Chapter 5: Tkach’s Fellows
By Stephen Flurry
“I know Gerald Flurry very well. … How could he carry on for Mr. Armstrong? He wasn’t even trained around him, much less at his feet. Wasn’t even trained close to him. Wasn’t even trained at his coattail. Wasn’t trained within arm’s reach.”
— Gerald Waterhouse
Sermon, January 25, 1992
The day Mr. Armstrong died, Mike Feazell and Mike Rasmussen, who both worked for Mr. Tkach, “went up to my office and took all my files out of my drawers,” Aaron Dean remembers. He said, “I got called by Brenda Yale and Donna—the secretary up there—and they were crying. And they said, ‘What’s going on? They’re treating us like criminals.’”1
Bob Herrington, one of Mr. Armstrong’s four nurses, remembers well his first encounter with the new administration. As Mr. Armstrong’s primary nighttime caregiver, Herrington lived in an apartment adjacent to Mr. Armstrong’s home. He was at Mr. Armstrong’s bedside the morning he died. And, according to Herrington, “I was evicted before the day was through. Somebody came over to me and said, ‘We have important people coming to town—we’re going to need that apartment.’”2 Herrington wouldn’t reveal who told him to leave, but whoever it was also insisted that Herrington not attend the funeral, so as not to attract the attention of the press. So, a few days after Mr. Armstrong died, Bob Herrington packed his things and moved to Texas.
According to Aaron Dean, these incidents highlight one of the first promises made to Mr. Armstrong that Tkach broke. Mr. Armstrong wanted his staff to assist Mr. Tkach, not Tkach’s staff. But contrary to the assurances he had given to his predecessor, Mr. Tkach (or perhaps his staff) made it clear on January 16 that, despite Mr. Armstrong’s warnings, Tkach’s staff was coming with him.
Tkach’s Personal Assistant
Michael Feazell’s family moved to Pasadena in 1957, when he was 6, so he could attend the wcg’s Imperial Grade School. He was educated by the church’s grade school, high school and college, finally graduating from Ambassador in 1973.
After graduation, Feazell worked for one year at Imperial Schools as an elementary teacher. In 1974, he moved to Yuma, Arizona, and taught fifth grade at a local elementary school for four years. During the summers, he worked for the wcg’s youth camp in Minnesota, where he was in charge of the camp store. In the fall of 1978, the church again hired him full time, to work at Ambassador’s Pasadena campus as a tennis instructor and equipment manager.
Then, coincident with Tkach Sr.’s appointment over Ministerial Services in 1979, Feazell catapulted up the wcg hierarchy. Tkach brought him on board first as a special projects coordinator and later as personal assistant. Feazell was not a minister at the time he joined Church Administration.
Feazell had been a friend of the Tkach family for a number of years. He met Tkach’s son, Joe Jr., at Imperial High School in 1967, where both of them were attending as 10th graders. They later attended Ambassador College together in Pasadena and graduated together in 1973. During the summer months of his college years, Feazell even lived with the Tkaches. In many ways, Joe Sr. was like a father to him.
For a period of six years at Church Administration (late 1979 to early 1986), Mr. Feazell assisted Tkach Sr., maintaining consistent communication with the wcg ministry in organizing the Ministerial Refreshing Program, ministerial transfers and ministerial assignments for the Feast of Tabernacles.
When Mr. Tkach became pastor general in 1986, Mr. Feazell continued serving as his personal assistant, but focused instead on preparing Tkach Sr.’s articles and sermons.
Head of the Ministry
Like Feazell, Joseph Tkach Jr. was born in 1951 and grew up in the Worldwide Church of God. His family moved to Pasadena in 1966 when Mr. Meredith accepted Tkach Sr. into the one-year program for local elders. After Joe Jr. graduated from Ambassador in 1973, he married Jill Hockwald. He worked as a ministerial trainee for the church between 1973 and 1976, serving in Indiana, Michigan, California and Arizona. He was ordained as a local elder in the summer of 1976. Months later, his employment with the church was terminated due to budget cuts. Though no longer paid by the church, he continued serving as assistant pastor for the Phoenix East congregation in Arizona. He was later removed from this position in July 1978, two months after he divorced his first wife at the age of 26.
Between 1978 and 1986, Joe Jr. lived in relative obscurity within the Phoenix East congregation as a local elder. He married for a second time in 1980. He was employed as a social worker until 1984, and then worked for Intel until 1986.
After his father succeeded Mr. Armstrong in January 1986, Joe Jr. began a sharp ascent up the wcg hierarchy. His father appointed him assistant director of Church Administration in August 1986, where he worked for Larry Salyer. (Salyer had replaced Tkach Sr. as head of Church Administration once Tkach became pastor general.)
