A HISTORY OF THE UPC IN
RAPID CITY, SOUTH DAKOTA, 1969-2011
by Jeff Jacobsen
The United Pentecostal Church is a small branch of the pentecostal
movement, separated by dogma and their "holiness standard."
Theologically they are Sebelians, which is the belief that there is no
Trinity, but instead God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are in fact all
one. This differentiates them from Trinitarians who believe that The
Father, Son and Holy Spirit are separate and distinct "persons" within
the Godhead. They also teach that salvation comes from accepting Jesus
Christ as our Savior, repenting of past sins, and being baptized in the
name of Jesus Christ. One's salvation is manifested when the Holy Spirit
enters the supplicant and he or she speaks in tongues, that being a
language they do not know nor understand, while under the influence of
the Holy Spirit.
Once a person is saved, they must live by the strict "holiness standard"
of the church. This includes many prohibitions to keep away from the
sinful world; no TV (though a few UPC's differ on this), no movies,
women cannot wear men's apparel (pants, man's shirt, etc.), men cannot
wear beards or long hair, etc. The list of holiness rules is long, and
often has peculiarities to the local or regional church.
United Pentecostal churches are vigorously evangelistic. They hold
revivals, they may have singing groups performing here and there, or
they may hand out religious tracts in a popular location. Their services
are designed to either bring about conversion or to strengthen the
resolve of the faithful.
There are approximately 4million United Pentecostal members worldwide.
Within the U.S. they are strongest in the south.
Historically the Pentecostal movement began, according to most
histories, in 1901 in Topeka, Kansas. The movement spread and split
from the Assemblies of God over doctrinal issues in 1916. The UPC was
corporately created in 1945.
The United Pentecostal Church in Rapid City, South Dakota, was founded
by Pastor J. H. Yohe from Bloomington, Illinois. In 1969 the Yohes,
Robbins, Lovins, LaRues, and other families moved to Rapid City. My
brother Ken joined in 1970, and I moved to Rapid City in 1973. I had
joined the UPC in Austin, Texas in 1971 after my brother suggested that
I visit a UPC there. I had a strong mystical experience that converted
me on my first visit, and I remained a member until 1978.
Under Yohe the church was active evangelizing. By the time Yohe left in
about 1979, the congregation had grown to perhaps 150 people, although
many hundreds more had come and gone. We would have outdoor events such
as singing and preaching in parks. We would have "revivals" where there
was a service every evening and we were expected to invite neighbors,
co-workers, and friends so they could be saved. Yohe would constantly
preach that we were supposed to bring as many people to the church as
possible, and the sermons often pressured us to do more than we had in
A "boys' home" designed for troubled youth was started in about 1972, in
two houses next to the church. Up to a dozen young men would stay there,
with one of the church women acting as cook and caretaker. A "girls'
home" was also started but it generally had fewer occupants. When Yohe
left he would move the boys' home to his new location in Louisiana.
There were many fundraising programs for building or evangelical plans.
The women's auxiliary made and sold peanut brittle. The young men in the
church would gather, cut, and deliver firewood. And of course, we were
required to give a "tithe" of 10% of our income, plus donations. Yohe
also would sometimes "borrow" from different members of the
congregation. Most members were poor, but there were some successful
businessmen as well.
In about 1975 the church bought a 7-acre lot at the top of a hill on
Maple Street in northern Rapid City. The old church building was moved
from 2nd street and Kansas City up to the new property onto a new
foundation. A pre-fab house was built next door for offices and for the
girls' home. I can't recall where the boys stayed at this location. Yohe
had purchased a 10-acre lot farther north on Haines Avenue, where he
built a pre-fab house. Church members would often visit there. Yohe also
had a property in Piedmont that he planned to build a summer cabin on,
but this was sold to a member when he began building spec. homes. I
recall Yohe preaching once that he would turn his home into a parsonage
(where the church would own it) but this was never done.
Beginning about 1976 Yohe began preaching and promoting the idea that we
needed a new church building to attract the more financially well-off.
He envisioned a large impressive building with a glass elevator in
front. Later elaborated sermons promoting this plan included his visions
of the wall of the new church covered with canes and crutches that were
no longer needed by the many people who had been healed by God in the
new building. The inference was that once the new building was
completed, miracles would become commonplace in the church. Construction
began in early 1978 at the highest corner of the property, but it was
not completed until Yohe had been long gone.
Also in September 1976 the church opened a private school for their
children. This was run by the Storms using the ACE system
developed by Baptists. Under O'Neil the
school was opened up for non-church members as well.
In about 1977 Ken started writing a treatise on the things he thought
were unbiblical within the UPC. At the time he was secretly writing
this, I was becoming disillusioned with the church myself. It was mostly
small things for me, like the pastor accusing me of doing something I
didn't do, and berating me for missing a service when I was in fact
trying to reach a group of people who I thought were in a "cultish"
group. Also, I felt spiritually drained from the church rather than
When I found out about Ken's project, I decided to stay in the church
until we handed out his treatise. Ken's goal was to stir up discussion
and hopefully steer the church into a more Biblical stance, as he saw
it. Mine was to find some place where I could be spiritually uplifted
from my depression.
