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Washington County man spent 46 years with Christian radio stations

December 27, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

What Ward Childerston planned for his life and what God had in mind for him haven't always coincided. But the 73-year-old former manager of Christian radio station WCRH in Williamsport isn't complaining.

Born on a 4,000-acre Nebraska ranch his grandfather had homesteaded, Ward had every intention of being a rancher himself.

"When I was 12, my father left the ranch and went into missionary work," Ward said.

His father was affiliated with American Sunday School Union and traveled around, establishing Sunday schools in places where there weren't any churches.

When Ward's grandfather sold the ranch in 1946, Ward knew then that he wasn't going to be a rancher after all.

During his youth, Ward met his future wife at a Bible Camp but he insists he doesn't remember that first encounter.

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His wife, Vonnie, does however. "He chased me with a snake," she recalled - another tidbit that Ward said he doesn't remember.

Later, when the pair met again at Grace Bible University in Omaha, they became better acquainted. They graduated, got engaged and then married.

"At that point in my life, I had no idea what I was going to do," Ward said.

He got a job at KMTV where he was floor manager for two years at the black-and-white television station.

"Then I was a pastor of a church for two years," Ward said.

He and Vonnie thought they were going on a mission to the Philippines where missionary radio was in its infancy.

Instead, they settled into North Platte, Neb., and had three of their four sons. For seven years, the family lived there while Ward got involved in a new radio station.

"We had a great time," Ward said.

During those years, Ward also served as minister of music at a church there.

Then Grace Bible University personnal sought him out to ask him to start an FM station in Omaha. He turned them down three times but when they approached him a fourth time, Ward figured it was meant to be.

The Childerston family stayed there for 20 years as Ward helped build that noncommercial university-owned station.

During that time, the fourth son was born.

"Ready for a move, I called some friends in business and mentioned I was looking for something new," Ward said.

A short time later, Ward got a call from Dave Swacina, administrator of Cedar Ridge Minstries, where WCRH had originated in 1976.

"I didn't even know where Williamsport or Hagerstown were," Ward said. "I never thought of moving east but I liked what I saw."

Impressed, Ward saw in 1986 that the station needed some direction, financially and otherwise.

"We have never regretted coming here," Ward said. "Vonnie and I love the area, and the people are so friendly and responsive to the Christian radio station."

Ratings back that up, Ward said. At least 40,000 listeners tune in to the 24-hour station each week within a 50-mile radius, he said.

In April 2005, Ward retired after 46 years in Christian radio.

Although he was involved in volunteering and other community work all along, now that he is retired Ward has been able to step that up.

"I'm on the state Youth for Christ board, active in Kiwanis and the Ron Hutchcraft Ministries," Ward said. He also served on the boards of the Hagerstown Rescue Mission and The Salvation Army.

Both Ward and Vonnie remain active volunteers in the National Religious Broadcasters. Through that group, they have become friends with station managers around the country and the world.

"I went to South Africa and Malawi in 2003," Ward said. "I preached in an Anglican Church on Palm Sunday to 1,100 people."

In Malawi where there is a Christian FM station, Ward participated in a radio rally under an acacia tree, encouraging people to listen to the Christian station.

Both Ward and Vonnie are enjoying retirement and the ability to travel, often to visit with family.

Now ranging in age from 40 to 52, the Childerston's sons include Jim, a psychologist; Tim who is in a pharmaceutical company and raises fainting goats; Steve, an associate pastor and actor who lives in Holland, Mich; and Jon, a software engineer in Kansas City, Mo.

There are nine grandchildren.

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