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Paul Rader
 

The Village of Tower Lakes thanks Larry Eskridge of Wheaton College for authoring the following biography on this colorful figure from our past. 

Paul Rader, 1920's Evangelist

One of the key figures involved in drawing attention to the Tower Lakes area in the 1920's was Paul Rader, the entrepreneurial evangelist who headed the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle on the city’s North Side. Although largely forgotten, Rader was a nationally known religious personality in his day, and a key forerunner in establishing what would become known as the "Electronic Church". He also came to play a major role in laying the groundwork for what would become the Village of Tower Lakes.

Born the son of a Methodist Bishop in Colorado in 1879, Rader was a big man, standing over 6'4" and weighing 220 lbs. An impressive athlete in his youth, he had been a college fullback and a talented boxer, spending time as a sparring partner for world heavyweight champions Bob Fitzsimmons and Jim Jeffries. Rader came to Chicago in 1914 as pastor of the storied Moody Memorial Church. Under his leadership, the church grew by leaps and bounds, attracting 2,000 people for nightly meetings to a new wooden "tabernacle" at the corner of North and LaSalle.

In 1921 he resigned the Moody Church pastorate to concentrate upon his work as the new President of the Christian & Missionary Alliance. But June 1922 found him back in Chicago, invited to hold a series of meetings by several old supporters from Moody Church. Erecting a steel-framed tabernacle at the intersection of Clark, Halsted, and Barry, Rader began a series of meetings so successful that he was convinced to start a new Chicago operation, the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle.

Courtesy of Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College

Under Rader, the new "Tab" experienced the same sort of growth that had occurred at the Moody Church. Meetings were held almost nightly, and a series of special programs intent on evangelizing youth, single working girls, and various ethnic groups were put into operation. Early on Rader also became involved in the new wunderkind of the 1920's, radio. Invited in June 1922 by Chicago Mayor William Hale Thompson to give his first radio sermon on the city’s municipal station WBU, Rader was a big hit with his folksy speaking style and music programs. Rader eventually led his Tabernacle into a major broadcasting effort that reached the entire Midwest - over Mayor Thompson’s own WHT - several hours each Sunday and eventually, all day Sunday through a frequency-sharing agreement with WBBM, which was picked up by 26 stations of the CBS network.

Rader was continually on the lookout for new programs and venues which might strengthen his Tabernacle’s outreach. One opportunity that intrigued him was the possibility of establishing some sort of summer retreat and conference grounds along the lines of the Moody Church’s Cedar Lake, Indiana camp. In 1925 that possibility became very real as he became aware of the availability of a large parcel of land on the border of southern Lake and McHenry Counties. Dubbed "Tower Lake Park" the area was ideal - it was goodly sized; had a new man-made lake, woods, and open areas; was not too far out from the city; and, it was close to a rail station in nearby Barrington. In fact, it even seemed to offer potential beyond being just a campground. Real estate friends of Rader’s financial angel – Albert Mussey Johnson, president of Chicago’s National Life Insurance Company - painted pictures of possible cottages on the lake that could be sold, helping both Rader and his organization.

So it was that Rader - through Johnson’s financial backing - purchased the plot in May 1925 along with several surrounding farms. Soon thereafter, Rader’s radio broadcasts made known the news and advertised a Memorial Day picnic at the new site. On May 30th 2,000 people reportedly made their way from Chicago and other points to attend the Tabernacle’s first major event at the new campground. All things seemed to point to the area becoming a busy church camp: a competition to name the new camp was held, some of Rader’s youth organizations camped there during the summer of 1925, 4th of July and Labor Day events took place around a circus tent, and plans were made for building a large tabernacle. But, by early 1926 Rader’s group had discarded the idea and sold the Tower Lakes parcel.

Why did Rader and the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle pass on Tower Lakes? Basically, a better deal came his way. Across Lake Michigan, just north of Muskegon, Rader became aware that a campground with a 125-room lodge, a number of cottages, and a half-mile of beachfront on the big lake was  available for sale at roughly half what the Tower Lakes project would cost. The deal was cinched in May 1926 and "Camp Chi-Co-Tab" became Rader’s permanent campground (although long out of Rader’s orbit, the camp is still in operation as the "Maranatha Bible Camp").

Rader’s run in Chicago ended just a few years later because of the financial pressures of the Depression. He left in 1933, and the Chicago Gospel Tabernacle began a steady decline. The congregation moved out of their old building (it is today a SportMart store, the steel frame of the old tabernacle still very much visible) in the early 1960's, and formally disbanded in the 1970's. Rader continued to evangelize after his departure from Chicago but his glory days were behind him. He died in Los Angeles of cancer in 1938. Nonetheless, Rader was a major influence within Evangelical Protestant circles: his protégés started a number of important organizations which are still in existence including Awana Clubs International, New Tribes Mission, and short-wave missionary radio station HCJB in Quito, Ecuador. He was the first significant independent fundamentalist Christian broadcaster who depended upon his listeners for the financial means to buy airtime. Rader was the single biggest influence on Charles E. Fuller whose "Old - Fashioned Revival Hour" became the most widely broadcast religious radio program in America from the late 1930's to the early 1970's. And he was the man who first put what would become the Village of Tower Lakes into the public spotlight back during the early days of Chicago radio.

Larry Eskridge
Associate Director
Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals
Wheaton College
October, 2000

 
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"When I was young, I taught at Northwestern University in Chicago. I'd bring my speech class down to hear Paul Rader. I have never heard a communicator as powerful, as dynamic, as Paul Rader."
Lowell Thomas, famous news commentator 

 

 

"I remember vividly the day just after I entered high school, when my father took me and my two brothers to Los Angeles to attend the great revival meeting being held by the Chicago evangelist Dr. Paul Rader."
Richard M. Nixon
from "A Nation's Faith in God"
Decision magazine, Nov. 1962

Click here for photo of Paul Rader speaking on radio 1922

 

Click here for a link to several of the Gospel songs written by Paul Rader

Paul Rader's nephew, Dr. Paul A. Rader, was named General of the Salvation Army in 1994 and headed that organization until 1999. 

 

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