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Detailed History


Compiled in 1999 for Centennial Celebration

How It All Began:

100 Years Ago
Perspiration dripped from Austin's brow as he tried once more to make the old crank work. Could he literally turn his dream of more Christian reading materials for the blind into reality? Slowly, the copies came out, one by one. How could six dots say so much?

When Austin O. Wilson first learned about braille, he was disappointed that more Christian reading materials weren't available for blind people such as himself. He felt a deep burden for the spiritual needs of other blind persons. Wilson urged the church to do more for the blind, and finally General Conference president G. A. Irwin also captured the vision. At the next General Conference Committee meeting, held in the fall of 1899, it was voted to start a monthly journal of about ten pages to be called the Christian Record (the name suggested by a blind woman in Battle Creek). With the help of his wife, Johanna, Wilson went right to work preparing to issue volume one. Editorial content for the initial issue consisted of four sections: general, health, missions and news. Using a washing machine hand wringer for a press, Wilson rolled off the first 75 copies of the Christian Record, produced in New York Point and braille, in January 1900.

With his dream a reality, Wilson looked forward to expanding the magazine so that every blind person who desired it could receive it. Remembering a classmate from the Nebraska School for the Blind, Wilson invited Leando (Lee) Muck and his wife, Alice, to assist them. The Mucks accepted and moved to Battle Creek during the summer of 1900.

Disaster struck the fledgling organization in 1902. On December 30, two days before shouts of "Happy New Year" could be heard, cries of "Fire, fire, fire" pierced the snowy, wind-blown city of Battle Creek. The Review and Herald Publishing Association building went up in flames. The section housing Christian Record was destroyed, along with all equipment and supplies. Wilson and Muck refused to quit. The Christian Record staff secured temporary quarters in a building formerly housing the Morning Call, a weekly newspaper in the city, and purchased a new press. In 1904, the Review and Herald decided to move their offices to Washington, D.C., and it was thought that Christian Record would follow, but it never did. The General Conference Committee instead voted to move Christian Record to College View, Nebraska, where it was housed in the basement of Union College's main building.

Austin Wilson's vision was bigger than just publishing, however. Later that year he accepted a new challenge. He went out into the field to solicit funds to carry forward the work of Christian Record and enlarge it. Wilson was successful and, thanks to this success, the Central Union voted to grant him missionary credentials and to guarantee a salary of $5 and traveling expenses for three months so that he could continue raising money for the work.

During the summer of 1905, Lee and Alice Muck were also very busy spreading the news of Christian Record. By 1906 Lee's countless articles on the blind in the Review, in addition to his personal appeals at camp meetings and other gatherings, were beginning to pay off. The Ohio Conference agreed to collect a special offering on October 27, and shortly thereafter the Central, Lake, Northern and Southwestern unions each committed $300 yearly.

By 1907 it was evident that people were being effected by the work of Christian Record. Lee Muck reported to the Unions and conferences that nearly 50 blind persons had joined the Seventh-day Adventist Church. "These persons were not visited by Bible workers; they accepted the truth by reading the Christian Record and tracts," Muck stated. However, because of extensive itinerary and travel on behalf of Christian Record, Muck couldn't continue his editorial duties in College View. Succeeding editors included Muck's wife, Alice, and Johanna Wilson, wife of founder A.O. Wilson. By 1908, news of the Christian Record had spread overseas and the monthly circulation had now soared from the initial 75 to over 2,000.

Because of crowded conditions at the college, Christian Record moved to a section of the International Publishing Association in 1909. That same year a free circulating lending library was established to begin providing embossed books for the blind.

Just prior to 1912 the work for the blind of this Seventh-day Adventist institution was showing signs of longevity, maturity, and God's continued leading. Complementing an earlier bill allowing embossed books from libraries to be sent postage-free came Congressional permission allowing all free literature mailed to the visually impaired to be shipped at no cost to the serving institution or the recipient. Also, a one-story building, located just south of Union College on land now occupied by the College View Church, was purchased and became the home of Christian Record for the next 24 years. Near the end of the year, Wilson, never strong, found the demand of his responsibilities too much and was forced to retire.

