A History of Tomah Baptist Church
The history of Tomah Baptist Church actually began over seventy years ago, when the Baptist Church of Tomah, Wisconsin closed its doors and sold their property. At one point there was a small Baptist work; however, any Baptist work was previously terminated in this city consisting then of about 5,000 people.
Rev. George Cable, a young, enthusiastic pastor of an active open country Baptist church, located ten miles from Tomah, began attracting Bible believing Christians from Tomah to his services through his radio ministry.
Through the vision of a few laymen, Pastor Cable and the members were led to organize a church in the city of Tomah again.
Mrs. Eva Sorenson played a great part in the birth of a fundamental, Bible-centered Baptist church in Tomah, Wisconsin. Her urgent desire to see a Baptist church in Tomah, ultimately led to a meeting in her home to consider the starting of such a work.
A year later, another meeting was held, and at this that time, the decision was made to begin holding midweek prayer services in the fall of 1952. Seven families gathered at the Sorenson home to pray and seek God’s guidance.
After six weeks of prayer meeting, on January 4, 1953, on one of the coldest days of the year, thirty-five brave souls ventured out to the old American Legion Hall on the corner of McLean Avenue and Jackson
Street for our first Sunday worship service at 10:00 in the morning. Leonard Felts built a fire in the old potbellied stove and continued stoking it to keep the building and people warm.
Rev. George Cable
(Pastored at TBC from 1953-1954)
Bethel Baptist Church graciously loaned us their Pastor George Cable for a year and a half to shepherd the flock. He would rapidly drive from Tomah to Bethel after each Sunday morning service. We must give credit to the Bethel Baptist congregation who prayed for this new testimony in Tomah and made it a part of their own missionary project.
After meeting for two cold Sundays in the Legion Hall, we were able to rent the K.P. Hall (Knights of Pythias) on Kilbourn Avenue which had been built forty-five years ago as a Baptist church. That building proved to be much warmer and more roomy. Because the building had been a lodge hall, however, many of the current decorations were difficult to accept. Each Sunday, the black lace on the pictures were draped differently. A large antique fan in the center of the ceiling provided the only source of air conditioning for the entire building.
The church saw God’s blessings immediately as large numbers of people attended our services. We saw many souls saved and Christians restored to fellowship.
On April 19, 1953, we held a meeting at the K.P. Hall to adopt a constitution and organize a New Testament Baptist Church. At that meeting, we chose the name Tomah Baptist Church for our congregation. We also adopted a covenant, constitution and Articles of Faith. We voted to affiliate with CBA (Central Baptist Association) of America and of Wisconsin.
There were twenty-five charter members as of April 19, 1953. They included the following individuals:
The charter membership was held open until July 22, 1954 with the following twenty additional people joining:
The first election of officers was held on May 7, 1953 at the E.O. Hunt home on Superior Avenue. The following officers elected were:
Deacons: Leonard Felts, Gordon Larson
Trustees: Cecil Brannen, Charles Hall
Clerk: Eva Sorenson
Sunday School Supt.: Leonard Felts
Missionary Treasurer: Alice Griffin
Sunday School Clerk: Alice Brannen
Church Treasurer: Elizabeth Felts
It was voted to give support of $100 a month to our first missionary George Odom who would be serving in Brazil.
Our first Building Fund was started by putting $25 a month into the fund from the General Fund.
On May 24, 1953, a recognition council met and a recognition service was held with Rev. Darrel Byes of Waupaca speaking.
The members voted on June 4, 1953 to purchase a six room house on one and one-half lots formerly owned by Mrs. Heintz for $4,000. The house was moved to the back of the lot facing Council Street to make room for a church building. By August of 1953, we made plans to contact an architect to draw up designs for a church building that was 35’ x 65’ similar to the church at Milltown, Wisconsin.
By September 1953, the average attendance had risen to about eighty members. So on November 5, we called an architect to draw plans for a building that estimated a cost of $23,800. The men continued looking at churches and found one at LaValle, Wisconsin with a high cathedral roof.
