Men and Women of Eagle Rock and Idaho Falls

Charles Barnes writes this post about the impact of seven individuals in the history of Idaho Falls.  Would you know the story of others?  If so, please share.

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Hebrews 11 records terse summaries of the lives of men and women who trusted God, in order to encourage people in a different time and different circumstances to walk by faith. Who are the men and women who have stimulated and encouraged your faith? Who are the people in whom you’ve seen Jesus at work here in Idaho Falls?

Rebecca Brown Mitchell was widowed at age 23 and, because of inheritance laws of the time, lost all her possessions except her Bible and hymnbook. In 1865, at age 31, she remarried; her second husband died in 1880. Two years later, after attending a missionary training school in Chicago for a few months she (in her own words) “turned my face toward the Great Unknown West, not knowing the whereabouts of my final destination, but was led by God, and so I found myself in Idaho, in the town of Eagle Rock, now Idaho Falls, coming as a self-supporting missionary…”. Rebecca Mitchel is credited with starting the first church in Eagle Rock, the first school and the first library. She later became the first chaplain of the Idaho Legislature. By faith Rebecca Mitchell obeyed God’s call to the sandy streets of early Eagle Rock, trusting Him not only to provide for herself and her daughters but to work through her to transform lives and the community of Eagle Rock.

Rev. Samuel Wishard organized the First Presbyterian Church in Idaho Falls in 1891. He was 66 at the time. A missionary to Utah, in his later years he organized churches in southeastern Idaho. By age 90 (when he retired and shortly thereafter died) he had started 15 churches from Pocatello to St. Anthony to Salmon. By faith Rev. Wishard obeyed God’s call to bring the gospel to Mormon communities and to organize churches of converts.

Rev. Donald Austin was born in Bonneville County (Payne) in 1913. After marrying Evalyn Kissler in 1934, he and his wife pastored Pentecostal churches in Fruitland and Albion before moving back to Idaho Falls. With the help of his father and brothers, he built the church building on Gladstone Street, and served as pastor for 50 years, from 1941 until 1990. He occasionally filled the pulpit or led special meetings at several other churches in Idaho Falls as well. He died in 2003 and is buried in Rose Hill Cemetery. By faith Rev. Austin returned home to shepherd the flock God gave him, and remained faithful to that work for five decades.

Jim Johnson was born in Rigby in 1917, and grew up in Ririe. When he was 12, his mother was killed in a gas explosion while dry cleaning clothes, and Jim was sent to California to live with one of his older sisters. Jim found salvation in Christ in 1948 at one of Billy Graham’s crusades in Los Angeles. Retiring in 1976, he moved back to Idaho, buying an old farm house in the Iona area. Jim had planted several churches in California, and continued church planting in Idaho. He loved to share the gospel and visited hundreds of homes in Idaho Falls. He would invite those he visited to come to Bible studies, resulting in many people receiving Christ. According to his obituary, at the height of his evangelism ministry approximately two-thirds of the congregation of the Christian Center of Idaho Falls were people he had visited and led to the Lord. By faith Jim Johnson shared the gospel of Christ in homes and businesses of Idaho Falls, discipled those who responded and planted and supported churches wherever he lived.

Jane Jones Arnold was born in Idaho Falls in 1930. She worked as a technician at the Idaho Chemical Processing Plant until marriage and family demanded her full time attention. But as her six daughters and a son grew up, she returned to work, this time for Miles Willard Technologies, first as a part time lab assistant and eventually managing the food lab. Jane was a longtime member of First Christian Church, serving as elder and in other leadership positions. Aware of unused church property and seeing the need for housing for low-income seniors, Jane was instrumental in founding Mountain Falls Corporation, served as president of the Board of Directors of the Corporation, and spearheading two apartment complexes from project conception to completion. Faithful in taking on major responsibilities, Jane was also an example of hospitality, whether in her home where there was always room at her kitchen table for more guests, founding a Senior Luncheon that was held for many years at First Christian Church, cooking the main course for 400 attendees at the East Side Progressive Dinner, or hosting an international exchange student from Korea for a school year. By faith Jane Arnold helped those in need and worked to train others and build structures that would continue to meet those needs.

Norm Pace worked as a mechanical engineer for more than 40 years for INL contractors, starting with Phillips Petroleum Company in 1962. He married and raised two children in Idaho Falls, and he loved hunting and fishing in the area. Norm’s greatest love was his Savior and spreading Jesus’ love to all he met. A long-time member of Trinity United Methodist Church, he was a leader in Trinity’s men’s ministry and he helped organized annual men’s and couple’s retreats. But Norm sought out other ways to honor his Lord by serving others. He served as a hospital chaplain for many years, worked with men at the City of Refuge men’s shelter, was involved in jail ministry, and was deeply committed to prayer throughout the body of Christ in Idaho Falls, starting or participating in several prayer groups with men from other churches. By faith Norm prayed for Idaho Falls and lived a life of service.

Ray Vinson came to Idaho Falls in 1982 and opened a bookstore. He met so many people over the counter who needed help and encouragement that he started the Family Life Enrichment Center where he counseled hundreds of families. Because of his gracious, gentle, unpretentious manner he was also sought out by many pastors and Christian leaders in town. At different times he served as interim pastor of Community Bible Fellowship, Eagle Rock Baptist Church, Alliance Covenant Church, First Christian Church and First Lutheran Church. Ray helped form the Evangelical Ministerial Alliance in 1986 and helped organize many community events and projects. By faith Ray Vincent served the body of Christ in Idaho Falls, encouraging all he met with godly advice, and sought righteousness in our city.

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