Pentecostal Pioneers: Paul H. Kloepper
By R.P. Kloepper
On a farm in the territory of Oklahoma about 1906, little Paul prayed his first sincere prayer as he picked up the limp form of his six-year-old brother, Oscar. A mule had kicked his brother unconscious, and ten-year-old Paul felt his need of divine intervention. The answer came.
This first contact with his God, plus others, led Paul Kloepper to a born-again experience at age thirty-two. His active ministry started the next year, 1930, and continued over half a century. As a minister he first joined the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, then the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ, and finally became a charter member of the United Pentecostal Church.
On November 21, 1896, in a farm home near Baldwin, Illinois, Paul was born into a growing family that eventually included seven brothers and two sisters: Edward, Henry, Walter, Ernest, Oscar, Elsie, Ella, Arthur, and Ted. Grandpa Henry Kloepper, along with Grandma Emilie (nee Rinkle), were staunch Lutherans, so after only one year of public school Paul enrolled in a Lutheran Christian school. The pastor was also the teacher. This schooling concluded with confirmation (the time of first communion), and then followed another year of public school.
In 1900 Oklahoma was one of the few territories left. Evidently Grandpa heard of the farm opportunities, so he placed his wife and children on a passenger train while he rode the *eight car he had reserved for the household furnishings at one end and the cattle and horses at the other. They settled down near Apache, and Oklahoma was admitted to the United States while they lived there. The Kloeppers became involved in the local Lutheran church after arriving. Farm families helped them adjust; however, after three years, Grandpa moved his family back to southern Illinois, where he farmed until his death four years later.
The traumatic event in Dad’s life that caused him to pray occurred while in Oklahoma. He often spoke of being the only one in the room when Grandpa left this world–another event that touched him very deeply.
He assumed responsibility at the farm, then became a hired hand for other farmers. He spent long hours working hard for low pay, so he turned to a developing industry in his area–coal mining. But he did not change before another important event took place that lasted almost sixty-eight years.
At a dance in 1917 this farm boy met a farm girl. A courtship resulted that lasted for fifteen months and ended in a country wedding near Lively Grove, Illinois, on 26, 1918, when Anna Lehr, also German, became – Paul Kloepper.
After farming briefly, the couple moved to Marissa, where they bought their first home and their three children were born–Raymond, 1920; Ilene, 1930; and Ann, 1932
In the mid-1800’s Germans, including my great-grandparents, emigrated from Germany and settled the Marissa area. My grandparents spoke German in their homes, as did my parents. I spoke German till age four, when the need for communicating with English-speaking playmates became a priority.
Dad registered for the World War I draft but was not called before the war ended on the year of their wedding. The recession that followed the war affected the mining jobs, so they farmed for four years. Since there was no Lutheran church in Marissa, the folks became involved in the Evangelical church. Dad served as the church treasurer. Active–yes, but the hunger in his soul continued.
The sovereign God weaves the threads of life so that we can make our choices to fit into His master plan. Two more events in 1928 added more weaving. Most men receive their call to the ministry after they are born again–not so with my father. He had been up all night with his sick mother, driven some distance, cared for the morning chores at the farm, and then lain down for some much-needed rest.
A vision came forcibly! A ladder stretched from earth to heaven with many people trying to climb it. Some made a few rounds then fell back down. Others climbed further but also failed to reach heaven. Some did reach the top, but found that right in front of heaven’s door, Satan stood still trying to win the victory over their lives. Then the Lord asked my father to help these people who were trying to make heaven their home. For about a year the vision could not be applied to Paul’s life.
The second event in Paul’s life that year was a visit to the Price healing campaign in Belleville. Mother was not well, so they went for prayer. She was not healed, but when Elder John O. Underwood, the local Pentecostal pastor, dismissed the service that night, his prayer touched my father so deeply that he said, “I must find that man’s church!”
The following year Dad’s Uncle Bill Rinkle visited, and the healing campaign and Brother Underwood were mentioned. Uncle Bill knew where the church was located and took my folks there. A little later Mother was healed at another Pentecostal revival in our home town, where her cousin, Dorothy Wiser, was the evangelist. Both Mom and Dad were baptized in Jesus’ name at Belleville and filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking with tongues.
During repentance Dad tried to break his habit of chewing tobacco. One morning he threw it away, but it hit a peach tree and fell to the ground. Satan said, “You know where it is when you need it.” Dad picked it up and threw it over the fence–never to touch tobacco again.
Mother received the Spirit first on a Thursday night. About 2:30 AM Friday she heard a noise and thought, An intruder is in the house. It was my dad, seeking the new experience. The following Sunday, the Lord told Dad to fast for the first time in his life and he would receive the Holy Ghost that night. Fast he did and the baptism came within a few minutes at the altar.
Dad became an avid Bible reader, beginning his ministry the next year. We had no air conditioning or electric fans, so during the heat he lay on the cooler linoleum floor with his Bible in his hands studying for hours. “Praise the Lord” or “Oh, thank you, Lord” punctuated his conversation wherever he was. His meditation, study, and prayer brought the anointing upon his ministry. His jovial smile, quick wit, stoicism, and punctuality enhanced his ministry. His earlier shyness became a “holy boldness” in the pulpit.
To many, 1929 means the economic crash and the beginning of the Great Depression. Although it affected my family economically, yet 1929 brings memories of a new birth, a new life, and a great spiritual awakening in our homes.
