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This is a chapter of the story of William Schunke and his family. To go to see the rest click: The Story of William and Julia Schunke.


William Schunke’s interest in Oregon started while he was in Rochester, New York, in the Seminary. In one of his classes (around 1875) the students were to pick a topic of their own interest, write a speech and then deliver it to the class. William did his on Oregon, and ended his speech with a loud shout: “Let’s go to Oregon!” He was ready to leave school and head right out there, except for the fact he only had enough money to get him as far as Nebraska! So his dream had to go on hold for 20 years.

In August, 1894, his oldest daughter ran away from home and married Daniel Ehrhardt. About this time, there was a conference of the Allied Mission Committee in Chicago, where there was contradictory reports and concern over the church on the coast, Bethany Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. It was also without a pastor. The Southwestern Mission Committee recommended William to Bethany, and Bethany extended an offer to him. The church had a fairly new second church building, built in 1890.

Bethany Baptist Church, Portland, 1890

Bethany Baptist Church, 1890-1928

In October, 1894, William Schunke and his family moved to the coast, a lifelong dream since his ordination. If William had not been so successful after the dire circumstances that greeted him in Iowa, he would have been discouraged when he found out about the circumstances that Bethany. William knew however that the Lord would help him get over the numerous obstacles at Bethany.

When they had accepted the call to come to Bethany, they were told it was not worth shipping furniture to Oregon, because it could be purchased so cheaply. So instead of auctioning off their furniture and getting a good price for it, they gave their furniture away. Much to their dismay, once they arrived in Portland, the trade dispute had been settled, and the prices for furniture were too high. The family had to be satisfied with the fact that they could only afford to get the things needed for the kitchen and three beds. They had to live with these bare necessities for the four years that they were at Bethany.

Another obstacle was the expectation that the boys would be able to get some valuable training and good jobs. But because of the panic of 1893, there were no positions to be found.

In 1897, one of the first friends that William had when he came to America, Haar Rose, volunteered during the conference in Los Angeles to take care of Richard and Amelia. Richard was 17 and Amelia was 14. It seemed like a real blessing at the time, and a huge rescue, but it proved to be the wrong decision. With this failure, all expectations of getting his children good employment have been broken. However, there was so much to do at Bethany, and the surrounding churches, that his hair and beard grew gray from it.

It took more than two years before the folks at Bethany trusted him. The youth group was reorganized, and this proved fruitful in the lasting effects that it produced. However, with his own family going in all directions, a number of the people saw that it took its toll on William.

Bethany Baptist Pulpit

Pulpit provided by Ulrich Gerber and used till the 1960's
and piano used by Pastor Schunke at Bethany

When Bethany no longer needed missionary work among the families, William looked for a new field to work, and was led by the Lord to the mountain on the west.

In January, 1895, there were heavy snows in the western part of Washington, so traffic had stopped. But during that time, an old Christian friend from Burton arrived asking William to come and a novitiate at the funeral for his mother. William reasoned that if this old man could have gotten through the heavy snow, there was no excuse he could offer for not going. William borrowed a two wheeled cart, and they were able to get half the way with that, 230 miles. They stayed in Martindale overnight, and the next morning there were two horses ready to carry them the other half of the way. William, however, was not used to riding on horseback, and since there was no saddle, he sat on a blanket that was strapped to the horse. They left before daybreak so they could arrive at one o'clock for the funeral service, 253 miles. There were many people in attendance, and fortunately the grave had already been dug.

Portland to Burton, 1893

Trip to Burton, Washington

So how did this elderly man and tired pastor managed to make a trip that was over 480 miles in two days? It is very likely that they made use of new transportation in the area of either the steam engine powered railway, or stern wheel steamer boats. For example, the newly opened Columbia River and Northern Railroad Company could have been used, or the Spokane, Portland and Seattle Railway.

