The Lords Church in Alaska (IV)

Cecil Willis
Marion, Indiana

This article primarily will be a discussion of the church in Fairbanks, with a few words to be said in closing about the small church in Hope. But first, a few observations about the city of Fairbanks.

Alaska has about 30 incorporated cities and towns. Only Anchorage and Fairbanks are cities of any size. The latest figures available to me state that Fairbanks has a population of 14,771, and that the Fairbanks area population is 46,500. The city, sometimes called the "Golden Heart of Alaska," is located in the broad and fertile valley of the Tanana River, on a loop of the Chena River, which is a tributary of the Tanana.

E. T. Barnette erected the first cabin in what is now Fairbanks in August, 1901. He had been unable to proceed up the Tanana River further than the Bates Rapids, and turned back and cached his gear on the Chena River. Before Barnette could build a larger and more powerful boat, on July 22, 1902 Felix Pedro discovered gold on what are now known as Pedro and Cleary Creek. This discovery of gold brought a stampede of people into the area, so that by 1906 Fairbanks had a population of 8,000. Anchorage had not even been founded yet.

The city was named after Charles W Fairbanks, U. S. Senator from Indiana and later U. S. Vice President (1905-1909), by E. T. Barnette at the request of Judge James Wickersham. Fairbanks is an "Ice Box." Its average January temperature is 11 below zero; while in July temperatures average about 60 degrees. However, it occasionally gets as low as 80 degrees below zero. The annual precipitation in Fairbanks is only 11 inches. Walter Hickel said that the North is a large desert. Such a thought had never occurred to me. In some areas of the North, precipitation is only 7 or 8 inches yearly.

The Steese, Richardson, Elliott and Alaska Highways, and the new Anchorage-Fairbanks Highway, all converge at Fairbanks. The Alaska Railroad terminates there. The new highway, yet under construction, will cut off about 75 miles of the driving distance between Anchorage and Fairbanks, but it is a far less scenic route. The distance between Anchorage and Fairbanks, via the new route (Route 3), is 364 miles. Total cost of this new road is estimated to be $150 million. Approximately one hundred miles is as yet unpaved.

Fairbanks also is important militarily. Eielson Air Force Base and Fort Jonathan M. Wainwright (formerly Ladd Air Force Base), now the U.S. Armys most northerly major installations and headquarters for the Yukon Command, are near Fairbanks. Many brethren who are in the military service could render a signal contribution to the Cause of Christ if they would select Fairbanks as one of their foreign assignment tours. Since the 1968 discovery of one of the worlds largest oil pools on the Artie North Slope, 390 miles North of Fairbanks, the city has become a major supply point for operations on the North Slope oil fields. Fairbanks is also the location of the main campus of the University of Alaska.

Fairbanks Christians

The brethren who oppose church supported human institutions and centralized sponsoring church operations are now meeting in the home of Edgar Sims at 1724 Pioneer Way. They only meet at 6:30 Sunday evening.

The liberal Fairbanks church, which now meets on 11th Avenue, was established in 1944.

In 1960 about ten students from Florida College came to Fairbanks to work for the summer in order to earn money to pursue their education. The liberal brethren later reported they were sent to Fairbanks by Florida College, which is a falsehood. Among those who initially came to Fairbanks were Joe and Sylvia (Prentice) King, and Ed and Wanda Simms, who are still there. Joe is Building Inspector for the city of Fairbanks, and Ed works in communications for RCA, which has an installation there. Jim Puterbaugh and Brent Lewis also were among those who came to Fairbanks in 1960. There were some others who came, but I do not know their names.

These brethren were forced out of the 11th Avenue church when they were forbidden to teach their convictions, either publicly or privately. They began a new congregation with three families, plus the Florida College students. A building was secured and these brethren met for several years about twelve miles out of Fairbanks toward the Eielson Air Force Base at North Pole, Alaska. Jim Puterbaugh did much of the preaching for these brethren, before he moved to Anchorage in 1965. After Jim left, his brother Ben and his father Austin did much of the preaching. But Ben left Fairbanks and entered full-time preaching at Cottage Grove, Oregon in 1966, and his father Austin is now preaching at Ft. Walton Beach, Florida.

