Centennial Memories

Excerpts of the History of Riverside Baptist Church

 

 

 

 

 

December 23, 1916

A small group of members from 1st Baptist Church of Fort Myers, Florida, met for the purpose of organizing a new Baptist church in East Fort Myers.   After reading the scriptures and prayer Edgewood Baptist Church was formed with 11 charter members.  Led by their pastor, Rev. A.M. Bennett, services were first held in a wooden, one-room building of Edgewood School. Interestingly, this same building was once a court house in downtown Fort Myers, and was moved to the school to be used as a classroom.  Now 100 years later from these humble beginnings, Riverside Church continues to glorify God, to proclaim the saving grace of our Lord Jesus Christ and to make disciples who love and live like Jesus.

 

 

 

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1917  -  First Pastor

Dr. A. J. Holt of Arcadia agreed to come and preach for several months at the newly formed church every second and fourth Sundays and was supported partly by the State Mission Board. On the first Sunday after Dr. Holt was called as pastor, he discovered after he had walked up before the people that he had forgotten his sermon notes and his Bible.  This did not seem to disturb him and he simply quoted the entire chapter from memory and went on with his sermon as if nothing unusual had happened. 

 

 

 

 

 

1918 First Sanctuary

God used the passion of two members, Mr. Surrency and Mr. Page, to establish our first church building.  These two men rode their bicycles throughout the community and knocked on doors to solicit both funds and labor.  Mr. C.E. Bronson donated the parcel of land at Tarpon and Railroad Streets.  Between 1918 and 1919 money was raised, construction was completed, and Edgewood Baptist Church had its first sanctuary to worship:  2633 Tarpon Street, Fort Myers, Florida.

 

 

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Rev. B.C. Collins   1920 - 1923

In December 1920 Rev. B. C. Collins was called as pastor.  “As I recall those days, I rejoice that I was counted worthy to share with my Lord in the hardships and discouragements we had in the early days of your great church.  I had no means of transportation until the last year of my pastorate, which was a bicycle.  The community was thinly settled and in my visitation I had much walking to do.  There was a low place near where we resided, which would be flooded during the rainy season.  The water would be as much as two feet deep.  So I made a pair of stilts with the footsteps about two feet high, which I would use to cross that place of water. I would cross that place of water, hide my stilts, go on to the church or to my visitation.  Upon my return, I would get my stilts and cross over to the home side.  Well, I learned from experience that the Lord will provide a way for those who love and try to serve him.”

 

 

 

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Missionary Spirit - Woodrow Mission

From the very beginning, our church, though struggling along itself, had a missionary spirit. Perhaps this accounts for its continual growth and blessing from the Lord.  In the early 1920s Edgewood started its first mission at Woodrow with 11 in attendance.  On August 13, 1923, a delegation was elected to go and assist in the organization of Olga Missionary Baptist Church.  By September 1923 membership had increased to 61; Sunday School enrollment, at 112, far exceeded the church membership. The church house had four rooms, could seat 250, and was valued at $3,000 with no indebtedness.

 

 

 

1925 Name changed to Second Baptist Church

With a unanimous vote, on December 16, 1925, the name was changed from Edgewood Baptist to Second Baptist Church of Fort Myers.  In those days it was the duty of every member to attend a monthly conference and vote on all matters; membership either by baptism, letter, or statement was by unanimous vote; and the church voted each year as to whether or not the present pastor was retained by majority vote of those whose names were submitted.

 

 

 

Expansion and Church Bell     1928

In May 1927 the Women’s Missionary Union reported a $10 surplus of funds after paying off some furniture; they wished to use this money to start a Building Fund for a new sanctuary to be built around the present building.  They also reported “a chicken supper is in formation to help swell the fund.”  Later, plans were submitted by an advisory committee, and in June 1928 a loan for $2,000 was made to finance the project.  At its completion a bell was purchased by the Carpenter’s Union and donated to the church.  The bell was hung in the belfry of the new building and for many years residents of East Fort Myers were summoned to hear the gospel by the pealing of the bell.

 

 

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1928 – Nursery organized/Sunday School- St. James City

The membership at this point was increasing rapidly with around 140 attending the morning worship services each week.  In July 1928 the first Cradle Roll (Nursery) was organized by Mrs. Blythe with a membership of 42 babies, which she stated “was far ahead of our expectations.”  She also noted improvement of mothers attending church through the Cradle Roll efforts. 

A mission Sunday School was established at St. James City on Pine Island.  It was necessary for the workers to go by boat each week to teach this Sunday School.

 

 

 

 

1936 – 1943 Rev. LeRoy Crider

Rev. C. LeRoy Crider was called as pastor with his ministry beginning March 1, 1936. In its first published church directory in 1937, the message from Rev. Crider expressed cooperation of the church and the people of this community. “When I say community, I mean ALL the people in this part of our city, many of other religious beliefs, have cooperated wonderfully with us, many who are not members of any church have shown a fine spirit of cooperation. .. This church is a ‘City set upon a hill, whose Light cannot be hid.’  Let’s keep our Lower Lights Burning, so those who are out in the dark may see the way home.”

