Seven bishops of the Santa Paula Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints united May 26 to celebrate the ward’s 50th anniversary at its 604 Ojai Road home. They are, from left, current bishop Chuck LaPointe, Andy Oshita, Terry Nelson III, Steve Lazenby, McKay Hendrix, Richard A. Smith and George Larkin. The Santa Paula Ward has had 14 bishops total in its 79-year history.

Local LDS Ward celebrates 50 years on Ojai Road

June 29, 2012
Santa Paula News

 Seven bishops of the Santa Paula Ward of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints united May 26 at a celebration of the ward’s 50th anniversary.

   “There are people I haven’t seen in 30 years here,” said church member Janet Grant. “It is just amazing.” She was one of more than 120 people who celebrated the milestone with a barbecue and program at the Ojai Road ward, titled “A Walk Down Memory Lane.”

   Current Bishop Chuck LaPointe welcomed former bishops George E. Larkin of Castle Rock, Colo.; Richard A. Smith of Provo, Utah; McKay Hendrix of Lehi, Utah; Steve Lazenby of Santa Paula, Terry Nelson III of Santa Paula; and Andy Oshita of Roseburg, Ore.

   Photos, scrapbooks, newspaper articles and a slideshow displayed the history of the ward, dating back to 1933 when Harold Weeks and Brigham Dullin became Sunday School superintendents in Fillmore and Santa Paula. When she was a little girl, Grant attended services in a large room above the former Citizens State Bank on Main Street.

   Services were also held in members’ homes before the ward was constructed, said June Lazenby, who has been a member of the ward for more than 60 years. She recalled being mortified when her young son, Steve, was playing with a friend and broke a lamp at the home of Mary Jane Ellsworth, who often hosted services at her home in the Oaks. “I said, ‘I’m never going again!’ But I did.”

   In 1956, Bishop James Leary acquired land along Ojai Road for the church. Ground was broken for the ward in 1960 and dedicated by Elder Alma Sonne in 1961. Initially, the ward included just a chapel, with no pews, a kitchen and bathroom. “It was absolutely the basics,” Mrs. Lazenby said, remembering how they had folding chairs and used the chapel for services, dances and every other event. Because the local ward had to pay for a percentage of the construction cost, Mrs. Lazenby said they had countless dinners, bake sales, bargain sales and raffles. 

   In 1975, ground was broken for the cultural hall, along with many more rooms.

   During the anniversary program, each bishop rose to speak. “I am humbled by the memories the Lord has given me in the Santa Paula Ward to lead the Saints in this area,” said George E. Larkin, who became bishop in 1963. A native of Santa Paula, Larkin lived on Limoneira Ranch. “I learned to love the people of Santa Paula,” he said. “I still do and I always will.” He said he and his wife, Kathleen, (his first wife, Joanne, died a few yeas ago), plan to move near Carpinteria soon and “are looking forward to being closer to you.”

Richard A. Smith, named bishop in 1971, oversaw the building of more additions and remodeling of the ward, leading to a building dedication in 1977 by Ezra Taft Benson. At the time, Benson was a former U.S. secretary of agriculture who went on to become the 13th president of the LDS Church in 1985.

Smith recalled the cost of the work was $360,000, with 30 percent to be covered by the ward. To economize, church members met each Saturday to do much of the work themselves, such as hang curtains, plant 200 jasmine shrubs, lay carpet and pour concrete. Around the time they were finishing the additions and remodeling, Taft was in town attending a funeral for Ron O’Dell and asked Smith: “Do you think I could come and dedicate your building?” Smith recalled the thrill of “sitting face to face with Ezra Taft Benson,” and the ward hosting a reception for him, which many farmers attended.

“Those were 13 wonderful years for me in Santa Paula, six as bishop,” Smith said.

McKay Hendrix, who became bishop in 1979, first moved to Santa Paula in the early 1950s. He recalled that Larkin was bishop when he went on his mission to Mexico. Serving as bishop was “an exciting time in my life,” Hendrix said, noting the anniversary is a “great occasion to be back” in the town where he and his wife, Terri, raised their eight children. He praised Donna Corrigan, who served as Relief Society president when he was bishop.