In 1967 Glen Burt moved to Fairbanks and worked with the brethren until this summer, at which time be moved to Houston. While in Fairbanks, Glen partially supported himself by working as an engineer at the University of Alaska, where some projects were underway trying to solve some of the problems connected with laying the oil pipeline. While Glen lived in Fairbanks, the building at North Pole was sold, and a new lot was purchased in Fairbanks. The lot is paid for, and the brethren have $7000.00 toward the price of a new building.

Much of the construction in that area is out of logs, and the brethren think that by doing most of the work themselves, they can nearly put up a building with the $7000 which they have. Some initial building plans were underway before we left Fairbanks.

The church in Fairbanks now consists of only the King and Simms families, two military families, one single military man, and one young man who is a college student there.

In the past, Luther Roberts, Harry Payne, Bill Fain, Lowell Williams, Forrest Moyer, Stanley Lovett, Ken Marrs and I have held meetings for the Fairbanks brethren. Probably some other brethren have been there, but these are all I can remember at the moment. The brethren in Fairbanks need all the teaching and encouragement, which they can get. I suggest that any preacher who is going to Alaska for any purpose get in contact with the Fairbanks brethren and arrange to preach for them a few days. Even a few days can mean much encouragement to them. Brother and Sister Fred Howes of Anchorage took us to Fairbanks, and were of tremendous help in the brief effort made there.

The Gospel Guardian church directory makes it appears that there are three or four churches in Fairbanks. The church in Fairbanks has had several addresses and this apparently confused the compiler of the directory. The fourth Fairbanks church listed in the Gospel Guardian directory is Hope, but Hope is about 400 miles South of Fairbanks.


The church in Hope consists only of Brother and Sister Jim Roberts. They meet in their home with their six children, and a few neighbors who occasionally meet with them. Though only about 25 air miles from Anchorage, Hope is about 96 miles by car. Jim states that be has 70 "neighbors" who live within 50 miles of him! Jim operates a surveyors supply business in Anchorage, and drives home on weekends. He is a very able and knowledgeable preacher. Several years ago he wrote a dozen or so articles on the issues which appeared in Truth Magazine, and which were widely distributed throughout Alaska. He also co-edited a paper dealing with the issues, along with Jim Puterbaugh.

Some Alaskan Problems

Every church has some problems, but those in Alaska have some peculiar to themselves. One problem is that of a fluctuating membership, due to military transfers. Though many of the military families are very active in gospel work, some are reluctant to become involved and to commit themselves to any lengthy program of work for fear of being transferred. Transportation is sometimes difficult due to fewer improved roads, and bitter cold. But most of the brethren do not let the roads or the weather stop them. In this regard, they put some of us "outsiders" to shame when we complain about our 30-degree cold.

One other problem for Alaskan brethren is that of extremely high costs of living. Federal employees are given a 25% supplemental allowance to cover the added costs of living. Any preacher contemplating moving to Alaska had better take this factor into consideration when he arranges his support. I did not get a haircut while in Fairbanks this time, but the last time I was there a haircut cost $4.00. It takes two quarters to operate the cold-drink machine at Kotzebue airstrip. An eggs and bacon breakfast at the Anchorage airport costs $4.20 for one person. A five-bedroom home in Anchorage was advertised for rent for $600.00 per month. Many rentals are $400 per month. Gasoline is about 60 cents a gallon in many places. Other prices are commensurately high.

Probably the most serious problem facing Alaskan brethren just now is that there is not a single full-time preacher at work in the state. I trust that this condition soon can be remedied, for while many of the brethren are very competent teachers, I still think a full-time faithful gospel preacher could be a considerable benefit to them in their efforts.

In Closing

Anytime an outsider tries to write about a country or state or brethren within those areas, he is apt to make some mistakes. If I have incorrectly stated any fact, it inadvertently was done. If I have omitted some significant factor, it is simply because it was unknown to me. I made some geographical blunders in my articles in 1970 about the Philippines, and the liberal brethren there are still writing in their paper that Truth Magazine ought therefore to be called Untruth Magazine. If that is the only valid complaint they can levy against me, I shall not lose any sleep over the error. But in this series I have done my best to be informative, accurate, and factual. I hope, somehow, these articles and this publicity will help our brethren in Alaska who need our encouragement.

November 23, 1972