 

 

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1942 Name changed to Riverside Baptist Church

August 5, 1942, the church voted to change its name from Second Baptist to Riverside Baptist Church.  During Brother Crider’s pastorate the church experienced great spiritual and financial gains and many were added to its membership.  Money was raised to retire the $2,000 mortgage on the church building. A baptistry was installed; prior to this, candidates were taken either to the nearby Caloosahatchee River or to the Gulf for baptism services.  A good-sized Sunday School Annex was built and the windows of the church were stenciled in lovely colors to resemble stained glass.  The Vacation Bible School of 1944 had 112 children and workers enrolled.  There were 205 people now enrolled in Sunday School.

 

 

 

New sanctuary March 1951

Rev. Guy Owen began as pastor in 1947; he later started a daily radio program on WINK. The church was growing, a new auditorium needed, and members were eager to get involved. First, corner lots on Tarpon and Seminole were purchased for relocation of the pastorium. Donations were made to purchase concrete blocks; the ladies would bring food each Saturday and serve lunch to the men working on the building; a special service and dinner was planned. On March 18, 1951, the new church building at 940 Tarpon Street was dedicated to the Lord. Rev. A. B. Allen was pastor.

 

 

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First Baptist Church of North Fort Myers

A church plant was started in Palmona Park, North Fort Myers in 1947. Mr. and Mrs. Benny Rich were actively involved. The janitorial work at Riverside was being done by the ladies of the church in order that the money set aside for this purpose could be used for this mission work.  Riverside bought a 20 by 50 foot barracks building to be delivered and set up in Palmona Park.  Riverside’s Pastor Owen was conducting services until Rev. Louis Dobson was called in 1949 as the first pastor of the North Side Baptist Chapel.  A second-hand bus was acquired for transporting people to the mission.  In April 1950 Rev. George Durham was called as pastor, five acres on Evergreen was given to the church and the mission building was moved to its current site.  On November 11, 1951, the First Baptist Church, North Fort Myers was established.

 

 

 

 

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Russell Park Baptist Mission 1952

The mission committee had started a new work in Russell Park and Riverside members were called to assist with Sunday School.  The first meeting was held in April 20, 1952, with Henry Tatum preaching, Services were held in the Duke Building, which was leased for $40/month.  In October 1953, Brother Henry Tatum was ordained by Riverside into the full Gospel ministry and was called as the first pastor of the Russell Park Chapel.  The first move was made on Easter Sunday 1955 when the Chapel relocated to the Russell Park Community Hall on Miramar with 78 in attendance; more space but soon to be outgrown.  September 2, 1956, Chapel was then moved to the skating rink, which offered ample space.  Lots were purchased, the contract was signed, and construction began on the first unit of the new building of the Russell Park Chapel. The final move was on Easter Sunday, April 24, 1957, when the Chapel moved to its permanent Home… exactly five years to the Sunday after its inauguration.  The Sunday School attendance was 213 and morning worship 224, breaking all records. 

The Chapel organized into a full-time church September 29, 1957, and now operates under the name Morningstar Baptist Church -5160 Richmond Ave, FM.

 

 

 

 

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1951 Fort Myers Beach Chapel

In 1951 members of Riverside went to Fort Myers Beach to teach Sunday School and in 1953 started a mission.  Mr. and Mrs. Howard DeVore and Mr. and Mrs. Lawrence Williams were of great assistance in this work. In October 1955 Rev. Marvin Lynn was called as pastor. The Chapel met in the Beach Community Hall for $10/month rental.  With loans from the Home Mission Board and First National Bank, a $9,000 tract of land on Connecticut Avenue was purchased.  Ground breaking for the first building of the Fort Myers Beach Baptist Chapel was held on March 4, 1957.  Rev. Lynn did much of the actual construction with his own hands, and most of the overall work was done by members of the Chapel.  The building was almost like a big ship, so that it would be virtually waterproof in the case of storms, hurricanes, etc.  The new building was dedicated in February 23, 1958. Soon afterward, a pastorium was purchased, and moved onto the chapel property.

 

 

 

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Rev. E.S. “Andy” Anderson   1956 – 1975

In the summer of 1956 a pastoral vacancy had leadership recommending to the church body a call to Rev. E. S. “Andy” Anderson.  He accepted, moved his young family, and his work in Fort Myers began September 1, 1956.  Andy's gentle demeanor and affection for people served us well for nearly 20 years. Andy grew the church both physically and spiritually.  We were known by all as the friendliest church in town.  His passion for outreach led Andy to establish a daily radio program, a 15-minute counseling TV program, and then helped initiate weekly live broadcasts on WINK –TV, a technical breeze today, but a complicated venture in the 60s. The team’s effort allowed Andy's messages of Christ to reach far beyond our congregation to the entire audience of the only station in 5 counties.  His compassion helped birth a bus ministry, a ministry for the hearing impaired, a prison ministry, an alcohol abuse ministry, and many area church plants. 

 

 

 

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Central Baptist Mission – 1958

Riverside was interested in starting a new mission in what was considered at the time “southeast” Fort Myers. The Florida Baptist Convention State Mission Board continued to support Riverside’s endeavors and in 1958 loaned us $5,000 of the $7,000 needed to purchase property on the corner of Central Avenue and Moreno. In time, a building was constructed and the Central Avenue Baptist Chapel was organized.  As was often the case, Riverside had someone ready to step out in leadership; Rev. Glenn Stephens, the Educational Director of Riverside, was called as the first pastor.  Central Baptist Church operates today as Christian Faith Fellowship and also hosts the Heavenly Canaan Baptist Church - 3208 Central Avenue.