Eight months after moving to Pasadena, in April 1987, Mr. Tkach Sr. raised his son to the rank of pastor. Later that year, in November, Joe Jr. was again promoted. Tkach Sr. decided to reorganize Church Administration into two branches—the U.S. ministry and the international ministry, with Joe Jr. in charge of the former and Larry Salyer the latter, effectively making Salyer the assistant to Joe Jr. Thus, in a matter of 15 short months, Joseph Tkach Jr. went from being a non-salaried, local church elder—the lowest-ranking spiritual office in the wcg—to the pastor-ranked director over the wcg’s ministry. This meteoric ascent put him in charge of approximately 1,200 wcg ministers in less than a year and a half.
He was 36 years old.
Head of Media Operations
Bernard Schnippert, another college friend of Joe Jr.’s, graduated from ac in 1971. After serving in the personal correspondence department for a short time after graduation, Schnippert went into the field ministry for a few years, serving in Edmonton and Calgary in Alberta, Canada. By the mid-1970s, poor health forced him to take a two-year paid leave of absence.
In 1977, he returned to work in Pasadena as an assistant to Dr. Robert Kuhn, where he was responsible for coordinating the Systematic Theology Project (stp). Garner Ted Armstrong later presented the infamous stp at a ministerial conference in January 1978, shortly after his father had left town. The stp was a scholarly attempt to liberalize or alter many of the church’s doctrines. It was prepared by a handful of wcg scholars, coordinated by Schnippert, and carefully concealed from Herbert Armstrong. Once Mr. Armstrong caught wind of the conspiracy, he ordered all of the church’s ministers to return their copies. He disfellowshiped Garner Ted and Dr. Kuhn later that year. These two, along with other disgruntled former members, then proceeded to launch the unsuccessful civil suit against Herbert Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God in January 1979.
Bernie Schnippert somehow escaped the stp fallout and remained within the wcg. He spent the next eight years sequestered in a small congregation in Las Vegas, before getting a call from headquarters in April 1987. He was offered a position in Pasadena assisting Dexter Faulkner in Editorial Services. His primary title was international booklet director. A few months after his arrival in Pasadena, on August 1, Mr. Tkach raised Mr. Schnippert to the rank of pastor.
The following month, Mr. Tkach made this remarkable announcement in the Pastor General’s Report:
As God grants greater and greater impact to the World Tomorrow television program, the Plain Truth magazine and our other publications, both in the United States and internationally, I have come to see the vital necessity of establishing thorough coordination among the four crucial and closely interrelated departments of Mail Processing, Editorial Services, Publishing Services and Television Production.3
To that end, Mr. Tkach selected Bernie Schnippert to fill the newly created position of director of Media Operations.
In other words, instead of assisting Dexter Faulkner in Editorial Services (which he had done for all of three months), Schnippert was now Faulkner’s boss—as well as Richard Rice’s, Ray Wright’s and Larry Omasta’s—three other department heads.
Thus, the man who coordinated the Systematic Theology Project in 1977 was now director of all the church’s media operations nine years later—just a year and a half after the death of Herbert Armstrong.
Head of the College
Donald Ward is another key personality who rose to prominence within the wcg during the tumultuous 1970s. Highly educated, Ward was admitted to Ambassador College–Big Sandy in 1969—already equipped with a master’s degree from the University of Southern Mississippi. He started teaching at Big Sandy one year after his arrival as a student and later obtained a doctorate in education from East Texas State University in Commerce in 1973.
After being named the associate dean of faculty for Big Sandy that same year, Dr. Ward played a key role in Ambassador’s pursuit of accreditation throughout the mid-1970s. Early in the process, he explained in the college’s newspaper that to become an accredited liberal arts college, Big Sandy would have to offer at least four majors, which would necessitate the addition of many new courses, and also beef up its faculty credentials and library services.4
In 1976, Dr. Ward became Big Sandy’s academic dean, but only for a year because of Mr. Armstrong’s decision in 1977 to close Big Sandy. In March 1978, however, Garner Ted appointed Dr. Ward as vice president of Ambassador’s Pasadena campus. One month later, in April, Ted elevated him to the office of president, in hopes that Dr. Ward’s credentials would help the college become accredited. Their plan was to close up operations in Pasadena and consolidate in Big Sandy as an accredited institution.
The elder Armstrong wrote extensively about the state of the college during this tumultuous time period. He said the campus was a “shambles of immorality and secularism. Illicit sex was rampant.”5 Garner Ted had been keeping major decisions from his father—decisions “he was unauthorized to make.”6 Ted either shipped out or demoted old-timers and replaced them with yes-men. According to Mr. Armstrong, Ted surrounded himself with “men he thought would be loyal to him personally above being loyal to the church and to God.”7
As with the stp, once Mr. Armstrong awakened to what was happening to the college, he intervened swiftly and decisively.