In 1913 Lee Muck became the first full-time representative. The money raised from field solicitation allowed Christian Record to purchase some much-needed equipment, including a power stitcher, a stereotype machine for braille, and a self-feeding cylinder-powered press (which cost just $200 less than the value of the building in which it was housed).

Christian Record's work for the blind continued as America headed into World War I in Europe. Many a soldier who had never heard of Christian Record would eventually benefit from these services. Also, as a result of expanded production capability, several embossed books were added to the lending library. By 1918 the Christian Record was being sent to more countries outside the United States, including England, China, Japan, India, Jamaica, the Bahamas, and the Philippines.

As the 1920s rolled around, the Christian Record was being placed in the hands of thousands of blind people. In fact, S.E. Wright, Central Union president, reported to the General Conference in 1922 that "there is only one other publication for the blind in the United States which has a greater circulation."

In 1924, the Christian Record magazine was expanded to 40 pages and contained inspirational stories, poems, music, and other articles. A second embossed journal, Adult Sabbath School Quarterly, was added during the second quarter. The lending library that year housed just under 400 volumes, and anticipated increasing that number. Today there are over 1,400 volumes.

Beginning in 1927, Professor David D. Rees changed the pattern of short stints of service for editors and managers as he added stability and commitment during a 22-year tenure as editor and manager of what was now known as the Christian Record Publishing Company. A third braille journal was also introduced, The Christian Record Bible Expositor, a monthly periodical dealing with vital Bible topics. A new name to further identify the mission of the organization was also adopted: The Christian Record Benevolent Association.

Because of Christian Record's dependency upon contributions from civic-minded persons, public exposure has always been vital to inform the sighted community of what was being offered free to the blind. In the years 1933 and 1934, Christian Record was one of the exhibitors in the Hall of Religion at the World's Fair, themed "A Century of Progress," in Chicago, Illinois.

The Christian Record booth displayed services offered free to the sightless and gave personal name cards in braille to thousands who visited the exhibit daily. A year later, on the West Coast, Christian Record was again prominently represented in the Hall of Science at America's Exposition, held in San Diego, California.

By 1936, big plans were being laid for further expansion of Christian Record. The two-story structure serving as home office lacked sufficient space, but expansion of the building seemed ill-advised. A more spacious building was needed, and this was approved at a Board meeting in March, with chairman J.F. Piper presiding over the five-member board.

Desiring to remain in College View, the locating committee noted several sites then chose property directly across the street and northwest of Union College, on the corner of 48th Street and Bancroft Avenue.

The ground-breaking ceremony took place on July 2, and on August 19 the laying of the cornerstone was achieved in formal ceremonies, with Nebraska Governor R.I. Cochran addressing the gathering. Inside the cornerstone was placed a brief history of the organization, penned by D.D. Rees (manager), and a copy of the then current Christian Record magazine.

A fourth periodical, Children's Friend, was added in 1937. In 1942, the organization made the decision to incorporate and became known as the Christian Record Benevolent Association, Incorporated. Later that year, Norman Cann, deputy commissioner of the U.S. Treasury Department, officially declared Christian Record exempt from federal income tax. This action further enhanced support from the general public because now contributions and other gifts by donors could be declared tax-deductible.

D.D. Rees reported that by 1944-1945 the lending library housed 700 braille volumes, including most of the Spirit of Prophecy books.

In 1947 Christian Record celebrated its 48th year of service to the blind. By now the combined circulation of the four braille magazines issued by Christian Record was nearly 10,000. The Christian Record alone boasted 5,000 readers. Keeping track of all names and addresses of receivers required a careful, yet tedious process. A graphotype machine was used to cut the stencils used for mailing. Another press was added to print the covers of the magazines. All magazines were folded by hand, necessary at the time to protect the raised dots.

The Christian Record was shipped out monthly, and since each edition weighed two tons, it took two large mail trucks to transport it to the post office. Because of the bulkiness of braille, books from the lending library brought an even greater workout to postmen.

By 1948 D.D. Rees had managed Christian Record for over 20 years, and his compassion for the blind increased. Rees was moved as he witnessed the elderly blind being deprived or mistreated by sometimes uncontrollable, and at other times controllable, circumstances. To accommodate this problem, Rees and the field representatives voted that a home for the aged and needy blind should be built in Lincoln. The home would accommodate up to 60 persons, with an estimated cost, including construction, equipment, furniture, and operating expenses for one year, of $350,000. The Board approved Rees' concept, but Rees never lived to see its completion.

