Pentecostal Pioneers: Urban T. Vanderhoff

Pentecostal Pioneers: Urban T. Vanderhoff
By Doris Cooke Vanderhoff

As he watched people praying at the altar on his first visit to a Pentecostal church, Urban Vanderhoff found the answer to a question he had asked since childhood. As a child he had heard about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who talked to God. When he asked, “Why don’t people talk to God now?” he was told, “People don’t talk to God like that anymore.” Now he knew differently; these people really talked to God.

Ait Vanderhoff was born in Holland and then lived in Germany before coming to America. Anna Goldenstein and her family came to America from Germany. Apparently they met in America. After they married, they bought a farm in northwest Iowa. Ait and Anna had eight children, five boys and three girls. Urban Theron Vanderhoff, born April 25, 1906, was the fifth child.

When he was a child his family attended the German Lutheran church, but as he grew older they no longer attended. The farm boy worked hard. By age nine he drove a team of horses on a hay stacker and at twelve he took a man’s place on the buck rake, bucking hay. Never one to shun work, he climbed ladders and painted houses when he was in his seventies and planted a garden until he was eighty.

In 1924 at eighteen he attended a tent meeting in the small town of Greenville, Iowa. Joe Barnett was conducting services there along with Brother Alison from Des Moines. Here Urban repented of his sins. Brother Anderson, another worker with Brother Barnett, baptized him a week later, and shortly afterwards God filled him with the Holy Ghost in a prayer meeting in his home.

People soon noticed a difference in Urban’s life. When he refused a cigarette his brother-in-law said, “I guess you are going to quit smoking and act like those people now.” After he received the Holy Ghost, a friend inquired, “Where have you been? I haven’t seen you at the dances or anywhere else?” After talking a while this friend suddenly asked, “Say, how did you quit swearing?” Urban recalled, “I honestly didn’t know that I swore so much, but my friend immediately detected the change in me.”

Earlier his older brother George had married and moved to a farm near Rossie, Iowa. He attended a tent meeting also held by Brother Barnett, and George had been in church for about two years. The family was upset that George put church first, which made him late for family affairs. By 1926 when the church in Spencer, Iowa, was built, George and Urban as well as their parents and the whole family except two married sisters were in the church.

While still on the farm, one of the younger brothers took a loaded manure spreader, pulled by four horses, out into the field. He crawled under the spreader to repair it and it fell on him. His brother ran to the house yelling, “Theron is dying!” Quickly they jumped into the car and drove across the field to help. The three brothers grabbed hold of the spreader and tried to lift it. It didn’t move. One brother said, “We can’t lift it; we’ll have to try something else.” Urban said, “Let’s try one more time.” As they took hold of the spreader, he prayed, “In the name of Jesus!” They lifted the spreader up with no effort at all. Theron crawled out from under it but was still unable to sit up. When the boys prayed again, Theron got up and walked away. Later the four boys tried to lift the spreader after they emptied it, but they could not budge it.

In 1927 while still attending the church in Spencer, Urban met a young visitor, Doris McKee, who became his wife on March 10, 1928. Their pastor, Oran White, was not yet ordained, so a Baptist minister performed the ceremony. In September 1928, George and Urban and their wives went to Pennsylvania to hold meetings near Erie. This began a life of nearly sixty years in the ministry.

Sister Ruth Kuttcump pastored a church in Rock Island, Illinois, that the two brothers attended briefly. In November 1928, they went to Whitehall, Illinois, and Brother Barnett helped them locate an upstairs hall where George and Urban held nightly meetings until March 1929.

For four months, with no rest nights, the people came in all kinds of weather. They chopped holes in the ice to baptize people in a nearby stream. Many received the Holy Ghost and God blessed with His presence and healing power. That spring Urban and Doris returned to Spencer, but George stayed on at Whitehall as pastor.

For two and a half years Urban and his wife made Spencer their home church under Pastor Cleve Curley. During this time they held services in various places including Terrell, Iowa, where Grace Cook and Florence Clooney were trying to establish a church. They also held services in the chapel of a funeral home in Worthington, Minnesota, briefly. Their first child, a son named Myrlin, was born in Spencer. In the fall of 1931 they returned to Davenport. While there they assisted Sister Ruth Kuttcump and held services in nearby towns.

During the Depression Urban picked corn for one and a half cents a bushel. At one place everyone had a small garden and they all brought turnips. They had fried turnips and boiled turnips, and Doris tried to
think of other ways to cook turnips. But they said they never really went hungry. God always provided. Sometimes it would just be biscuits and gravy or turnips, but they gave God thanks for it all.

The ministry was not too well organized. Licenses were not required or issued. If a man felt a call to preach, he preached whenever and wherever he could find a place and someone to listen. Bible schools were nonexistent. Young preachers learned to preach by working with other ministers, studying the Word, praying, and preaching. Often there was no warning or time to prepare a sermon ahead. During service, the pastor sometimes leaned over to a young minister and whispered, “You preach tonight.” No one taught them how to take notes and outline sermons. “Just open your mouth and let God fill it” was the usual exhortation.

