Bishop Spencer, The Reverend Clifford Samuelson, Roy Dietrich, Dean Claude W. Sprouse, Wilbur Cochel, and Louie Brown (herdsman) at Roanridge Farm, Parkville, MO, 1953.
Farm owner and donor Wilbur Cochel demonstrates to students how the hay baler operates, 1953.
Reverend S. Norman McCain, Roanridge area pastor, leads N.T.C.C.I. students through the game of “The Happy Farmer” which they will later use in Bible school recreation periods.
Deputy Wilbur Cochel of West Missouri was excited in 1940 by the General Convention's support of Rural Work. As a result, he issued an invitation to all 500 deputies and Bishops in attendance at the Convention to visit his 320 acre demonstration farm outside of Kansas City. The response was disappointing, but to the surprise of the National Council, he challenged the Church by offering his entire farm to develop a training center for seminarians interested in rural ministry. This was the beginning of the Roanridge Training and Conference Center.
Nearly half of the population of the US lived in rural areas in 1940. In 1900, farm families lived in isolated homesteads averaging less than 1/4 square mile. By 1964 farm size averaged 352 acres. These were years of great transition when young people were beginning to move to the cities, farming was becoming mechanized, and automobile travel moved farms from isolation. Rural areas needed clergy, but most Episcopal clergy had little experience of that lifestyle and the rural populace was historically individualistic and anti-urban in bias. It was out of this need to train clergy that Roanridge evolved.
Over the next several years after Cochel's gift, the National Council developed the structure and funding needed to support this work. In the meantime, a rural summer training program for seminarians began in 1943 on the campus of nearby Park College in Parkville, Missouri and in Valle Cruces, North Carolina. Activity gradually shifted to the farm and the first resident director, Fr. Norman Foote, was employed in 1950. While the Center began as a summer program, it quickly began operating year-round, offering conferences and short courses for clergy and laity. Nevertheless, its most active offering continued to be the Summer Parish Training Program.
In the early years the program was focused on the Center: students lived on the Roanridge farm, worked on the farm, and served several rural congregations in the area. Eventually all training was conducted in the field at selected parishes and missions under trained supervision. Seminarians came to the Center for a two-week orientation before being sent out to parishes and missions. After eight to ten weeks in field assignments, they returned to Roanridge for a week of evaluation and reflection. The summer program proved such a success that the Division of Town and Country began offering it at five regional institutes (the Southern, Western, North Central, Midwest, New England, and Middle Atlantic Institutes).
Farm operations at Roanridge continued to be the separate responsibility of Mr. Cochel until his death in 1955. Initially, the farm served as a model of methods of soil and water management for students from the University of Missouri. A "homestead" farm on the property offered an example of how clergy could most effectively use a small plot of land. However, with the National Town and Country Institute's program shifting away from agricultural training, the Roanridge Trustees began leasing the farm operation in 1959. The Parish Training Program ceased at Roanridge in 1968 as seminaries adopted this kind of training as part of their regular curriculum.
The Center's final director, Fr. Boone Porter, Jr., served from 1971 until the closing of the center in 1977. One of Porter's key interests in the area of town and country ministry was non-stipendiary, or self-supporting, ministry. It was largely through his efforts that the General Convention of 1970 changed the Church Canons to facilitate the selection and training of self-supporting clergy. In 1971, the first conference for persons engaged in directing training courses for non-stipendiary ministers met at Roanridge, forming the organization known as the "Non-Stipendiary and Operating Program" (Non-Stop).
Other noteworthy activities taking place at Roanridge over the years included the summer Vacation Church School Program for local area children, Church Army training sessions, National Episcopal Town and Country Conferences, Indian Work consultations and meetings of the Rural Workers Fellowship and National Advisory Committee on Town and Country. An early philanthropic undertaking of the late 1940s and early 1950s was the Displaced Persons Program, through which Roanridge provided succor to European refugees. Roanridge also functioned as an information resource center for rural work in the Church. A short-lived project was Episcopal Motorama. A bus converted into a mobile chapel, Motorama operated out of Roanridge in 1960 until succumbing to irreparable mechanical problems in Ohio.
Throughout its history, funding and administration of the Center was the joint responsibility of the Trustees of the Roanridge Foundation and the National Council's Division of Town and Country. With the need for rural work waning and the financial status of the Roanridge Foundation deteriorating, the Foundation Board of Trustees voted to dissolve the Wilbur A. Cochel Trust at its meeting of August 12, 1976.
The Archives received Roanridge's records in October 1978 and the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest absorbed the Roanridge library into its collections that same year. Amounting to 9.6 cubic feet of material, it is a rich collection which, with very few exceptions, documents the entire ministry at Roanridge. Prominent in the records are directors' files, photographic materials and program materials relating to Roanridge's Parish Training Program.