One year later, on October 4, 1949, at age 78, Rees died after serving 22 years as manager/editor of Christian Record. Along with Rees' death came also the demise of Rees' dream home for the aged blind. The Board rescinded the approval action in 1950, but assured the funds set aside for the home would be put to good use in service to the sight-impaired. Years later, National Camps for Blind Children began, inspired in part by Rees' desire to provide face-to-face contact with the blind.

C.W. Degering succeeded Rees as Christian Record manager in 1949. Degering's wife, Etta, was an accomplished writer who "borrowed" an innovative reading aid introduced for the blind in 1934: the talking book. By 1950 Degering had recorded the first talking books for Christian Record, Steps to Christ and Thoughts From the Mount of Blessing. These talking books were first released through regional libraries for the blind of the Library of Congress, which also supplied free record players to the blind, but later they were added permanently to Christian Record's lending library.

In 1952, a convention for all field workers and home office personnel was held at the Cornhusker Hotel in Lincoln. For over 50 years Christian Record had been recognized as the denomination's publishing ministry for the blind.

During 1953, several significant events occurred, resulting in still more services and aids to the sight-impaired. Etta Degering improved the library, increased lessons in the Bible school, and introduced a new braille Bible course, The Life of Christ, in conjunction with the Voice of Prophecy. By Board approval, two braille journals received new names: The Bible Expositor became These Times, and The Sabbath School Monthly became The Student. Yet another new braille periodical, Youth, geared to teenagers, made its debut in January 1954. Complementing the talking books added to the lending library was the introduction of the Christian Record Talking Magazine on flexible discs in February 1955.

Because of increased braille services offered, a new press was needed to keep pace with the demand. In 1955, Treasurer Dean Duffield journeyed to England and ordered a new Timson rotary braille press which cost $10,000 and was capable of embossing 6,000 pages per hour.

News of the death of Austin Wilson on February 12, 1957, brought much sorrow to the Christian Record office. The man with a bold vision who began the work for the blind in its humble infancy was now dead at age 84. Austin died without fanfare in his sleep in St. Paul, Minnesota and was laid to rest at Elmhurst Cemetary. His wife, Johanna, would live until 1960.

The end of one era, however, brought back traces of another in June of 1957. A new district representative with old ties was hired to work in Virginia: E.H. Craig. Craig had a wife, Wanda. Her maiden name was Muck. For the next 20 years, Craig would become one of the most successful representatives to date.

That year C.W. Degering announced his resignation, with his retirement effective January 1, 1958. He remained with Christian Record until the end of 1959, serving as editor and Bible School director.

C.G. Cross, then serving as publishing director for the Central Union, joined Christian Record as the new manager. No stranger to publishing, Cross had served his entire denominational tenure in the publishing work, beginning in Minnesota and the Central Union, then going overseas to the Southern European Division in Berne, Switzerland. C.G.'s wife, Jessie, had worked under Etta Degering at Christian Record and assumed directorship of the lending library when Degerings retired.

In the usual course of events, Christian Record waited for other institutions serving the blind to implement a new reading aid or other service and then duplicated that or improved it. During 1959 an exception to this rule occurred. For decades Christian Record had shown concern for blind children. However, no one was doing anything for the sighted children born to blind parents. Etta Degering experimented with a number of books known as Full-Vision books, which combined braille, print, and colorful pictures. Cross foresaw what an impact such books would have in the homes of blind parents, and some 300 copies of the newly released book, Bible ABC's, by Charles Paddock, were ordered, brailled, and bound with plastic hinges.

The chief of the Division for the Blind, Library of Congress, Robert S. Bray, commended Christian Record for the books, saying, "To the best of my knowledge, you have produced the first print/braille book to meet the needs of blind parents with sighted children."

January of 1960 brought about the dawn of a new service for the visually impaired. Christian Record had become aware of another media form and began producing large-print journals. The first journal produced, Happiness, was printed using 18-point type. This allowed partially sighted persons to enjoy Christian reading material as well.

