An official USGenWeb Project site Dedicated to Free Information for Home Family Genealogy use only.
A Brief History Of The Presbyterian Church In Grants

by Marvel Prestridge, June 1982; addendum by Mr. Charles K. (Bud) Gunderson, March 1995.

"This history is written on the basis of my memories and experiences in the establishment of the first Protestant Church in Grants; however, the attached list of the pastors and the dates served was taken from the Presbyterian Church records.

In 1926, there was a Catholic Church in Grants, but no Protestant Church. With the arrival of Breece Lumber Company employees in 1926, the population swelled and there was a definite need for a Protestant Church. Prior to this time, most people living in the community were of the Catholic faith.

In the early 20s, the late Rev. J. D. Henry, a consecrated missionary of the Presbyterian Church, began to make trips to Grants to conduct a Sunday School. The Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church continued the practice of supplying Missionaries until 1946. These men were truly dedicated, for it took the greater part of a day to make the journey from Albuquerque. Once arriving in Grants, they found few conveniences.

Those attending Sunday School first met in the homes of members. The home of Mary and Chalkey Breece was used frequently, since theirs was a large home, a piano was available, and Mary, as she was affectionately called, was an able pianist. These were the people who sought the truths of the Bible and the message of the Living Christ. Gradually, the Sunday School outgrew the quarters of homes, and the meetings were moved to the grade school; however, some objected to religious services in a public school. As a consequence, the services were held in the first “picture show,” built by my parents in 1927. The number of those attending increased, and there was a definite need for a church.

Today, when I review the history of this church, I am amazed and proud that, in those days of pioneering, these people took first things first. Their desire for a house of worship was a stabilizing religious influence and was the number one priority, in spite of many other needed services. To improve the community, we also realized we needed a high school, newspaper, telephone exchange, water works, power plant, and other conveniences not to be found in Grants. These were to come later; the church was first. The project was started in 1927. Already, the pangs of the depression were felt. Not many had money, and the barter system was put to good use; not just in business transactions, but, also, in the construction of the church. Some exchanged their building trades for religion, and some gave materials. The Bond-Sargent Co. donated the land. After the company became Bond-Gunderson, the generosity was extended to other churches, for municipal sites, and recreation, as well. The church was built on the corner of Santa Fe Avenue and Fifth Street, directly east of the present Chamber of Commerce building, and is today owned by Walter Martinez.

Some of the families who headed the construction in 1926 and 1927 were C. O. Breece, R. H. Marable, W. E. Small, C. L. Reed, L. W. Krueger, C. E. Minnick, Ed Stewart, W. A. Thigpen, John M. Mims, Fred Probst, H. C. Kellam, and Paul Haralson.

These are the individuals I remember who participated in the original plans. Possibly, there are some I have omitted, and for this I apologize.

Frequently, I have been asked why the first Protestant Church became Presbyterian. That is a logical question, but there is no logical answer. The church could not have been constructed without the financial aid of the Board of National Missions of the Presbyterian Church. Also, they had provided the Missionaries. These Missionaries also helped with the actual construction of the church. Local people did give, within their means.

As the building neared completion, it came to us a shock that we had no church bell. Chalkey Breece came to the rescue and assured us he would solve that problem. He did so by removing a bell from locomotive #9 and installing it in the church. According to Chalkey, this engine had been acquired from the American Lbr. Co. in 1919, when the Breece Co. bought out the company, which was then located six miles south and west of Thoreau. The bell had been in use since 1927. It still hangs in the old building. [N.B.: According to Charles K. “Bud” Gunderson, the bell was moved to the new church in or around 1990.]

The church was more or less completed in 1928. On April 1, the congregation held the first meeting in the building, with 58 people petitioning for membership. Then, it was decided the church should appropriately be called the “Community Church,” for it represented all protestant faiths and operated on an interdenominational basis. Believe me, those Missionaries had a difficult task, not only driving from Albuquerque, but, also, it was their duty to appease Presbyterians as well as Methodists, Baptists, Lutherans, and others.

Immediately, an active Ladies' Aid Society was organized, and this group was to be the most valuable asset to the church. Not only were they highly successful in their financial efforts from bake sales, chile suppers, turkey feasts, and marvelous carrot festivals, which became a tradition, but they willingly assumed other responsibilities in the execution of church duties.

The original choir was composed of fifteen high school students. They had good voices, and added much to the services.

The first couple to be married in the church, according to my notes, was Frank Fisher and Inez Stevens. Frank was a barber by trade, and Steve, as she was better known, established the first beauty shop in Grants. Theirs was a candlelight service, from necessity, since the church did not yet have electricity. Rev. E. H. Osborne was pastor, and he wore a long, black frock-tail coat, while Mrs. Osborne was attired in a formal gown with auburn hair piled high on top of her head. My husband-to-be, “Red,” and I had been asked to “stand up” with the couple. The wedding ceremony proceeded, according to tradition, until the pastor asked the bridegroom for the ring. Naturally, the groom was nervous, and dropped the ring. For lack of illumination, all six of us were madly searching on our knees for the ring. Finally, with the use of a flashlight, it was found, and the final vows legalized their marriage. One daughter was born to this union and today lives in Cortez with her family.

