Dr. James Fletcher Coppedge, Jr.
1920 - 2004
James Fletcher Coppedge, founder of the Rangers and
Christian Commandos and the Valley Cathedral Youth
Center (Northridge, CA) died peacefully at home
Saturday evening, March 20, 2004, at the age of 83.
Dr. Coppedge, in life a Navy chaplain, minister,
author and scientist, had been in declining health
for several years.
Born in Brownsville, Tennessee, "Fletcher" later
graduated from Asbury College and Seminary. Then
he traveled west and met Elsa Ingels in Hollywood.
The two were married in 1945 right at the end of
World War II, at which time he was called into
active duty in the Navy and served as a chaplain
aboard aircraft carriers in the South Pacific.
While in the Naval reserve, Chaplain Coppedge
was called to minister at a veterans' housing
project in Sun Valley named Basilone Homes. James
and Elsa served there for six years. During this
period he organized youth clubs modeled after the
military, which he named the Rangers and
In 1954, the Coppedges worked and sacrificed to
obtain a ranch in Northridge that became the
headquarters of their ministry: the Valley Cathedral
Youth Center. It was a hub of Christian outreach
to the entire San Fernando Valley for 44 years.
Its approach was to combat juvenile delinquency by
"reaching youth through youth," winning teens to
Christ and training them in Christian character
to become leaders of younger club members.
The organization was commended by city councilmen
and such notables as Roy Rogers, Dale Evans and Tim
Spencer. Ministry activities included the youth
clubs, a day nursery, summer camp and after-school
care, camp trips, weekly church services, 15 annual
valley-wide Easter Sunrise Services at nearby
Devonshire Downs, and later, a home education
Dr. Coppedge earned five college degrees, including
a Ph.D. in theology and a M.Sc. in chemistry. He
authored an influential book, Evolution: Possible or
Impossible? (Zondervan, 1972), which went through
eight printings. Portions of this book
are available online at creationsafaris.com.
A man of many talents, Dr. Coppedge also wrote songs
and played the Hawaiian guitar. "Chaplain", as he
was called by the Rangers, took groups of young
people backpacking for 25 years and hiked to every
river in the Sierras--nearly 100 total. James F.
Coppedge was always fascinated by the wonders of
creation. He won many to faith in Christ and
believed strongly in having an influence for good.
He is survived by his wife of 58 years, Elsa, two
children, David and Judy, and seven grandchildren.
His eldest daughter Jeanne died of cancer in 2000.
A private graveside service was held at Forest
Lawn Hollywood Hills on Friday afternoon, March 26.
A memorial reunion for those influenced by his life
and ministry was held the following Saturday,
March 27, at 11:00 a.m. at United Community Church,
333 E. Colorado Blvd. in Glendale. A reception
followed with photos and memorabilia celebrating
his 58 years of ministry.
This obituary was printed in the
L.A. Daily News Tues. March 22, and in the
Los Angeles Times (abbreviated version)
Weds. March 23.
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