By the early 60s Christian Record had become one of the leading suppliers of embossed reading for the blind. Besides producing eight journals - five in braille, two recorded, and one in large print - Christian Record was now serving over 29,000 sight-impaired persons worldwide. However, this growth also meant that once again they had outgrown their existing location.

In 1961, the Board of Management authorized the purchase of 41 lots about six blocks south of Union College, with anticipated construction and occupancy set for June of 1962. The cost of the new structure, which included a 27,800-square-foot building, site preparation, production area, recording studio, landscaping, furnishings, and some new equipment, was estimated at $387,000. After a number of delays, the then Christian Record crew of 18 office workers officially took possession of 4444 South 52nd Street in June 1963.

Beginning with the 1963-64 school year, a preschool was opened in the basement of Christian Record for blind and visually impaired children. Six blind children attended the first year and were taught voice commands, rhythm, space relationship, manners, coordination, and how to get along with others. The preschool was eventually incorporated by Lincoln Public Schools as part of their special education program.

Recognizing that glaucoma was rapidly becoming one of the leading causes of blindness, particularly among persons over 35 and the elderly, Christian Record began holding glaucoma screening clinics in June 1965. Some 818 people were examined by eye specialists working in conjunction with Christian Record during the clinics.

A new class of recipients was added to receive free services during 1967: the physically handicapped. Although not blind, many persons with physical disabilities could not read conventional print or turn a page; thus they were eligible to receive talking materials and other helps from organizations providing them.

That summer yet another experimental program was introduced for blind children - summer camp. The original idea for summer camps was the vision of C.G. Cross, and Ray Hubbart made it reality. The first camp was held at Camp Kulaqua in Florida in July. Similar to those at sighted camps, activities for the week-long camp included horseback riding, water-skiing, canoeing, archery, crafts, nature study, campfire programs and a talent night.

One of the original 23 campers was 15-year-old Chris Etheredge. During the talent program Chris impressed those in attendance by performing several songs and sound imitations. Norman Middag, youth director of the Florida Conference, was so impressed that he hired Chris to come to sighted camps the next summer as a public address announcer. After a couple of years, and despite strong cautions from his parents, Chris decided to be baptized, becoming the first convert from what was to be known as National Camps for Blind Children.

In 1967 Christian Record took a bold new approach not yet before attempted: hiring a black district representative. Realizing that the first black person would have to be successful, Christian Record presented this challenge to Robert E. White, a skilled literature evangelist. White's first day of visiting businesses was in Rangely, Colorado, and he collected $680 in one afternoon, which was a month's worth of donations to most field workers at that time. Since then, White has set many milestones for Christian Record in remittances; he was one of the first workers ever to raise $50,000 in one year, and the first to reach the $500,000 plateau in a career. White continued to work well past retirement and collected over $1 million to further the work of ministry to the blind.

A new method of recording books for the blind was implemented at Christian Record during 1970: cassette tapes. Less expensive to produce and smaller in size than records or reel tapes, cassette talking books would soon prove to be a big step for the lending library and in reading enjoyment for the blind.

Around this same time, Robert Sheldon, Public Relations director since 1969, developed a more concerted effort in the field of direct mail with encouraging results. Sheldon's efforts were fruitful, and he reported that $238,000 was received in 1972. Direct mail soon became Christian Record's second leading source of income and proved beneficial to future service expansion.

In May 1973, C.G. Cross stepped down as general manager. Cross moved from the manager's office to become editor-in-chief. F.G. Thomas assumed the general manager position shortly thereafter.

Several notable achievements were implemented during Thomas' administration. A talking edition of Life and Health was started to complement the braille printing, and Youth Happiness changed its name to Young and Alive.

After 37 years with Christian Record, nearly 30 as treasurer, Dean C. Duffield passed away on April 11, 1975. He was 62. Succeeding Duffield as treasurer was Eugene Stiles, a former Southern Asia Division assistant treasurer and auditor.

Richard Kaiser, former director of Radio Station VOAR in Newfoundland, Canada, came to Christian Record as the director of the Recording Department in 1967. In 1974 he became the editor and continued to hold this position until 1999, when he retired after 31 years of service to Christian Record.

