The origins of the Southside Church are rooted in the American Restoration Movement dating to 1800. This movement was a coalition of several independent back-to-the-Bible efforts, primarily in the Southern and Mid-western parts of our country. It grew rapidly in numbers and prominence and in 1880 one of its preachers, James A. Garfield, was elected president of the United States. The movement espoused several basic principles – the sole religious authority of the Bible without creedal interpretation, the unity of all believers in Christ, the restoration or recovery of the early Christian faith, and non-denominational Christianity. Without any hierarchical structure, each independent congregation made its own decisions subject to Jesus Christ, the head of the church.
The Milwaukee antecedents of Southside are in the 35th and Cherry Church of Christ (now Brentwood) established in 1942. In 1947 Leslie Diestelkamp became its first full-time preacher. Monroe Hawley succeeded him in 1951. In the early fifties 35th and Cherry led in planting three new churches: Northside (now Central) in Milwaukee, Waukesha, and Sheboygan.
In 1956 35th and Cherry began planning for a new congregation on the south side of the area. The plans came to fruition on March 2, 1958, when the Southside Church first assembled to worship. Thirty-eight were present. 35th and Cherry gave the congregation $1200 to help the work. The church met initially in the Knights of Pythias Hall at Swift and Squire in Cudahy. This was a former church building that is today the Serbian Orthodox Church. Midweek Bible studies were held in the homes of members.
Twenty-three members from 35th and Cherry provided the nucleus of the new church. They included Monroe Hawley, the preacher, Joe Andrews, the song leader, and six Bible teachers from 35th and Cherry. The five core families were the Raymond Doggetts, Joe Andrews, Douglas Raymonds, James Williams, and Monroe Hawleys.
A Building Is Planned
The new congregation averaged 36 for worship in the first quarter of its existence, but the number gradually grew until it reached a record attendance of 87 in early 1961. The first annual one-week vacation Bible school was held in 1959 with 41 children.
The church’s temporary quarters limited its work. Even before the church began, plans were made to buy land on the far south side, upon which a new church building could be built. In 1958 a lot at S. 20th and W. Grange in Milwaukee was purchased and a year later an adjacent piece of land was added. Two other plots were later secured to complete the property that the church now owns.
A new building program was launched in 1959. Six planning sessions involving the entire membership were held in homes. These family meetings bound the church together setting the tone of unity that has continued to the present. An architect was secured to design the building and financing plans were drawn up. Since Monroe Hawley, the preacher, was financially self-supporting through the sale of the Bible correspondence courses he had written, the church was able to direct most of its resources toward the proposed building. Aside from a $1000 donation from another congregation, the funds for the building came almost entirely from the membership. Southside has never had to rely on outside financial assistance.
Efforts to secure a loan met with little success. Finally, Frank Markarian, a friend of the church, arranged for a meeting with the South Milwaukee Savings and Loan Association. They said they liked to loan money to churches and offered a $60,000 loan at 5% interest! It was late 1961 and winter was approaching. Should we begin building? We decided that the Lord had brought us that far and we had to trust Him. We were still short of the needed funds to begin construction. An emergency congregational meeting was held. In a few minutes individuals agreed to personally lend the church $9000 at no interest. One brother put a second mortgage on his home to borrow the funds and was informed by the banker that he was the second church member to do so. Some loans were later written off. Other borrowing brought indebtedness to $72,000. Construction was scheduled to began in October, but was suspended until spring due to heavy snow fall.
Reaching Out to the Community
1962 was a significant year for Southside. Construction of the new building was underway and members donated hundreds of hours of labor in addition to the contractual work. On completion the property was valued at $105,000. Indebtedness was retired in August, 1977, with a mortgage burning by our two oldest members, Hayes and Pearl Adkins.
Before the building was occupied the area was canvassed and neighbors invited to the first service. Attendance opening Sunday, October 12, was a record 141 with many community visitors present. On December 2, seven were baptized, bringing to fifteen the number baptized in 1962. The membership now stood at 60.
In the following years the membership fluctuated because of many moving away. In 1976 fifteen families moved away. Yet each time the church built back because of new converts. Gradually the composition of the church changed. Initially most members were move-ins, but as more local people were baptized the church came to be largely composed of those native to the area who did not move away. By 1973 the membership stood at 84.
New programs were begun in the 1960’s. A church library was started in 1963. In 1964 Southside initiated a cooperative booth at the Wisconsin State Fair. This was repeated the next year and again in 1974 and 1975. Though effective, the booth required so many volunteer hours to operate that it was decided that resources could be better spent in other efforts.
In 1965 the church began a direct mail program with brochures introducing the church being sent into the community. The program has continued to the present; currently 40,000 pieces are mailed annually. It has proven to be our most effective outreach and has contributed significantly to the many community visitors with which we are blessed each week.
For many years a daytime vacation Bible school was conducted, often exceeding 100 students with many from the neighborhood. More recently it was changed to a evening Bible school to appeal to families instead of children only. In 1968 the church conducted a survey of 700 community homes. The survey was preceded by a training period in which half the church participated and resulted in numerous favorable contacts.
In 1970 Southside began offering area-wide Monday night advanced Bible classes for thirteen weeks during the winter. They were open to anyone wishing to come and some drove a long distance to attend. These classes continued five years with Edwin Broadus from 35th and Cherry and Monroe Hawley doing most of the teaching. Attendance often exceeded twenty. Some years later they were resumed for a two-year period.
Broadening the Horizons
The late 1970’s saw significant changes for Southside. Since its beginning the church had made decisions in business meetings. This worked well in material things, but fell short in spiritual matters. It was determined that an effort to choose elders should be made. Dale Smith, a visiting evangelist, presented a series of lessons on the eldership and on May 23, 1976, ordained Monroe Hawley and Jim Hall as the church’s first elders. Three deacons were added later that year.
