Joe BowerBy Jonita Barram

In January our fellowship of churches lost two representatives of the second generation of Regular Baptists: Joseph Bower and Shirley Hull. Joe pastored GARBC churches and served on the GARBC Council and on the boards of several schools and agencies. Shirley was a pastor’s wife and then an influential member of the Regular Baptist Press team, developing curriculum for GARBC churches and leading workshops to encourage more effective Christian education in our churches. Many of this second generation have gone home to Glory. We remember and honor them by featuring two of their number.

Joseph Bower

Pastor Joseph H. Bower went home to Glory on Jan. 5—just 17 days short of his 94th birthday. He left behind a wife, four of his five children, 13 grandchildren, 27 great-grandchildren, church and camp buildings he’d constructed, younger men he’d mentored and encouraged, and the lives of hundreds who were changed for God’s glory during his 71-year ministry.

Joe, as he was known, was one of three children born to Adam and Marie Bower, a Christian couple who trained their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Joe would later tell Hank Schaller of the Lapeer County Press that the Biblical training he got in those days came in handy when he began preaching. Joe’s father, a farmer, passed away when Joe was 7. His mother, a schoolteacher, succumbed to a heart problem when Joe was only 14. She doubted that Joe had ever trusted Jesus Christ as his Savior, an uncertainty that broke her heart. But her prayers for Joe were answered during his senior year in high school, when the Holy Spirit, using Romans 6:23, convicted him. He asked for saving and cleansing, and gave himself wholeheartedly to serving God.

Joe had another godly influence before his salvation. In his younger years, he attended First Baptist Church of Colon, Michigan, where he received excellent teaching and training from Bible-centered pastors. He had Joseph Stowell as a junior high Sunday School teacher. Stowell would later become national representative of the GARBC and would remain one of Joe Bower’s mentors.

By the time Joe had finished high school, he was preaching. He told Schaller, “I really can’t explain it, but I had no choice but to preach the Word. The ministry to me is not a job, it’s a calling.” His children recall that their parents always taught them the importance of God’s call. “We grew up understanding God’s will for our dad,” they say.

Joe began holding services in Minnesota schoolhouses and would preach to anyone who would show up. He held a variety of jobs during his young-adult years: part-time funeral director, warehouse worker, dishwasher, waiter, janitor, ambulance driver, farmer, and logger. He attended Northwestern Bible and Missionary Training School in Minneapolis and then Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, although he did not finish his education at Moody. He told Schaller, “I guess you might say that I’m a self-taught minister. And let me tell you, that’s the hardest way there is.”

Joe taught himself a lot, including how to build. In 1943, after his church building burned, he taught himself how to lay bricks. “I finally gathered together enough material to build the basement back into an auditorium,” he told Schaller. “I’d build up a wall and then tear it down and start over again. But I always learned something.” By 1979, he had participated in building 17 churches and three camps. His children say that when he was building churches, they would see sermon notes written in carpenter pencil on lumber or on the back of cement receipts. “He would always include us in the work as he could so that we could spend time with him,” they recall. Dave Anthony from First Baptist Church in Lapeer, Michigan, tells of a time when the church was relocating a parsonage to make room for a new auditorium. “Pastor Bower did the formwork, poured the concrete foundations, and laid the block foundation walls for the parsonage by himself. When the construction workers on the church auditorium came to work early in the morning, they saw the pastor already working. This was a real testimony that a man of God was also a man among men!”

Pastor Bower cared about his testimony, and he wasn’t afraid to speak out. When Hank Schaller interviewed him in 1979, he called Joe an outspoken minister and implied he was opinionated. But those opinions were always shaped by God’s Word. “I want to seek out as many people as I can with this wonderful love of Christ,” he told Schaller. In spite of or because of his outspoken stance for the gospel, Pastor Bower was “well liked, respected, and involved in the community of Lapeer,” says Dave Anthony. Joe taught his children, too, to stay true to God’s Word, telling them, “Never compromise spiritual convictions for community convenience.”

“Dad had a passion for the authority of the Word of God,” says his daughter Becky Grieves. He was thankful for the GARBC and held its leaders in high esteem for their stand and convictions. He served on both the Council of Fourteen and the Council of Eighteen and was, according to his children, “humbled and honored to be a part of this association.” They went on to say that the men he served with truly were his friends.

