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St. Bartholomew's Diamond Jubilee

The History of St. Bartholomew's ∼ by Anne Homan

A series of articles written for our diamond jubilee and published monthly in our Full Circle newsletter. As these articles are published, they will be archived here. Check this page every month for a new article.

Chapter 1 — Our Roots in Livermore

Grace Episcopal Mission, the beginning of the first Episcopal group in Livermore, was organized on 26 August 1900 by archdeacon John A. Emery. Charles F. Mess, Livermore drugstore owner, was named warden. The 11 o’clock Sunday services were first held in the Masonic Hall.

On 12 January 1901, the congregation purchased a lot on Fifth Street from M.H. Wright for $240. The little church, modeled on one built in Capitola for a 135-member congregation, was built in 1902 and consecrated on 23 September of that year.

The Wagoner, Mess, Malley, Bernal, and Barker families were among those in the original congregation. The majority of the members, like Charles Mess, lived in town. The Wagoners bought grapes from various vineyards in the valley and had a winery in town; they lived on Seventh Street and then on L Street. The Malleys ran a hotel and Malley’s Grill on First Street. The Bernals lived on L Street. Benjamin Barker’s family was an exception—he was the foreman of the Olivina Ranch—and they lived out on Arroyo Road.

However, the congregation never had enough members to contribute sufficient income for a permanent full-time rector. The mission register’s last baptism entry was in October 1916, and the last marriage entry was that of Henrietta Wagoner to Ernest Maclean four months earlier. If you are interested in seeing the old mission book entries, it has been copied by the Livermore-Amador Genealogical Society and can be seen on their web site. The original book is in Mother Joyce’s bookcase.

A fire damaged the church in 1917, and the mission was plagued by a lack of part-time clergy as a result of World War I. By 1926 members were meeting only rarely, and in 1932 they rented the building to the Alliance Church. The Alliance congregation bought the building and lot in February 1936 for $2,500. The church building burned on 16 December 1955, but the Alliance congregation rebuilt it in much the same style. Perhaps it was at this time that someone decided to stucco the building to make it more fire-resistant. The church, now the Good Shepherd Lutheran church, still stands at Fifth and J Streets. Although we had an early beginning here, it would not be until 1953 that our own Episcopal Mission was started.

Chapter 2 — Early beginnings

After the mid-1930s, ideas about another Episcopal church were quiet. Then, in 1952 the “rad lab,” as the locals called the new Livermore branch of the University of California’s Radiation Lab, was created. Evidently, some lab employees were interested in starting an Episcopal mission. In May 1953 their first organizational meeting was held at the community center. Thirty-nine people signed a petition at the meeting requesting permission from the Diocese of California for the mission, which would serve both Livermore and Pleasanton.

The Diocese representative, Rev. Canon Charles M. Guilbert, appointed a general committee: Mrs. J.E. Medin, chair; Harold Nixon; Mrs. R.L. Gary; Mrs. O.M. Bliven; Robert Link. Guilbert led their first Sunday services on May 31 in Foresters Hall. The choir and the priest from St. James in Fremont came to the services and contributed hymn books. About two weeks later, the congregation decided to name the mission for St. Bartholomew. Also in June a woman’s auxiliary that would be responsible for the altar guild work and a men’s club were organized. The diocese appointed student vicar Richard G. Johns to the new mission. By October, the mission scheduled two church services for each Sunday, plus Sunday School for the children, still in Foresters Hall. On October 23 they held a Hallowe’en party, including a square dance and the auction of a box supper. The public was invited — they hoped to raise the first funds for their future church building.

At their first Parish Meeting, held in January 1954, the congregation voted new members to the bishop’s committee, including William Struthers, whom I will talk about in a later article. Warden Harold introduced information about two possible building sites.

Ground Breaking

A year later, the mission had bought the property on what was then Highland Avenue, and the local newspaper published a photo of the architectural plans drawn by George Livermore of San Francisco. The membership had increased to 95, and Bill Struthers was the new warden. Robert Becker, who is still a member of our church, was also elected to the Bishop’s Committee, in charge of community services.

On a Sunday afternoon in June 1955, Bishop Karl Morgan Block came to Livermore and participated in a ground breaking for the church. At one point in the celebration, the Bishop, Vicar Richards, the choir, and the acolytes led the congregation in a procession around the site. More pictures of the ground breaking ceremony are available here.

Chapter 3 — Our First Building and First Vicar

On January 1st, 1955, the Livermore News published the plan for St. Bart’s first building. George Livermore was the architect. The plan showed the building we know today as the parish hall. At first the congregation built the east wing, the kitchen, the lounge, and the restrooms. I assume that the little office included in the east wing was originally the office of the vicar. I found a headline, “Women Donate Work to Help Build Church,” and I thought, “Oh, how wonderful—the women were out there on ladders with their hammers.” Not so — I read further to learn that they were cooking and selling food to raise money to pay for the church building.

building work begins

Construction began in September 1954. Members of the congregation (men, of course—what was I thinking!) worked on the concrete forms, and painted and textured the walls during Saturday work parties. The Women’s Auxiliary served them hot lunches. More pictures of the early stages of the building are available here.