On May 8, last month, I learned that my son had appointed a man I do not even know as president of Ambassador College. I then wrote him that this was the last straw—of his assuming authority never given to him to make major decisions.8
Incredibly, the hiring of Dr. Ward was the last straw that resulted in Garner Ted being fired!
Mr. Armstrong later wrote about these traumatic years for the church and college:
The liberals at Pasadena wanted accreditation. They did not want to be accredited as a Bible college, but as a full competing college or university. As such the college would fall under the rules of the secular accrediting society, which would more or less determine policy and curricula. …
Ambassador College had been destroyed as God’s college. In 1978 … I had to completely close Ambassador College at Pasadena, starting all over again, as in 1947, with one freshman class. The colleges in England and in Texas had already been closed.9
Despite all this, however, Dr. Ward managed to escape the accreditation fallout. He settled into a low-profile position as pastor of a congregation in East Texas.
When Big Sandy reopened in 1981, Dr. Ward returned to his previous position of academic dean, serving under Leon Walker, the deputy chancellor. Ward held that position until late 1987 when Tkach Sr. called him. At the time, Dr. Ward had been working under Rod Meredith, the deputy chancellor at Big Sandy. At the Pasadena campus, Raymond McNair was the deputy chancellor. When Mr. Tkach appointed Dr. Ward to the position of vice chancellor over both campuses in 1987, he became Meredith’s and McNair’s superior.
The following year, in 1988, Ambassador College again began its active pursuit of accreditation—and just like in 1978, Dr. Ward was at the helm. Their plan—surprise, surprise—was to close operations in Pasadena and consolidate in Big Sandy as an accredited institution.
Out With the Old
So, in less than two years after Mr. Armstrong’s death, Don Ward was president of Ambassador College, Bernie Schnippert headed all the media operations, Joe Tkach Jr. was in charge of the ministry and Michael Feazell was the pastor general’s executive assistant and ghostwriter.
Another personality who would figure prominently in the new administration was Greg Albrecht, who was dean of students at ac–Pasadena throughout the 1980s. In 1990, Bernie Schnippert moved Albrecht into Editorial Services, where he would later be given charge of the church’s flagship magazine, the Plain Truth.
All five of these scholars were made evangelists after Mr. Armstrong died in 1986.
And what of the other evangelists—those raised to that position by Mr. Armstrong? They quickly faded into the background, just like in the 1970s. In July 1986, Mr. Tkach removed Leslie McCullough from his position as deputy chancellor at Big Sandy and shipped him off to head up the small regional office in South Africa.
To replace McCullough, Mr. Tkach moved Rod Meredith from headquarters to Big Sandy. Three years later, after Tkach decided to close the Pasadena campus and focus the college’s accreditation pursuit on Big Sandy, he brought Meredith back to Pasadena and tucked him away in an insignificant position within the editorial department.
Weeks after Mr. Tkach catapulted Dr. Ward to vice chancellor over the colleges, ahead of Mr. Meredith and Mr. McNair, Tkach shipped McNair to the New Zealand regional office.
We won’t take space to elaborate on a number of other examples, like Richard Ames, Herman Hoeh, Ellis La Ravia, Leroy Neff and Gerald Waterhouse—but suffice it to say that all of these men, who were prominent evangelists at the time of Mr. Armstrong’s death, faded from view and settled into much less significant roles once Mr. Tkach stepped into office and brought up his staff.
There are a few exceptions, like old-timers Dean Blackwell (who has since died) and Ron Kelly (who was the church’s financial controller until 2005, when he retired), but for the most part, when Tkach Sr. took over, he brought in a whole new administrative team.
It’s interesting now as I look back on this history because one of the biggest criticisms the Tkach administration had against my father, after they fired him in December 1989, was that he was a relative nobody—a lowly field minister who never served under Mr. Armstrong. And while that may have been true, one wonders what Mr. Armstrong would have thought of the upper echelons of the wcg administration at the point of my dad’s firing.
Donald Ward over the college?
Joe Jr. in charge of the ministry?
Michael Feazell writing articles for the pastor general?
Bernie Schnippert heading the church’s four main departments?
By the end of 1989, Tkach Jr. and Feazell had been delegated enough authority to fire two field ministers on the spot—my father and his assistant, John Amos—ministers who had been serving full time in the church for two decades. Had Mr. Armstrong been present at the firing, he may not have recognized my father and Mr. Amos.
But I’m not sure he would have recognized the two men firing them either.