By JOHN FORTMEYER
McMINNVILLE — A visionary attitude by local businessman Del Smith resulted several years ago in what is now one of Oregon’s top tourist attractions — a world-class aviation and space museum highlighted by Howard Hughes’ famed “Spruce Goose.”
Now, Smith’s vision of what else can take place on the Evergreen Aviation and Space Museum’s expansive campus has brought the latest addition there — a brand-new, $2.1 million Christian chapel that opened its doors in September.
“It is the moral and spiritual center of the campus,” said Larry Wood, executive director of the museum, which also has a waterpark and planned lodge on the property.
Wood said the 5,488 square-foot log chapel building is something that Smith, owner of Evergreen International Aviation, clearly felt led to pursue all the way to reality.
“He has some strong feelings, and with this private museum, he is able to express those feelings,” said Wood. “He wanted a chapel. He had seen something similar on the coast, so he went to Hoffman Construction Company and said he wanted a chapel.”
The Seattle-based construction firm tapped Sisters Log Home Co. of Central Oregon to build the log structure.
Featuring Douglas fir in the 14- to 20-inch diameter range, the chapel also boasts a 65-foot steeple topped by a cross. The structure was built at Sisters, with each piece tagged and color-coded. It then was broken down, shipped to McMinnville and then reconstructed on site by the company’s crews. It is located halfway between the aviation museum and the Wings and Waves Waterpark and toward the back side of the campus behind an oak grove.
The chapel was ordered by Smith through the museum’s Michael King Smith Foundation, named after his late son. David Garske of Hoffman told the Sisters Nugget newspaper last year that the chapel fits well into the mission of the whole campus, which is “to promote and preserve aviation and space history, and to honor the patriotic service of our veterans.”
Wood said the building is in the classic chapel shape of a cross, with wings extending from each side of the central seating area. The pews can accommodate 150 people and there is an altar in the front.
Already the chapel is seeing regular activity. In addition to its availabilty for weddings and special events, it has been hosting nondenominational worship services led by local Pastor Duane Driver at 9:30 a.m. on Sundays.
But Wood emphasized that the chapel in no way is meant to compete with local churches and ministries. In fact, it seeks to complement those outreaches by being available for ministry events such as youth retreats and education programs.
One recent event was an Oct. 12 memorial service for Ben “Flaps” Berry, one of the famed Tuskegee Airmen, African-American pilots of World War II. Berry, who had spoken at the museum on Sept. 19 in conjunction with the Oregon Aviation Industries Summit, died Sept. 30. The memorial included full military honors.
For more on the chapel, go to evergreenmuseum.org. or phone 503-434-4185.