During his time in the pastorate, Joe served in three Indiana churches: a small church in Chesterton, where he was its first full-time pastor; a church in Hammond, which he saw grow from a 150-member congregation to 400; and a church in Valparaiso, where he had served as a part-time Army chaplain during WWII; the church there started with 35 and had reached close to 300 by the time he left four years later. He pastored one church in Illinois, Calvary Baptist Church in Quincy. He was there 18 years, during which time the church grew from 265 to 750 and started three daughter churches: one in Quincy; one near Camp Point, Illinois; and one in Emden, Missouri. He also had radio and television programs during his years in Illinois and led in the founding and early development of Camp Manitoumi, Lowpoint, Illinois. He then ministered at First Baptist Church, Lapeer.

He retired the first time at age 65 to move with his wife, Katherine, to Vicksburg, Michigan, to be closer to their children. Joe and Kay were married Nov. 23, 1942. She passed away in January 1991 after a prolonged battle with cancer.

In 1992 Joe married Florence Bruner, and they formed Meaningful Ministries. Joe would preach and Florence would minister through music. They touched many lives throughout the country before Joe’s second retirement, in 2012.

One year he preached a series of sermons at Gitche Gumee Bible Camp in Eagle River, Michigan. He titled the series “No Rocking Chair for Me,” and he lived what he preached. When he was well into his 80s, he was still serving as an interim pastor.

His last public address was given at the 70th Annual Conference of the Michigan Association of Regular Baptist Churches in October 2012 and is available on YouTube. Ken Floyd, state representative of the MARBC, says that God used Joe’s ministry in a wonderful way to “impact our hearts as he opened the Word of God and declared the Word of God to us.”

As leaders of various ministry organizations spoke at Pastor Bower’s memorial service, they all mentioned the letters of encouragement they’d received from him through the years. Maynard Belt, former state representative of the MARBC, says he was blessed to be called a friend of Joe Bower. “In fact,” he joked, “I thought I was his only friend—until today.” That’s how Joe treated people: as if each one were his only friend.

Gary Anderson, president of Baptist Mid-Missions, tells of Pastor Bower’s 40 years of service to the mission. Joe holds a unique record as the only board member elected chairman five times. And BMM wasn’t the only board that he sat on. He served on the boards of Cornerstone University, Cedarville University, and Faith Baptist Bible College. As he grew older, he gradually retired from his board memberships, leaving BMM as the last in which he actively served.

Anderson, too, received encouraging notes and letters from Pastor Bower. “He was always and forever affirming, supportive, offering a word of hope at times when they were particularly welcome,” he says. “His influence in my life has been profound.”

Joe was, in the words of his widow, a missionary serving Christ; the master of building churches, camps, and many lives for the glory of God; the minister who presented the gospel plainly and effectively, and who was always available to encourage the hurting, the ill, and the dying. He enjoyed fellowship with friends and family. He was a family man, whose progeny admired and respected his call into the ministry. But most of all, he was faithful.

Shirley Hull

On Jan. 7, Shirley Margaret Hull, 92, went Home to be with the Lord. She had served Him as a mother, a pastor’s wife, and an employee of Regular Baptist Press. After her retirement, she continued to serve, using her gifts developed over a lifetime to help and encourage others.

Shirley was born to Paul and Flora Rogers on July 19, 1922, in LaJunta, Colorado. She attended East High School in Waterloo, Iowa, and met her future husband, Merle Hull, at her church when his college quartet sang there. After high school graduation, she enrolled at his school, Baptist Bible College. Then, a year after her graduation from BBC, Shirley and Merle were married, with Pastor Robert Ketcham officiating their wedding.

During their years at BBC, Merle and Shirley made lifelong friends with people whose names became well known in Regular Baptist circles: Carl and Bernice Elgena, Kenneth and Sue Elgena, and Lloyd and Mary Button, to name a few.

The Hulls then went into pastoral ministry in churches in Flint, Michigan, and Marshalltown, Iowa. Merle and Shirley were in Muscatine, Iowa, when Robert Ketcham—the GARBC’s national representative at the time—asked Merle to become general editor of the infant Regular Baptist Press.