 

 

 

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1960 Counseling TV Program

In 1960 Riverside branched out into a weekly fifteen minute television program sponsored by Wesley Scott.  This was a counseling type program featuring Rev. Anderson seated at a desk, counseling an anonymous person (his or her back to the camera) who told the pastor of a problem in his or her life.  The program was very successful, and as a result, Rev. Anderson came to spend a great portion of his time in counseling men and women and young people who had real problems. Many of these people eventually became Christians and many united with Riverside as a result of the pastor’s counseling ministry.  One feature each week on the TV Program was special music by Mr. Ron Carlberg accompanied by Miss Carolyn Nash.

 

 

 

New Educational Building….

1956 Brochure to raise funds for Riverside’s first two-story Educational Building at the northwest corner of Tarpon and Seminole.

Sunday, February 28, 1960, Dedication - Others have labored and we pause to give sincere recognition to those whose labors of love, earnest prayers and liberal gifts have built so well the foundation of this church.  But the heritage of the past was not enough, the labors of another generation could not suffice to meet the existing demands of this day. So a congregation of people guided by the wisdom of the “All wise God” set themselves to the task of erecting this building. They were generous in their gifts and earnest in their cooperation all through the building program. May God bless each one.  E.S. Anderson, Pastor

 

 

 

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First sanctuary damaged beyond repair

September 10, 1960, Hurricane Donna powered through SW Florida. The original church building (at the time being used for educational space) had to be vacated due to the hurricane damage, and since it was inadvisable to try to repair it, the church agreed to raze the building. Many teardrops were shed as this sacred old building was torn down. Another parking lot was constructed on this corner.

 

 

 

1961 – 1996  Charles and Bobbie Miller

Riverside’s missionaries, Charles and Bobbie Miller, were called to the Philippines in 1961 – this is Bobbie’s story:  The first half of our 34 years in the Philippines was spent in Koronadal, on the island of Mindanao. We were graciously welcomed by the Filipinos and felt safe everywhere we traveled. As Church Planters our mission was to locate sites and establish churches. Charles ministered to pastors and held seminars. In the early days I homeschooled our children until they went to Manila for high school. For the second half of our tour the Mission Board asked us to move to Negros to open work for Southern Baptists in Bacolod City.  Charles grew up at Riverside; the church and its support meant a great deal to us. The women at Riverside established a Bobbie Miller WMU Mission Circle and kept in touch with us through correspondence and prayer.

We had been retired for two years when the Mission Board sent us in 1996 to Bosnia for six months. This was just after the war ended and the Dayton Peace Accords signed.  We lived in Sarajevo, a beautiful old European city nearly destroyed during the war.  Our mission was to find out what the Church could do to help the people. The devastation was unbelievable--no heat, no running water, no glass in windows.  Since that time, missionaries have been working in Bosnia.

Today, I encourage you to live like Christians, and let your lights shine. It is essential to understand other people and their needs and be willing to reach out as the Lord opens the way.

 

 

 

Riverside Revival of 1961

It started with prayer. Darwin Davis and five other men met June 13 at home to pray intentionally for friends and family who were not saved. Soon other groups formed; 17 teenagers started meeting weekly to pray, and elderly agreed to pray in their home at 8:00 each morning. This wasn’t an organized movement, no invited evangelist, just people who committed to pray for the salvation of one person by name and then visit that person during the week to invite them to church on Sunday. By July 30 as we prepared for worship, there was a sense of excitement, a feeling that something was going to happen. When Rev. Anderson began the message, it seemed as if each word was led by the Spirit; when the invitation was given people rushed forward…30 decisions were made that Sunday. Similar stories continued week after week. The Tuesday home prayer groups were growing, splitting from 3 to 15 groups. House-to-house visitation started, street by street, around the church. God continued to bless. In five months there were 434 decisions; 194 people were baptized that year, and Sunday morning attendance grew from 450 to 955. As our sanctuary would only hold 600, services were moved to the baseball stadium at Terry Park while balconies were added to the sanctuary increasing our seating to 1100. More importantly, prayer and Bible study became an essential part of people’s lives. Men and women were eager to tell others what God was doing in their lives. The teenagers started Bible studies in their schools. There were over 50 home prayer groups meeting weekly, in addition to the regular Wednesday night prayer meetings. God accomplished more in five months than what we would have planned for Riverside over three years. We learned to pray first and allow the Holy Spirit to empower us to take action.

 

 

 

1963 Weekly Television Broadcast on WINK

Outsiders said it couldn’t be done. The church voted prayerfully and unanimously to proceed with the purchase and installation of equipment to televise the weekly Sunday morning worship service. Vernon Lundquist, producer and director of WINK-TV and Riverside deacon, located used equipment in Baltimore, MD, at a total cost of $21,578 and trained 18 men from the church to operate it, two crews of 9 men who rotated every other week. March 1963 the RCA cameras were in position, the TV ministry ready to serve, and the first live television program in SW Florida was transmitted from the church via microwave to the WINK-TV station. The expected audience in the 3,000 square mile coverage area was 121,000.

“We hope to extend the ministry of our church to the thousands who reside in SW Florida who do not or cannot attend church.” – Andy Anderson, Pastor.

A team was trained to answer incoming calls and counsel those who called in response to the invitation. Leo Englehardt Funeral Home graciously sponsored the TV time: Sunday mornings 11:00-12:00 on Channel 11.

