In foreground, the bulldozer operator watches volunteer firefighters launch a search-and-rescue simulation at the Randlett UMC parsonage on Jan. 29.
On Jan. 29, ministry by Randlett United Methodist Church truly was refined by fire. A controlled burn of the parsonage, no longer habitable, provided a rare training experience for rural firefighters and, for the church in southwestern Oklahoma, saved the expense to tear down the unsafe structure, about a century old.
Pastor David Gardner described the two types of firefighter training accomplished that day. He noted such training is more easily accessed in urban areas. Gardner has previously worked as a city manager, and he is a former mayor of Grandfield.
In one type of training, the Randlett and Devol Volunteer Fire Departments conducted a search-and-rescue simulation. Firefighters, blindfolded and in full gear, including air packs, followed a buddy system to enter the smoke-filled house, then find and rescue a human dummy. During the timed exercise, other people generate breaking glass, falling wallboard, and other obstacles the team might encounter during a real fire.
The volunteer firefighters also observed how a fire moves out from its point of origination in a room.
As smoke and flames rose heavenward from the former home, the teams also implemented precautionary measures for nearby buildings.
“We not only had a prayer inside the parsonage before the big burn,” said Rev. Gardner. “We had a prayer at Sunday service to celebrate the servants who lived there, the love shared, and the ministry that continues to uphold the church universal.”
Some of the ashes were carefully buried at the site after the ground was leveled by bulldozer. Gardner said the dozer operator returned as a Sunday morning visitor at Randlett UMC.
Church member Nadine Bowles, 93, provided a historical perspective about the parsonage. “I had thoughts of many loving, dear people as I went through these memories,” she wrote. Here are some of the years she highlighted.
- 1906: “Big Pasture” was opened for settlement. 160-acre tracts were sold in sealed bidding.
- 1907: Lots in the town site sold at auction. Each church was given a six-plot burial lot at the cemetery. The Methodist lot was sold in later years to the Carl Thompson family.
- 1907: According to oral history, residents who were Methodists “found each other” in the instant city of Randlett. Population was between 4,000 and 5,000. A meeting was held about worship services in homes, and the group officially organized as The Episcopal Methodist Church, South.
- 1907-1910: The church building and a parsonage were built. The parsonage had three rooms. The kitchen-dining room was a rather long rectangle. The lighting was kerosene lamps. There was a small porch on the front. The parsonage was warmed by a free-standing heater, using wood/coal for fuel.
I remember furnishings were the responsibility of the church members, rather than the pastoral family, during the 1920s until about the ’50s. When the Oklahoma Conference changed this requirement, a few of the tables, chairs, and chests were stored in the church attic. We gradually retired all of the old odds-and-ends.
- 1908: Originally, an outdoor toilet and a small shed for a buggy/car were south of the house.
- 1910: The parsonage was always painted white and kept up pretty well. The women’s society was an active group. They kept the interior painted/papered as well as maintaining the furniture to the best of their ability.
- 1920: Electricity came to Randlett, provided by a company in Lawton. The fixtures, in the ceilings in both the parsonage and the church, were free-swinging wire with a bulb on the end. Not fancy, but a very welcome change!
The kitchen cookstove used kerosene. An oven lifted off the burners when not needed.
- 1930: The days of drought and depression in this decade slowed most activity. I graduated in 1937. The parsonage heating system was switched to propane in the late 1930s—a great improvement.
- 1940: World War II marked a great departure of people from our community. Jobs were available in many other places. However, when money became available, the Randlett Methodists decided the parsonage needed more living space. Two bedrooms and a bathroom greatly improved living conditions for our ministers and families.
- 1950: Those improvements were completed. The old toilet and buggy shed were gone. Water for the house was a cistern, with a filter system to catch and clean rain from the roof.
- 1960: The need arose for a new church building. The members requested no pastoral appointment while saving funds for the project and supporting the Apportionment. This left the parsonage empty and available for renting. This rent income was added to the building fund.
When the building was complete and we were ready to assure the support for an appointed minister, the Randlett charge was combined with Grandfield. The pastoral family lived in Grandfield. Thus our parsonage remained available for rent.
- 1960–2010: The parsonage occupants sometimes mowed the grounds to offset part of their rent. The home itself began to deteriorate. Its century lifetime arrived.
Pastor Gardener said renters ultimately began using the home only for storage, eventually removing those items, and the residence sat unused for some time.