Westmont Magazine A Commitment to Youth
William Wilson Catherwood was one of the best known and most eloquent preachers in Southern California during the World Wars and intervening years. His ministry focused on young people, and Redlands University invited him to serve on their board.
As a personal friend of Ruth Kerr (a founder of Westmont) and the pastor of the Baptist church she attended in Riverside, Calif., Catherwood was a natural candidate for the college’s board of trustees.
When he joined the board in 1940, he was elected the first president, a position he held until 1946. He continued as a trustee until 1955 when he became the first trustee emeritus. After watching Redlands move away from its historical evangelical stance, he was committed to keeping Westmont true to its Christian heritage.
Born in Northern Ireland, Catherwood came to the United States in 1898 to study at Moody’s Bible Institute and prepare for the ministry. After a semester there, he transferred to Mount Hermon School in Northfield, Mass. Not only did he graduate as valedictorian, but he distinguished himself in track and field and public speaking and debate.
As a student, he frequently filled local pulpits, and after graduation, he moved to California and held pastorates in Baptist churches in Oceanside, Huntington Park, Covina, Santa Barbara, and Riverside.
His excellent preaching and commitment to evangelism led church membership to double in Santa Barbara from 1917-1923. During the 26 years he ministered in Riverside, the congregation grew from 700 to nearly 3,000.
“Dad had the reputation that he loved young people,” recalls his daughter, Helen Catherwood Strandberg. “He knew how to reach them.” He spoke frequently at youth conferences throughout the state.
To minister to young men during World War II, he started a serviceman’s center at the church. “It was a very dynamic meeting place,” his son-in-law, Joel Strandberg, explains. “Growth at the Riverside church resulted from young men coming to the church because of the CSO, staying in California . . . and making this their home.
“One measure of the effectiveness of his ministry was the number of young men who decided to go into ministry as the result of his preaching and tutelage in the church,” Joel continues.
An avid and competitive sportsman who enjoyed hunting, Catherwood also possessed a phenomenal memory and committed large sections of Scripture to memory.
In addition to being an incorporator of Westmont, he was a founder of Thousand Pines Camp in the San Bernardino mountains and California Baptist Theological Seminary at Covina (now the American Baptist Seminary of the West in Berkeley).
The late Kenneth Monroe, who served the college as a professor, interim president, and trustee, thought highly of Catherwood. “He had a real grasp on the commitment of Westmont College and the direction the school should move.”
Commenting on the vitality of his father-in-law’s ministry, Joel Strandberg reflected, “He had a hope in his heart and in his ministry for the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, and it was very real to him.”
Catherwood’s daughter Helen served on the Westmont faculty from 1940-1946 and directed the first Westmont choir. Her husband, Joel, taught mathematics.
“Helen Catherwood was the best choir director you could have asked for,” recalled Dr. Wallace Emerson, Westmont’s first president. Music Professor Emeritus John Lundberg first learned about the college when he heard the choir perform under her direction. “She did a wonderful job. Boy, was she good. I was really impressed with that choir,” he said.
Referring affectionately to her “miraculous little choir,” Helen notes, “Before every concert, those kids would get down on their knees and pray that God would use the concert to His glory — and God did.”
Research by History Professor Emeritus Paul Wilt