“they’re caldwell kids. they come that way.”
garry yeager got excited about practicing his faith quickly. as a new christian, a senior still in high school, he would go to a nursing home after school before working from 4pm to midnight as a night clerk at a motel to preach and witness to the residents. eventually, garry got several teenagers involved in putting on a weekly program with the residents. he attended first christian church in longmont colorado, (now lifebridge christian church). kenny beckman would go to the church regularly to hold revivals and to visit. many students came to bbc from this then small church, including rick deighton, bill miller, and hugh cassidy.
rick deighton remembered some of the early details with garry,
garry and i were in the same class in high school. i think garry really turned his life over to jesus near the end of high school. garry attended colorado state university in fort collins, co, his first year out of high school. when i returned from a year at boise bible college, garry was one of the ones i recruited to return with me in the fall. he pioneered seeking student ministries at bbc and was the minister at star christian church where he recruited chuck sackett, butch hutton, and dan raynor, among others.
don hardenbrook had encouraged garry to preach at star christian church, one of the oldest restoration movement churches in idaho. the church grew from 20 to about 130 during that time. garry married gwen augenstein, a bbc student from cottage grove, before graduating in 1966 with a ba degree. in 1968, he was called to serve with the first christian church in caldwell, id, as the youth minister alongside ernie chamberlain. they proved to be an amazing duo, and caldwell has never been the same since!
garry created an amazing comradery among the young people in caldwell. i (the author) got to experience his world first hand as a college-dropout in the early ’70s. i lived in a church-owned apartment behind the church and remembered many good times:
- garry took his boat to lake lowell and taught us to water ski in the afternoons,
- at night we went fishing for catfish with bright lights,
- in the fall, we all went deer hunting with our instamatic cameras,
- he took the guys to hunt rabbits in the owyhee mountains – ask about the time the truck broke down 20 miles from the highway?
- he helped us paint our cars late at night in his garage,
- he took us to youth rallies, and we had movie nights,
- summer youth camps were amazing with garry as the leader.
all those were great experiences, but the best of all was the youth group he led. nancy waner, one of the youth group back then, describes it like this:
“garry was our youth pastor at caldwell during my high school and college years. he pushed and stretched and laid a firm theological foundation in the lives of our youth group. we studied baptism and why it was important, and as a test, we had to baptize garry…who was like 6’4″? we studied mormonism and invited the area bishop to come to youth group, studied the steps in the plan of salvation, and built a step by step program that we printed verse by verse in the margins of our bibles. he taught us the greek alphabet (yep, in high school), some common greek words, and how to look things up to better translate verses. garry encouraged us to help with vbs in the morning and then spent the afternoon out at lake lowell, teaching us how to water ski (with his black lab, jack, knocking us off the raft by wagging his tail!). we all took turns preaching at the old fellows home, and then garry put together the most creative youth sundays. i still have in my jewelry box a collection of little pins that we earned for each study unit we passed (and his tests were not easy). but most of all, i have a deep understanding of god’s plan for his people and the theology built from his word. and memories of laughter, incredible growth, and encouragement! i thank god for bringing garry into my life!”
“in caldwell, the mormons were eagerly trying to convert the youth of the city, so as a part of our icthus program, we developed a catechism for dealing with mormons. together, we researched their religion by studying documents from the library of congress and byu. when it was done, we invited two mormon missionaries. we told them they could present their program if we could follow with questions. we almost converted one of the missionaries. then we used what was gained from that meeting and fine-tuned our catechism. then we invited a mormon bishop. the caldwell kids blew him away. he could not deal with their questions. he later commented about how sharp those kids were.”
“we went to the state mental hospital where each student took a mentally handicap youth and taught them bible stories. the rest of the icthus kids sat behind a one-way window and watched with a big timer. afterwards, we would discuss ways we could increase the child’s attention span. the next week we would do it again. the icthus kids grew close to their students. one of the caldwell kids was afraid to go to the mental hospital. so he stayed home. after a while, the rest of the kids talked him into coming. when we finally left the program, that student kept going back each week on his own. he overcame his fears and gained a heart of ministry that few adults have ever known. the caldwell church had a full jr. church program. a class for every age, but when summer came, they would shut it down. we took it over for the summer with just high school kids teaching and running the program. when summer finally ended, we forgot to give it back to the adults. it was going so good, even the adults were not eager to take it back. if you can learn to keep the attention of the kids at the mental hospital, the little kids at church were a snap.”
the youth group program was called icthus, and at one time, christian standard tried to get garry to “can the program” so they could print it, but garry saw it as only something he could do with the particular bunch of kids in caldwell. over the years, it worked well. a couple dozen or more kids went to bible college from his group. many of the youth group left caldwell thinking that what they experienced in youth group was standard for all churches… and when they saw the real world, they discovered what an amazing gift it was to be a part of such a special group. the president of puget sound college of the bible once asked garry where he got the kids he was sending them? he never had incoming students who could use a greek lexicon and who were so confident in their faith. garry said nonchalantly, “they are caldwell kids. they come that way.”
my wife, melody, was a part of the youth group and still remembers the plan of salvation they learned. she was one of the many to attend bible college at the encouragement of garry. i, too, am thankful for how garry poured into my life over 45 years ago and helped me become the man i am today. he saw churches grow when he preached the word and loved the people he served. life wasn’t always full of good choices flor garry, and there were consequences to those choices. garry is the first to encourage others to love god’s word, serve in humility, live in community, and think out of the box to reach people in innovative ways.
while at caldwell, garry taught greek classes at bbc and took classes at northwest nazarene college. after five years, he, gwen, and two small boys left caldwell to attend emmanuel school of religion in johnson city, tn, where he earned a master’s of divinity. while there, he preached at the brick christian church in watauga. it was a small country church that grew under his leadership, and the building was packed. he learned of a ministry opening at first church of christ in owosso, michigan, and the family, now three boys, moved in september 1977. the church grew rapidly and in two years had nearly 100 additions, growing to over 400. while there, garry earned a doctor of ministry degree from drew university. he wrote a popular secular newspaper column called “it’s your life.” he was involved in all kinds of local volunteer boards. he served there for 17 years, their longest-serving minister. gwen is still serving as the church secretary.
in 1992, garry moved to west michigan and sold real estate for several years. he ministered at unity christian church (doc) near flint, michigan. with failing health, garry left there and began serving as chaplain and then grief coordinator with hospice advantage serving central michigan with an office in flint. garry married christine, and they live in swartz creek, michigan. he helped plant the new covenant christian church in flushing, michigan. he is now retired. the last few years have dealt him several challenging health issues, including severe arthritis and heart issues that included installing a pacemaker/defibrillator. health issues have kept him confined to his home for the last year.
garry has fond memories of the days at boise bible college and his ministry at caldwell christian. ernie chamberlain was a great mentor, the high school students were a unique and special group, and the icthus program made the bible and faith come alive for students and leaders alike. we need more recruiters like him to fill our classrooms!