We have introduced a new recurring feature in eNews, “Meet Our Members.” Doug Hoagland, a longtime Fresno Bee reporter, will interview members of our congregation so we can get to know each other better. New profiles should run at least once a month. (Depending on the preference of the person being featured, not all profiles will appear on this webpage.)

Meet Our Members Profile - Roger and Vicky WallRoger and Vicky Wall, Members since 2012

Published in eNews on July 3, 2019

Tell us about yourself?

Roger: I was born and raised in Oregon, and I came to Fresno to attend Fresno Pacific. I was a teacher in Fresno for 37 years – first at Rowell Elementary and then Hidalgo Elementary and finally at Kings Canyon Middle School, where I taught history and geography. 

Vicky: I was born in New Jersey. My father died when I was really young, and my mother moved to California because she had a brother here. My mom, brother and I first lived in Southern California, and we came to Fresno when I was 8. I graduated from San Joaquin Memorial. I worked as an instructional aide in Fresno Unified for 18 years. Before that, I did medical transcription at home after I put the kids to bed. 

How did you two meet?

Vicky: I was in high school, and some of my friends said they’d met some cute, nice Mennonite boys at Cafe Midi in the Tower District. My friends thought I should meet this guy named Roger and ask him to Sadie Hawkins.  When we got there, I noticed that Roger was really a good storyteller and had a good sense of humor. I didn’t ask him to the dance, but we’ll be married 49 years in November. We have five children – Sarah, Matthew, Andrew, Aaron and Adam – whose ages are 47 to 36. We have 14 grandchildren, including two sets of twins.  Our youngest grandchild is 2, and our oldest is 21.

What brought you to Community UCC?

Vicky: I was raised Catholic, and we both had always been in a faith family. But in the early 2000s we felt the Christian church, in general, had left us.

Roger: We had been in the Mennonite Church since we were married. The Mennonites have always been a peace church. But our Mennonite congregation had no voice for peace when the Iraq War broke out. Our pastor told me that sometimes God uses one nation to punish another nation. It was hard for us to be there.

Vicky: We didn’t go anywhere for about six years, but I really missed being part of a church.

Roger: During that time, I read a lot of Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan and John Spong. I got energized by that new approach to Christianity. When we lived part time in Grand Junction, Colorado – where our youngest son was going to school – we found a UCC church. They were talking about Borg and the others.

Vicky: It was like the clouds parted. When we came back to Fresno, we found Community UCC. We fell in love with it on our first Sunday.

What church activities have you been involved with?

Vicky: I’m on the search committee for the settled pastor. We both do Vacation Bible School. I’m not officially on a lot of teams, but I tell everyone –  Fellowship, Extravagant Welcome, Worship, Sunday School – I will do anything to help.

Roger: I’m on the Charitable Gifts and Pastoral Relations teams. And Vicky has the gift of writing notes and cards. She does that a lot.

What do you find special or different about Community UCC?

Roger: I like that people can be themselves, and there’s a diversity of people and thought – although I wish it was little bit more diverse toward the conservative side so everyone could feel they have a voice.

Vicky: There are opportunities to grow spiritually and theologically, and I appreciate that. And I like the relationships in the church – staying after church on Sunday and asking people how their last week was. That’s important to me. That’s a big part of church to me – being a family and caring about each other.

What’s your vision for the church?

Vicky: To continue to be who we are. That’s really important because we’re really an alternative – another Christian avenue that people are hungry for. People are leaving the traditional church left and right. I don’t think a lot of them know that a place like our church exists. We’re never going to be huge. We just have to accept that. 

Is there anything about you that might surprise people?

Vicky: We climbed Mt. Whitney with our youngest son. He was 15.

Roger: We’ve summited Half Dome twice. I also have a collection of Native American-style wood flutes. One is made from Oregon myrtlewood, which I bought in memory of my mom. She was from Oregon. I also play the guitar, piano, saxophone, fiddle and harmonica. At our old church, our family was the worship band. People called us the von Walls (a takeoff on the von Trapps from “The Sound of Music”).

Any other surprises?

Vicky: My mother was from Holland, and that’s where she met my father – an American soldier – immediately after World War II ended. My mother’s family was wealthy. They had a paper factory and a big home, kind of like Downton Abbey. During the war, the Germans took over the house as a headquarters. My mother was a teenager then, and she had stories of friends being taken away by the Germans. 

Roger: We sponsored five or six Hmong families in the ’80s and ’90s. We helped them with immigration, found places for them to live, and helped them navigate American culture. A Hmong girl asked me one day if I could teach her dad how to buy a Big Mac. 

Vicky: We took four semesters of Hmong to try to learn the language.

How would classmates in high have described you?

