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Herbster, who had worked as a salesman before studying divinity at the fundamentalist Bob Jones University in South Carolina, built a national profile as well. The American Association of Christian Schools opened an office in Washington, D.C., after Herbster became the group's president in 1992.
Those who know him say Herbster moves gracefully in the halls of power. He has bragged about once sitting in with the Singing Senators group that Ashcroft used to harmonize with. One former member of the church calls Herbster "the ultimate politician."
Herbster's reputation owes much to the people of Tri-City, who provide the pastor with a base of operation. Earlier this month, Herbster and his wife, Debbie, were the main attraction at a couples' retreat at the Wilds, a Christian conference center in South Carolina. The pastor's bio on the Wilds' Web site lists the many ministries -- such as the Heart of America Theological Seminary, the Christian University of the Americas in Mexico and the Independent Baptist College of Costei, Romania -- under his direction.
But empires require money.
The streets of the Brittany Ridge subdivision in Independence wind arbitrarily. Mature trees are scarce. Big garage doors are the most prominent architectural features of the single-family homes.
Located off U.S. Highway 40 near Blue Springs Lake, Brittany Ridge owes its existence to the automobile and is designed accordingly. Without a car, a Brittany Ridge resident is condemned to wander from cul-de-sac to cul-de-sac. As if to acknowledge their meaninglessness, sidewalks line only one side of most streets.
Brittany Ridge was developed by Don Bell, and it's fairly typical of the other subdivisions he has created at the edge of sprawl. Working primarily in Johnson County, Kansas, Bell was one the area's most prolific home builders and developers in the 1980s and '90s.
Don Bell's homes tend to be affordably priced. Several lawsuits filed against Bell over the years describe cut corners: cracked door frames, faulty driveways, heaving basement floors. Of course, a buyer who pays less than $200,000 for four bedrooms and Olathe schools is not in a position to demand expert carpentry.
Brittany Ridge is one of Bell's less successful ventures. Sections remain undeveloped. Existing homes fail to command a premium. Reece & Nichols sales agent Debi Allen lists a three-bedroom house built in 1997 for less than $180,000. "Brittany Ridge has always been a hard sell," Allen tells the Pitch.
When the development was new and struggling, Bell found assistance from an unlikely source: Tri-City Ministries, the steeple of which is visible from Brittany Ridge's higher elevations.
In the fall of 1996, church insiders created a business, Ridgecrest Development Corporation, that acted as a sales agent for Brittany Ridge. The church's business manager at the time, W. Dwight Free, filed the incorporation papers. A church deacon, Paul Swisher, was the company secretary in registration reports filed with the state in 1999 and 2000. Another church member, Rayburn Hare, was the vice president.
Free (who stayed as the church's business manager until 2002) used his home address when he incorporated Ridgecrest, but a person who was told about the arrangement says Herbster was instrumental in forming the company and that Herbster suggested to Bell that Hare was equipped to sell lots in Brittany Ridge.
The development itself is initially what drew Herbster to Bell.
Herbster, church sources say, was interested in building a home on a Brittany Ridge plot that afforded a view of the church. And Bell, a strong supporter of Christian education, was intrigued by Herbster's work with the American Association of Christian Schools. A 1953 graduate of Olivet Nazarene University in Illinois, Bell had given that institution its first million-dollar gift. Bell and his wife also have given to MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe.