Primary Source

Bob Gray and the Church Without a Church

By Jean Cerar, IHM Volunteer

The recent death of Bob Gray was a reminder that Issaquah was once home to an unconventional church. The Pine Lake Presbyterian Church, where Gray was pastor, never owned a building and turned its efforts toward serving the community. In an oral history he completed for the Issaquah History Museums in 2006 Gray recalled his days with the church.

“I came here [in 1966]. It was unusual that I not only organized the church but then I was called to be minister on a full-time basis. And I stayed for 25 years, which is unusual.” Soon after arriving Gray started to communicate to the congregation “that I had a different concept of the church. The primary one was the church was people and not buildings.” The church met on Sundays at Providence Heights (later the Lutheran Bible College). All other meetings were held in people’s homes.

“We began to look around at what we thought might be needed in the community. …I thought that we needed to find ways to bring people together. … The first thing we did involved the Issaquah Theater. … We’d bring films to the theater that had some substance that would provide for the opportunity for discussion. We called it ‘Forum Theater.’”

“We eventually took over the theater when the owner decided to retire. However, … before we did that, we started a bookstore across the street. … We called it the Forum Bookstore. We wanted it to be a kind of drop-in center, where people could sit and have a cup of coffee and talk. … We turned the place into a coffeehouse on Friday nights. … We’d have book readings and speakers.”

“In 1970 Boeing hit a low spot and laid off 35.000 people. … An organization formed in the Seattle area called ‘Neighbors in Need.’ I was asked to come to a meeting, and I ended up forming the food bank in Issaquah.” It was run by volunteers from Pine Lake Presbyterian, and then volunteers from other churches joined in. A clothing bank followed.

“We started an emergency financial aid program. … Money came from about five churches. I had the checkbook.” At first there were referrals, then people simply started showing up at Gray’s office. Eventually, “the whole organization got together – the emergency aid program, the food bank, the clothing bank – and that became Issaquah Valley Community Services.”

The church’s most unusual project involved setting up a lab in 1976 for member Ruth Shearer, who had a Ph.D. in molecular genetics. Twelve people in the church became the board of directors. It is now the Center for Infectious Disease Research in Seattle.

“I saw a lot of things happening here that I had hoped would happen, in regard to people getting together and developing things like Salmon Days. And I didn’t really have a part in that. But the church did.” It had a booth that raised funds for the Eastside Sexual Assault Center for Children, which Gray helped start.

“I’ve talked about my doing things, but it was always with other people in the church.” All the group’s projects were staffed by volunteers. Considering that the congregation never grew beyond 121 members, Pine Lake Presbyterian’s impact on the community was far beyond its size.

Bob Gray was elected to the Issaquah Hall of Fame in 1989. He retired in 1991. At the request of the few remaining members, the church was dissolved in 2000.

Vern Anderson

Vern “Babe” Anderson

Vern Anderson

Vernon “Babe” Anderson, ca 1945

Vernon “Babe” Anderson was born in 1927 in Renton, WA to Albert A. Anderson and Ruth Johns Anderson. Babe was interviewed in 2008 by Maria McLeod as part of IHM’s oral history project. His extensive oral history covers his grandparent’s immigration to the United States and Issaquah, through his life growing up and remaining in Issaquah. Subjects covered include working at Issaquah Creamery, being drafted for both WWII and the Korean War, and his father’s various building projects including two houses that still remain as part of Gilman Village. The City of Issaquah acquired Vernon’s family’s land and buildings for part of the Confluence Park Project. Vernon requested recognition of his grandfather, Tolle Anderson, in the park project.

Elvin Barlow

Elvin Barlow and Marie Chandler

Elvin Barlow

Elvin Barlow, ca. 1931


Beryl Baxter

Beryl Baxter

Beryl Baxter

Beryl Baxter, 1932. [IHM photo 2008-32-7]


Hazel Hircko and Dorothy Hailstone Beale

Dorothy Hailstone Beale

Hazel Hircko and Dorothy Hailstone Beale

Hazel Hircko (left) and Dorothy Hailstone Beale (right), ca 1936

Dorothy Hailstone Beale was born in 1919 to James H. Hailstone and Emma Greenier Hailstone. Dorothy was interviewed in 2006 by Maria McLeod as part of IHM’s oral history project. Dorothy talks about growing up in Issaquah, logging, and the Hailstone family. Her extensive interview covers many families in Issaquah as well as some fascinating discussion about the KKK and cultural and race relations in Issaquah.

Delores Kinnune Busby

Miles, Kinnune & Isotalo children, ca. 1940. Girl in front is Claudia Miles. Back row left to right – Roger Kinnune, Charles (Chuck) Kinnune, Delores Kinnune, Betty Jo Isotalo, dog Micky, Ethel Marie Isotalo. [IHM photo2001-34-5]


Patricia Louise Curri

Patricia “Pat” Louise Currie

Patricia Louise Curri

Patricia Louise Currie, ca 1945


Camilla Berg

Camilla Berg Erickson

Camilla Berg

Camilla Berg Erickson in her yearbook photo, ca 1936.