Roger: In high school, I hung around with the popular guys. Actually, I had two friends, and we would go fishing and play pool. At Fresno Pacific, I was a prankster. I wouldn’t even tell people today about some of my pranks. (Laughter)

Vicky: I was a majorette, and I think people would have said I was likable.

What’s your favorite book or movie?

Roger: I have a favorite author: Peter Enns. He has such a fresh approach to what the Bible is and what all of those words mean, and what they don’t mean. He is an Old Testament geek. If I was going to go fiction, it’d be John Steinbeck and Robert Ludlum. 

Vicky: I like Barbara Brown Taylor. She’s an Episcopal priest, theologian, teacher and author. 

Meet Our Members - Gio Mena

Gio Mena, Member since 2019

Published in eNews on June 6, 2019

Tell us about yourself:

I play guitar in the church band. I’m 29, and I’ve been playing for 15 years. I was raised as a Jehovah Witness, and my parents were very particular about my extracurricular activities. I wanted to play football, but they said no.

So I gave up on activities in elementary school. But in middle school, I started skateboarding with friends, and those kids played music, too.  At the same time, my parents were getting a divorce, and I needed to focus on something productive. My dad agreed to pay for guitar lessons. I started writing my own music, and I still do.

Are in you in other bands?

Yes. I have a band called Wee Beasties. We just played at Grizzly Fest at Woodward Park. We play alternative rock. I also work at Western Sierra Charter Schools. They have an elementary and a high school, and I teach piano, guitar and choir there. I give private music lessons, too.

How do you know EJ?

EJ is friends with Mike Bonner, the drummer at church. Mike and I met at Patrick’s Music in Fresno, where I teach guitar. One day Mike told me about an opportunity to play guitar for the church.

Why did you join the church?

It’s very welcoming. It allows me to be myself in a spiritual setting, and I like the people. The church allows me to have my idea of what it is to be spiritual with God’s people. I can have my earrings, and I’m not being judged or pushed aside.

What do you find different or special about Community UCC?

It’s not as strict when it comes to dress code. There aren’t as many expectations, and I don’t find the guilt that people like to serve to one another for some reason. Not to talk bad on other churches I’ve been to, but humans are imperfect, and I’ve noticed a lot of hypocrisy, and it just doesn’t sit well with me.

What’s your vision for the church?

I don’t know that I have one. I like what’s going on. I like that we’re having discussions that churches haven’t had or are too afraid to have. Discussions on sexual orientation and racism. The discussions are really important because they trickle down to who we are, where having earrings or tattoos is no big deal.

What’s something about you most people wouldn’t know?

I’m the first in my family to be born in the United States. My dad is from Mexico and my mom is from Cuba. Spanish was my first language. Also, I like to cook. My speciality is zuppa toscana – an Italian sausage cream soup.

How would classmates in high school have described you?

I was that long-haired rocker kid at Bullard. I played a lot of shows back then, and people started recognizing me. Starting in my sophomore year, my band started booking shows, and 350 and 400 people would come. I had three bands in high school: Torn Apart, Eleventh Hour, and Armada. I love being in bands, and I always learn from other musicians.

Your favorite band?

Right now, I really like Young the Giant. I got to play with them this year at Grizzly Fest. It was a little dream come true. Growing up, I listened to Michael Jackson, The Jackson Five, Journey and lots of ’80s and ’90s rock.

Favorite movie, TV show and book?

“The Lord of the Rings” — all three. On TV, I like “The Office.” Something funny to take off the weight of the day. My favorite book is “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.”

What else do you like to do?

I like to relax at home with my dog, Pumpkin. She’s a Sheltie mix — kind of like Lassie. We go for walks in the park. And I still skateboard from time to time. Something happens with skateboarding that’s similar to music: it takes all of your focus. If you’re thinking about your bills, you’re going to fall. You’re in the moment.

Gio2Is Gio short for something?


Geovonna Casanova, Gio’s girlfriend, joined us for the conversation. She recently sang with the church band. She said:

We met online. The first thing he said was “I like your name.” It was all smooth sailing from there.

Meet Our Members - Phil Fullerton.png

Meet Phil Fullerton, member since 1958

Published in eNews May 9, 2019

Tell us about yourself:

I was born near Chicago. My father died when I was 8, and my mother taught piano to keep us going. When I was in junior high, we moved to St. Petersburg, Florida to live with my grandmother. I met my wife, Margaret, during our junior year in English class. I attended Duke University, where I was Phi Beta Kappa and editor of the newspaper. I then attended Stanford for law school, where I was on the Stanford Law Review and graduated in the top 10 percent of my class.

Your family?