Parents do affect their children. At that time I was the only child, and I noticed that we went to church a lot more-twice on Sunday with cottage meetings through the week. Two neighboring farm families came to the Lord at the same time: the Bald family and the Stehl family, my Uncle Henry, Aunt Mary, and Cousin Irene. These spiritually hungry families met almost nightly for prayer after working hard, long days in the wheat harvest. Although they prayed until midnight, 4:00 AM found them up ready for another day.
The winds of Pentecost brought other changes. Dad didn’t chew tobacco anymore; there was no more social drinking, no more cursing, but much talk of “going to heaven.” About three weeks after my folks received their personal Pentecost, I came to Mother with tears streaming down my face and said, “I want to go to heaven, too!” In less than a month, as an eight-year-old boy I also received the Holy Ghost.
Elder J. O. Underwood of Belleville, Illinois, was our first pastor. Many ministers came from this assembly: M. J. Wolff, Jim Gardner, Paul Froese, Carl Froese, Carl Harris, Lester Harris, my father, and others. A second generation of ministers has come from this Belleville group. Our next home church was Marissa, pastored by Frank Barton, Lloyd Calvert, and J. O. McCoin. My sisters, Ilene and Ann, born a few years later, were touched by parental influence and received their Pentecost while still quite young.
Although Dad did not get to develop his keen mind further in a higher institution of learning, he and Mother sacrificed to educate their children. Ilene, Ann, and I all graduated with teaching degrees from Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, for which we are grateful to our parents.
In the early 1930s Dad ministered in various churches with his first regular ministry in his home town of Baldwin in 1932-33. He preached revivals in Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana. He pastored at McKinley Station, Illinois, from 1935 to 1938 a rural church near Coulterville.
Mom supported his ministry by ministering to the sick and needy. Every visitor to our home left with a gift–a loaf of bread, a jar of chili sauce, a coffee cake, or a slip from a plant produced by her green thumb. She taught Sunday school and worked with the ladies of the various churches, never complaining of the changes in pastorates.
After ministering at Glendale from 1941 to 1942, the folks moved to Murphysboro. Later they pastored at Logan Hollow near Cora from 1944 to 1953. Here a young Bible school graduate, Calvin Rigdon, preached one of his earlier revivals and became a lifelong family friend. Here Sisters Charlotte and Nilah also came for special meetings.
Another ten-year pastorale followed at Grayville from 1954 to 1964. Then Dad thought he would retire, and they moved back to Marissa to the house where their children were born.
Sparta was only ten miles away, and the next year the church there needed a pastor. At almost sixty-nine, Dad didn’t give it much thought at first, then the Lord spoke to him, “What are you going to do about Sparta? You are called to go to Sparta.” Here Sister Betty Kloepper and I did some of our home missions work for the three years Dad was there.
Dad’s ministry did not stop with a second retirement. They sold their home in Marissa and moved to Grayville, where he served as interim pastor, preached special meetings, taught the Bible class very capably, and conducted funerals.
Finally, at eighty-five Dad chose not to renew his driver’s license, which immobilized him in the next few years. The Kloepper family grew from two to twenty-four including six grandchildren–Raymond II, Claudette, Steven, Janet, Sherrie, and Scott–and five great-grandchildren. In his ninetieth year Paul Kloepper had lived to be the oldest of approximately four hundred ministers of the IllinoisDistrict of the United Pentecostal Church International. He cherished so much the plaque that is given to U.P.C.I. ministers with fifty years or more of service.
A complication of illnesses required his residence in the Skilled Care Unit of Carmi Township Hospital for the last nine months of his life. Mother was his roommate, and their friends and relatives could visit with them. The final goodbye was March 25, 1986.
The testimonies at the memorial service serve to reveal Dad’s personality. When Kenneth Reeves was seventeen, he held his third revival for my father and stayed.in my parents’ home. While there Brother Reeves became very ill with the flu. “They cared for me as if I were their own,” he recalled. Through the years Brother Reeves has told me of Dad’s counsel during that visit. He advised, “Don’t get too self-righteous and be too hard on the people when they make mistakes. People need mercy. The harder you are on people, you’ll find that you will face the same test yourself, and you might fail also. People who fail need a friend. Have a forgiving spirit and try to help those who have failed. Don’t be too harsh.” Brother Reeves feels that his book Justice with Mercy had some of its roots in that early counsel with my dear dad.
By her own request Dad’s granddaughter Claudette gave a beautiful tribute. The heritage of truth that has now passed through four generations meant more to her than any other inheritance. C. L. McKinnies represented the Illinois District to honor the oldest of its ministers. Edward Lucas brought comfort from his text in Job.
Dad’s ministry has not ceased. It is being carried on by four ministers in the family: a son, R. P. Kloepper; a grandson, Scott Graham; two grandsons-in-law, Marvin Walker and Eddie Cupples. Another grandson, Dr. R. P. Kloepper II, a deacon and active layman, also carries the message inherited from his grandfather. That Good Friday afternoon, with the sun shining across the sloping hillside, was not an end but merely the changing of the guard.
THE ABOVE MATERIAL WAS COMPILED BY MARY H. WALLACE, AND PUBLISHED BY WORD AFLAME PRESS, 1992, PAGES 133-140. THIS MATERIAL IS COPYRIGHTED AND MAY BE USED FOR STUDY & RESEARCH PURPOSES ONLY.