Rev. Wilson Martin (Pastored from 1954-1956)
In February 4, 1954, Pastor George Cable submitted his resignation, preparing the way for the church’s call to Rev. Wilson Martin. Pastor Martin’s first Sunday was August 2, 1954.
The house on the property was in dire need of remodeling and because it would take several months before the parsonage would be ready, the Martins graciously consented to live with families in our membership and store their furniture. The Martins, with their two young children, Carol and Bob, stayed two weeks at a time with the Felts, Larsons, Sorensons, Halls and the Cable’s home at Bethel, while Pastor Cable and his wife, Romelle were on vacation. Lavina Murdock shared her home for longer period of time where they lived until the parsonage was ready for occupancy.
With oneness in mind and unity, many church members took out loans and mortgaged their homes to finance our building program. The people sacrificed much, but our Lord was faithful in His promises and restored twofold (Hebrews 11:1)
Our congregation broke ground on March 30, 1955 for the new Baptist church to be located on the southwest corner of Stoughton Avenue and Council Street. Dwight Duncan began excavating work at the site for a proposed $30,000 structure.
We awarded contracts to Bill Nelson and Paul Retzlaff. The plans were to build the church in two steps. The first step was to complete and enclose the basement so that services could be held in the basement structure by the fall of 1955. The second step was to complete the “L” shape structure the next year. When completed, the building would be large enough to house a congregation of 180 people. It was to be built of Waylite block.
Since the organization of the church, there had been a need for baptismal facilities. The New Lisbon Baptist Church was gracious in letting us use their church on Sunday afternoons for baptisms.
It was on May 20, 1956, that the first service was held in the new church basement. We built a platform on the West end of the basement with draperies behind the pulpit and platform area. We also purchased folding chairs for seating. The entrance to the church was on the East end of the building.
The church had practiced a “pay as you go” policy and had raised $10,000 of the $11,400 cost of the completed section of the basement.
At a special afternoon service on June 3, the first unit of our church was dedicated. Pastor George Cable, founder and first pastor, brought the dedication message. There was special music and the setting of the cornerstone. Neighboring congregations brought greetings.
Pastor Wilson Martin submitted his resignation to the church on June 8, 1956.
Rev. Charles Warder
(Pastored from 1956-1965)
Rev. Charles Warder was called as pastor on November 8, 1956. Under the leadership of Pastor Warder, we made plans to finish the construction of the church edifice. the architect hired was Shubert and Sorenson of LaCrosse.
John Gruman was given the construction bid. the actual building was done during the summer and fall, being completed by the spring of 1960. The men of the church put in many long hours, giving help to the contractor wherever help was needed. Their faith was challenged and met to serve the Lord.
Our plans of our church had been changed somewhat so the entrance to the church was now on Council Street with a side door on the South of the building. With the work completed, the new building was dedicated on Sunday, October 16, 1960. the church now had ninety-five members.
The dedicatory address was given by Dr. Mr. R. Siemans of the Calvary Memorial Church of Racine. Dr. Siemans was also director of Camp Chetek, a summer Bible camp where our young people attended each year. Our church also supported the work of Camp Chetek.
In November of 1957, Miss Charlotte Shaw, missionary to Nigeria, was taken on in support. Miss Shaw was born and raised in Tomah and had become a member of our church. She was our first home missionary sent to the field. Because she was a nurse, Miss Shaw was stationed at a leprosy hospital in Jos, Nigeria, West Africa. She died on the field of lassa fever in February 13, 1969. She was buried there in Nigeria, where she had worked for twelve years.
In July of 1961, the church issued a license to preach to Merritt Rector, one of our own boys, who grew up in our church. The is was the first such license to be granted.
The ensuring years saw steady spiritual grown among the people at Tomah Baptist under the ministries of Pastor Warder, whose resignation was received July 21, 1965. Rev. Frank Kisner was called the same month to be the new pastor of our work.
(Pastored from 1965-1972)
In August of 1966, the church voted to withdraw from the C.B.A. of America, due to a growing non-separated and compromising spirit in the C.B.A.