I paid for about 15 copies of Ken's 68-page treatise, handed out a few,
and gave the rest for Ken to distribute. He had already given one to the
pastor. I left for Austin, Texas where I had been originally converted.
I was hoping that the church there could help me spiritually. It turned
out, however, that they were in the middle of a split as well, so I left
after a few weeks and moved to Arizona.
Meanwhile Yohe, after at least perusing Ken's article, gathered other
pastors to one of the next services. Included was an expert on Greek
from Minneapolis, which was the original language the New Testament was
written in. Ken went back to the Greek often to make his points of
contention. During this service, while Ken was sitting in the back pew,
the pastor declared that "this book is from the pits of hell." The Greek
expert attempted to disprove some of Ken's points, and Yohe berated some
people by name. After the service the Greek expert refused to talk to
Yohe's style of management was to basically run everything. There was a
board, as required by IRS rules, but as Rick said, “under Yohe the
function of the board was to say yes.” I consider that I was in a cult
when I look back on this time. Yohe had the final word on everything.
His sermons were constant drumbeats for us to do more and more for God,
by giving more of our time and money. We were to abide by the holiness
standard to the letter and view outsiders more as potential converts
than as fellow human beings.
Some families who read Ken's book took it to heart so much that they
left the UPC. This wasn't Ken's intention, but it essentially split the
church. Three families and a few individuals left when it was clear that
Yohe was not willing to consider anything that Ken had brought up. Ken
Months later during a service, Pastor Yohe had some sort of mental
breakdown as he was preaching. He was exorting the congregation that
they must convert the world to Christianity - a tall order for a
congregation of 150. Senior members of the congregation contacted the
regional supervisor of the UPC over their concern about their pastor.
When Yohe heard of this phone call, he became irate. He packed up his
family and some members of the boys' home, and moved to Louisiana where
he set up his operation. A few families left with him, further splitting
What followed from this point was a series of pastors who came and went.
Brother LaRue had been assistant pastor and was interim pastor until a
full-time pastor could be found. He then followed Yohe to Louisiana.
James O'Neil, from Hastings, Nebraska, was voted in after being the only
person to apply for the job. He was seen as more business-like rather
than Yohe and worked on getting the church's fiscal and physical matters
in order. The new building was finished under O'Neil.
The school closed in May of 1985.
After O'Neil left in about 1988, Rick Kahler was interim pastor until
Brother Davis, who had been an evangelist in Zimbabwe, was voted in. He
was seen as being more liberal, and in fact quit after 7 months, mainly
from pressure from the more conservative parishioners. The Chmelers
followed Davis to Texas.
During Davis' pastorship, brothers Rick and David Kahler worked out a
property swap between David's 1st Assembly of God in southern Rapid City
and the UPC. It was obvious that the UPC was not growing in membership,
while the Assembly of God church was. The swap included a sum of money
for the UPC since it was getting the smaller building and property.
Brother Milam was the next pastor, coming in about 1989. He was more
conservative and more controling. For example, he gradually removed Rick
Kahler of any position within the church. Rick eventually quit. Several
other parishioners quit under Milam's heavy hand as well. Some left due
to his unusual theological stands, such as that physical sickness is an
indication of spiritual deficiency.
Lloyd Ruckman, who had been a UPC pastor in Yankton, South Dakota before
moving to Rapid City, started an alternative church to Milam's. Several
families and parishioners went there after tiring of Milam. The Storms
left under Milam.
Ron Lovins, who had been district superintendent, took over after Milam
left. He was more middle-of-the-road. I do not know why Milam left.
After Lovins' brief tenure, John Reed took the pastorship. Reed moved
the church away from UPC affiliation. There was a vote, and those who
wanted to remain with the UPC left to form another church. Thus this was
yet another split.
I do not know why Lovins and Reed quit, nor how long they stayed in
office. Dick Stahl became pastor after Reed and is still in that
position, still in the St. Francis Street building.. The UPC church meets in Black Hawk.
Even though the church had a tumultuous time, it essentially maintained
its theological stance that still follows basic UPC doctrine today.
Multiple pastors, multiple splits, multiple moves, and multiple
miscellaneous challenges did not kill the church, though it has a milder
My theory before writing this brief history was that after so many
changes between pastors, after voting for who could become pastor, and
after times when the board ran the church rather than any pastor, I
thought that the congregation (those that remained, at least) would have
gradually come to realize that there was less need for a pastor, or at
least that the pastor could be diminished in the amount of control he
could hold over the congregation. This seems not to have happened. Each
time the church went looking for a new pastor when one left. Each time
the pastor held the same position as far as power and control went. So
I'm left to see that tradition and continuity won out over any new
understanding that may have arisen over any new way to organize the
Holiness standard handout
we were required to sign
read Ken's treatise