MANATEE -- The huge church sign along Cortez Road near the Cortez Bridge reads: "Traditional and Biblical."
Cortez Road Baptist Church will celebrate its 50th anniversary next weekend with a grand festival, including a visiting evangelist, Southern Baptist gospel group and dinner.
Events are set for Friday through Sunday at the church, 4411 100th St. W.
"We want to recognize that God has blessed us over the last 50 years and let the community know we are planning for a great future," said the Rev. Tom Walsh, who became the church's sixth pastor May 1, replacing the Rev. Roy Bruce, a living legend who served two terms as pastor and retired at age 85.
The three-day 50th birthday party will feature Bradenton evangelist Todd Sivnksty, highly regarded by many for his passionate "soul-winning," and The Peytons, a Southern gospel group.
There will also be a ham dinner "with all the fixin's," on the grounds at noon Sunday.
The church was founded in 1964 by the Rev. Frank Hagemann; his wife, Grace; and seven other families, said church historian Atlas Kight, 80, who joined the church in 1967 and is among its most long-standing members.
"The Rev. Hagemann was an outstanding pastor who planted churches from Naples to Bradenton," Kight said.
For people who like a small church with traditional ways, Cortez Road Baptist has been a good fit, Kight said.
"My husband, who was not a Christian, said if I joined a small church he would go with me," Kight said.
Kenneth Kight not only went with his wife, he accepted Jesus Christ as his savior a few months later and their three boys, Robin, Larry and Paul were also saved, Atlas Kight said.
"That sign, 'Traditional and Biblical,' really describes it," Kight said. "We don't use material other than the Bible. Our music is traditional. We enjoy our hymns. We don't use an overhead projector. We still use song books."
"From when I began in 1967 there has always been a real friendship in this church and it's still that way today," Kight added. "Everyone makes you feel welcome."
A dozen people gathered facts to produce a history of the church called, "Reflect -- Refocus."
The book said the church opened in a garage May 10, 1964, "on the south side of a long, straight road leading to the beach."
Led by Hagemann, eight families in 1964 assembled a constitution and formally formed the church.
"The church actually began in its current location in a building that was part garage, part plumbing shop," Walsh said. "The church actually has built around the original garage. Where the pulpit and first five or six pews are now constitute where the garage was. There are still garage windows in the attic."
In addition to Cortez Road Baptist, Hagemann also organized and pastored churches in Apollo Beach and three in Illinois, the history book states.
Rev. Bruce redux
On August 29, 1971, Bruce replaced Hagemann.
"With his wife, Elaine; three boys, David, Peter and Jonathan; and two girls, Linda and Holly, the Bruces strive to perpetuate a Christ-centered, Biblical ministry in a fast-growing neighborhood," according to the history.
Jonathan Bruce grew up to be a Manatee County commissioner.
Roy Bruce resigned April 6, 1980, and was replaced by the Rev. William Harrier as the church's third pastor in July, 1980.
In 1990, the Rev. Mark Eveleth took the church leadership and stayed until May, 2008.
During Eveleth's reign, the church "continued its focus on spiritual growth, devotion to daily prayer and motiving people to become involved in the Lord's work," the history relates.
In May, 2008, the always-smiling Roy Bruce stepped out of retirement at the age of 80, the history states. Having already served the church from 1971 to 1980, Pastor Bruce joked: "We can hang out a shingle that reads -- Under Old Management!"
On May 1, 2013, Walsh, 66, who had led a church in Zanesville, Ohio, became the sixth pastor of Cortez Road Baptist.
Walsh also is a big fan of the traditional ways.
"Being traditional has helped us maintain," Walsh said. "A lot of people want the traditional hymns and shy away from the contemporary."
The church has 42 permanent members, but winter-time attendance swells to as many as 125.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @ RichardDymond.