History of Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church

Compiled by MaryLouise Roberson – September 13, 2015

September 9, 1990 – the day our congregation was “born” with 161 persons present.   We first met in the cafenasium of Coronado Middle School (at intersection of Oracle and Wilds Roads) after months of careful planning.  The Bishop and Cabinet of the Desert Southwest Conference looked at the geographical location and setting from which our members would come and gave us the name Vista de la Montana United Methodist Church .  Quoting our founding pastor Reverend Donald B. Cooke, “The beautiful range of the Catalina Mountains form the backdrop of the entire area to be served making the name which in Spanish means ‘View of fthe Mountain’ most appropriate. History likewise reminds us of the Hispanic roots of this area, and had it not been for the Gadsden Purchase of 1853 which acquired the 29,640 square miles south of the Gila River, we might be living in Mexico today. With such a rich Hispanic culture of language, art and music, it seemed most appropriate to name this new church using the beauty of the Spanish language.” We had a Christmas Eve children’s pageant and candlelighting service.  Administrative space was rented in the State Farm building in Catalina beside King Kone Ice Cream Parlor (what is now Arby’s). A Space Team was formed to search for a permanent church site.  Rev. Cooke and team walked and evaluated about a dozen available sites.

 March 24, 1991 – Constituting Sunday, on Palm Sunday, to receive our charter, with 142 persons present. This was followed by a potluck in Catalina State Park.  We Methodists do love our potlucks!  By the end of our first full year of meeting in the school, we had Sunday School classes for children, youth, and adults as well as adult, youth and children’s choirs. Two United Methodist Women Circles and our United Methodist Men’s group were formed, and are still very active today. A Singles Ministry was started.  The school was under a flu quarantine in February, but we brought our own folding chairs and met outside for a couple of weeks even though it was very cold and windy!  Eleven youth were confirmed on Pentecost Sunday in May. TMM’s Rillito Children’s Center and the Catalina Community Food Bank were selected to be our mission projects. Child care began for infants and toddlers  through 4 years of age. We participated with Vacation Bible School at St. Marks UMC.

 July 1, 1992 – Dr. Stewart L. Elson “Stu” became our pastor.  Don Cooke had to take early retirement due to his battle with prostate cancer.  “Miracle Sunday” was held on Vista’s 2nd anniversary, September 6, 1992, to raise funds to purchase the 10+ acre Titan Missile site where our church now stands.  (Read more about the missile site below.)

 A few of the significant milestones from then to now:

 1993 Building Committee appointed,  Albanese Brooks Associates selected as architects and Dream Sunday for every person to record their dreams for our new buildings,. Commissioned Jim and Nedra Starkey to be in mission at Camp Hope in Colorado. 1st Easter Sunrise Service on site, on folding chairs.  Missile site preparation began.

 1994  DSWC-owned modular was transported from Desert Skies UMC to our site, and a covered fellowship porch was attached.  First worship service in our new modular was September 4, Vista’s 4th birthday. November 6 was Consecration Sunday.

 1995 The church sign and flagpole for the UMC flame and cross flag were installed on our easement at Oracle Road and Miravista Lane.  The Cooke’s son Jeff designed and built our first permanent structure, in the shape of a fish, for the Cooke Meditation Garden.

 1997 Water and sewer lines were engineered and completed (no more potable water and septic tank/leach field). We were growing and needed more space. Thus a second used modular building was purchased, extension built for the two restrooms, and transported from Phoenix to be our sanctuary. The cement fellowship covered patio was extended to connect the two buildings. Byron Haines, a retired Methodist pastor in Vista’s congregation, made a beautiful 4 foot cross and communion table of native mesquite wood. Our first worship service in our new sanctuary was  October 19, 1997.

 1999 Vista enrolled as a Stephen Ministry congregation.

 November 11, 2001 Groundbreaking for our Worship Center/Fellowship Hall. ABA architects and T.L. Roof Construction Company.

 September 8, 2002 Reverend Jon Leonard, our pastor throughout the construction, officiated at our first worship service in our Worship Center/Fellowship Hall.

 November 19, 2002 Consecration of our new buildings and the Columbarium & Memorial Garden.

 March 20, 2011 20th anniversary of receiving our charter and recognizing our charter members.   A time capsule was buried on Memorial Day Sunday, May 29, 2011, to be opened on Charter Sunday, March 2031.


Old missile sites in area have new lives

by Sonu Munshi on Nov. 23, 2007,

The Rev. Monte Baker points to Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church’s playground, which was built directly over the silo at a decommissioned Air Force Titan II missile base just north of Tucson.

CATALINA – It’s fitting that children at Vista de la Montaña United Methodist Church swing, slide and climb on this spot, the Rev. Monte Baker says, pointing to a covered playground.  The placement speaks to the motto of this church north of Tucson: “Once a Missile Site . . . Now a Church with a Mission.”  Directly beneath the playground, an Air Force Titan II missile once stood ready to deliver a nuclear bomb 600 times more powerful than the one dropped on Hiroshima.  “It’s wonderful to see the site of a weapon of mass destruction turn into something so nurturing,” Baker said.  It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the Air Force decommissioned the last of 18 missile sites around Tucson. One site now houses a missile museum, and some others, their silos and bunkers long buried, have new missions. Each remains a reminder of southern Arizona’s key role during the Cold War.

In Tubac, 40 miles south of Tucson, people work out at a former Titan site that’s home to Crista’s Totally Fit Health & Wellness Center. Crista Simpson, who runs the gym, keeps a box full of photos, maps and newspaper clippings about the site.  “Hey, how many women get to own a Titan missile silo site?” Simpson said. “I’m just glad it’s now being used to better people’s health, not destroy humanity.”  Robert Gomez runs Acacia Nursery on a former missile site in Marana, just northwest of Tucson.  “Once in a while we get people curious enough to drive all the way to see the site,” Gomez said. “They walk around, but really there’s mostly cactuses and shrubs here now.”

In Sahuarita, just south of Tucson, 1 million people have visited the Titan Missile Museum, which opened in 1986. It’s the nation’s only former Titan II site accessible to the public.  On a recent weekday, Steve Bronson, visiting from southern California, joined those looking with awestruck faces into the museum’s 146-foot silo, which contains a decommissioned Titan II.  “It’s an imposing feeling, very humbling,” Bronson said.

Green Valley resident Lee Laughner said she visits the museum regularly. On this day, she brought a relative visiting from Denmark.  “People need to look beyond their own lives to see what’s happened in our world,” Laughner said.  The site has been designated a National Historic Landmark.

“It’s the most important site in the country depicting this chapter of the Cold War,” said Greg Kendrick, national historic landmark coordinator for the National Park Service’s intermountain region.  Yvonne Morris, the museum’s director, served as a crew commander at the site when she was 23.  “I didn’t think of Armageddon or anything all the time,” Morris said. “But I was trained and prepared to turn the key if we ever got the message to do so.”

The Tucson-area missiles were among 54 Titan II sites. The rest were near Wichita, Kan., and Little Rock, Ark. 
Morris said the Titan II sites, activated in 1963, served the country well.  “Just by its sheer presence, our enemies dared not attack us, because they knew we had the power to retaliate – and how,” Morris said.

The Titan sites bring to mind an era that included the Cuban Missile Crisis, Stalin and Khrushchev, Arizona historian Marshall Trimble said.  “Everyone knew if the Russian missiles were coming this way, they’d head to Tucson,” Trimble said.  Few protested against the sites because of the nuclear threat, Trimble said.

Source: Titan Missile Museum