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Celebrating 90 years of living in the church


Fern Johnson was just 8 years old when her father founded Newberg Church of Christ in 1931

Growing up, Fern Johnson couldn’t help but find herself immersed in life at Newberg Church of Christ due to its sheer proximity.

After all, she was just 8 years old when her father, Ord Hubbell, founded the church in his home west of town on Williamson Road after moving the family from Oklahoma. by: GARY ALLEN - Decades of service - After serving for many years as a Sunday school teacher, Fern Johnson is now a church greeter and assists church secretary Norma Cook in whatever ways needed.

With her 90th birthday just around the corner July 29 and the church long since relocated, it’s now by choice that the church remains at the center of her life and that she still very much lies at heart of the congregation.

An embodiment of its history, the church will celebrate Johnson’s life and the spirit she has infused in it with a potluck barbecue set for Aug. 4.

Pastor Shawn Jones said he will include Johnson in his sermon and recognize her with a plaque during regular Sunday services before going deeper into her “years of faithfulness” in a more informal way during the barbecue.

“She’s pretty quiet, but I don’t know how you could miss her,” Jones said. “She’s here when the doors are open almost every single day. Whenever the church is open, she’s here.”

Until Newberg Church of Christ moved from the Hubbell home to Sunnycrest Hall outside of town in 1933, the congregation consisted of the Hubbells and just a couple of other families. Johnson’s participation was mostly in Sunday school, where her mother, Emma, taught her and six other siblings.

By the time the church relocated to the Odd Fellows Hall on South Howard Street, the church had grown with the addition of more family members that had moved from Oklahoma, as well as new local members.

After marrying in 1944, Johnson moved east with her husband, who was in the Navy. The two returned in 1946 and lived in Vanport, but lost their home in the flood of 1948 and moved to Texas.

It wasn’t until Emma Hubbell died in 1973 that Johnson returned to care for her father, who died in 1978, and raise her two daughters while commuting to work at Montgomery Ward in Portland. She hasn’t left Newberg or the church since.

“I stayed in Newberg because I had no desire to go anywhere else,” Johnson said. “This was home. It was like coming back home when I came out here to be with my dad.”

When she came to Newberg, she estimates the population of the town at about 4,000, while the population of Yamhill County, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, was listed as 22,036 in 1930.

The county population had grown to 40,213 in 1970 and to 99,193 by 2010, but while Johnson found Newberg and Newberg Church of Christ (by then at its current location on Haworth Avenue and Elliott Street) to be noticeably bigger, she feels they’ve remained pretty much the same in spirit and practice.

“It’s a good town to live in,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very friendly as far as I know. I would encourage anybody to move here. And it keeps growing population-wise and we’ve got a lot for a little town.”

After serving as a Sunday school teacher, Johnson is now a church greeter and assists church secretary Norma Cook in whatever ways needed.

And while not one to call attention to herself, relative and church elder Bill Killen says there’s more than meets the eye, describing her as a “buzz bomb” of activity with a personality to match.

The evidence can be found in her participation in the Strong for Life senior fitness program and in her 24 years of volunteer work — totaling nearly 8,000 hours and counting — at Providence Newberg Medical Center.

“She’s feisty and funny,” Killen said. “She dresses real sharp for her age and is just a joy to be around. She’s a very friendly, sweet lady.”