Sebastien Rubino / [email protected]
The historic Yacolt Community Church has been a mainstay of the town since its construction in 1903.
Custodian Julia Heldman has worked to preserve the church since 2005.
Heldman and her husband, Jerry, were asked to help keep the doors of the church open by Pastor Hannes Wirkkala.
“I would say what I did for the church was to fulfill a promise made to Pastor Wirkkala, who served there for 30 years,” Heldman said. “My husband got very sick and it lasted for a while, and he couldn’t help me, although he still came.”
When Heldman attended a Meals on Wheels meeting at Battle Ground, she encountered a building inspector and construction crew who toppled houses. The crew helped Heldman and Georgene Neal, the church secretary, make necessary repairs to the building.
“The building inspector told us everything that needed to be done, and it took me by surprise because when Pastor Wirkkala was gone but we kept the doors open, we had done a lot of building work. electrical, we had done some plumbing, and we thought everything was fine,” she said.
The church bell sat on rotting wood, so Heldman said the steeple needed to be replaced. Heldman found a Northern California carpenter who fabricated outdoor pavilions to help with the project. The carpenter was able to replace it with a 16-foot beam for $1,200, while other construction crews quoted Heldman $6,000.
“He totally restructured the inside of the bell tower and made it completely secure, then he gave me two pieces of (rotten) wood that held it together,” she said.
Besides the steeple, the roof, some of the paint and other structures had to be replaced, which Heldman said he paid for independently.
“It was shabby inside, so we pulled out all the drawers in the kitchen, and everything was completely repainted except for some back rooms,” she said.
Heldman said two of the bathrooms needed replacing due to rotting wood. The church now has two bathrooms at the front of the building and one next to the kitchen. They also made updates to the church’s septic system.
“Now people say (the church) is cozy and nice,” Heldman said.
Heldman said Open House Ministries in Vancouver and Habitat for Humanity also helped provide rugs, mirrors, lamps and other decorative items. She finds the church historically significant, particularly because of its age.
“(Neal’s) great-grandmother kept the church open during the (Great) Depression,” she said. “What makes it historically significant is that it was never anything more than a place of prayer and worship. It never changed its purpose and it is old. It has endured.
Although they no longer hold religious services there, Heldman said they do weddings by request. They also recently threw a birthday party for an 11 year old girl.
“The purposes of the church have something to do with the worship of Jesus, the honor of God, etc. But we are not an organized group. Legally, everything is fully ship-shaped until then,” Heldman explained.
The historic Yacolt Community Church is located at 203 S. Ranck Avenue, Yacolt.