History of River Valley:
The vision for establishing a Christian and Missionary Alliance church plant in Watertown, Wisconsin, was born in the heart of Rev. Ron Julian and many people of the Alliance Bible Church in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
The first discussion regarding the founding of a Watertown church took place on March 8, 1988. This was followed by another meeting in April with Rev. John Fogal (District Superintendent) and Les Conklin of the Midwest District office in Illinois. At a congregational meeting on May 1st the decision was made to proceed to the next step.
On May 15, 1988, a meeting of Watertown attendees of the Oconomowoc church was held at the Welcome Inn Hotel in Watertown with 60 parents and children attending. Adults were asked to sign commitment forms to support the new church for at least one year. It was decided to begin Sunday evening services on June 12, 1988.
An advisory committee was formed with 4 members: John Gustafson, chairman, Ron Julian, co-chair, Joe Detzner, secretary, and John Leischer, treasurer. For some time, financial assistance was provided by Alliance Bible Church of Oconomowoc (NKA Crosspoint Community Church). A rental agreement with The Seventh Day Adventist Church of Watertown began on June 19, 1988, with monthly rent set at $175/month. Services were held on Sunday evenings. A rotation of pastors for these services included: Ron Julian, Bob Biggs, Don Dillavou, and Phil Shrank.
On September 6, 1988, some 60 Watertown people gathered in front of the Alliance Bible Church in Oconomowoc for commissioning and a prayer of dedication. Services were set for Sundays for both mornings and evenings. Sunday School also began at this time and the Advisory Committee agreed on the name River Valley Alliance Church. 1988 ended with a Christmas pageant with 117 attending.
On January 19, 1989, Rev. August (Gus) Hacker was installed as River Valley’s first pastor. On June 4, 1989, a formal dedication-organization service was held wherein 86 original members were received.
In the summer of 1991, after an extensive search, a groundbreaking was held at River Valley’s current 12.5 acre campus on Welsh Road. Construction began that same month and continued for nearly a year with much volunteer help from the congregation. A service of dedication for the new building was held on August 30, 1992, with District Superintendent John Fogal participating. Rev. Phil and Melissa Arndt served at River Valley as Assistant Pastor and Youth Pastor. They served from September 1992 until November 1993.
In 1995, Rev. Gerald Palmquist became our new pastor. Under Rev. Jerry’s steady and faithful leadership, River Valley continued to grow and spread the Gospel in Watertown. Rev. Jerry and Inez lived in an apartment for the first year of their ministry in Watertown. It was at that time the church voted to purchase a lot and build a parsonage on Sweetbriar Lane. Randy Gray with many volunteers constructed a lovely two-story home in the Mary Knoll subdivision near Watertown High School.
Two key ministries of River Valley began at this time: around 1995 River Valley began the Awana Club program under the organization of Kevin Schafer; and in the summer of 1997, David and Nancy Zimmermann organized River Valley’s first Music Camp. The camp annually attracts around 150 students for four mornings of contemporary music and movement, arts and crafts and a clear presentation of the Gospel.
The Awana program, Music Camp and other activities produced an urgent need for more space so the congregation took a major step of building an addition. The addition was dedicated in December 2003 with national C&MA representative, Peter Nanfelt, officiating.
Because attendance regularly exceeded 200 souls, Missionary Candidates Brian and Rebekah Kirk were called to assist the Palmquists. When the Kirks left to pursue missionary work, Missionary Candidates Micah and Julia Irvin assisted, Micah working with the youth and occasional preaching.
In 2006, Rev. Jerry Palmquist retired after his wife, Inez, suddenly passed away. Although deeply saddened by the loss of its longtime pastor, River Valley began another pastoral search and in December 2006 Rev. Larry and Leslie Thorson accepted the call. Under Rev. Larry’s leadership a second service was added offering a blended, classic worship style at 8:15 and contemporary worship at 10:45.
In 2009, Tyler Amburgy came on board as the Pastor of Student Ministries. In 2012, after completing a master’s in ministry degree, David Zimmermann resigned from directing Watertown High School’s Choir Department and was hired as River Valley’s Pastor of Adult Ministries.
