Out Of Tragedy, Many Find Christ At Happy Hill Church?

June 2022

On January 22, 1972, not long past midnight, on Highway 75 near Bartlesville, Oklahoma, there were blinding headlights, the screech of tires braking, screams, and the explosion of two cars hitting head on. Then there were five dead teenagers.

The day before, Friday, had started out as an ordinary day in the life of Pastor Charles Richey. This faithful pastor and his dear wife did not know that great tragedy was about to strike his church family and his own family.

On that Friday, Pastor Richey and one of his men, Brother Willard Fugate, organized a church trip to take a group of youth and adult sponsors from the Ramona/Bartlesville area to a youth rally in Arkansas City, Kansas. The caravan of three cars arrived safely at the church that night, and it was a great youth rally. Everyone enjoyed the church service and the fellowship afterward. When they got through fellowshipping and eating, they loaded up and headed home.

When the caravan got near Copan, Oklahoma, great tragedy struck. It was about 1 a.m. on Saturday morning when a car traveling north on Highway 75 crossed the center line and came straight for the church caravan. The driver of the first car saw the danger and dodged the coming car. The driver of the second car did not see it in time and there was a head-on collision. The third car, driven by Pastor Richey, was not involved. Law enforcement people arrived. Ambulances arrived. Four teenagers in the second car were killed. My cousin Anna May Cox and Cecil Cummings survived but had to be hospitalized. Two of the teens killed were Dorothy and Nancy Gray, my cousins. Eighteen-year-old Randy Russell was killed. The pastor’s daughter, Diana Richey, was killed. The driver of the car that hit them was killed. What tragedy! And it happened on the way home from attending a youth rally.

The next day was Sunday, January 23. Pastor Richey and the church elders agreed to cancel church services. It was a very sad and difficult weekend. Funeral services had to be scheduled. Burial plots had to be found. An auditorium for the service had to be secured. Pastor Richey and his wife had to make proper funeral arrangements for their daughter Diana. My dear uncle and aunt, Lawrence and Evelyn Gray, had to make burial arrangements for their two daughters, Dorothy and Nancy. The Russell family had to do the same.

On Tuesday, January 25, several hundred people gathered for the funeral service at the high school in Ramona, Oklahoma, to help comfort the families that lost their teenagers in death. Four hearses drove up, and soon the service got underway. It was the saddest funeral that my wife Donna and I ever attended. The ministers involved read Scriptures, spoke sincere words of hope, and prayed strong prayers of comfort. But we all left that high school auditorium quite broken praying and asking, “Why, God, did this happen?”

We don’t like to emphasize it in our pulpits, but suffering is very much part of our journey of faith. Suffering comes to many believers. Concerning Paul, Acts 9:16 reads, “For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Paul writes in Romans 8:18, “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.”

In Philippians 3:10, Paul emphasizes that we must suffer to be made “conformable unto his death.”

Hebrews 2:10 says we are made “perfect through sufferings.”
And in I Peter 4:13, the Apostle Peter writes “But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.”

Christians are not exempt from great sufferings. Yes, tragedy, great sufferings, death of loved ones, and major illnesses happens to faithful believers.

Hebrews 2:8 reminds us that Jesus suffered much for our sins on the cross.

In Hebrews 11:1-35, we read of the incredible victories of the saints of the Old Testament, but in Hebrews 11:36-37, we also read, “And others had trial of cruel mockings and scourgings, yea, moreover of bonds and imprisonment; they were stoned, they were sawn asunder, were tempted, were slain with the sword … afflicted and tormented.” Suffering is part of the journey of faith. Think about the life of Moses, the life of Joseph, the life of Paul, and of course, the life of Jesus Christ.

The Happy Hill Pentecostal (Trinitarian) Church is located in the country east of Highway 75 between Bartlesville and Ramona, Oklahoma. One can trace the history of this church back to the great revival at Topeka, Kansas, with Rev. Charles Parham, Rev. Agnes Ozman, Rev. Earnest Buckles, and others. Brother John Street donated the land, originally, to put the church on the hill. Many of my uncles, aunts, and cousins attended this church. Some still do. My dad was delivered, saved, and called to preach in this church in 1933-34. Mom testified that she was “sanctified” at Happy Hill. During a revival with Evangelist Del Jacques, I was gloriously saved at the age of 12 and called to preach in this little country church in July of 1955. I have siblings who were saved at Happy Hill (HH). Many of my cousins were saved in this small country church.

After that terrible weekend in January 1972, many good things happened at the Happy Hill Church, many teens were saved, there was numerical growth, more land purchased, and new buildings built.

Pastor Richey and other church leaders felt, acutely, the absence of the four teens who died in that two-car collision. One was his own daughter. The pastor, his wife, and that entire little congregation all grieved, and strongly so.

During the early days after the funeral of those four teens, one of the adult youth sponsors and lay leaders of the church, Brother Willard Fugate, felt strongly prompted by the Spirit and led to encourage the pastor to begin revival services at the HH Church. He noticed that new teenagers from the high school in Ramona had started showing up to attend church. Willard said to Pastor Richey, “If you will do the preaching, I will take care of the preliminaries (worship time).” Pastor Richey agreed, and the revival was launched. In great brokenness, but strengthened and led by the Holy Spirit, the revival at HH began.

As the revival was going on, some of the teens requested permission from the Ramona High School leadership to start a prayer “Jericho March” around the high school. They got permission, and they did it, day after day. Each day the prayer walk—the Jericho March—got bigger and bigger. The attendance at the revival meeting grew considerably. Scores of teenagers showed up and gave their lives to Christ. As the revival services continued, many teenagers were saved, and some were called to preach. Many people living on farms and in surrounding villages and cities felt the impact of the revival. Not only did scores of young people start attending this revival, but many of the parents started attending, and some of them got saved and became faithful members of the church.

Later, during the leadership of Pastor Ronny Reed, the spirit of revival continued, and increased attendance required new facilities to be built. Within a short period of time, the little country church of forty or fifty members had grown to approximately one hundred and fifty in attendance. Later, during the ministry of Pastor Robert Boyles, the growth of HH continued in a spirit of revival, and a new sanctuary had to be built to accommodate the crowds. It seats more than six hundred people. HH had now become a congregation of hundreds. Yes, God allowed five beautiful teenagers to die an untimely death, but from that scores, maybe hundreds, found Christ as their Savior, to the glory of God. And it brought an incredible revival to that part of Washington County in Oklahoma.

An interesting side note is that after fifty years, Pastor Charles Richey, who lost a daughter in that terrible car wreck, is back on staff at the HH Church assisting Pastor Jack Richey—his son. Pastor Jack was three years old when his sister died in that car wreck on January 22, 1972.

Oftentimes, Christians are required to sow many tears due to the painful circumstances of life. But we must never forget, Psalms 30:5 which says, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”

As God manifested great spiritual and numerical blessings to the Happy Hill Church congregation from that terrible car wreck, so our God can turn your situation around and give you great victory in 2022. In 1972 at the Happy Hill Church, God turned tragedy into triumph—many souls were saved, and the church grew in an awesome way.


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