 

 

 

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WSOR FM 90.9 Wonderful Sound Of Riverside

Longing to share the gospel message to a broader audience and on a daily basis, Riverside began investigating the possibility of owning and operating an FM radio station. Even back then it was a protracted process complying with requirements of the FAA, FCC and the City to erect a radio tower plus seeking the necessary financing. It required a leap of faith that some found difficult to take. In 1969, having secured all approvals for the license and construction permit, we agreed to hire Gates Radio Co. to furnish equipment, construct a tower on Riverside’s Tarpon St. Campus, and install the FM antenna at a cost of $17,908. Ann Collier stepped up to be General Manager; the Dedication service and Open House for WSOR was held May 23, 1971. When all was said and done, we were finally broadcasting Christian content 18 hours a day to all of Southwest Florida.

 

 

 

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1916 – 1966      Riverside Celebrates 50th Anniversary

-          Everyone who read through the Bible in 1966 or joined the church in 1966 was awarded a Golden Jubilee Special Edition Bible.

-          Revival

-          Eleanor Anderson authors “Golden Nuggets”

-          One member remains of our original charter members

-          The church bell returns to Riverside

-          Special award - Deacon Emeritus

 

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Children’s Ministry

“We moved to Fort Myers in March 1966, and soon chose Riverside to be our home church. The Lord has given me the privilege of teaching Bible studies to the children for almost fifty years. It's been a great joy to see their faces light up as they learned how much Jesus loves them.  Nothing is as important as children learning while they are young and their hearts are open and tender.  I have taught my children and grandchildren and know the great joy of their eternal salvation through Jesus.  I still receive hugs from some of the now grown adults that I taught as children.  I am so grateful that Riverside Church has given me the opportunity to fulfill the Lord's calling for my life.”           Barbara Williams Phelps

 

 

 

Riverside’s Deaf Ministry

In 1958 Riverside’s Deaf Ministry began with Mr. Jim Henry serving as interpreter and teacher of the Silent Crusader’s Sunday School class. 

“From 1969-1992 I had the privilege of serving as an interpreter for the Deaf at Riverside. I learned sign language through classes offered at church, in 7th grade started signing the worship music, then progressed to interpreting the message. I believe God gave me this ability for His purpose. Dedicated, caring people served alongside me:  Janette Christensen, Loretta Gurgol, Mary Anne Heath, Carolyn Brooks are just a few. The leader of the hearing impaired was Wayne Kennedy, who tirelessly taught the Silent Crusaders, represented Riverside at the Florida Baptist Conference for the Deaf, and was later ordained by Riverside June 1984. These times were before closed caption, email and social media; because of this Ministry many in the deaf community heard the Gospel message, were able to worship together and have Bible study. I am forever grateful to Riverside for this opportunity to serve Him.”   Carol Benson

 

 

 

Bus Ministry   1973

Riverside had a vision to reach kids for Christ. Back in the 1970s, the bus ministry was gaining momentum and Riverside hosted a 2-day SBC Bus Clinic in 1973 to find out what it was all about. We started buying buses, training more workers, and visiting in the community. We quickly grew to 5 buses and transported 150 – 200 children to church each week. Today, it seems strange that a parent would send their child on a bus to a church they didn’t attend. Yes, times have changed. But what made the difference back then was that parents would see the bus worker visiting in their community every Saturday morning, building relationships with kids and families, earning the opportunity to invite their kids to ride the bus to church on Sunday. Riverside’s Bus Ministry expanded to 8 buses and a van, 250 riders each week, and spanned about 15 years. Bus Captains and workers made it their goal to contact every rider on their bus Saturday mornings to make sure every boy and girl would be in attendance on Sunday. Because of the dedication of these workers, children were engaged in Bible Study and heard the Gospel message.  In turn, children shared what they were learning with their parents; and families were being changed.

 

 

 

Brother Andy

In Sept 1971, Andy was honored on the observance of his 15th anniversary. Sanford Williams handed his pastor a check for $500 collected from friends who desired a part in sending Brother Andy to the United Nations on October 2 for a special briefing of 400 Americans by U.S. Ambassador to the UN, George Bush, presenting United States policies.  A signal honor!

 

Andy had a passionate quest to reach lost people through Sunday school and to disciple those that accepted Christ in meaningful Bible study. While at Riverside, Andy developed the ACTION enrollment plan to train leaders to enroll people in Bible Study. His tenure at Riverside ended as he felt led to direct the Southern Baptist Convention's national Sunday school expansion program.  He worked as a growth specialist at the SS Board of the Southern Baptist Convention (now LifeWay  Christian Resources.)

 

 

 

Carpenter’s Trade

The Carpenter's Trade was a youth musical ensemble started by Larry Ferguson, Minister of Music and Youth, in early 1973. "Trade" as it was affectionately called, lasted until about 1982. Trade went on spring, summer, and winter tours all over the Southeast U.S.  Often the Youth Choir would tour as well. Trade sang in N. Carolina, Virginia, New Hampshire and even as far away as California. They sang for revivals, youth camps, political rallies, and even one year opened for the Oak Ridge Boys! More than 50 people were involved in this ministry in the nine or so years of its existence. Out of this ministry, many were called to become full-time ministers. Several are still in the ministry today. The most unique aspect of this ministry is the bond of love that these people still have for each other today. Even though they've been physically apart for decades, when the opportunity arises for them to get together, it's like they've never been apart.     Beverly Nobles

 

On the back of the album, "The Carpenter's Trade - Just a Moment Ago" Pastor E.S. "Andy" Anderson wrote, "The Carpenter's Trade is composed of some of the most dedicated young people I have ever pastored.  Each is a member of Riverside Baptist Church and is involved in one or more of the ministries of the Church.  Some teach Sunday School classes, some are bus pastors, some work in Children's Church, while others are involved in the Puppet Theater.  The members of the TRADE are required to live exemplary Christian lives.  Each is a personal witness for Christ.  In my 17 year pastorate at Riverside, it has been my privilege to win most of these young people to Christ and watch them grow into this ministry. Though the people of our community have heard the TRADE many times, there is a marked increase in attendance when they sing.  Whether you hear this group in person or only on this record, they will challenge you to "Get All Excited" for Jesus. 