By 1977 National Camps for Blind Children had grown beyond expectations, popular among both blind campers and contributors supporting the organization. During that year, 31 youth and three adult camps were held, in addition to Nu-Vision Camp, an experimental event at Camp Wawona, California. Designed for the multihandicapped, Nu-Vision Camp gave persons confined to wheelchairs or on crutches the opportunity to spend a week in God's nature enjoying recreation and fellowship. Nu-Vision Camp continued for the next six years.

Another experimental program, Operation Big Cities, occurred December 4-9, 1977. Held in Detroit, its purpose was to centralize in a major metropolitan city, contact the blind, and increase service outreach. With several departmental leaders and division directors driving through the Motor City streets searching for the blind, 500 new sight-impaired were reached and enrolled to receive over 5,000 new services. Under Thomas' guidance, services requested from the blind between 1974 and 1977 rose from 29,200 to 165,000.

In early 1978, F.G. Thomas accepted an invitation from the then Afro-Mideast Division to serve as secretary. Christian Record didn't have far to look for a successor. Treasurer Eugene Stiles agreed to move from his office into the general manager's position. With a progressive spirit, Stiles implemented a number of new technological advances to increase service productivity, namely, installing a Digital Electronic Corporation Data System 533 computer and a collator specifically designed to assemble braille pages. One of only three known to exist in the world, Christian Record's collator arrived in 1980. It measured 40 feet in length, contained 11 stations, and was capable of collating up to 44 braille pages at one time. Equipped to collate, stitch, and fold large-print magazines, too, this new machine replaced the antiquated form of hand-collating workers had practiced since 1900.

During the General Conference Session held in Dallas in April of 1980, B.E. Jacobs was appointed general manager. Under Jacobs' leadership, Christian Record accomplished something that had not been possible before. On October 3, 1980, Christian Record and National Camps for Blind Children received the seal of approval from the National Charities Information Bureau (NCIB). Also, in conjunction with the International Year of Disabled Persons, declared by the United Nations as 1981, Christian Record sponsored a seminar for clergy and other civic leaders in Lincoln featuring handicapped speakers and panelists.

A mobile unit in which to conduct glaucoma screening clinics had been discussed during the 70s, and in the summer of 1981 it rolled on its maiden voyage, screening over 750 persons at camp meetings in British Columbia, Oregon, and Central California.

The work in Canada also continued to expand. In September 1981 an official branch office opened in Clearbrook, British Columbia.

Before the start of 1983, leadership at Christian Record changed hands yet once more. Jacobs accepted a call to be associate secretary of the General Conference. Howard Voss took over the position and soon after received the new title of President from the Board of Trustees in April. Changing his title from general manager to president was in harmony with procedures of other publishing houses operating in North America.

For decades there had been a dire need to meet the reading needs of sight-impaired adults and senior citizens. Seeing this challenge, Voss knew a large-print magazine for adults would be of tremendous benefit. Lifeglow, issued quarterly, came off the press in November 1984. In addition, 1984 was the year that various fundraising devices were introduced by the field department.

In 1985, Vernon Bretsch became president. Bretsch saw the need to expand the work of CRS worldwide and helped set up blind camps, as well as workers, in the Philippines. During his six-year tenure, CRS underwent a major expansion program to provide more room in the building. By June of 1987, it was completed and the production department moved in. When College View Printers closed its doors, personnel and equipment were added to the CRS production department. This enabled the production of magazines to increase. Economic recession placed an added constraint on Christian Record expansion, but it did not dim the spirits of CRS workers.

In 1991, Vernon Bretsch retired, and Clarence Hodges, a former deputy assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of State took over as president. Hodges' vision for CRS included working with all types of handicapped individuals. This effort helped to inspire the North American Division's Commission on the Disabled. Hodges' wife, Yvonne, wrote grant proposals on behalf of the American Center for Disabilities, a CRS initiative. At this time the Church Manual was changed to include the CRS work for all churches and all church members. The direct mail, field services, and planned giving programs were also strengthened.

The production department also made some great strides forward in the early 90s as they began using computers to do desktop publishing. The first computer was a 386 that came equipped with a 20-MHz processor and a 20-MB hard drive. A few years later they added an Imagesetter, which allowed them to output their own film from the computer files.

