Will and Ruth Slater have a special place in the heritage of Community UMC, particularly because Ruth, who will celebrate her ninety-fifth birthday in just ten days, is with us so regularly at worship and represents so vividly the grand traditions of our congregation. Will Slater, who was born in Galveston, Texas, on November 28,1883, came to our area when he was nine, and lived with the Dennis McGuirk family until he was fourteen. He then went off to make a living on his own, and returned to the area while he was in his twenties. According to the minutes of the Fourth Quarterly Conference, on September 17, 1909, Will Slater was elected to the Board of Stewards for the ensuing Conference year, and appointed to the Temperance Committee. He was twenty-six years old, and he was just beginning fifty-six years of faithful service at Community Church.
Dennis McGuirk had helped Will acquire his first twenty acres of land, located north of what is now Slater Avenue between Golden West and Edwards. In 1908, Will had married Bonnie Clay, who was the first Springdale school teacher. They lived in a ranch house located on the land Will farmed, and they had three children-Fred, June and Homer. Then in 1919, Bonnie died suddenly, and her closest friend, Ruth, who had moved from Redlands in 1913 to teach school, helped Will with the children. The following year they were married. Ruth Slater was born in Rialto, California, on January 20, 1893. Will Slater built the home on the hill (Gothard Street) where he and Ruth raised the children and added three more to the family: Alice, Bettie and Bill. Ruth has lived in that same house now for almost 65 years.
According to Ruth, her husband acquired a good portion of land within and surrounding Huntington Central Park, beginning in 1919 and over the next several years. One of the largest parcels was purchased from the Bolsa Chica Gun Club. Will Slater owned land near what is now Huntington Lake, and most of the property on either side of Slater Avenue, between Gothard and Edwards Streets. In the early days the land was swampy, and people thought that roads could never be built. Before it was drained, the only crops that could be raised were celery, potatoes and onions. The Slaters raised celery, sugar beets, and later, lima beans. Ruth remembered the lima bean harvests during the forties and fifties, when several threshing machines would come into the area, with large crews working them. Ruth would load up the family car with food and go into the fields to feed the workers.
Ruth had joined Community Church in 1920, and was one of the women who, for half a century, was always associated with great church dinners and fellowship events. She was also a devoted teacher and worker in the Sunday School, while Will was regularly a Trustee of the church and later a member of the Building Committee. For decades the minutes of the Official Board recorded motions by Will Slater, and reports by Ruth Slater, often on Community Church programs of Evangelism. For example, there is a report on Community Church participation in a program of Visitation Evangelism, a Conference effort to begin on February 15, 1942, in which Ruth figured prominently. Current members of the church remember Ruth Slater calling on them during the first week after they attended church services. Even when she was in her late seventies and early eighties, she cooked dinner for the Fisherman’s Club, before the members went out to make calls on newcomers. So, in addition to her involvement in Christian Education, Ruth Slater embodies another major emphasis in the heritage of Community Church – a commitment to Evangelism.
Will Slater was a Trustee and a member of the Building Committee for the new Sanctuary, Moore Hall and the Education Building on Heil Avenue, and is pictured in photographs of the groundbreaking in 1964. Will and Ruth Slater were among those recognized for their devotion to the church at the Opening Day worship services in the new sanctuary on September 26,1965. Two months later, in November of 1965, Will Slater passed away. The carillon in the bell tower was later dedicated as a memorial to Will Slater, and Slater School was also named in appreciation for the many years of service to Christ and Community Church by Will and Ruth Slater. Ruth continued to serve Christ at Community Church, and has been a member in continuous service longer than any other person, as of now, for sixty-eight years. She worshiped whenever she was physically able to be present, and came to be the embodiment of the heritage and traditions of Community Church. In the fall of 1987, when a portrait for our Pictorial Directory was taken of the congregation in the quad in front of Slater School, Ruth Slater was in the first row. She was still recovering from a broken hip and seated in a wheelchair, but she was present at worship and at her place in the front rank of those who have epitomized the spirit of Community Church. In just ten days, when Ruth celebrates her ninety-fifth birthday, we will be delivering a giant birthday card to her, signed by hundreds of members of our church, in gratitude for her years of service and devotion to the cause of Christian service and evangelistic outreach at Community Church.
(This historical narrative was compiled from family members by Rev. Galal Gough and delivered by him during a Founder’s Day celebration on January 10, 1988, one week after the death of pioneer member Charles Applebury. Pioneers Ruth Slater and John Murdy were still living at the time.)