SANTA PAULA : After 41 Years, Minister to Bid Final Farewell

Post-war America was booming and Ike was in the White House.

A young minister assigned to his first congregation was traveling to Santa Paula, a small but bustling farm town he had never heard of.

"As we came down the valley I said to my wife, 'I wish I was a doctor so we could stay,' " said the Rev. Thomas Bousman, who on Sunday tomorrow will deliver his final sermon to loyal parishioners, more than four decades after he first drive into town.

"It's very unusual for one clergyman to devote his entire professional career to one congregation," Bousman said. "I was 24 when I came, now I'm 65 and retiring. My whole adult life has been centered in this church family."

In 1953, Bousman, with his wife, Ellie, moved to Santa Paula to head the First Presbyterian Church. He never left.

"When I first got here, you didn't need to go out of town for anything," Bousman said. "All the major chains were here. There were three excellent dime stores on Main Street. Now we have to drive to Ventura."

Through four decades, Bousman has preached, ministered and counseled his congregation of more than 300. He has baptized them, married them and buried them.

He will officiate at the weddings of three young couples today. Then during his sermon Sunday, he will say goodby the best way he knows.

"My sermon is going to be called 'The Past Is Prologue,' " Bousman said. "I'm going to talk about gratitude for the past and the challenge for the future.

"This is an opportunity to look back and be grateful for all the good things, but also for looking forward to all the wonderful things that can happen," he said.

Bousman has preached to his Santa Paula neighbors for so long, many wonder what it will be like to have a new minister in town.

"I have two children and he performed the wedding service for both of them," said Louise Saviers, a secretary in the church for 15 years and a member of the congregation for even longer.

"He performed the funeral service for my father, who died after an extended illness, and comforted me a lot in my times of sorrow," she said.

By Monday, the Bousmans will be in Yosemite, one of their favorite vacation spots. This summer, they will travel to Norway to visit their oldest daughter, Peggy. Parishioners chipped in to buy them a Norwegian cruise.

Ellie Bousman, the minister's wife of 43 years, said it will be difficult adjusting to retirement.

"Both of us grew up here," she said. "It's been our home and work and joys and sorrow for all these years."

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