Early in 1995, the leadership of Christian Record changed hands again. Hodges accepted a position at the General Conference, and Pastor Larry Pitcher accepted the challenge of being the president of Christian Record Services. Since October 1, 1975, he had served as pastor of various churches in the Kansas-Nebraska Conference. Prior to becoming an ordained Adventist minister, Pastor Pitcher had owned his own commercial painting business.

CRS had experienced nearly a decade without a profitable year and was more than $1.3 million in debt. Inflation was squeezing out ministries. Staff cuts had taken a toll and, just as in the 1920s, the future of Christian Record was in doubt.

Eventually this would involve rethinking the philosophy for all CRS fundraising and reshaping the mission of CRS. There was also a need to renew the PR image in both the church and the community, as well as to restore the efficiency of CRS printing by replacing old and outdated equipment.

The leadership team found that prayer was more important than all their good plans. At one point it seemed that CRS would have to borrow more money just to make payroll. Everyone knew that if the organization borrowed the money, it could mean the end of CRS. Instead of borrowing, the leadership team prayed together that God would keep His promise and supply their needs. God answered their prayers. What follows is a brief account of how God saved CRS.

In January 1996, the CRS leadership team introduced a major overhaul of the field department's representatives manual and initiated a new, more liberal pay scale for most of the representatives. The plan was designed to attract more mission-minded people to be reps by guaranteeing the new hire a $300 weekly salary for a year. At the end of the year CRS had good news - 1996 ended with a small gain (excluding investment income) of $4,385.89. Everyone praised the Lord for the small increase.

In 1997 the CRS leadership team launched what seemed like an audacious dream. They said it was the vision of CRS to identify and contact every blind person in the USA in the next five years. To accomplish this goal they decided CRS must take two essential steps.

First, CRS needed to refocus on its people-centered ministry. This meant that the needs and desires of both donors and the blind campers and subscribers were paramount. Dr. Duane McBride, a professor of sociology, was hired to do a ministry survey. This survey developed a demographic profile of CRS clients, learned about their life situations, and discovered their opinion of CRS services. It was completed in 1998 and was the first comprehensive study since 1950.

Second, the CRS Board of Trustees adopted a new workable, non-manipulative framework for managing all CRS fundraising. This philosophy is donor-centered. This means that the annual offering, direct mail, and field department seek to involve the donor more in our work for the blind. The CRS leadership team also saw the need to develop a major donor program and expanding the current planned giving program.

To accomplish this, CRS began teaching the representatives the value of relationship building. This meant special training. CRS selected Doug Shaw to teach this new program. He began with intermediate training classes and progressed in a year to advanced training classes.

By 1999, about 25 CRS representatives had benefited from this new training program. Also, all CRS administrators, regional directors, and department heads attended the Seize the Opportunity seminar with Jerry Panas and Bill Sturdevant.

Energized by what they had learned, the representatives took on special projects, raising enough money for a new Magnafax duplicator, a Digital-audio computer workstation, a new cassette loader - all for the studio - and a new folder for production. Altogether the reps raised more than $150,000 for various new pieces of equipment.

God continued blessing CRS. In both 1997 and 1998 CRS received large bequests from persons whose interest in CRS was established years ago. These gifts, together with tight budgeting, enabled CRS to pay off all its debts and to begin rebuilding its financial resources. Because of this dramatic turn of events, CRS is now looking to build its ministry to the blind to a new level. Some of the CRS leadership team goals include:

  • By 2000 to have at least one braille and one large-print magazine changed from quarterly publication to bimonthly
  • Increase the number of new talking books in our lending library
  • Develop new life-changing seminars for the blind
  • Generate new types of NCBC camps, like a sea camp in Texas and a horsemanship camp in Ohio
  • Initiate a major donor program
  • Double Challenge - plans to double the income from Field, Direct Mail, and the annual offering in the next five years to finance these programs on a "pay-as-you-go" basis

Through the past five years, Pastor Pitcher and the CRS leadership teams have discovered that God does keep His promises. God promised, "Before they call I will answer; while they are still speaking I will hear" (Isaiah 65:24, NIV). Praise the Lord; He has kept His word.

Compiled Fall of 1999, for the CRS Centennial