By Ross Markman
As he stands in the sanctuary of the Fifth Avenue Christian Church in Havre, the piercing blue eyes of the minister peer out from behind a pair of bifocals. The minister in question, Jack Rampelberg, stops for a second to sit down and talks of how he'd like to be remembered.
"I've often thought of what I would want (written) on my tombstone. I think I would just like it to say, He served,'" Rampelberg said. "I would like people to recognize that I was serving Christ and that I made a difference in people's lives."
Apparently, he has.
At Tuesday night's Havre City Council meeting, Mayor Bob Rice proclaimed Sunday, Jan. 27, as Jack Rampelberg Day. As part of the honor, Rice will award Rampelberg with a key to the city today.
"I'm a little embarrassed with the attention," Rampelberg said. "As you go through life, you do what you feel can make a difference in the community. You don't expect any particular recognition for it. I'm very humbled by it."
Preaching for 45 years, Rampelberg officially retired in December.
Well, sort of.
He can still be found teaching adult Bible study classes on Wednesday nights and also fills in as preacher when needed.
But, it's teaching where Rampelberg's passion lies.
"Teaching was the main focus of my ministry. Even though I was preaching, it was in a teacher's mode," he said. "I love to see people's eyes light up when they get what I'm teaching. That's what gives me the strokes."
And Rampelberg, 79, reaches his students.
Cal Couch first met the minister in the 1960s, when, as a child, he attended the church's Bible camp.
"He was just a real mentor, somebody to look up to," Couch said. "As a preacher, he would always say he got paid for the administrative duties, but the preaching and teaching were done just because he was a Christian."
Rampelberg, however, wasn't always a Christian.
As a young man growing up in Iowa, he finished high school as an admitted agnostic, a person who did not believe in God. He left for college on a football scholarship to Coe College in Iowa and graduated with a teaching degree. After graduation, Rampelberg joined the Army and fought in Germany, France, Belgium and the Netherlands during World War II.
"I always wanted to believe, but I couldn't get past the first verse of the Bible," he said. "I was always looking for facts."
Following the war, Rampelberg and his wife, Lois, ran a farm in Iowa. He went to night school to learn genetics and livestock management. It was during this time, as a 30-year-old farmer, that Rampelberg discovered the proof he'd been seeking.
"I was reading a book called Modern Science and the Genesis Record.' I was looking for evidence (that God existed). Basically, I wasn't believing in anything," he said.
Rampelberg came across a passage on the makeup of the water molecule and its ability to shift from a solid to a liquid to vapor.
"This made me believe there was some mind behind this," he said. "Then it dawned on me that it didn't matter what I believed. There was just more evidence for a creative source of life."
Rampelberg picked up a Bible.
He studied. He became more aware.
"I said, Hey, if this is all true, the Bible must be God's word,'" he said. "I decided from then on to follow it."
But following the Bible wasn't enough for Rampelberg. He wanted to teach it.
"I wanted to let everybody else out of the house that was on fire," he said. "And, I still have that fire burning in my innards."
In 1958, a 35-year-old Rampelberg became a minister. Four years later, he brought his love of God and teaching with him to Havre's Sixth Avenue Christian Church.
Rampelberg immersed himself in the community. He joined the board of Northern Montana Hospital, where he was instrumental in securing $600,000 in funding for the construction of a new hospital. He served on the board of the Havre Area Chamber of Commerce and the local school board.
Throughout the years, Rampelberg found himself moving several times between Havre and different cities in Illinois the first time to complete his master's degree in ministry studies. In 1970, he returned to Havre, only to move back to Illinois five years later to care for his ailing parents. While in Illinois, Rampelberg's wife, Lois, developed cancer and died in 1983.
In 1986, Rampelberg married Shirley and served as minister to a senior citizens-only congregation, an experience he said was the most enjoyable of his ministerial career.
Five years later, in 1991, Rampelberg came back to Havre.
"I think I came back because of the people. This is a special community. I always wanted to come back," he said. "Ever since I came here in 1962, I appreciated the openness of the people. They smile as you go by."
Perhaps his greatest accomplishment, and the one Rampelberg takes most pride in, was last March's opening of a new Sixth Avenue Christian Church on Fifth Avenue, which aptly changed its name to the Fifth Avenue Christian Church.
"We had a great creative team selecting that name," Rampelberg said, laughing. "Moving the church to this particular spot has been a dream of mine for about 20 years."
His dream now a reality, Rampelberg has seen his congregation almost double to about 450 people since the move.
"It's overwhelming to see," he said. "Our congregation used to have about 80 to 90 regular givers to the church when we started this project. That number has doubled, too."
Rampelberg attributes the additional contributors to the new church's larger sanctuary.
Couch, his faithful congregant, said it's also due to the work ethic and positive example set by Rampelberg.
"He's strong and shows the way as far as not deviating from it. He provides evidence that Christianity is the way of life," Couch said. "Everyone that knows him has a tremendous amount of respect for him. He's earned his way into our lives."