Margaret and I have four children –  Leslie, David, Laurie and Anne. We also have 10 grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren (a 13th due in August), four step-grandchildren, and five step-great-grandchildren. Margaret recently moved to Somerford Place in Fresno for memory care. phil-fullerton-1.jpg

What brought you to Community UCC?

I had graduated from law school, and we came to Fresno for a job. We wanted a city near the mountains so we could backpack. I loved the outdoors.  Once we were here, we wanted a liberal church and one with a nursery because we had two children at the time. We loved (founding minister) Henry Hayden. He was great on visiting people in the church.

What church activities have you been involved in?

I’ve served as moderator and on the board of trustees. I also helped plan for the Sunday school building when the church (then College Community Congregational) was on Shaw Avenue. I also helped start and then restart the Saturday Breakfast Club. (It now meets at 9 a.m. the first Saturday of each month.) From 1971 to 1978, I led an Easter week trip for our youth group and some foreign students to the Navajo reservation in Arizona. It was a cultural exchange.

What about activities in Fresno and beyond?

I served as chairman of the Catholic Charities Committee on Refugees in the San Joaquin Valley, was treasurer of the Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast Committee, and was co-chairman of the American Field Service in the Valley, which places foreign exchange students. I’ve also been a guest columnist for The Fresno Bee and other publications. In 1992, I was elected to the “Who’s Who in the World” publication.

What do you find special or different about Community UCC?

I love and cherish the church’s liberal stand for humanity and the oppressed. We are a presence in a community where there are huge forces against these liberal ideas.

Tell us about your career as a lawyer:

After two years at a law firm in Fresno, I started my own firm, which became Fullerton, Lang, Richert and Patch. I was admitted to practice before the U.S. Supreme Court, and I was elected to the American Board of Trial Advocates. Certainly one of the highlights of my career was serving as lead counsel for The Bee Four, four Fresno newsmen who went to jail in 1976 to protect a confidential source. I’ve always had a soft spot for journalists.

What’s your favorite book or movie?

I just ordered “Lawrence of Arabia” from Netflix for a second time, and I’m reading “Seven Pillars of Wisdom,” an autobiography of T. E. Lawrence, the British soldier who’s the central figure in “Lawrence of Arabia.” I also love Hitchcock movies – “Vertigo” and “The Birds” are two of my favorites. I’ve twice read “A Distant Mirror” about 14th-century France and the split between two popes at that time.

How would classmates in high school have described you?

I was the salutatorian voted the second most intellectual in my class.

What’s something about you most people wouldn’t know?

We lived in France from 1984 to 1992. I was retiring, and I was very tired and wanted to get away to a beautiful place. In addition, our youngest daughter, Annie, need a better school environment than she had in Fresno, and we found it in Aix-en-Provence in southern France. At first we thought we’d stay for a year, but Annie thrived there. After eight years, it was time to come home.

Is there anything else that might surprise people?

Margaret and I traveled to 62 countries. I don’t have a favorite country, but in Africa we loved going on safari in Kenya, visiting the Roman ruins in Tunisia and going up and down the Nile. In Asia, we did a great trip on the Yangtze River in China and another trip to Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand. We also did a one-month cruise around Australia and took two trips to New Zealand. I’ve climbed Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the continental U.S. (14,505 feet), and Glittertind, the second highest peak in Norway (8,087 feet).

God is calling Community UCC to do what?

To continue to be a witness in the battle for the dignity and equal rights of all people, not only American citizens. We have a mission to improve humanity little by little. We’re not alone in that task, but we’re a beleaguered minority.

Meet Our Members - Amy Kilburn

Meet Amy Kilburn, member since 2015

Published in eNews on March 28, 2019

Tell us about yourself:

I teach literature and history to eighth-graders at Reyburn Intermediate School in Clovis Unified. I also teach a peer counseling class at Reyburn, and I’m the vice president of the Faculty Senate in Clovis Unified. Teachers elect the Senate’s officers, and we’re in charge of committees that deal with topics like salaries and benefits.

What about family?

I live with my mom, Carol, and we’re within five minutes of my brother, Andy, and his wife, Barbara. They have four children, Ellie, Arthur, Abbie and Maddie. They come over a lot, and we have a good time. I also have two dogs – Poe and Dixie – that I love a lot.

How did you come to attend Community UCC?

My grandparents, Art and Barbara Drolette, were founding members. My grandmother was a social justice activist, and my grandfather was the guiding light in our lives. We lived with my grandparents when I was growing up, and my grandpa would listen to my frustrations and then say, ‘You need to remember to love everyone.’ He had tough times in his life. His mother didn’t like kids, and his father was an alcoholic. He grew up during the Depression, and he served in World War II. But he had joy. After he passed away, Pastor Chris was very kind to us. I remember thinking: ‘He doesn’t even know us, but he’s coming to our house and taking care of us.’ My mom and I started attending soon after Grandpa died. I feel his presence here.