Our first vicar was Richard Johns. He was assigned to St. Bart’s officially after his ordination at Grace Cathedral in June 1955. He had been our student vicar for the previous two years, helping with the organization of the church. Johns was born in 1924 in Seattle. He attended a semester at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington, before going into the army, where he served until the fall of 1945 as a medic. He returned to Whitman after the war, majoring in psychology and minoring in dramatics. After graduation, he taught high school for three years and worked on his master’s degree in psychology at Berkeley during the summers. Then he worked in personnel for a San Francisco insurance company for two years before deciding to study for the ministry. He entered the Church Divinity School at Berkeley in 1952. He had grown up as a Presbyterian, but in college had been confirmed in the Episcopal church. Asked what he liked best in his new career, Rev. Johns replied, “Working with people.”

Inside the new Church

The first church service in the new building, which cost $54,655 and could seat 300 people, was held on Palm Sunday in 1956. By this time, the congregation had grown to about 100 families. The Livermore Herald published a photo of the interior on March 23rd. You can see the now-familiar metal folding chairs set up for the service, with Robert Becker, the new warden, and Rev. Johns in the background. In early August Rev. Johns left to be rector of the parish at St. Helena. A new vicar was appointed to St. Bart’s—Rev. Richard Engeseth.

Chapter 4 — Early Parishioners

In November 1959 St. Bart’s had another groundbreaking—this time for the western wing of the H-shaped parish hall building. This was intended for the church school, and included the vicar’s office and church office. The Struthers were one of the early families involved with the church. Bill, an excellent lawyer, was also very kind in our dealings with him (he was our family lawyer). His wife, Thale, was a weaver, who gathered a number of women in the Pleasanton/Livermore area to form a weaving group that included Sharon Gardner.

Sharon remembers Thale well—her skills and her willingness to share her knowledge with others. Sharon says that she still uses the techniques that Thale taught her. Bill served on the early bishop’s committees, and Thale was also active in the church as well. A newspaper article described her serving cookies and watermelon on the patio for St. Bartholomew’s Day in 1959. That sounds familiar, doesn’t it? I think we had the same treats this last year in the same place. The Struthers bought the large Winegar house on Fourth Street near Holmes; they needed room for their six children.

Robert and Ginger Becker came to Livermore when Bob was hired by the new Livermore Radiation Lab (the original name of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory) as head of their security division. The Lab had taken over the old Naval Air Station property, and Bob remembers his office was a former navy shower room. “The drain was still there, and the floor slanted down toward this drain. If I wasn’t careful and took my feet off the floor, my chair would roll down into the drain.” Bob, like Bill Struthers, was an early member of the bishop’s committee, both of them serving terms as head warden. In August 1958 Ginger helped with an early money raiser -- a little theater production of “Winnie the Pooh,” brought to Livermore by the Interplayers of San Francisco. Others assisting with the project were Kip West and Joan Boer. The play was performed at the Livermore High auditorium. Ginger also remembers helping with the nursery.

In January 1958 Roger Baroody was elected to be the churchwarden. He and Mary came to Livermore when Roger was hired by Sandia. Eventually, he became head of the mechanical engineering department there. Mary played the piano, and then the organ at the church. She remembers that the church bought a little field organ for $400. This is an organ without musical footpedals, but with two footpedals for pumping air through the instrument while she played the keyboard. When our round church was completed in 1966, this organ was moved there. She and Roger have remained active members of the church all these years. Roger often served on the governing board (at first the bishop’s committee and then the vestry) and became especially involved in working on the grounds.

Chapter 5 — The Wests, the Eckards, and a Long Line of Vicars

In February 1958 on the eve of Ash Wednesday, the Women’s Auxiliary of St. Bart’s gave its first Shrove Tuesday pancake supper. Kip West was the head of the planning committee. The Wests had come to Livermore in 1956 and joined the church soon after their arrival. Kip was active in many of the early money-raising efforts, including art shows in the church, a fashion show, a cookbook. She remembered working with an early effort called “Helping Hands,” a group of church women who brought meals to a family when the mother was in the hospital having a baby and shortly after when she was at home. Kip said that most of the church members were young and adding new babies to the church population regularly. Many had large families. Kip was also on a church flower committee. Church members would call the committee when they had flowers and greens available in their gardens, and Kip or others on the committee would gather the materials for decorating the church (this “church” was still the parish hall). This saved the church money for florists.

Kip remembered our second vicar, Rev. Engeseth, well — they had met at San Francisco State, where they were taking classes. Friends called him “Whitey,” because of his hair color — so blond that it was almost white. Rev. Engeseth only stayed as the vicar for a year and was replaced by Rev. Richard Ford, who was here for the completion of the western wing of the parish hall. Rev. Donald Sower took over in September 1960 and stayed for six years. The church welcomed their new vicar, Rev. Chester Howe, on the same day in September 1966 that ground was broken for the new round church, designed by San Franciscan architect, Ian McKinlay.