 

 

 

1975 Eastside Mission

With Riverside’s emphasis on church plants Albert Miller, Chairman of the Missions Committee, initiated start-ups at Northside, Eastside and Lehigh Acres in July 1975. Members of Riverside were led to serve in Sunday School and leadership; Riverside designated its Wednesday night love offering to be given to Missions. As the parent church, Riverside guided the work of the Mission, employed the pastor, purchased real estate and such; the Mission Board of the FL Baptist Convention aided with mortgage financing; membership was held by Riverside until the Mission was ready to organize on its own.

Rev. Heifel and Milton DeSear led the work at the Eastside Mission. A five-acre parcel was located on Ortiz Ave for $28,000, a modular moved to the site and in January 1976 Elmer Crews was called as Pastor. By June 1976 attendance averaged 60 in SS and 80 in worship; plans were approved for building a sanctuary. Rev. Crews worked with the men pouring the concrete foundation, laying a Bible as its cornerstone. Attendance had grown to 200 and by late 1977 Eastside was preparing to operate autonomously; February 1978 RBC granted letters to the 162 Charter members of Eastside Baptist Church. Today, Iglesia De Dios Pentecostal holds services at this location-1091 Ortiz Avenue.

 

 

 

 

1975 – 1981 Rev. Bill Love

Bill Love “Preacher Bill” served as our pastor from 1975-1981. He was a jolly, yet fiery, country preacher who loved people. He made headlines speaking out against local issues, but he did so with demeanor that usually brought respect from those who disagreed with him. I say usually, because church services were disrupted a few times with bomb threats. At that time services were held Sunday morning and evening, church-wide visitation on Tuesday nights, and dinner, prayer service, and children’s programs on Wednesday evenings followed by a monthly church business meeting. We often invited musical groups to worship with us, especially on Sunday nights, held concerts, hosted evangelists and held Revival services. During Bill’s time with Riverside, improvements were made to the radio station and our television equipment was updated. In 1978 we implemented the Together We Build capital campaign and built a 1700-seat sanctuary. We started a weekly newsletter, The Revelation, and Bill’s column, “Love’s Letter” often encouraged members to share their faith; weekly instructional classes were offered. Our mission then, to equip the saints and evangelize the community, centered on discipleship. To that end we planted four local mission churches.

 

 

 

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1975 Northside Baptist Mission

Continuing its focus to make disciples, Riverside’s David Hitzing and Albert Miller led the work in organizing another church plant in N Ft Myers. Northside Baptist Mission held its first services May 1975 at the Serendipity Mobile Home Park; 29 people attended morning worship. Rev. Walt Hickman began serving as their first full-time pastor in June 1976. Property was purchased on Littleton Road and the mobile home used by Eastside Mission was moved onto this site. 45 people came to the first morning worship service Feb 1977 and 26 to the evening worship service, in spite of the fact that they had to borrow a generator to furnish electricity for the lights. With the help of Riverside and Florida Baptist Convention a building was constructed and Northside held its first worship service April 1978. Rev. Hal Wynn was called as pastor and Northside Baptist Church was constituted Feb 1982. Ministering God’s Mercy, Rev. Wynn still serves as pastor today - 8250 Littleton Rd, NFM.

 

 

 

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Missionaries Bob and Betty Anderson   1976 - 1991

In 1976 Dr. Robert “Bob” Anderson, Fort Myers dentist, chairman of the Lee County School Board, Deacon and Sunday School teacher of Riverside, along with his wife, Betty, and 11-year old son, Michael, resigned positions in Fort Myers and followed God’s call to Ghana, West Africa to serve as medical missionaries through Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board. They packed food, clothing, three complete dental units, x-ray machines, dental supplies, medicines…everything needed for their four-year tour was shipped overseas. Dr. Bob set up the Dental Clinic at the Baptist Medical Centre in Nalerigu where he provided dental services and Betty served as Hospital Administrator. They served through the Baptist Church and ministered to the Ghanaians. Their second mission tour took the Andersons to Nigeria where they served at the Baptist Dental Clinic in Enugu from 1981 – 1991. They helped start churches in nearby villages, discipled local Nigerians and on Sundays would go to four different preaching stations to spread the gospel message. One Sunday Bob baptized 86 people in the village of Nakpanduri. What I find remarkable is their resolve to leave everything behind… all the comforts, securities and responsibilities of home to be obedient to God; lives were changed for eternity.

 

 

 

New Sanctuary Dedicated 1980

With continued growth Riverside was challenged to build a larger sanctuary to accommodate its expanding ministries. Our first step was to retire debt. In June-Dec. 1977 all income over budget needs went towards paying off the existing mortgage. In 1978 we implemented the Together We Build capital campaign with 3-year pledges totaling $660,000. Equal sacrifice; not equal gifts—each family would give sacrificially according to their ability.  The location of the new sanctuary would be on property previously donated by Dr. and Mrs. Anderson adjacent to our educational buildings on Seminole Ave. The building was designed, the radio tower relocated, and ground-breaking services held November 1978.  We eagerly watched a beautiful brick 1700-seat sanctuary and church office complex emerge. A dedication service of our new worship center was held March 1980.             