During the spring, summer and fall of 1967, the nursery replaced the kitchen area and a new kitchen was built in the Northeast corner of the basement. The Ladies Missionary Society bought all the appliances for the kitchen.
Our first Sunday School bus was purchased in August of 1967 to reach the children of Tomah for Christ. Our bus ministry has been exciting since its conception in the late 1960’s, with Charles Rabe as its first driver. this first bus route covered many miles in the country including the Wyeville, Mather, Warrens and Tunnel City areas as well as going throughout the city of Tomah.
Ray Pope and his family, missionaries to Uruguay, were added to the list of missionaries to support in January of 1968.
In the winter of 1968-69, the church basement was renovated. New ceiling tiles, lighting and flooring was installed. Painting and curtains added to the beauty of our basement.
In the summer of 1969, after the death of Charlotte Shaw and other members of our church, a new grand piano and church organ were purchased with memorials given in memory of the deceased members of our church. New hymnals were also purchased.
Our own Janice Larson was taken on as a missionary to Korea. She was commissioned by our church on June 6, 1971. The charge to the missionary was brought by Pastor Frank Kisner.
During the summer of 1970, we were able to complete several projects. A folding door was hung in the back part of the auditorium, storms and screens were installed, plus a P.A. system. A new lighted sign was placed on the corner of the lot on the Northeast side of the church.
In January of 1971, Gus Kasten, Gerald Winters and Fran Weddle were accepted as missionaries and Marilyn Arrowood (now Williams), missionary to New Guinea, was added. Boys Brigade became an official part of the church also.
Rev. Ray Miller
(Pastored from 1972-1978)
In July of 1972, Pastor Kisner resigned. Pastor Ray Miller was called as pastor on October 11, 1972. His first Sunday as pastor was October 28. The church’s red carpet was installed in the winter of 1972.
Under the ministry of Pastor Miller, the church family grew from 93 to 179 members. Three new buses were purchased.
In the spring of 1973, we started looking for land to buy for future expansion. Thirteen acres of property, south of US Hwy 16, where it intersects with Hollister Avenue, looked favorable. That property was not for sale, since Mr. Rob Howie held a life lease, and the owners were not free to sell the property. As we got into our fall program, further searching was curtailed. During this time, Mr. Howie passed away. In December, God answered prayer and the owners kindly contacted us, since we had previously expressed interest.
At our annual meeting in January, we voted to make an offer of $25,000, which was refused. Then we met again, since other parties were interested in that property as well. We voted to offer $50,000, and that offer was topped by another party. To stop the bidding war, a final offer was asked by both parties. In an emergency meeting on April 7, 1874, following an evening service, in an overwhelming majority vote, an act of faith in our Living God, we voted to offer $56,000 for the property. On the following day, the offer was accepted.
The house on the property was the oldest house in Tomah, built during the Civil War days. A barn was also on the property, but because of the condition of both buildings, they were razed. It was voted to have an architect look over the property. The land was then plotted out in seven lots to the East side of the property with the intent possibly to sell. A deed was given to the city for the land to complete Hollister Avenue through the property. The ten acres west of Hollister Avenue would be used for future building of a church.
In a special business meeting on February 8, the church voted to build a new parsonage on lot #7 of the Tomah Baptist subdivision. That lot was on the corner of Clifton and Hollister Avenue, across from the designated area for the future church. After lengthy consideration, it was decided to build a 56’ x 28’ Trademark pre-built home with attached garage.
With the building of a new $40,000 parsonage, the old parsonage would serve as a Sunday School annex, housing classes that were meeting in downtown business meeting rooms. The need for class space was the basic reason for building. By faith, we again moved out, looking for God’s rich blessings in this area.
On March 17, 1978, Pastor Ray Miller resigned as our pastor. His last Sunday was on May 28th.
Rev. Elden Bergen
(Pastored from 1978-1987)
The church voted to call Rev. Elden Bergen on June 28, 1978. During the next year, the church again increased the missionary budget. Bill Hawks and his family were increased and John Raehl’s and Ray Virtue’s family were added to the missionary budget.