   Steve Lazenby, who became bishop in 1988, celebrated his birthday on the day of the anniversary party. “I am incredibly humbled to stand here before you all and the great men who came before me,” he said. “It is quite an experience to be bishop of this ward,” he said, remembering having to buy a suit for the new position. That signaled something big to daughter Lauren, who quickly figured out for herself: “Daddy, you’re the new bishop!”

   He said that when he was remembering that his mother, June, has the longest history in the ward, he suddenly realized: “I came with her!” He recalled the ward remodeling he oversaw as bishop topped $1 million. That work included putting in a new steeple, adding more classrooms, recovering pews and laying new carpet. When they were coming up with the to-do list, the man who had dangled his feet in the church’s footings as a boy knew exactly what needed fixing, including loose steps in a closet area off of the chapel podium.

   Terry Nelson III, who became bishop in 1998, said his family helped build the ward. “The love in this ward is unbelievable,” he said.  He remembered all the previous bishops who helped guide him in his faith as he grew, starting with “sweet, kind Bishop Larkin, who led us in the Gospel.”  

   “The five years I served were really a growing experience for me,” Nelson said. “It has guided my life and helped me afterward.” He praised Gail Pidduck, who served during his bishophood as Relief Society president.

   Andy Oshita, who became bishop in 2003, recalled all the ward’s fun activities, from campouts to dessert contests. He remembered how he started a “Book of Mormon” reading program from January to April of 2005, and that in August of that same year,  LDS President Gordon B. Hinckley recommended church members embark on a similar reading program. Oshita said he continues to read the entire “Book of Mormon” - the “keystone to our religion” - every year.

Current Bishop Chuck LaPointe said he had been in Santa Paula only a year in 2006 when he was named bishop. “I was completely overwhelmed,” he said. “It was truly a humbling experience for me. I am truly blessed with all the great men before me.”

Mrs. Lazenby’s scrapbooks provided a good deal of the memorabilia shared during the program. “I thought it was beautiful,” she said of the day. “There were many more people from farther distances than we had even imagined,” such as Keith Higginbotham who visited from Virginia.

The anniversary program’s opening prayer was given by Sylvia Gomez, the dedicational prayer and history by Brent Burningham, and the closing prayer by Bill Grant.

At the lectern in the cultural hall, Burningham asked the audience to imagine the mood at the ward the night of the first dedicatory prayer more than 50 years ago and to contemplate the “labor and contributions, faith and devotion manifest in this building. We have a great heritage here in this ward.”

Historical highlights for Santa Paula Ward

1933: Harold Weeks and Brigham Dullin become Sunday School superintendents in Fillmore and Santa Paula.
1935: Harold Weeks becomes Santa Paula Branch president.
1938: James Leary becomes Santa Paula Branch president.
1945: Gideon Hulterstrom becomes Santa Paula Branch president.
1947: James Sounthwick becomes Santa Paula Branch president.
1951: The Santa Barbara Stake is formed out of the California Mission and James Leary becomes ward bishop.
1956: Bishop Leary acquires land along Ojai Road and sells building lot to the church.
1956: Norman Waters becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1957: Hyrum Johnson becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1959: Adrian Gibby becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1960: Ground is broken for construction.
1961: The basic building unit is dedicated by Elder Alma Sonne.
1963: George E. Larkin becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1971: Richard A. Smith becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop and the Ventura Stake was organized.
1975: Ground is broken for additions and remodeling.
1976: Fillmore Branch is formed.
1977: William Howard becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1979 McKay Hendrix becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1982 Fillmore dedicates their new building and Gary Pace becomes Fillmore Ward bishop.
1985: Richard Bryce becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1988: Steve Lazenby becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1992: Steven Shuel becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
1998: Terry Nelson III becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
2003: Andrew Oshita becomes Santa Paula Ward bishop.
2006: Chuck LaPointe becomes Santa  Paula Ward bishop.

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