 

 

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Twin Brooks Baptist Mission 1978

Harmony Baptist in North Fort Myers was approved as a mission of Riverside in October 1978. Riverside assumed its debt and assets, and our members discipled its leadership.  It was decided to change their name from Harmony to Twin Brooks Baptist Mission. Application was made to the State Mission Board for pastoral assistance. Rev. Stan Berrong was licensed by Riverside into the gospel ministry and he served as their pastor for 8 years. Continuing under the direction of Riverside’s Mission Committee, they prepared to operate independently.  With continued growth, the mission constituted as Twin Brooks Baptist Church on April 4, 1982.

 

 

 

1979 Lee Boulevard Baptist Mission

Riverside’s Mission Committee continued to pursue a church plant in Lehigh Acres.  A prime location on Lee Blvd was located and through the Florida Baptist Convention Grant Program four acres were purchased in August 1979. Riverside contracted for the building and ground-breaking services for Lee Blvd Mission was held December 7, 1980. Meanwhile, Otis Guy started a Bible study and prayer meeting May 1981 at the home of Carl and Lee Bryson with 15 people attending. Dr. Claude Wilson, Associate Pastor of Riverside, was called August 1981 as first pastor of Lee Blvd Mission. Anticipation grew as the church building progressed, and the first Sunday worship service was held November 8, 1981, in the yet to be completed building; 23 people became members that day. The formal dedication of Lee Boulevard Baptist Church was held March 28, 1982, with special guest speakers and dinner on the grounds. Dr. Wilson served as pastor 34 years until his death in 2015.

 

 

 

 

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Rev. Jay Strack   1981 – 1984

1981 would be a year of change for Riverside. Upon the departure of pastor Love it was time to seek God's direction for the future. This prayerful deliberation resulted in the calling of Rev Jay Strack. Jay grew up in Ft Myers and weathering troubled early years had fully dedicated himself to Christ; he used his life experiences to become a dynamic communicator with a big vision. Under Jay’s leadership and the organization of Clayton Spriggs, Assistant Pastor and Minister of Education, we became Exciting Riverside Baptist Church- Where Worship is in Spirit and Truth. We were challenged in personal discipleship, sharing our faith, and weekly visitation. We had a determined focus for Sunday School growth, grand outreach events and county-wide crusades. Riverside held Easter music/drama productions, a July extravaganza and our first Living Christmas Tree musical. Jay had a clear way of telling the gospel message and people were being saved- 321 baptisms during his first 10 months. To accommodate growth, we remodeled, Children’s Sunday School classes were moved to Edgewood Elementary School and additional property was purchased. August 1983 we added a Christian college. October 1983 Jay laid out a 5-year plan of ministry - Quest for the Rainbow. Our TV ministry equipment was updated and WSOR radio tower raised to 360 ft. and operated 24 hours/day. We implemented a capital campaign to build a new educational building to raise money for the 1.5 million dollar project. Though Jay felt called in a new direction in 1985, his dream was fulfilled not long after his departure as we built an educational building and opened a Christian school.

 

 

 

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1983 - Gulf Shore Bible Institute

Riverside’s vision for a Christian College in SW Florida was fulfilled August 1983 as we welcomed Gulf Shore Bible Institute as a ministry of Exciting Riverside Baptist Church. The founder and President, Dr. Fred Williams continued to serve and Jay Strack and Clayton Spriggs became ex officio members of the Board. Although operated as a separate entity, the college became an integral part of our church. Classes at its new campus in Riverside’s Educational Building began Sept 1983, and 35 of our members took one or more courses.  In addition to evening classes, daytime classes were offered for the very first time January 1984. Members were encouraged to use the college library and book store as well as to take Bible courses, counseling courses, and seek degrees. In May 1984 sixteen Gulf Shore graduates were honored at Riverside’s morning service. By May 1985 Gulf Shore was seeking accreditation. Dr. Williams also served as Associate Pastor of Riverside and served as interim Pastor in 1985.

 

 

 

1986 – Riverside Christian School

We were ready to move Sunday School classes into our Rainbow Learning Center at the time Perry Ellis became pastor (March 1986 – June 1987). The Dedication service was held April 13, 1986. Soon afterward preparations began for opening a day care and school. Riverside Christian School opened August 25, 1986 with five preschool classes for ages 2-5 and enrollment at 56.  Gail Hatmaker was principal; Dale Fiegland became School Administrator a year later. Under Fiegland’s direction, Riverside was realizing her dream to Educate for Eternity as RCS flourished offering classes from infants through 5th grade as well as after school care. Meanwhile, Byron Campbell, WSOR Chairman, negotiated the $2,600,000 sale of our 3,000 watt commercial radio license. At a time when church finances were lagging, God provided. Proceeds from the sale allowed for the debt on our Educational Building to be paid in full, a 75,000 watt educational radio license procured so we could continue our WSOR ministry on FM 90.9, reserves on-hand for WSOR, and funds for ministry.

