Molly Hammer Antion remembers Ambassador
The writer, the former Molly Hammer, is the sister of Buck Hammer, who donated the land that eventually became the core of the campus of Ambassador University in Texas. Mrs. Hammer is a member of an independent congregation in Pasadena that her husband pastors and that is associated with the Church of God International. THE JOURNAL thanks Harry Curley for his assistance with this article.
By Molly Antion
PASADENA, Calif.-We are sad that Ambassador College in Big Sandy is closing. As a family we have so many memories.
Much of the property there originally belonged to our family-primarily my brother Buck. My husband, David, and I were married there. My youngest brother and my father both died in the home you see on the right as you enter the grounds. There is a long and wonderful history with our family and the church and college.
My father first heard Mr. Herbert Armstrong in about 1947. He listened to him for a couple or three months, and one day he walked in and said to my mother: "Pearl, I'm going to California. Do you want to go with me?"
She was in the car almost before he was. They came out here to check out this man Herbert W. Armstrong.
That was in late part of November or early December. When my father returned from the the trip, he was certain that he had found "the truth," and that was the beginning of a total change in the lives of the Hammer family.
In our family of eight children Christmas was a big thing every year, and my dad was a big part of Christmas. He always bought the biggest tree he could find. He set it up; he would do the decorating.
Mother and Daddy had just returned from California. It was late December, and we were getting ready to set up the tree. My father just sat and watched us decorating the tree. As we finished he cleared his throat and said: "I have something I have to tell you all. We're not going to keep Christmas anymore. This is the last year it'll be kept in our house."
You can imagine what a disappointment that was to a 9-year-old girl and a family of eight that had always made Christmas the biggest part of their year.
But Daddy was true to his word. That was the last year we ever kept Christmas at our house.
The next year, I think this was 1948, Daddy, Mother and my brother Buck and his wife all went up to Oregon and attended the Feast there, at Belknap Springs. They came back to Texas filled with excitement and commitment.
At this time my parents owned a sd in hisopinion there is little similarity between the two statements of belief.
The conference in Cincinnati spelled out a process throughwhich the general membership and the ministry could submit papers and questionson doctrinal matters to one of the doctrinal subcommittees for further researchand arbitration. Mr. Solyma, among the 97 percent who voted for this structure,says he did so because of the existence of this input-and-review mechanism.
In August 1995 he made a submission that received no reply.At the time this did not trouble him because the committees had not beenformed and everyone was overwhelmed by work.
In August 1996 Mr. Solyma was invited to join the Natureof God Subcommittee, an invitation he accepted at once. The modus operandiof the subcommittees is for members to submit papers that are circulatedto the other members for analysis and comment.
He says he has submitted papers, including one called "Co-Equalityin the Godhead" and another on Philippians 2:16 and John 1:18. He hasreceived no cogent replies, he says, to the questions he posed, and no counterargumentshave been offered.
He asked twice if there were any papers to be sent to himand was advised that there were none. The only evidence he has seen of submissionsis Gary Fakhoury's paper that appeared as a three-part series some timeago in the Indiana-based Church of God newspaper In Transition (whichceased regular publication with its January issue).
Mr. Solyma says he has despaired of the doctrinal-reviewcommittee. He says he suspects that it has decided simply to ignore all submissions on the topic of the nature of God. How can one be . . . We danced there and had a great time. This, our family business, was in Big Sandy, 10 miles west of Gladewater, and it was a wonderful place for a large family.
Another big change was about to take place in our lives. We had to sell that business, because our busiest times were Friday night and Saturday night. Because of the Sabbath it was no longer feasible for us to keep the business, so my dad, Roy Hammer, sold the whole thing.
We also had a beautiful two-story home with 90 acres of property in White Oak, which is east of Gladewater along Highway 80. We had a large orchard, 300 florist-quality rose bushes, two fish ponds, a big red barn where Daddy kept two cows and chickens, a wonderful garden. My mother even had a florist shop.
To the rescue
But in late 1949 (as I recall) Mr. Armstrong sent out an SOS because "the work" was in financial trouble and about to lose the new property the work had bought along South Orange Grove Boulevard in Pasadena.
Four men came to rescue: Bill Homberger, Ray Jantzen from Kansas and another man from Kansas (I don't remember his name) and my dad. Daddy sold our beautiful home, florist shop, orchards and all. With the exception of $4,000 to put down on a little house in Gladewater, he sent it all to Pasadena.
Most of us in our family cried our eyes out, but we didn't question Daddy's decision.
