the area for sometime and because of their broad interest in the promotion of the values and ideals of these organizations have been identified as a valuable part of the community.

Pastoral Leadership:
Rev. Hugh Miller 1938 – 1939
Morton Hickman, M.Div. 1939 – 1940
Paul Lawrence Crooks, Th. D. 1940 – 1942
Chaplains from McChord 1942 – 1943
William P. McCormick, D.D.
Pastor Emeritus:
1943 – 1959
Theodore Koopmans, D.D. 1959 – 1970
Robert Grove, M.Div. 1960 – 1966
Paul Messineo, M. Div. 1966 – 1969
Walter C. Johnson, D.D. 1969 – 1970
Vernon G. Elgin, Ph.D.
Pastor Emeritus & Head of Staff
1970 – 1988
Carl F. Bosteels, D.Div. 1971 – 1982
Wayne Hansen, M.Div. 1974 – 1976
James W. Watt, M.Div. 1979 – 1983
Grenville A. Daun, M.Div. 1983 – 1986
Ron Ganzer, D. Min. 1984 – 1999
Ernest Krug, M.Div.
(Parish Associate)
1985 – 1987
Charles C. Griffin, Ed. Div.
Interim Senior Pastor
1988 – 1989
Charles H. Carlson, D.Min.
Head of Staff
1989 – 2006
Thomas G. Kirkpatrick, D.Min.
Interim Associate Pastor
2000 – 2001
James Probert, B.Div.
(Parish Associate)
2001 – 2002
Arthur E. Ware, Ph.D. 2002 – 2005
Cheryl McClanahan, M.Div.
Interim Associate Pastor
2006 – 2013
Mark S. White, D.Min.
Interim Senior Pastor
2006 – 2010
James H. Kim, M.Div.
Pastor & Chief of Staff
2010 – Present
Brad Epperson, M.Div.
Associate Pastor
2010 – Present

Youth Directors: Mark Pederson, Mark Smith, Cindy (Specht) Dapkus, Ron Kaulen, Garrett Lordahl, Scott Daffron, Everett Hill, Alan Billingsley, Mike Burch and Isaac Mahler.