 

 

 

Riverside Music Ministry

Riverside has long been known for its excellent music—choirs, pageants, ensembles and talented musicians. During the 1980's we intentionally used music events in reaching our community for Christ.  We invited our neighbors and the church would be packed 3-4 nights in a row for our Easter and Christmas pageants. These events involved more than just the singers, musicians and cast; our people pulled together using their talents to write scripts, sew costumes, build sets, engineer lighting, distribute tickets, greet attendees, and counsel those who made decisions. In many ways music ministry was a person’s small group, support and outreach. You can see why close relationships developed among those who served; many lasting even today. In 1982 under the direction of Larry Ferguson as minister of music, Riverside held our first Living Christmas Tree musical, which became an annual event along with the passion plays. During our 1983 Easter event 263 people made decisions for Christ—that’s what it was all about. We continued annual musical dramas under Jim Van Matre in 1984 and Steve Rogers in 1986. Steve served as Minister of Music for over 8 years; and in addition to his many talents, he directed a variety of musicals and organized a community Christmas event inviting other churches and school groups to participate. We thank God for these opportunities and for lives that were changed.

 

 

 

Rev. Tony Chester   1988 - 2008

In 1986 Tony Chester was hired as Youth Pastor. Only two years later at the age of 28 he was asked to step into the role of Senior Pastor. He accepted and a journey of over 20 years began. Tony weathered trials and celebrated times of great blessings over his decades as pastor of Riverside. Within months we razed our old sanctuary to expand parking, completed the sale of our radio license and acquired another to continue the WSOR ministry. We hosted a Spanish mission that in turn started six congregations, sponsored a mission in the Palmetto Housing Complex and started a ministry in San Carlos. We held a family reunion to celebrate Riverside’s 75th Anniversary. As a church we learned to trust God, never truer than when we left our life-long home for parts unknown. It was quite the journey. We watched Tony, Carey and their young growing family mature over the many years that we were together. Carey grew to be an outstanding pastor’s wife, served lovingly and always invested her time to know as many members as she could. We had the pleasure to watch the Chester family grow and serve well. Even today, many friends at Riverside and throughout the area keep close ties to Tony, Carey and their now grown family.  These relationships are a testimony and the legacy of decades of life and love shared. 

 

 

 

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Move to Three Oaks Middle School

The early 90's would prove to be a pivotal era for Riverside. As we began to evaluate our ministries, members, and community the idea of relocating began to brew. God had plans that were larger than we could have expected. The congregation overwhelmingly approved the motion that would find us meeting at Three Oaks Middle School by October 1993. There were many details to be handled; the most pressing would be what to do with our Tarpon St campus. We found a local congregation interested in leasing the property and moved our services to 3 Oaks Middle School. From the comfort of a life-long home to a weekly setup and tear down routine, it would be an understatement to say God had us outside of our comfort zone. What had not yet become clear was how God would use our inconvenience and repetitive duties to craft a closer knit and even more dedicated people. It required great faith for everyone to work week after week just to hold Sunday services. With churches as with people there are times when God's plan seems contrary to our way of thinking.  However, God was good and through it all He created a small group of people with a large amount of faith.  It was an 8 year journey that would set a new course and confirm for all involved that God has THE PLAN and we just need to follow Him in faith.

 

 

 

1995 For Future Generations

While we were meeting at Three Oaks Middle School, despite the fact that we had not yet prepared a masterplan or selected property, we moved forward with a capital stewardship campaign in 1995. We felt God was testing our faith, and we believed He would bless our obedience. Brian Chapman and Bill Van Helden were co-directors of our For Future Generations campaign leading over 160 of our members who were actively involved in some stage of the program. Details were communicated to our congregation. Special stewardship lessons depicting biblical principles for giving and sacrifice were taught during Bible Study. Children created posters. The entire church family was personally invited to a Special Banquet April 2 at The Forest Country Club to participate and register their 3-year pledge. God provided commitments of $451,000 by Celebration Sunday, April 16, 1995.

           …for

         future

    generations

I won’t bend and I won’t break.

I won’t water down my faith.

I won’t compromise in a world of desperation.

What has been I cannot change,

But for tomorrow and today

I must be a light for future generations.  ….  Theme song 

 

 

 

Sale of WSOR – purchase property on Daniels Pkwy

Having successfully completed the 1995 "For Future Generations" capital campaign, it was time to press forward. A planning committee was formed and the search for a new home was officially on. After having dismissed all existing facilities that were available, it became clear we would need to find land on which to build. The committee determined that we would need at least 25 acres with high visibility, in a well suited location. Though confident that God already knew the plan, we had yet to understand the scope of His blessings and number of our tests. We persevered, and before long it became clearer that His plan required us to have unwavering faith.  When 80 acres was unexpectedly put before us at below market pricing and with generous terms, we knew it was not by chance. When the sale of our old campus was completed, we could see that God was faithful to provide. When Moody Broadcasting agreed to buy WSOR and offered to keep our broadcast ministry on the station at no charge to us, it was obvious that He was moving. When buyers for the excess property we would need to sell appeared, all doubt was erased. He asks us to step out in great faith and promises us that He will provide.  Today we can credit our unparalleled location on Daniels Parkway to the greatness of our God and a small group of people who willingly took a giant step of faith.     