Jim Hall left for health reasons in 1982 and was replaced by Mike Anderson. Mike, in turn, moved away in 1983, and was replaced by Gary Byrne. In 1987 the number of elders was increased to three with the addition of Doward Runyan. The three elders served together until Gary moved in 1994.
In July, 1977, Dale Hawley returned home as a full-time preacher to share responsibilities with Monroe. He stayed three years and concentrated on youth work. The church had earlier had a couple of youth rallies, but beginning in 1978 six highly successful rallies were held. In 1982 400 from 36 churches attended the rally. The youth rallies were discontinued, but resumed on a smaller scale in 1998.
In May, 1973, Southside secured Henry Ciszek for a special series of meetings. A leader of the Restoration Movement in Poland, he had been imprisoned for two years for preaching the gospel before being expelled by the Communists. He received wide media exposure in Milwaukee which resulted in many community visitors to hear him. He returned the next year intending to establish a Polish speaking church with Southside’s cooperation, but had to leave for health reasons.
By 1977 the membership exceeded 100 for the first time. An attendance record of 162 was set in 1961, and on Friend and Neighbor Day in 1989 it reached 191. Sixteen were baptized that year. Robbin Vugrnick came back home from college in 1980 to replace Dale Hawley. He resigned after one year and in 1982 Dale returned for another three-year period, this time concentrating on counseling and outreach. When he left to resume graduate work, the church was without a second preacher until Gary Castleberg joined the forces in 1987 to serve for three years. As the 1990’s arrived Southside was poised for a decade of expansion and growth.
Expansion and Growth
The period of the 1990’s to the present has been one of expansion and growth. A two-level building addition begun in 1992 doubled the floor space of the church facilities; the indebtedness was retired in 2000. New pews were installed that year.
The church also underwent several leadership changes during this period. Terry Waitt was chosen as an elder in 1995, but moved away in 1997. That year Al Gray and Wayne Alexander were added to the eldership. Doward Runyan moved in 1998, but in 2000 Dana McMillion and Rodney Windell were made elders giving the church five elders at present. Glenn Hawley returned to his home congregation in 1992 to serve Southside as a full-time minister of the gospel. Beginning in 1999, Tony Anguiano served the church for two years as a part-time in outreach ministry. In 2000 Daryl Miller began a full-time youth minister.
Notable in recent years has been the expansion of programs in the church. Two factors have contributed to these ministries – numerical growth and the expansion of the church building. In 1982 Southside initiated its fall “Give-Away” program in which donated items such as clothes are given away to people in the community. Special classes have been offered in the area of marriage and family. Annual events include retreats for both men and women, a spring inter-congregational men’s breakfast, a mother-daughter banquet, and a Thanksgiving dinner for the seniors prepared by the youth. Once a month there is Sunday evening “Praise and Palate” devoted to singing followed by a shared meal. Signing for the deaf is now offered during morning worship. In 1996 Southside hosted the national Restoration Forum. Because church membership was more scattered, in 1992 mid-week Bible studies were begun in the homes of member in addition to the class at the church building.
Beginning in the fall of 1994 Southside experienced a period of rapid growth. Some people moved in, others transferred from area congregations, and an increasing number of local people were converted. 21 were baptized in 1999. Sunday morning worship climbed over 200 in 1996 and reached a high of 310 April 16, 2000. The record Sunday Bible school attendance is 205 on March 11, 2001. The current membership of 215 is drawn from 30 communities in six counties.
Into the Present
Southside has undergone many changes over the years. As families move away and other families move in our needs constantly change. The recent past has been no different. One change involves the eldership. Monroe Hawley, Bruce Williams, and Dennis Saunders resigned their positions. John Giemza, Troy Jensen, Ken Koch, Wayne Alexander and Al Gray serve as our current elders. Under their direction a church health committee was formed comprised of members representing all ranges of the church family to assess our current needs and to help us adapt.
The congregation was polled which resulted in some major changes. A decision was made for extensive improvements to the building including a new audio and video system with feeds throughout the building, acoustical improvements, insulation, new doors and windows, A.C. in the auditorium, heating and electrical updates, and fresh paint in several areas including the baptistery walls. After the renovation was completed in 2014, it was also decided to return to a single Sunday morning worship. Both changes have had many positive results including improvement in the song service as well as better opportunity for members to get connected.
The Spanish speaking congregation that was holding their meetings in the basement moved upstairs to room 9 and is under the direction of Marcos Alicea. They meet at 10 am – noon Sunday morning. This time coincides with the English speaking worship so their children have been able to participate in the Children’s Worship offered in the basement during the sermon. Their new times have allowed more opportunity for our two congregations to enjoy fellowship times together.
There are many events going on at Southside. Some of the ministries that continue are: Mid-week Life Groups, the Annual Give-Away, Ladies Thurs. morning bible class, First Tuesday Men’s group, Mother/Daughter banquet, Annual Men’s breakfast, Family Bible Day, Southside Youth Rally, WCYC Dinner and Auction, Senior Thanksgiving Dinner, Men’s retreat, Church Picnic, a full functioning and staffed Library in room 3 and others.
Recent developments include: several specialty Seminars and Workshops, Children’s Worship (for ages 3 years to 3rd grade), 1st Sunday-1st Fruits food program, Family Movie Night, A Caring Ministry, 2nd Thursday evening women’s group, Sweetheart Dinner, a Men’s Softball team, Easter Egg Hunt, Young Families Retreat, Singles Retreat, Young adult class, Women’s Ministry renewal, Club 55, Strength and Stretching class and 2 newer Men’s study groups to name some.
As we move forward in unity, let us grasp all our opportunities and consider how each one of us can serve the kingdom to bring glory to God as a family of God.