What church activities are you involved with?

I’m on the pastor search team, and I help with worship planning. I’ve also emceed special events like Bingo Night. In the past, I served as interim moderator and vice moderator.

What do you find special about Community UCC?

I appreciate that Community is a church where people can question their relationship with God, and they’re still welcome to worship here. During Lent, the congregation made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for folks who are homeless. That’s an example of what Christianity looks like to me. I know people who can quote Scripture and go to Bible studies all the time, but they’re not inclusive. It’s like ‘if you don’t pray the way I pray, I’m not going to be friends with you.’ That never attracted me.
Complete this sentence: “God is calling this congregation to be …”

I believe God is challenging us to truly be open and welcoming. Sometimes, there are people who want to serve, and their personalities rub some people wrong. We don’t find a spot for them, and they don’t come back. That bothers me. I would say God is challenging us to look at some of our practices and decide what we need to keep and what we need to change. We have a great opportunity to do this with a new pastor coming in.

Tell us something most people don’t know about you:

I started to travel as a teenager, and I walked on the Great Wall of China when I was 16. I’ve also been to England, France, Germany, Mexico, Spain, Russia, the Caribbean, and most of the states in this country.

What’s your favorite movie?

“Sense and Sensibility.” It’s a very “heart” movie, and all of my favorites are like that. My favorite TV show is “This Is Us,” and my favorite book is “Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett.

How would people have described you in high school?

I graduated from Buchanan in the first graduating class – Class of ’95. I was very quiet. I was into studying and working on the yearbook. It’s still a little hard for me to get up and talk in front of adults. I’m a little shyer than people would think. But if there’s a need, I don’t mind doing it.

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Meet Our Members - John Donaldson
Meet John Donaldson, member since 1956

Published in eNews, March 7, 2019

Tell us about yourself:

I grew up in Houston and graduated from Rice University, where my mother had earned her degree in 1922. After receiving a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Rice, I earned another master’s degree and a Ph.D. from Yale. In 1956, I came to Fresno to teach physics at Fresno State. I also had offers from San Diego State and North Texas State, but my wife, Shirley, and I loved Yosemite and the Sierra. I never hiked as a kid, but Shirley loved to so we learned to backpack and camp out. Shirley and I had four children: Nancy, Dorothy and twins, Jack and Jane. They’re adopted. I have five grandchildren and great-grandchildren, too. (Shirley died in 2006.)

What brought you to Community UCC?

I’d been the choir director at a Methodist Church in Maryland while in the Army, and I was looking for something like that in Fresno. I had just started at Fresno State when I saw an article in the campus newspaper. Henry Hayden was looking for a choir director for this new church (then known as College Community Congregational). Henry and I got together, and we stayed together for many years. I was the director for 40 years, and I still sing in the choir.

What other church activities have you been involved in?

I’ve been on trustees (now called the Finance Team) probably 10 times, and I headed the stewardship drive on several occasions.

What do you find special or different about Community UCC?

It’s one church I can belong to because it’s progressive and has been all along. I’m an atheist, actually. I had a marvelous course at Rice on the philosophy of religion, and I was embarrassed early in the class that I didn’t realize Genesis has two separate creation stories, and they differ considerably. It opened my eyes. But I can happily sing about things I don’t believe in. Somehow, in music it’s different. I know it’s a strange conflict, but I’ve learned to live with it.

What’s your vision for the church?

We are called to be a church of love, not hate; not discriminating against any sex, race or orientation.

What’s something about you most people wouldn’t know?

A lot of people have no idea how important sports were to me when I was younger. Baseball was my favorite growing up, and I thought I was going to be a ball player. But I never got in a game in high school. Then the track coach asked me to come out and throw the discus. I continued with it at Rice, and I was national discus champion my senior year. I kept throwing at Fresno State, and I competed several times in the West Coast Relays in Fresno. I forget whether I placed there, but by then, my best days were over. I also played volleyball after college, and I was an AAU All-American in 1951.

Is there anything else people might not know about you?

I was elected in 1972 and 1976 to the Fresno County Board of Supervisors, serving for eight years. I’m also interested in astronomy. For many years, I hosted dinners for church members and then we went stargazing.

How would classmates in high school have described you?

Someone who loved to study and was unaware of what was going on in the world at that time. They also might say I was pleasant. I got my dad’s temperament.

Is there anything else you’d like to say?

I’m really impressed with our interim pastor, Ara. He’s come to visit me at San Joaquin Gardens since I broke my leg and had surgery. The first time he came, we must have talked for two hours. He’s a great guy.

How is your leg?

I’m doing well. I’m in physical therapy and improving rapidly. I hope to go home soon and start driving again.