 

 

 

2001 Daniels Parkway Campus

Now fully committed to the Daniels land purchase it was time to put things into high gear. We had crafted a contract that allowed us to make progress on the land entitlements before closing. Between ‘97 and ‘99 we established the design/build team that would complete the land planning, rezone the property, and acquire all the requisite permits to allow not only our building but also the needed uses on the parcels we would sell. As if that were not enough, we also completed a 20-year master plan for future build-out, acquired the needed building permits for our current facility and secured a loan to allow completion of our existing building. These were heady days filled with plenty of problems to overcome. The work often seemed endless, but with God at the helm they were also very rewarding. By the time 2001 rolled around the building was under construction and coming together. It was obvious that the end was clearly in sight. Passersby on Daniels could see the daily progress; members signed up to come read through the Bible aloud in the entry, we gathered to write prayers and Bible verses on the floors; members intentionally prayed on site for safety and God's blessings for fruit that would come later. It would be understating it to say everybody was anxious for the final completion of construction. Everyone knew full well that this ending was in actuality a new beginning. Filled with joy and thankfulness for God's provision, on December 9, 2001, 800 gathered for our ribbon cutting and inaugural Sunday service. The following week we welcomed the community to a Christmas Open House. Together we started the next chapter in the life of Riverside. 

 

 

 

Riverside Student Ministry

Student ministry at Riverside Church has evolved quite a bit over the past 100 years, however, the heart of institution upholds an overall mission to encourage students to live their lives for Christ. Growing up at Riverside, I was fortunate to have a support system I could rely on, a group of Godly mentors and peers to not only show me the right path, but to also help me see the importance of holding myself accountable. Sermons, small groups, MOGWOGs and summer camps provided a variety of opportunities and settings to absorb and dig into the Word of God and learn how these messages can be applied to my own experiences. As I progressed through different stages of life, it was reassuring to know that I had a solid foundation in this message, and that when faced with life’s challenges, the knowledge I had gained and my relationship with Christ would lead me to make the right decisions. The godly, family-like environment I encountered in Riverside’s student ministry played a significant role in my elementary, middle and high school years and continues to impact my life as I grow older.  Emily Benson Golden

 

 

 

2010 Rev. Bob Reed

We were blessed to have Rev. Charles Lake serve as interim pastor in 2009 while the pastoral search team sought God’s direction for our next pastor. After much prayer, February 1, 2010, Rev. Bob Reed from Texas became the 18th senior pastor of Riverside.  In defining Riverside’s purpose, Bob coined the mission statement: Riverside Exists to Love and Live Like Jesus, and he began to teach the six core values we use today. Believing that the best way to grow in the likeness of Christ is to do life together, Life Groups became our focus. Groups meet every day of the week at different times in homes throughout SW Florida and on campus Sunday morning. Our first Candy Carnival was held Oct 30, 2010, and we were able to lay the ground work for building relationships with those in our community. The Great Commission has always been at the core of Riverside; both a local and foreign missions emphasis is being promoted. In July 2011 Bob went to India in support of one of our mission partners, Vision Nationals, and learned first-hand what God is accomplishing. In June 2012 Bob laid out the spiritual stages of our discipleship process; as we mature, we make disciples who in turn, make disciples. Jesus’ model of relational discipleship can change the lives of individuals for eternity.

 

 

 

Eric Newkirk  – Wellspring Church, NC

Eric Newkirk served as Pastor of Adult Ministries at Riverside for over seven years. Eric, Laura and their growing family were involved and greatly loved. Before coming to Riverside, the Newkirks had started a church in Virginia; this call to plant a church started to grow again. With Riverside’s history of sending out a team to start its mission churches, it’s no surprise that our church wanted to support Eric with funds, prayer, and margin to seek God’s direction. God used this time to refine and develop Eric as well. Bob Reed was outlining our focus for disciples making disciples through relationship, and this became the foundation that Eric wanted to duplicate. Trips to NC revealed that Raleigh was the fastest-growing city in the US with one million unchurched; the call became clear. Eric and his family sold their Fort Myers home and moved to Wake Forest, NC June 2014. Nearby Journey Church partnered with this vision by extending the opportunity to recruit members from their church to join the launch team of this new church. After months of building relationships, the first Vision Meeting was held Nov 2014. By July 2015 four Life Groups were meeting regularly. The first public worship service of Wellspring Church was held Sept 20, 2015, with 217 in attendance. And, Riverside has a renewed blueprint for multiplying disciples.

 

 

 

Discipleship

In Nov. 2011, two of our Pastors (Eric Newkirk and Bob Reed) and two of our Elders (Randy Landers and Jim McAnulty) went to Post Falls, ID for a two day Discipleship training (DS1).  All four of us were so moved and convicted that we needed to live this out personally and become a reproducing disciple making church.  At the time, we had no idea what all that would entail.  We started on a journey of reading, learning and training over next 9 months, laying the ground work to make the shift as a church.  In April, the elders and staff went through a three day intensive training to work on alignment which led to the adjustment of our mission statement from Loving and Living like Jesus to Making disciples who love and live like Jesus.  There was such excitement and alignment within the leadership that we were being obedient to what Jesus called us to be and do.  Over the course of the summer of 2012, Pastor Bob preached messages every week that would lay out why we were making the shift to becoming a disciple making church and we launched our new model Sept. 2012.  Over the last four years, we have now been a training center locally, regionally and internationally for discipleship training.  We have trained people in Uganda, Ethiopia, India, Bolivia, Haiti, Nicaragua and Mexico.  We have even helped get the training in multiple languages so that these pastors can be equipped to do it themselves.  We are also currently coaching 5 churches around the country to help them also become a reproducing disciple making church.

 

 

 

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