Pastor Bergen challenged us to begin paying off our mortgages on the church properties, setting a goal for the Sunday after Thanksgiving, Lord willing. That goal was accomplished, when on July 4, 1982, a mortgage burning ceremony was held. Satisfaction of the mortgage on the land, church and parsonage was met.
Each year, the church continued to improve the land on the new church property. An athletic field was completed on the far end of the field.
An assistant pastor to work full time was hired on July 1, 1981. Rev. Rupert Sanasac came to fill that position. Pastor Sanasac was the director of A.W.A.N.A. and Junior Church programs. He also helped in the visitation work and faithfully served wherever needed in the church work.
Other projects completed included a new gas furnace in the annex and insulation. The church pews were padded with nice cushions. The church building was shingled and new windows installed in the entrance way of the church, and air conditioning installed. The Ladies Missionary Society redid the ladies restroom and powder room.
It was in April of 987, that Pastor Bergen resigned. A farewell dinner was served on his last Sunday, June 3.
Rev. Rupert Sanasac
(Pastored from 1987-1988)
The church voted to have Rev. Rupert Sanasac, our Assistant Pastor, to become our pastor until the pulpit committee could find another pastor. The call to become our pastor was fulfilled when Rev. Ronald Tobin accepted the call on May 8, 1988, his first service was on June 12, 1988.
Rev. Ronald Tobin
(Pastored from 1988-2021)
About seventeen months after Pastor Ron Tobin became our pastor, Pastor Sanasac retired and resigned as assistant. Upon his retirement, the church presented him with a lovely plaque, commending him on his fifty years of service to Christ. He was also given a monthly retirement for as long as he lived.
At our annual meeting in January of 1989, the deacons gave a presentation on a proposed new church building, with the thought of building in the early spring of 1991. A vote was taken on the proposal, and it passed with a unanimous vote to build. Thus began the process of seeking God’s mind and wisdom in all matters of building.
Several of our men, as well as Pastor Tobin, visited churches to help in the design and plans for our new building. Slides were made and viewed by our people. After discussion and much prayer, a plan was accepted and Carlson Engineering drew up plans for approval by the state and local government. The plans were approved on September 6, 1990.
The building committee recommended that Warren Hill, a Christian contractor, be contacted to oversee the building of the new church. Mr. Charles Rabe retired from his job to give full time service to the Lord’s work in the construction of the new church.
A Ground Breaking Service was held at the site of the new building on the afternoon of March 31, 1991.
On April 17, 1991, the church board negotiated a construction loan of up to $200,000 with the initial cost being $257,000 (+) on the new church building, marking the fulfillment of the vision of the former generation for the future of our church.
Since the arrival of Pastor Ron Tobin, many new programs have been started in the church, with unified Sunday School lessons being taught from toddlers through adults. The “Operation Go” for soul winning was attended by many of our lay men and women. A series of classes were given on soul winning, and then put to practice in our community. Departmentalizing of our Sunday School has encouraged closer contact with the students and adults.
Over the next several years, the church has grown by an average of 10% annually. Presently, our membership is again over 200, as we minister to the community.
Through Pastor Tobin’s vision and encouragement, the men were challenged to pledge their time and talents to the work of the building project. His energy and commitment to the Lord has inspired our men and women to serve the Lord.
The construction of the building went on through the summer months, with completion in October of 1991. Like Israel in Nehemiah’s time, the work on the building has gone on in spite of scoffers, difficulties, trials and attacks by the Wicked One. Throughout the building process, however, God has provided for and protected His people. He has given a spirit of resolve, prayer and unity. Truly, God can provide!
The building was dedicated on November 3, 1991, with our former pastors taking part in the dedication services. We held an Open House for the Tomah community on November 10, 1991.
God has set before us here at Tomah Baptist Church, an open door to reach our community for Christ. It is our prayer and goal to use the gifts and facilities He has given us to bring lost people to Christ, and to train them for His work.
“Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.” Psalm 127:1