Once when Myrlin was about two, he fell out the door of the car as his father parked on an unpaved street. A cinder punctured a blood vessel in his forehead. Urban picked him up and prayed as the blood spurted forth with each heartbeat. Instantly the bleeding stopped. Urban’s fatherin-law was astonished at how quickly the blood stopped.

The Vanderhoff’s daughter, Gwenelda, was born on July 18, 1937. She received the Holy Ghost at age nine.

In 1943 at a district conference in Vandalia, Illinois, Urban was ordained by the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated. That fall they located a building with a five room apartment upstairs in Moline, Illinois. It cost them 2,500 dollars with 25 dollars down and 25 dollars a month. The nation was now in the midst of World War II, and Urban worked at International Harvester. God blessed, and in November they held their first service and laid the foundation for the Moline church.

For about seven years they labored with about thirty five to forty in attendance. Myrlin enrolled in his first year at the Pentecostal Bible Institute of Tupelo, Mississippi.

In the fall of 1945 the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Jesus Christ merged to become the United Pentecostal Church. The Vanderhoffs were at the merger conference.

The church in Moline prospered, but they felt their work was over. After Urban announced his resignation, he visited one of the elderly sisters in the church. She seemed sad, so he asked, “What’s the trouble?” She didn’t want him to leave, so he tried to explain that another good pastor would come. She said, “No, Brother Vanderhoff, I pray the Lord will take me home before you go.” Urban preached that dear old sister’s funeral before he left Moline.

After he left, Brother Latta assumed the pastorale and later his son, Samuel Latta, pastored there. The beautiful building and large congregation in Moline, now pastored by Wayne Mitchell, has come a long way from its humble beginning forty years ago in a storefront building with living space above.

Urban quit his job at International Harvester, purchased a tent, and left Moline. They held meetings at Belvedere and Jacksonville, Illinois, and revivals in other Illinois towns. While in a revival at Hillview for Brother Mann, they prayed for a man in the church who was going blind. He could no longer read and he used a white cane. God instantly healed him, and that same night he read from a song book when God restored his sight.

While in Jacksonville, Urban was called to pastor for a few years in Palmyra, Illinois, a small farming town. Myrlin returned from Bible college, met and married a lovely Christian girl, Ruth Newman, and they evangelized.

The Vanderhoffs left Illinois to go to Antigo in northern Wisconsin. At this time their daughter, Gwenelda, had finished high school and left for the Pentecostal Bible Institute. While there she met and married another student, Allan Oggs, who was called to the ministry.

While at Antigo, Urban met a Church of God minister, Reverend Stiegle. Through visitation over about two years, Brother Steigle received the truth of baptism in Jesus’ name. He taught it to his
people and they accepted it; however, neither he nor his congregation had actually put into practice what they believed by being baptized. A February snowstorm caused icy roads during a district conference in Clintonville, Wisconsin. Brother Steigle later related that while en route to the conference, he lost control of his car and it headed for the river. When he saw where he was headed he thought, And I haven’t been baptized in Jesus’ name! He regained control of the car and went on to conference, where Urban baptized him and all the members of his church.

Brother Carl Thurston resigned as pastor of the church in Dowageic, Michigan, and the church contacted Urban. After seven years in Wisconsin, he accepted the Dowageic church. God blessed abundantly for twelve years in that work.

During that first year in Dowageic, he painted houses in Niles, Michigan, for Brother Gentry of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World. One day while painting in the gable end of the house, he put a ladder upon the porch roof to reach it. From that time on, until he awoke in the hospital a week later, he had no memory of what happened. He had climbed the ladder and was putting on the first brush of paint when the ladder slipped off the roof and he landed head first on the sidewalk. Brother Gentry said, “When I turned him over, there was no breath in him. I called on the Lord and when I said, ‘Jesus,’ he began to breathe.” When he got to the hospital, the doctors found that he had broken both wrists, one shoulder, and three ribs. One rib had punctured a lung, and he also had a brain concussion plus many cuts and bruises. He was hospitalized six weeks. He said, “Had Brother Gentry not called on the name of Jesus on my behalf, I would not be alive today.” Eventually he returned to pastoring and remained there over twelve years.

Doris had been in poor health for several years, and in 1974 she passed away. Shortly afterward, Urban resigned the church, and David Helmuth became the new pastor. Brother Vanderhoff decided to evangelize, and he preached in Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and Nebraska for about two years.

His travels took him into South Carolina, for revivals, and there he met a widow with two sons in the church in Conway. Her name was also Doris and she became his second wife. Since Urban had spent his life working in small churches, starting new works in towns without a Jesus Name church, home missions was his heart’s desire. One day the Vanderhoffs were visiting in Dillon, South Carolina and both of them felt led to start a work for His name here. They pastored for ten years until his health began to fail. He passed away September 11, 1988.