A second question has to be asked: Why was such an out-of-the-way trip made to Martindale, when the map clearly shows if they headed north, the trip could have been much shorter? The answer is quite simple. The Columbia River is so wide, there were no bridges or adequate means to cross it. Furthermore crossing the river and heading north would force the men to go through the heavy snows and difficult mountainous terrain. By following the river, their course was steady and comparatively swift and safe.

At the funeral a woman came and explained the sad circumstances of the region, and asked William nicely to please come and preach to the people. The town did not have a pastor, so when their pastor would come to the area, they would meet in the school building and he would preach a sermon. After the sermon, the chairs were put away, and the group danced and drank to the sound of a harmonica.

He decided to go once the weather cleared up. A couple men volunteered to join him on the trip. They arrived at the place where they were told to go, and some had just eaten lunch, but there was nothing for the newly arrived strangers. In spite of this depressing welcome, they pressed onward and found the house where the teacher lived. The teacher was a Baptist, and she drew a map of the village and wrote down the names of the people that lived in each house on the way to the school. She explained that the key to the school was at the post office, and a friendly lady would bring it over and take care of the lights. William and his friends were very encouraged, and were anxious to tell people that there would be a meeting that night in the school. They found the friendly lady and she was ready to help, but her facial expressions indicated a great concern about what might happen. She generously invited the men to stay at her house that night, but a lady peeking through the door that was slightly ajar, indicated that this was just too much and suddenly yelled "Katie!" The friendly woman simply ignored the frustrated lady, and continued to give directions to some other houses where they could find people to invite.

They had a large and interested crowd at the meeting that night, followed by a long talk with their hosts that lasted until the morning. In the morning they said goodbye and the women waved with their handkerchiefs for a long time. It seemed like a dream. The men agreed to return to the mountain four weeks later for another service.

On their way home, they got to the halfway point, and were met by Mr. B., who invited them to his house and explained that he was on his way to get a doctor for his wife. Under the circumstances, they decided to look for someplace else to spend the night, and not impose upon this couple. Mrs. B. however sent a messenger to them and asked William to come back. She then poured out a story that shattered Williams heart.

In Germany, she'd gone to a Baptist Sunday school, and her life had so changed the she was not able to hide it at home. Her father tried to use everything he could think of to stop this Christian influence. Being unsuccessful, he decided to move were no preacher would find them, and he ended up in the western coastal range of North America. He also had vowed to shoot the first Baptist preacher that would come through his door. Mrs. B. would have had her belief destroyed had she not been able to hide and keep some letters from her teacher, Mr. Simmons. As time went on she started enjoying worldly pleasures and became a leader in them. The letters were her only hope of salvation during the distressing times that the lifestyle brought into her life. The letters were hidden under her pillow, and for two years the struggles became more common, and she asked the Lord to send for somebody who could help her and bring peace of mind to her. Four weeks previously her prayers had been answered, and she was able to see her husband and parents come to the Lord. Now she was praising God for His mercy and His ability to work miracles. There were others in the area they had gotten saved as well. So during the summer time a number of them went with William to Hewald, where they found an ideal place for the baptism behind the little store. It was a time of great celebration. Those baptisms and other baptisms in the district made the time at Bethany and the great difficulties that were being experienced come out balanced.

William enjoyed the trips to the mountains so much, that while he was at home in Portland, he had to squelch the desire and realize it may not be the Lord's will. The mission committee was ready to support him if he would settle in Seattle or Spokane and make the whole state of Washington his district. It was a very attractive offer. William had another offer, and that was in Winnipeg, Canada. When William had gone to Portland, Oregon, his friend Dorio Emilla had taken the position in Winnipeg on the condition that William would take the difficult position in Portland. At this point William had felt that the Lord had blessed his state at Bethany, but Dorio thought that he had achieved nothing, so he abandoned the work and went to Missouri. William chose to take Dorio's place in Winnipeg.


William Schunke's Memoirs

Bethany Baptist Church, Portland, Oregon, photos provided graciously by Col. Mike Howard, co-chair of the church history team, via email, 11/21/2008.