With Sunday attendance reaching over 300, in November 2012, Rev. Thorson surprised the congregation and announced that he had accepted a call to begin ministry in Cottage Grove, MN. In June 2013 River Valley celebrated its 25th anniversary without a Senior Pastor. Thankfully the church was under the capable leadership of Paul Brummund (Elder) and David Zimmermann (Associate Pastor).
On July 31, 2013, Tyler Amburgy left to take a position closer to family. On August 1, 2013, Rev. Dave (with Nancy) Zimbelman became the 4th Senior Pastor at River Valley. In preparation for their arrival, extensive redecorating and refurbishing was done at the parsonage by many volunteers.
Rev. Zimbelman’s initial focus was on the “attractional” and “missional” aspects of River Valley. Consequently, the entire church building was redecorated, and new carpeting was installed on both levels. New LED lighting was installed in the sanctuary and new chairs were purchased.
With continued strong attendance, beginning in 2014, a part-time bookkeeping position was added to the office staff and in June 2014, Caleb and Liz Atkins joined the pastoral staff as Pastor of Student Ministries.
Beginning in the fall of 2014, the church leadership began a program to reemphasize fellowship and discipleship called Discipleship is Growing (DIG). Worship times were adjusted to 9 am and 10:30 am to allow for better fellowship opportunities between service times while Sunday School/Discipleship classes ran concurrently during both worship services.
In June 2015, Rev. David Zimmermann was ordained at a special service held in Appleton Alliance Church. River Valley also held an ordination service in July 2015. Rev. Larry Thorson, former pastor at River Valley, delivered the ordination message.
The beginning of 2016 was marked by the resignation of Rev. Zimbelman on January 24, 2016. On February 19, 2016, Rev. David Zimmermann was called and accepted the position as the fifth Senior Pastor of River Valley Alliance Church.
Following God’s leading, River Valley hired Robin Walker as part-time Director of Children’s Ministry. While Rev. Atkins took on the new role of Pastor of Discipleship Ministries, River Valley employed Michael Golemi as Youth Pastor Intern.
River Valley changed service times to 8:00 and 10:45, with Discipleship hour being at 9:30. A new vision statement was introduced to the congregation: “Followers of Jesus: Transformed. Empowered”.
At the Annual Meeting in January of 2017, a new Constitution and Bylaws were approved by the membership. Michael Golemi was hired permanently as Pastor of Student Ministries in March. With continued strong attendance, on October 8, River Valley moved to three Sunday Services at 8:00, 9:30, and 11:00, with Sunday School during the 9:30 and 11:00 services. Extensive remodeling was done to the kitchen.
In April 2018, the River Valley Governing Board established the Acts 1:8 Commission and charged them with seeking the Lord’s guidance on how River Valley should reach out locally. After prayerfully seeking the Lord for 3 months, the committee established a process for approving new outreach ministries. As a result, River Valley began participating in the local ministries of Haus of Peace, Safe Families, and Shared Mission Group.
The first stage of a new security system was installed, beginning with the Fob entry system. A Leadership Cohort was established to train new leaders.
The word that defined the year 2020 was “COVID-19”. New words and phrases became familiar: “livestreaming”, “virtual” and “Zoom” became part of our every day language. March 15 was the last Sunday that River Valley worshipped indoors. River Valley held a “Zoom” prayer meeting 5 days a week for several weeks. Worship services were conducted “virtually” from March 15 through May 31. From June 1 through September 13 worship was held outdoors under tents. God blessed River Valley with great weather on Sundays for 13 out of 14 Sundays! Indoor worship services (with precautions) began again on September 20. Church committee meetings were either not held or were held via “Zoom”. There were over 40 individuals in the River Valley family who contracted Covid-19. Sadly, four people went home to be with our Lord.
Security cameras were approved and installed throughout the building. Livestreaming equipment was purchased, which allows indoor Sunday services to be livestreamed on YouTube. Rev. Atkins and Rev. Golemi were ordained in October at Plymouth Alliance Church. Rev. Golemi resigned effective November 20.
River Valley Alliance Church is so grateful for God’s continued blessing and prays for grace and guidance for the future.
Written by John Leischer
Updated by Charlene Flint