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Vernon Landreth: Boise Bible 1960-1965

Author: David Davolt
Published on: December 10, 2020

Vernon and his twin sister grew up in the middle of nine children. His mom stayed home, and his dad, besides working as a journeyman carpenter by day, worked at a gas station and taught carpentry classes to help make ends meet. They moved from his birthplace in Dadeville, Missouri, to Oakland, California, in 1945. They all lived in a two-bedroom one-bath home in a subdivision in Brookfield, California. Money was tight, and between the kids running paper routes and any odd job they could find and good neighbors who brought home ripe bananas and dated groceries, they survived.

One thing was missing growing up. The family rarely visited church. They were busy trying to just do life! The kids got a bus ride to the Evangelical Free Church from someone their dad met working at the gas station. But then his older sister convinced the younger kids to go to the Church of Christ within walking distance from home. This is where they found the Savior.

The family moved to Castro Valley to a larger home. Soon after the move, the minister from Brookfield moved to Hayward. One of the Sunday School teachers from the Hayward church went 20 miles out of his way to pick up Vernon and his siblings for church each week. During years of this, he took his high school students through “Bible Survey” and a “Teacher Training Series” that made a lasting impression on many.

By his own admission, Vernon was not the best student in high school and had determined college wasn’t for him, and he would become a carpenter like his dad. His church was quite strict and had sent his older sister to Midwestern School of the Bible in Ottumwa, Iowa. The church thought San Jose Bible College was too liberal but considered Boise Bible College an acceptable alternative. Vernon graduated from high school in 1960. He attended a Labor Day rally in Dunsmuir, California, and enjoyed catching up with some camp friends. He had been unable to land a good job after high school ended and wasn’t tied down. After the rally, a camp friend, Jerry Holdman, was going to go to Boise and had volunteered to take a girl from their church, Arita Orsborn (now Fleenor), with him. Their families thought they should have a chaperone, and they persuaded Vernon to fill that position. He called his mother; she was pleased and sent his clothes to Boise. Once at the college, he fit in and committed for the year.

During his first year at BBC, Willie White spoke in chapel and pointed out the need for preachers in the west, that many were retiring, and churches would be without ministers. He especially emphasized how great a need there was in Oregon, where only 2% attended church regularly. That night Vernon, in the darkness of his room, prayed to God that he was willing, and if God could use this ordinary, not-so-bright guy and keep him in college – he would go where he was led. If not for that sermon, Vernon believes he would have returned home and become a carpenter and never finished college.

Vernon remembers Bob Ballard for his kindness, dedication, and hard work. Together with his wife, Joan, they helped a timid, shy young man feel at home and needed. Hazel, the cook, was a great friend and Mr. Beckman was an inspiration and a spiritual guide. Vernon became acquainted with others in the area who inspired him to keep on. People like Frank Martin and Bill and Virginia Humphries showed genuineness, love, and down-to-earth, caring ministries.

I learned that loving God is the most important part and then loving others for Him.

Vernon Landreth

In his second year, Ellen (Cole from Oakland, Oregon) entered his life. It took a year to take each other seriously, and then it was a slow go. On his first try at one-on-one time, he asked Ellen to go for a walk for ice cream, and she said sure and proceeded to invite everyone in earshot. Vern recalls it was a deflating “first date” as he bought her ice cream, but she walked with the rest of the group rather than him. But that first awkward time turned into nearly 60 years of wedded bliss!

Dorm life in the early years was full of pranks and simply good times. Vernon remembers an evening when the guys were in the dorm and heard a hissing sound, and looking out into the darkness, they saw movement around their cars. Someone yelled, “Some university students are flattening our car tires!” With that, they ran out to the cars. As it ended up, Ellen had suggested the prank, and she and two other girls had climbed out the back windows to sneak around and were letting air out of the tires.

It made more noise than they had thought it would, and Ellen looked up to see boys coming out of the dorm. She high-tailed it for the back windows, climbed in, and locked the windows, leaving the others behind. The other two girls ran for it and hid until the boys gave up looking for the culprits. (And the girls did all this in their PJ’s). The next day the church elders came to class to remind the boys “we are Christians” and that no retaliation would take place!

Vernon is full of stories of life as a student at BBC, and many include Ellen as the instigator of pranks! Those experiences impacted him for the rest of his life. His stories need to be saved, but we can’t include all of them in this abbreviated story of his life and ministry. Some of the ministry opportunities in the early years of the college provided both outreach to local – sometimes isolated – churches, and experience for college students, to apply what they were learning in the classroom.