The manse was built in 1939, while Rev. O. W. Randall was serving in the field.

Following the departure of Rev. Randall, the church was without a pastor; however, during this time, Rev. David Reiter, of Albuquerque, served as a Missionary and held services twice monthly for a period of five years. It became apparent, by those having vision of growth in the community, that the church should be enlarged and the adobe building in the rear be annexed. Renovation took place; the kitchen was completely modernized, a study added for the pastor, the manse repainted, and numerous other improvements made, at a cost in excess of $6,000. The project was financed by the Ladies' Aid, members, friends, business people, and others
After a succession of Missionaries, the building improvements, and growth in membership, it was felt a permanent minister was warranted. Rev. David Zacharias, then assistant minister of the First Presbyterian Church in Albuquerque, answered the call and came as a called pastor on October 1, 1946. Rev. Zacharias came as a young, single, dedicated minister; however, he soon married the late Barbara Strong, of Albuquerque. This marriage was a happy one, and the couple did a wonderful job serving the congregation and the community.

A Mariners Club was organized by young adults. They met on a regular basis, and the first adult choir was formed. A Hammond organ was ordered, and many concerts were given, with proceeds going to pay for the organ.

The membership in 1947 was 85, with a Sunday School attendance of 82. The church continued to operate on an interdenominational basis. Some people wondered why the membership was not larger, but, by 1940, other Protestant churches had been built and memberships were transferred, and others moved.

I would be remiss if I did not especially pay tribute to Rev. Wm. Lockwood, who came in 1948, replacing Rev. Zacharias. The Lockwoods were older; they were respected and revered. He counseled those inside as well as outside the church. He spoke words of wisdom and was loved by all.

Rev. Jack Malcolm and his family arrived in 1956. He and his wife Dorothy, who was an excellent musician, were outstanding in the community. I remember them as being down-to-earth people who entered into church projects with much enthusiasm. During Rev. Malcolm's assignment here, plans were materializing for a new church. He was the last minister to fill the pulpit of the Community Church, and the first to deliver a sermon in the new church on Nimitz Drive. History was in the making, for the new church was to be called “The First Presbyterian Church.” This occurred in 1959. Uranium was discovered, and the census increased.

There are many human interest stories and fond memories associated with the First Presbyterian Church, or Community Church. Actually, the history is colorful and an important part in the development and growth of Grants. People, then, as now, were dedicated to their religious beliefs, and those missionaries, who journeyed to far remote corners of the state, gave freely of their service in the name of God. Indeed, they endured many hardships and should not be forgotten. WE pay homage to them."

"In 1956, Rev. Jack Malcolm was called and served until 1964. He was the last minister in the old church and the first in the new building on Nimitz Drive. The post-war growth of Grants reflected in the church during Rev. Malcolm's tenure, and the congregation rapidly outgrew the existing facility. The Session voted to obtain a site and build a new church.

After the decision to build, we did not waste any time with the selection of an architect and a site. There was no sure manner in which to predict the direction of growth of Grants except that, in the Southwest, nearly all cities grow to the Northeast to obtain protection from the prevailing winds. After a year of search, the present site was selected. The natural elevation of the site permitted a two-level educational building, which saved a great deal in the cost per square foot of the project. It also provided a surplus of land to expand as the need arises.

The session records indicate that the project was approved in April of 1958. In May of the same year, a contract was signed for $91,554, a price of less than $9.00 per square foot. The total cost of the project, including furnishings, was about $105,000.

Financing was arranged by a committee chaired by Dr. Ralph Raburn. The sale of the existing property yielded $25,000. The session borrowed the balance from various Presbyterian agencies and the Grants State Bank, and the building was dedicated on Sunday morning, April 12, 1959 with great joy and gratitude.

At that time, the name was changed to The First Presbyterian Church of Grants.

In the excitement of moving, we all forgot about the bell when we sold the old property. We later realized it was an important part of our church. Jean Fisher was instrumental in getting the Walter Martinez family to allow us to remove it from their building. Perry Fisher and Charles Gunderson lowered it from the old tower and stored it in a warehouse until we were ready to install it.

The bell tower is a memorial to Carroll and Frieda Gunderson and John and Julia Schadel, pioneer residents of Grants and early and long-faithful members of this congregation. It was built with funds from their memorial fund, and Connie Hale, Cheryl and Ronny Pynes, and Charles and Barbara Gunderson completed the project.

May we continue to worship and learn in the years to come."