Pasco Faith Assembly pastor announces retirement

By Loretto J. Hulse, Tri-City HeraldJanuary 26, 2013 

Donald Strong has been many things in his life.

In the 1940s, he was a champion boxer and football jock at Grandview High School. Then, briefly, he was a Grandview dairy farmer.

Now he's known by thousands of people in the Tri-Cities and throughout the state as The Rev. Donald Strong, a man with a deep faith in the Lord and an almost miraculous ability to get things done.

"My dad is a man of faith. He always believes the Lord will provide, no matter if it's a new church or money to keep it running," said Strong's daughter, Kathy Miller of Pasco.

For 42 years, Strong, 82, and his wife, Wilma, 80, have shared their faith with members of Faith Assembly Christian Center in Pasco. They've announced their retirement, and Sunday they'll be honored with a public reception beginning at 3 p.m. in the church's multipurpose room.

The Strongs have no intentions to leave the Tri-Cities. That's good news for the many friends they've made over the years in the church and in the community.

"We all pray for God's blessing to be on them continuously and give them many, many years to be here with us," said Margaret Jacobsen of Pasco. She and her husband, Les, joined the church just a few weeks after the Strongs moved to Pasco in 1967.

Another longtime church member, Valerie Burnett of Kennewick, said the Strongs "are a great couple, not perfect but devoted to each other ... they're a good example of parenting and a married couple. They're great role models."

Strong didn't intend to be a minister.

"I always wanted to be a dairyman and take over my parents' dairy farm in Grandview," he said.

But a cute girl, two years his junior, caught his eye.

"He wanted to date my mom, and the only way her father would allow it was if he agreed to attend church," Miller said.

Strong did, and in 1950, he and Wilma married.

He worked on the family farm for two years before telling his father he'd been called by the Lord to become a minister.

Strong attended Northwest College of the Assemblies of God in Kirkland and was pastor at churches in Copalis Crossing on the Washington coast and Buckley, near Enumclaw, before being hired by Faith Assembly of God Church in Pasco.

It was a tiny congregation, just 48 people including the five members of the Strong family. But it was soon to grow.

Ten months after Strong became pastor, the congregation had outgrown the building at 5th Avenue and Shoshone Street. They bought a church at Sylvester Street and Highway 395 and stayed there 19 years. But even that larger building had to be extensively remodeled and enlarged to accommodate the growing membership.

"Each church they've been at the congregation has grown from small to big," Miller said.

In the 1980s, the congregation -- which then numbered around 500 -- made another move, to its present campus at Road 72 and Court Street.

"They're quite a team, together they've done a lot of things. The Strongs have done without to make sure the church kept going. There were some lean years for a while but they took it in stride and made things work," said Les Jacobsen.

Shortly after the move to Pasco, Donald Strong became a bus driver for the Pasco School District. He drove the bus for six years to supplement the income from the church.

"There are still a lot of kids who rode his bus who consider dad 'their pastor' even though they don't attend Faith Assembly," said his son, Darrell Strong of Pasco.

Strong served as lead pastor at Faith Assembly for 22 years before stepping down in 1989 to work with several smaller Assembly of God churches in the Yakima Valley. He mentored those pastors and their congregations for two years, then took up his duties at Faith Assembly again -- this time serving as pastor to the senior citizens of the church and ministering to those in the hospital and shut-ins.

"He's touched a lot of lives over the years and is well-known in all the hospitals," Les Jacobsen said.

Strong also served in various capacities for the state and regional Assemblies of God, including the Home Missions, which had him overseeing all the small congregations in the state and helping their pastors.

"Dad mentored over 50 pastors at the small churches, that's one of his big legacies. He's always been the champion of the little guy," said Darrell Strong.

Donald Strong also helped found Teen Challenge, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program, and served on the board for many years.

Wilma Strong, too, has been fully involved in the church and community. She served as business manager for the church, taking care of the office work and finances while her husband was traveling on Assemblies of God business. She also coordinated hundreds of funeral receptions at the church.

"I don't do that anymore, though I still help," Wilma Strong said. "Someone else makes my 'Funeral Potato' casserole now."

Her signature dish has been served for years at large church gatherings. But it's best known for being served at the buffet following funerals.

Wilma Strong's also known for her baking. "She makes the best pies I've ever tasted," said Janet Hughlett of Pasco.

Margaret Jacobsen said Wilma Strong "is a true pastor's wife. I don't know how else to describe her. She's everything a pastor's wife should be, she always asks about your family, how you're doing. She's truly interested."

The Strongs said they don't have any special plans to celebrate retirement.

They still plan to lead early morning prayers several times a week and Wilma Strong oversees the Helping Hands Ministry, which makes quilts to donate to missions and the Tri-City Pregnancy Network.

"We never sat around. We know there's more to come, we just don't know what it will be," said Wilma Strong.

Her husband agreed, saying, "how do you retire from life?"

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