By 1950 or 1951 people began coming to our little home every Sabbath, from South Texas, West Texas, Kansas, from all over. We never knew who would arrive that day, but we knew we would have a houseful every Sabbath.
Also that year we started having the Passover. My mother and my dad prepared everything, and Pasadena sent out a letter inviting anyone on the mailing list in our area, and we ended up with a group. I can't remember the number, but it was more than a houseful of people there for the Passover.
My mother prepared the Night to Be Observed dinner for everyone, and there were so many people that Mother enlisted all of our neighbors. She had baked potatoes in some ovens and turkey and chicken in other people's ovens. It was really a community affair.
The next year we had totally outgrown our house, and we started having Passover in other locations.
That was the beginning of the feast days in the GladewaterBig Sandy area.
Visit from the Armstrongs
Somewhere around 1950 or 1951 Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong came to our home in Gladewater. They stayed in our house, as tiny as it was, and during their visit my brother Buck mentioned that he had some property between Big Sandy and Gladewater that he would donate to the church if Mr. Armstrong wanted to build a church there.
So, with Dad and Buck and the Armstrongs, we all went out and showed Mr. Armstrong the property. He got very excited about it, and he said, "Oh, yeah, this'll be a great piece of property," and a plan was conceived for the church. At that time there was no thought of a college.
Buck donated the original property that includes the original tabernacle building, now the Roy Hammer Library or the Redwood Building. That building started off in bits and pieces. I can remember attending church there when there were no sides on the building. The air just blew through, and everybody came wrapped in blankets.
The property was wooded, with lots of pine trees and much undergrowth. There was no money for equipment to clear the property. There was no money to pay anyone. So my brother rounded up some local men; we depended a lot on the community to help us with a lot of things. There was a church member, Joe Williams, who with a couple of local men donated his time with my dad and Buck, and they started clearing that property.
It was a monumental job. If you know anything about Texas, the undergrowth of berry vines, thickets, nettles, trees-all had to be pulled out of there.
They worked and worked, usually from daylight to dark, and finally it was agreed that these men should be paid. But the problem was there was never any money to pay them with.
A local businessman, Red O'Brien, was kind enough to allow these men to charge their groceries, sometimes carrying them for months at a time until they could get enough money together to pay their grocery bill.
Many people in the Gladewater area really helped as the church was being formed, but they did not know what they were helping. In their eyes they were helping the Hammer family, not a church.
At one point my dad and Buck were asked to donate their back wages, which came to more than a year's worth of salary, and they did. We just all pitched in and helped.
By 1953 Big Sandy had become the second headquarters of the church, with all of the Feast Days being kept there. Also, our entire family (including in-laws and grandkids) was involved with the church.
My sister Shirley had met Ted Armstrong at the Feast in Siegler Springs in 1952. They were married in 1953.
My sister Norma, who had an outstanding job at Sears in Houston, had been asked by Mr. Armstrong to come to California to head up the coworker department. She remained head of that department until she went to Texas to work in the Feast department in the mid-1960s.
My brother Tony and I both came to Ambassador College in 1956. Tony became a pastor-rank minister and served in Australia, San Antonio, San Francisco and Nashville.
My brother Bob remained in Texas and worked on the campus. He laid the stone for the beautiful streams and many other landscaping jobs.
My sister Jackie is married to Guy Carnes. They remained on the Big Sandy campus, where Guy was superintendent of Imperial School.
I married David Antion, and we served in the field for 10 years before being transferred back to Pasadena, where David assumed many jobs, from Mr. Ted Armstrong's assistant, deputy chancellor of the college, head of pastoral administration and many other duties.
Moving to Pasadena
There were many good years with fabulous memories, and we just hate to see those memories coming to a halt!
I had come out here to Pasadena in the mid-1950s. My sister Norma was living in Pasadena, and she was single, and in late 1955, at the Feast of Tabernacles, my sister Shirley and Ted arrived and they said, "Why don't you go back to California with us?"
I was still in high school, and I said, "Yeah, sure."
But, as a girl of 16 all of a sudden I decided, within about two days, that I would like to do that. So I came out, and I finished my senior year at Imperial School.
Imperial didn't have seniors at that time, only students up to freshmen or sophomores. So I took college classes, which they gave me credit for. I finished that year, then officially entered Ambassador the next year, in 1956.
My brother Tony also came out in 1956 and began college. So about half of our family then lived in California, the other half in Texas.
My husband, David, came to Pasadena the same year I did, 1956. He had had a year of college, so we finished in three years and married and went to the field, as we called it. We were married in Texas during a baptizing tour David conducted. We were married on what is now the campus down by the stream. His family came from Pennsylvania for the wedding.
