Battle Creek’s Historic Adventist Village Has New Directors

Mark and Becky Johnson replaced Don and Betty Scherencel, who retired after 12 years.

Brenda Kis and Mark Kutzschbach, for Lake Union Herald
Battle Creek’s Historic Adventist Village Has New Directors
Mark and Becky Johnson recently moved to the Historic Adventist Village to become site directors and tour guides. [Photo: Adventist Heritage Ministries]

Mark and Becky Johnson recently moved to the Historic Adventist Village in Battle Creek, Michigan, United States, to combine their love of people, history, and Adventist heritage. They will be caretakers and tour guides of the historic site.

Mark grew up in Ashland, Wisconsin. His Adventist roots go back to the early 20th century. When his family came through the Depression, they hung onto church publications that formed the basis for young Mark’s reading material later on. He came to love the Seventh-day Adventist pioneers and what they had experienced.

His parents believed in Adventist education and home-schooled him in the early elementary school years before it was popular to do so. Mark’s mother was a trained teacher and his father a freelance naturalist who worked with universities and the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago, as well as giving lectures around the country as a herpetologist.

When Mark had to transfer to a church school, they sent him to the closest one, in Superior, Wisconsin, a one-hour bus ride each way every morning and evening. His next step was Maplewood Academy in Minnesota, and from there he went to Union College in Nebraska, where his grandparents lived. There he met Becky, a California girl with Canadian roots. 

From 1974 to 2024, Mark and Becky answered God’s call to serve in ministerial work in many places. Starting in Missouri, they moved to Indiana, then Ontario in Canada, on to California, up to Saskatchewan, back to Indiana, then Missouri again, Iowa, British Columbia, Alberta, and finally Ontario once more. At this time, Mark was president of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in Canada (Canadian Union Conference) after years of experience as a pastor, evangelist, communication director, conference secretary, conference president, and more. 

“The important thing,” Mark says, “is that we have an amazing story to tell. Just as the Israelites crossed the Jordan into the Promised Land where God told them to build memorial altars and tell their children about what He did for them, so Battle Creek is a symbolic modern altar where we can tell our children the story of our Adventist heritage. If we follow the pillar of fire and the cloud, like the children of Israel did in the wilderness, we, too, will arrive at the Promised Land.”

The Scherencels Retired in May

The Historic Adventist Village (HAV) has been growing since May 8, 1981, when Adventist Heritage Ministries (AHM) was organized. It was the seedbed of what is seen today, even though the official opening of the first phase of the village occurred on June 24, 2000. In 2011, Duff Stoltz, who had been involved with the growth and progress since 1981, was serving as site director and needed some help.

Don and Betty Scherencel retired in May 2023 after 12 years of directing the Adventist Historic Village. [Photo: Adventist Heritage Ministries]

Enter Don and Betty Scherencel. 

Don was hired as assistant site director and Betty as Heritage Shoppe manager. Don’s principal assignments fell to repair and maintenance duties, which suited him fine as he did not feel a calling to greet guests and give tours.  However, a day came when a group of tourists arrived and no one else was on site to welcome them and give a tour. Fortunately, guide scripts were available for each building, so Don hurried into the office to grab a handful of them and went out smiling to greet the tourists. As they went from building to building, learning about many different early pioneers who gave their all to help establish what developed into God’s last-day church, Don started enjoying the tour himself.  

As days and weeks went by, Don was parking the lawn mower more often and giving tours to guests from many parts of the world. He thrived on independent study and no longer needed scripts. Giving tours became his favorite occupation. In 2013, Don became the HAV site director, and Betty added the responsibility of office manager. 

Don remodeled the entrance to the welcome center and the front offices in the building. He had a lot of maintenance work to do and tried to keep the buildings in good shape. He also created a helpful and informative “Outline of Battle Creek Tour” and a “Manual for Volunteers/Tour Guides.” Don and a small group of interested people met early each morning during the week for morning devotions and prayer for God’s blessing on the day’s events and the people who would visit. 

As Heritage Shoppe manager, Betty developed an actual operating business where inventory is kept current. This was an improvement benefiting all AHM sites, because all of the site workers now knew what was in stock. Betty also developed the children’s programs for the church families and local schools at the Village and the Federal Center (former Battle Creek Sanitarium).

Betty’s artistry in sewing was evident everywhere: curtains, tapestries, costumes, and attractive decor in all the site bungalows. She also organized the offices, the shopping experience, the Christmas walk, and flower beds, and she managed multiple tour groups moving through the grounds at the same time. She produced the small Adventist Pioneer flags that are placed on the graves of the pioneers in Oak Hill Cemetery.  

Don and Betty worked hard to cultivate good relations with the Battle Creek Police Department. This has resulted in a safer campus for HAV and happier children during the holidays. Donations made at the annual Christmas Walk at the Village have been given to the police department for its annual Christmas fund drive to benefit disadvantaged children living in the city. 

The original version of this story was posted by the Lake Union Herald.

Brenda Kis and Mark Kutzschbach, for Lake Union Herald