Camilla Berg was born in 1918 to Charles Berg and Gesine Eliasen Berg. Camilla was interview in 2006 as part of IHM’s oral history project. Camilla talks about raising chickens (her family had 800), the Norwegian community and food (blood dumplings), and Issaquah during the depression. She also discusses changes in Issaquah over the years.

Bill Evans

Bill Evans

Bill Evans

Bill Evans

William C. Evans Jr. was born in 1923 to William G. Evans Sr. and Ella Willig Evans. Bill was interviewed in 2006 by Maria McLeod as part of IHM’s oral history project; you can read the full transcript by clicking on Oral History Transcript above. In his interview, Bill talks about his grandfather’s work with Issaquah Water Department, growing up in Issaquah, and WWII. His interview is extensive, covering his upbringing in Issaquah, his time in World War II, and his adult life in Seattle and Issaquah. Bill was a charming man and an excellent story teller. One of the stories from his oral history is excerpted below.
_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Maria McLeod:  …Tell me a story about you and Walt Seil.  I know you guys ran around together, and I’m sure there’s a lot of stories.  Some you could probably tell, some you can’t.  [laughter]  But what’s a memorable moment with your friend Walt? 

Bill Evans:  Well, of course, we graduated in the same class.  On graduation night, we – big stuff – I was president of my senior class – so we tried to arrange a party.  But we graduated on June 3, 1941.  It was a Tuesday night.  It was raining to beat heck.  Usually, the first part of June, I always remember the rain.  We didn’t get good weather constantly until July.

 …So I had a class meeting the day before we graduated, and I said, “It’s our last time together as a group.  How are we going to celebrate?” 

Well, a lot of them had family parties on graduation night.  I had a graduation party, too, with my family.  But we all decided well, after the party is over – and it’ll probably be over about ten o’clock – we’ll meet back at the high school and go to a party in Seattle.  We’ll find something that’s really good to do. So Walt and I and another fellow, I don’t remember who the other fellow was, but we had our dates, and we met back at the school at ten o’clock.  And we went to Seattle.  We thought, “This’ll be great!  We six will do something that nobody else does.” 

So we went down to Boeing Field.  We were going to rent an airplane and take our first flight over the city.  Well, we got down to Boeing Field and, of course, Tuesday night, ten o’clock, everything was pitch dark!  There was nobody there. 

“So what do we do now?”

“Well, let’s be daring.” 

And there happened to be a bottle club on First Avenue in Seattle, with entertainment and so forth.  But it wasn’t a club like you think of nowadays.  But still, you had to be 21 to get in.  Of course, we looked like we were eighteen.  [chuckles]  So we got stopped at the door!  And that took care of that. 

“What do we do now?  It’s midnight!” 

“Well, there’s all-night shows.” 

“Big deal.” 

So we went to an all-night show.  We parked Walt’s car up on somebody’s rooftop parking downtown.  We went to the nearest all-night show.  We enjoyed the show.  And our dates were kind of worried, because they’d never been out this late before. 

MM:  No, that’s probably about two in the morning by that point. 

BE:  By the time we got out of the show, it was almost dawn.  The girls were hungry, naturally – like my wife – and so we went to breakfast.  My girl lived in Upper Preston.  There’s a Lower Preston we all know, but in those days … and still, people live up there.  It’s further up toward Echo Glen, fairly close to that.  And it’s a little Swedish flicka that I went with.  Her mother was at the door when I brought her home, and the sun was shining bright.  And she was a sweet little lady. 

She said, “Now, Bill, you know that Frances is younger than you are.” 

“Yes, I know.” 

She said, “And we live in a community where everybody sees everything that goes on.” 

I said, “Well, nothing went on.  Things didn’t work out, and we ended up at an all-night show and went to breakfast.” 

She said, “Well, please don’t bring her home in the daylight anymore.”  [laughter] 

“I promise.”  [laughing] 

MM:  Did the other guys get in trouble, or the other girls?  Do you remember? 

BE:  I don’t remember, because I was sweating enough!  [laughter]

Hailstone Feed Store

James “Pinky” Hailstone

Hailstone Feed Store

Hailstone Feed Store. Left to right: Frank Hailstone, Nell Hailstone Falkenstein, Emma Greenier Hailstone (wife of James Hailstone). [IHM photo 2001-29-2]

James “Pinky” Hailstone was born in British Columbia in 1898 to Francis Hailstone and Ester Hooker Hailstone. He was interviewed in 1975 by Richie Woodward, a student at Issaquah High School. His interview has a lot of interesting stories including he and some friends burning a “fiery cross” and the KKK being blamed for it, the story of the only hanging in Issaquah, and a story about Ben Legg.