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Churches plan wholesome fun

ATWATER -- Three Atwater religious groups are planning a free lunch, entertainment and car show Saturday as an outreach to the community. Organizers hope people will discover it's possible for Christians to enjoy old cars and still maintain their faith.

New Life Community Church, Ariddy Hispanic Christian Women and Atwater Baptist Church are planning the Spring Fling and Car Show on Saturday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Baptist church, 2124 First St.

Corky and Pam Schroeder and Debbie Benafield have been organizing the first-ever car show. Pam Schroeder said if 20 to 30 old cars and trucks show up Saturday, that would be an excellent turnout.

"A lot of people think if you go to church, you're boring," Pam Schroeder said. "We're normal people. Church can be a hopping place; there are lots of ways to be good, moral people and still have fun."

She believes old cars are a good way for Christians to share their faith with others. Working on cars is a fun thing she and her husband can do together. They've owned an old car since 1985 and it took 10 years to get it on the road.

Benafield figures her 1964 Corvette coupe is a gift from God and she is glad to use it in ministry and to witness to other people. She's had the silver-colored Corvette for nine years and only drives it about 2,000 miles a year, mostly to area car shows.

Corky Schroeder works with cars every day. He's been a Regional Occupational Program auto shop teacher since 1986 and now divides his time equally between the Merced County Office of Education Training Center at the Castle Commerce Center and Valley Community School on Wardrobe Avenue in Merced.

The Schroeders own a 1923 Ford "T bucket" roadster, which they have driven about 12,000 miles in the last 13 years. The fiberglass-bodied car has an early Mustang V-8 engine and is painted red with flames.

"I have been involved with cars for years and years," Schroeder said. "Both congregations have come together to let local folks know they exist. We're always looking for common ground. It's a perfect mix and a way to 'break the ice.' I don't expect a large turnout but think it will be fun. We care about Atwater; that's our area of ministry."

The Schroeders and Benafield are among a group of "cruising buddies" who get together for dinner on Friday evenings as well as weekly Bible study. Together they attend area car shows and make the rounds of area restaurants.

Benafield said her Corvette is not a daily driver. It is kept garaged most of the time, with a car cover on top, and only taken out for special occasions. She enjoys the history of the Corvette, which is America's original sports car and was first produced 55 years ago.

"That's what makes it special for me," Benafield said. "We have a small group of believers, seven of us who are called the 'cruising buddies.' We still get together when the weather's bad. We have two common bonds: a close relationship with the Lord and a passion for old cars."

Benafield's Corvette has the original 250-horsepower 327-cubic-inch V-8 engine, with a Powerglide two-speed automatic transmission, a unique drivetrain combination for that vintage Corvette.

The Schroeders also have a 1931 Ford sedan delivery, which is about nine months away from being back on the road as "an old surf wagon." The chassis and drivetrain are functioning but the "really rough body" is now getting some heavy-duty sanding attention before a new paint job goes on. They also have a 1961 Ford Falcon two-door sedan that their grown daughter once drove to high school.

All cars, trucks and motorcycles are welcome at Saturday's Spring Fling. Car registration, which is free, takes place between 10 and 11 a.m.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or