The co-head of the planning committee for the first pancake supper was Concie Raboli, and one of the committee members was Lynne Eckard. Lynne’s husband, Royce, while he was in the armed services, happened to come through Livermore in 1955. He stopped and talked to people. He felt that the place was a close-knit group. Royce thought, “Wow! I want to work in a small town like this!” Later, when interviewers came to the University of Idaho, Royce signed up to work for the Lawrence Livermore Lab as an electronics engineer. Royce served as the treasurer on the bishop’s committee in the 1970s. Lynne died in 2010 on Christmas Day.

Chapter 6 — In Our New Building


Groundbreaking for our innovative round church with its central altar took place on Labor Day, 1966. Just over a year later on September 10, 1967, the sanctuary was dedicated by the Rt. Rev. C. Kilmer Myers, Bishop of California. The first service in the church had been held on July 1. When the bishop came in September, the congregation took part in the traditional custom of church dedication. Everyone gathered outside the southern doors with the churchwarden, Van Hudson, inside the church. The bishop knocked at the doors three times with his crosier, and then Hudson opened the doors to the bishop, the congregation, and visitors, about 400 people in all. After the dedication of the altar and its furnishings was over, a trumpet sounded, and Mary Baroody played the organ in a processional hymn. The church vicar, Chet Howe, and former vicar, Richard Ford, assisted with the celebration of Holy Communion. In his sermon, Bishop Myers said, “God wants us to move in the world to bring the Holy to all persons, places, and things so that no place is profane, and this taking of the Holy to persons, places, and things is the mission of the church.” The junior and senior choirs participated in the service.

The original altar top was made of redwood, with a concrete base connected to the floor beneath. Thus, it was immovable. The cross under the baldachin was created by Michael Lacktman, a liturgical artist on the faculty of UC Berkeley. The red carpet in the sanctuary stood out richly against the natural colors of the cement and wood interior. Later on, someone who shall remain nameless wanted to change the carpet color to blue, but Cynthia Bird told him: ”If you do that, I’ll become Presbyterian so fast it will make your head spin.” Needless to say, it has remained red all these years. The congregation paid the $4,240 pew bill, but hoped that individuals would contribute $165 for a single pew as a memorial. Many did, you can read their names in the Memorial Book at the back of the church. Among them were the Struthers, the Baroodys, the Eckards, the Ruzickas, and the Woods.

The organ used for the dedication service was still the little field organ. Our pipe organ was not installed until 1974. Many members of the congregation contributed to the organ fund, including the Baroodys, the Halaszes, and the Beckers. If you want to check out other names, they are also in the Memorial Book. The organ was built by Schoenstein and Company of Benicia in 1956 for St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Lodi. It was bought by St. Bart’s and installed here by Schoenstein in 1974. Called a Möller Opus 8910, it is an electropneumatic action pipe organ with two manuals and four ranks. Schoenstein and Company has cared for it since installation. It has been remarkably free of problems except for a rat infestation, which cost over $11,000 to repair. They had chewed through portions of the leather bellows.

Chapter 7 — The Venerable Reverend Shirley Frese Woods

Rev. Shirley Frese Woods

Shortly after arriving in Livermore in 1957, Shirley Woods began teaching English and Latin at Livermore High School. The family moved to Livermore because her husband, Robert, was hired at LLNL. They had four children. They worshiped here at St. Bart’s. A botched cancer surgery in 1959 left the right side of her face paralyzed, but she said that the misfortune made her work twice as hard to achieve her dreams.

Two years before her planned retirement, she talked to a fellow language teacher, Judith Beery, and asked if she would consider teaching Latin. Shirley was afraid the school district would drop the subject if there were not a current teacher ready to step into her shoes. Judith agreed and studied Latin for two summers at Berkeley to prepare herself. Judith told me that Shirley was an incredibly intelligent person who was a wonderful role model for other teachers. When I was developing a humanities class at the high school for non college-bound students, Shirley agreed to teach part of the class. And yet, she taught AP classes at the same time. A student of hers, Joe Volponi, wrote to me about Mrs. Woods, his Latin teacher: “She was one of the most exceptional teachers that I ever had, although I didn’t realize it until many years later.” Joe told how she managed to bring the dead language to life for her students. His fondest memory was of her enthusiasm during Spirit Week when she taught the class to yell cheers in Latin. The climax to this occurred on the day she climbed up on her desk with a pompon and guided the class in a spirited recitation.

One of the Woods children, James, killed himself at UC Santa Cruz in 1972. His funeral was at St. Bart’s, and the rose garden in the church patio was given in his memory by his family. In 1970 Shirley became one of the first women to be a deacon in the Episcopal Church, and seven years later she became one of the first female priests in the California diocese. Because Bishop Swing was ill, the Rt. Rev. W.R. Chilton Powell officiated at her ordination, which was held at St. Bart’s on 25 May 1977. She taught humanities and philosophy at Chabot College as well as medieval theology at the Diocesan School for Deacons in Berkeley. She retired from Livermore High in 1978 and from her church position in 1990. She was named “The Venerable” by Bishop Swing. After her death in Livermore in 2003 at age 85, her funeral was held at Grace Cathedral.