Historic Yacolt Community Church remains a town beacon

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The Historic Yacolt Community Church has been a mainstay for the town since it was built in 1903. 

Caretaker Julia Heldman has worked to preserve the church since 2005.  

Heldman and her husband, Jerry, were asked for their help to keep the doors of the church open by Pastor Hannes Wirkkala. 

“I’d say what I’ve done for the church was to fulfill a promise to Pastor Wirkkala, who served there for 30 years,” Heldman said. “My husband became very ill and it was a while, and he was unable to help, although he still came.”

When Heldman attended a Meals on Wheels meeting in Battle Ground, she met a building inspector and construction crew who flipped houses. The crew helped Heldman and Georgene Neal, the church’s secretary, make necessary repairs to the building. 

“The building inspector told us all the things that needed to be done, and it caught me by surprise because when Pastor Wirkkala was no longer there but we were keeping the doors open, we had a lot of electrical work done, we had plumbing done, and we thought everything was good,” she said. 

The church’s bell rested on rotting wood, so Heldman said the bell tower needed to be replaced. Heldman found a carpenter from Northern California who made outdoor pavilions to help with the project. The carpenter was able to replace it with a 16-foot beam for $1,200, while other construction crews quoted Heldman $6,000. 

“He totally restructured the inside of the bell tower and made it completely safe, then he gave me two pieces of (rotten) wood that held it up,” she said. 

Besides the bell tower, the roof, some of the paint, and other structures had to be replaced, which Heldman said she paid for independently. 

“It was shabby inside, so we took out every single drawer in the kitchen, and everything was completely painted over except some backrooms,” she said. 



Heldman said two of the bathrooms had to be replaced because of wood that had rotted. The church now features two bathrooms in the front of the building and one by the kitchen. They have also made updates to the church’s septic system.

“Now people say (the church) is cozy and nice,” Heldman said.

Heldman said Open House Ministries in Vancouver and Habitat for Humanity helped provide carpets, mirrors, lamps, and other decorative items as well. She finds the church historically significant specifically due to its age.

“(Neal’s) great-grandmother kept the church open during the (Great) Depression,” she said. “What makes it historically significant is it’s never, ever been anything except a place of prayer and worship. It’s never changed its purpose and it’s old. It’s lasted.”

Although they don’t hold church services there anymore, Heldman said they host weddings upon request. They also recently had a birthday party for an 11-year-old girl.  

“The church’s purposes are anything to do with worshiping Jesus, honoring God, and anything like that. But we’re not an organized group. Legally, everything is entirely ship-shape as far as that,” Heldman explained.

The Historic Yacolt Community Church is located at 203 S. Ranck Ave., Yacolt.



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