When Worldwide Church of God invaded North Lake Tahoe!: A boon to local business, this church gathering had some skeletons in its closet (Moonshineink)
In the fall of 1961 the Radio Church of God held its first Feast of Tabernacles at the Blythe Arena in Squaw Valley (home of the Winter Olympics skating events just a year earlier.)
The week long gathering brought up to 10,000 church members to Squaw Valley every fall, until the Blythe Arena collapsed in the early 1980s. While North Tahoe folks saw the annual visits of the Radio Church of God (later changed to the Worldwide Church of God) as a much needed boom to the slow fall economy, it turns out the church was an unorthodox and controversial organization, with many ex-members referring to it as a cult.
Rod Stollery, who in 1961 helped his parents put out the then fledgingremembers the church’s first visit to the area. “The merchants weren’t expecting much business from them,” said Stollery. When the owners of the Alpine Liquor and Sporting Goods left town for what they thought would be a slow week, Stollery took over the shop. “We were quickly inundated by church members who were fond of liquor. We sold out in two days and had to have a truckload sent up from the valley … needless to say, the event was an economical godsend to the area.”
The event would be front page news in theevery year, and a full page spread inside welcomed the church to town with a map showing church members Tahoe’s recreational opportunities. The paper was also full of ads from local businesses welcoming church members to Tahoe City’s finest dining and shopping establishments.
Cheryl Bechdolt Balbuena back then was a waitress in her family business, The Tahoe Inn (At the current location of Blue Agave). It was an inn, bar, and had two restaurants. “We were crazy slammed for ten days. The girl church members always wore modest dresses and no makeup, and the men wore sports jackets and ties. They were nice, but kept to themselves. And were really bad tippers, sometimes they didn’t tip at all.” In fact, the slogan around the restaurant was “Oh, no, The Godders are coming. We are going to work and not get paid,” said Balbuena. (“The Godders” was the universal locals’ term for the members of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God).The story ends with this:
While the goals of the Worldwide Church of God were certainly controversial, many long time Tahoe locals still fondly remember how the “Godders” helped North Tahoe businesses get through the deadly quiet days of fall.Read story here.