Then we were sent to Oregon, where we were for nine months, working with Raymond Cole. From there we went to Oklahoma City for five years and then to Akron, Ohio, for five years. During the early part of the history of the campus in Big Sandy, we were in the field.
David was ordained an evangelist while we were in Akron, still in the field. It was very unusual for the church to ordain a field man to that rank. David was district superintendent of the Akron area, and we had the fastest-growing district in the United States at the time. That must have been 1963 or 1964.
Then David was transferred back in to Pasadena and became Mr. Ted Armstrong's executive assistant for a short while, and from there he assumed many other duties, head of the press, deputy chancellor of the college, head of pastoral administration, then he was over college relations and had many different responsibilities.
Out of the blue
We spent the remainder of the '60s and most of the '70s here, and then came the tumultuous time in the church in the late 1970s.
By January 1979 there were various factions in the church and college, and people was vying for power. We were aware that there were many problems in the church, but our support was still absolutely with the Worldwide Church of God.
One Sabbath morning there were quite a few people here from the field. The district superintendents were here, and we had gone out to breakfast with a number of them.
We came back to campus to go to church but we couldn't find a seat in the auditorium. Everything was really packed that day.
We had the services piped into our home. We could sit here and hear it just like we were in church, so we came back home and we were sitting here in our family room listening to the services.
At the end of the church service they disfellowshipped Wayne Cole, Ben Chapman, Robert Kuhn and David Antion. I'm still not sure how or why that could have happened. We were never spoken to personally and were never allowed to ask why.
We were devastated. We had no idea. It was just like a bomb had been dropped on us. Everything I had ever known since I was 9 years old had been Worldwide Church of God. It had always been what my family did. Our entire family was always involved; it was everything David and I had ever done. Our son had been reared in the church, gone to Imperial School. Our whole life was the church. We were so totally devastated.
All of our friends were forbidden to talk to us. We never got to understand what or how they thought or felt or let them understand how we felt. We were caught in the eye of a tornado. To say we were devastated in an understatement. But that was the way it was! Every friend we had was in the church; our job was here. But we found out that David no longer had a job. There was no severance pay. We didn't get paid for our vacation time that we had accrued. We did not receive our last paycheck.
We had bought our house two years earlier, and all of a sudden with no income we thought we were going to lose our house. We were at a desperate point in life.
We were desperate not only financially but emotionally and hit terribly by the loss of everything that we considered near and dear in our hearts.
My husband went back to school, eventually getting his Ph.D. He's a marriage and family and child therapist and a clinical psychologist. He's director of Affiliated Counselors. He has offices in Downey and Pasadena. He considers his job as another form of the ministry. He loves it because what he does is help people. That's what he's all about.
We feared that we might lose the home we had purchased two years before we were kicked out, since we had no income. But after about three months David was hired by St. John's Hospital. Later I got a job, and David began working on his doctorate. He has now been in private practice for 18 years.
In a way his practice is an extension of the ministry and he loves it. He can now use the knowledge he acquired to help so many people with personal and family problems.
Our son went to UCLA and Berkeley and is a corporate lawyer with a large Los Angeles firm. We have two granddaughters, ages 3 years and 1 year. We lead a happy, busy and full life.
David has just finished a 20-hour course on video for the International Bible Learning Center called Marriage and the Family.
It is a course about human relationships, whether mate, children, parents or coworkers.
I have often been asked if I feel angry or bitter over the past. I do not. My years connected with the WCG were great learning experiences.
Do I regret that most of the Hammer family's inheritance went to the church instead of to us?
No. And I don't think any other members of my family do either. Money is not the important thing.
I can honestly say I've never heard my mother complain once about it. She loves the church. She was absolutely devoted. She was never paid for all of the donated time she gave.
And our family's been very, very blessed. We're all doing well today.
A few regrets
However, there are some things I regret. I feel my father (and many others) died needlessly. He was only 64 years old. The church doctrine at that time did not allow us to go to doctors, and we never knew what my father died of.
My sister was never allowed to remarry, though she was married only a short time and divorced before coming into the church. The doctrine on D&R (divorce and remarriage) made her a widow in her 20s, along with many others, and it made many children orphans.
The misuse of excommunication separated so many of us from family and friends and precious fellowship. We can never retrieve those many years of lost contact and fellowship.
These are the things I regret. These are what I can never regain. Although we mourn the loss of memories of family fellowship and good times on the property of Ambassador University, we are happy that God is greater than even all our memories, hurts and histories.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God