At Shirley’s memorial service, National Representative John Greening said that though she was often in Merle’s public shadow, she was a vital part of his ministry. “Her abiding commitment to the importance of developing an effective and excellent educational strategy within the church was what drove her, along with her husband. They demonstrated an unwavering loyalty to the beliefs and values that made the GARBC a vibrant fellowship of churches.”

During those early years of RBP, Merle and Shirley did a variety of jobs, including packing boxes of curriculum to be mailed. Even before Merle went to work for the Press full-time, they wrote junior high curriculum. Later Shirley wrote the Beginner material for four- and five-year-olds. She went on to assist with VBS materials, edit take-home papers, and speak at conferences. Dr. Stephen Button, who pastors Carpinteria Valley (California) Baptist Church and knew the Hulls from his childhood, has attended workshops led by Shirley. He saved the handouts she provided and, even after 40 years, considers them a valuable resource.

Shirley had sung with Stephen’s dad, Lloyd, in a mixed quartet at BBC. She was Stephen’s “Aunt Shirley” during his childhood, and an encourager during his adult years. From those earlier years, Stephen remembers Shirley as always good humored and full of energy, with a smile, a happy disposition, and always an encouraging word for him. His memories of the Hulls, Elgenas, and others from that era taught him that ministry is not dry, formal duty, but lively, cheerful enjoyment.

Ken and Sue Elgena’s daughter, Janet Simcic, also has childhood and adulthood memories of Shirley, especially as an encourager. One memory took place during Janet’s teen years, when the Hulls were visiting with their young son, Thomas. Sue, Janet, and Shirley went shopping for maternity clothes. “They had just adopted Tom a year before,” recalls Janet, “and here she was pregnant. And she was so happy.” While Shirley started out as a very good friend of Janet’s mother, after Sue passed away, Shirley became Janet’s dear friend.

When Merle and Shirley retired from RBP in 1987, the Baptist Bulletin featured a tribute to the couple. In it, many of the GARBC leaders with whom the Hulls had served wrote of their respect and appreciation for the Hulls. They anticipated that Merle and Shirley would have a long and blessed retirement. But that was not God’s plan. On Nov. 12, 1990, Merle had a massive heart attack that led him into his Lord’s presence.

Pastor Gary Moosey preached the message at Merle’s funeral. He had been the Hulls’ pastor at Grace Baptist Church, Lombard, Illinois, from 1980 to 1986. He remembers that Shirley never gave up on people. “Even though burdened of heart over someone, she would pray for them and do her best to love and encourage them,” he says. Gary and his wife, Lois, became lifelong friends with the Hulls, vacationing together from time to time and enjoying fellowship, laughter, and joy.

After Merle’s Homegoing, Shirley continued her ministry with Baptist Mid-Missions, which she had shared with Merle. Serving alongside Sallie McElwain Lemponen, then director of BMM’s Women’s Department, Shirley spoke at BMM’s missionary events for women. BMM President Gary Anderson says that because of this involvement as a speaker, Shirley was designated a Women’s Department special representative and received a service pin. This honor has gone to only one other wife of a council member or former council member.

In 2003, Shirley lost her second child, daughter Jeanne Arnett. It was an extremely difficult loss, as the two were very close. Like Shirley, Jeanne was a talented musician, recall Bill and Betty Jo Pyne. They met the Hulls at Belden Avenue Baptist Church shortly after Merle and Shirley moved to Chicago to work for RBP. Even after the Pynes moved away and Shirley moved into a nursing home, Betty and Shirley spoke often by phone, talking a lot about their children and grandchildren. The Pynes have wonderful memories of Merle and Shirley Hull. They summed up Shirley’s friendship by saying that when she cared for someone, she really cared for them. They say she inspired them in a lot of different ways, and they call her a true friend.

Pastor Gary Moosey calls Merle and Shirley Hull pioneers in the GARBC’s publishing ministry. “Pastors and churches knew when they ordered their Sunday literature or VBS materials, they were receiving material that was Biblical, doctrinally sound, and of excellent quality.” Shirley Hull is remembered not only for her service to Regular Baptist churches through her work at RBP, but as a wonderful friend who loved the Lord and loved people.

Jonita Barram is assistant editor of the Baptist Bulletin.