One such experience Vernon remembers was a summer that Hazel Scott recruited Dianne Miller, Jerry Zeller, Henry Smith, and Vernon to accompany her leading Vacation Bible Schools in Montana and Wyoming. The small rural communities lacked the manpower to do such things on their own; five youth ministry students ready to teach and have fun made a huge impact. The trip involved the car breaking down more than once, driving through old roads in pastures in the middle of nowhere, meals in country farmhouses, meeting new Christians, old Christians, and those who really wanted to learn more about God’s love through Jesus. This helped shape Vernon’s lifetime of serving in smaller churches in Oregon.

The relationships built at BBC may have taught Vernon as much as the classroom education. The fact that professors disagreed with one another and were still brothers was something new for him. This helped him accept others as they were and allow them to grow. It taught him humility and allowed him to grow as he learned also. Vernon says, “I learned that loving God is the most important part and then loving others for Him.”

Vernon shared these life experiences from more than 35 years of serving in ministry:

  • God is faithful. Like Abraham having God’s promise of an heir still unfulfilled when he was 99, our Heavenly Father keeps his word and will provide – just hang on.
  • Getting every Christian to read their Bible regularly is one of the most important things I can do.
  • Leading people to tithe is probably second to reading the Bible in terms of their growth in Christ.
  • Communities and congregations each have their own character and personalities. They may be outgoing or withdrawn, upbeat or pessimistic; just understand what it is and work with it.
  • Every Sunday, the people you preach to maybe just as moody and temperamental as their minister. It is OK, but don’t base a permanent decision on temporary moods.
  • Most Christians don’t step up to the plate until they have to, or until there is no one else.
  • You can’t believe and trust everything you are told when you accept a call to a specific ministry.
  • In Yoncalla, the leaders said they had tried calling, and it didn’t work. But when I called on homes, people came to church and to Christ. People need people.
  • In White City, I found that new Christians are a lot easier to lead than Christians who’ve been in the church for a long time. (White City was planted by Willie White – who inspired Vernon!)
  • When people like you, it seems you can do no wrong, but if they decide they don’t like you for whatever reason, you can do no right.
  • In White City, I found a love for leading home Bible studies with small groups of mostly non-Christians. I still love leading Bible studies, even with my bad hearing.
  • We have learned that the greatest legacy you can leave behind is your faithful children. All four of our kids attended Boise Bible College.
    • Curt graduated in 1985 with his wife, Deanne. He served on the BBC board for several years.
    • Connie and her husband are missionaries in Papua New Guinea with MAF.
    • Corey started a church in El Dorado, Kansas, nearly ten years ago.
    • Crystal and her husband are faithful Christians, raising seven children to follow the Lord.
    • Several of our 19 grandkids have attended BBC, and we look forward to some of our 12 great-grandchildren attending in the future.
  • In Newport, I got involved in the jail ministry, took Prison Fellowship Training, and saw a hunger from those in prison for the Word of God.
  • I took chaplain training and found joy in serving in hospitals.
  • Christian summer camps are a terrific recruiting grounds for future Bible college students.
  • God will use you if you make yourself available.
  • Never stop learning, read, and grow your entire life.
  • Always preach, even if, like me, you aren’t the best from the pulpit. Use every opportunity in your life to preach God’s love: small groups, community service, in your home. Just love those around you!
  • Marry well; your partnership in ministry will be seen by others. Ellen has provided strength, words of wisdom and helps balance our budget. Without her help and God’s, I would not be!

Vernon and Ellen are living on not much more than Social Security and help from family and friends. God is still bringing people into their lives to teach and mentor in Christlikeness. They have made the most of their white hair and age by becoming Santa and Mrs. Claus during the holiday season.  Years ago, Vernon was asked to be Santa and enjoyed it so much he has incorporated Santa into his Christmas message for years, always bringing it back to “Jesus is the reason for the season.” In retirement, Ellen made a Santa suit for him, and a few folks invited him to be their Santa, and from that grew the idea of supplementing their income by charging for his visits. Ellen joined as Mrs. Claus, and together they have lots of fun and make a few extra dollars teaching kids (and adults) not to be selfish or greedy and to remember what Christmas is really about. Their favorite annual visits are to the Ronald McDonald House and the hospital on Christmas day. Just seeing and hearing the excitement of the patients and the staff makes their day.  Who knows, you might be able to have them come visit your company, church, or home to cheer folks up?

Vernon is a reader and teacher. He would recommend everyone consider at least a year of Bible College and see where God leads from there. He said, “It is so important to understand the truth of scripture and see how the Bible can be trusted to guide your life and future.”

The White City Church of Christ established a scholarship for BBC students to honor the Landreths’ lifetime of ministry. Each spring, we award $1,000 to a deserving student.

The Landreths are passionate about helping people become Bible readers. Ellen has produced a trackable one-year Bible reading program. If you’d like to have it, email her at vernellen63@gmail.com.

You can see Vernon and Ellen’s Santa ministry here:  https://thesantacouple.com/