BARSTOW After attending Mass in March 2008, Richard Kolbly suggested to his wife Phyllis that they write a history of the church in preparation of its upcoming 100-year anniversary in 2014. Richard offered to do design the graphics for the book.

When he died in 2010, Phyllis Kolbly completed the project. The process got her "hooked" on history, she said.

"It's one of the most exciting things I've done in my life," said Kolbly, who has lived in Barstow since 1964.

The new book tells the stories of early parishioners at St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Barstow as well as the larger community. The first of three volumes, "The Three Churches of St. Joseph's" covers events at the church from 1914 to 1941.

Kolbly had no formal background in historical research, but said she had always been good with facts and figures.

The book is written in a historical fiction style, with text from primary sources displayed in italics as well as imagined conversations between historical figures.

At the back of the book, Kolbly includes an index of people appearing in the book and information about their background. She said she used U.S. Census records as well as immigration records to dig into the lives of Barstow's early residents.

Kolbly said even though the book is a history of the church, it also contains much history about the town itself that is not commonly known.

Kolbly described how when World War I ended, Barstow residents formed a parade and marched to Yermo to tell the people there the news. The townspeople dragged effigies of German leader Kaiser Wilhelm II behind their cars to show their disgust.

Kolbly said the project taught her that Barstow's small town character had not changed over the decades.

St. Joseph's raised money in its early years by preparing dinners for the entire town and charging people 50 cents for the meal, Kolbly said. This brought the community together and drew strong interest, since there were many single miners and railroad workers at the time. The fundraisers helped the church build its first church building in 1914.

Kolbly said it was comforting that St. Joseph's had been a constant presence in the community over the years.

Kolbly said she was fascinated by people who moved to Barstow in the early twentieth century and never left. A woman named Mary Templeton came to the town in 1910 with her husband, Kolbly said. When he died seven years later, Templeton stayed in Barstow instead of returning to her native Ohio. She died in Barstow in 1931.

"I think it says that the community was a very welcoming community," Kolbly said. "I still see that today."

Contact the writer:

(760) 256-4126 or spearson@desertdispatch.com

"The Three Churches of St. Joseph's" by Phyllis Kolbly
Cost: $15
Available at the Mojave River Valley Museum and the St. Joseph's Catholic Church office