The History of St. John’s Congregation, North Prairie
Some of St. John’s distant history is a bit sketchy, but we’ll attempt to pick up as much as we can. Thirty years before the first church was built here in North Prairie, a group of six to eight families, led by the Holy Spirit, requested Pastor Hubert of Milwaukee to come to North Prairie and preach and teach school in a private home. Following this original beginning, the history has been lost until it is picked up in 1879, when Pastor Prager came out from Milwaukee to preach here every three weeks. He continued this for 10 years, at first in the home of a Mr. Gruenwald and later in various school buildings. In 1886, Pastor Frederick Schumann, born in Bavaria and educated at Nuremberg, Germany and later at Ft. Wayne Seminary, presently serving a Lutheran Church in Waterford, became the pastor who led this small group to organize a new congregation. He had served at Trinity, Freistadt, the oldest Lutheran church in Wisconsin. From all accounts it appeared he was a tireless worker, leading the building of churches and parsonages, establishing schools, and settling controversies. In a meeting held in the home of Fred Dable on March 28, 1887 a decision was made to build a church onproperty donated by Mr. and Mrs. Leonard Heintz of North Prairie. A constitution was written, presented, and accepted in March of that year. Three trustees, John Sherman, Fred Dable, and Henry Hoeft, were entrusted with the role of “building committee.” On September 11, 1887, after extensive planning and discussion, the new church was built and dedicated. The total cost of the church and everything contained therein was $1,317.78 without the steeple, which was added later. In 1889, Pastor Schumann resigned from the pastorate at Waterford, therefore also leaving North Prairie, and moved to Indiana. In 1889 Rev. August E. Winter, also of Waterford, began preaching here every two weeks. It must be remembered that coming to North Prairie from Waterford was a trip of many hours, as it most likely wasdone on horseback. Many of those attending also arrived on horseback or on foot. A horse stable was built directly to the east of the church to house the horses and buggies during worship services. In 1894, the congregation resolved to call a pastor of their own and issued a call to Pastor August Winter, thepastor who had been faithfully serving here; he accepted the call, and then moved to this area. We agreed to pay the pastor’s rent of $10 a month. On April 2, 1897, it was resolved to build a Christian day school, although as early as that time, a question arose regarding language used in the school, as this was a German-speaking congregation. It was questioned whether the school could teach a child enough German to enable them to read, memorize, and understand the catechism in that language. Children of non-members paid $0.50 a month to attend the school, which was taught by the pastor. Pastor Winter’s wife, Christiana, was killed on June 29, 1899 by a train at a crossing near Waukesha. Pastor Winter resigned his pastorate here on July 2 of that same year. It was the resolved to call a candidate from the seminary, offering a salary of $300 a year and requesting that he live with one of the member families.
From German to English
In the fall of 1899 a call was issued to Rev. Otto Hitzeroth, who accepted the call to serve at St. John’s. Pastor Hitzeroth received a horse and harness from the congregation soon after he arrived. In July of 1900, the $50 debt remaining on the school was paid off, so it was resolved to build a parsonage, for the sum of $650. In January of 1904 it was decided to add a church steeple at the cost of $230, plus a bell, for an additional $245. The bell was to be rung at six o’clock each Saturday evening, and also one hour prior to the beginning of each service. Upon the death of a member the bell was rung at noon, one toll for each year of the deceased’s life. This same bell is still in use at St. John’s. In July of 1906 it was resolved to have an English language sermon at our annual Mission Festival, as well as the German service. It was also resolved to purchase an organ for $175. At about this same time, Johanna Boese was called to teach in the school. She was followed by Fred Voigtmann, who taught here in 1908 and 1909. Forty-one children attended the school at this time. In September of 1908 it was decided to authorize a fourteen-foot addition to the school building. In September 30, 1909, it was resolved to join the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and we were received the following year by the Synod. Pastor Hitzeroth received a call to dual parishes in Illinois in 1912. The congregation reluctantly agreed, after meeting several times, to grant the pastor’s wish for a peaceful release. The vacancy pastor at the time, Rev. Kempff of Milwaukee, was paid $5 a service. After a call meeting on Easter Sunday in 1912, the Rev. Albert Menkens of Iowa was issued a call, which he accepted. It was resolved in July of 1912 that volunteers would furnish feed for the pastor’s horse and chickens. In that same year we observed the church’s 25th anniversary. In 1916 it was requested that all young men in good health pay $5 a year toward the pastor’s salary. No one here can know of the pressures put upon the church toward yielding to the sensible and necessary use of the English language in services. In 1918, as we were at war with Germany, our pastorwas asked to appear before the Council of Defense in Genesee in regard to the use of the German language in worship services. A request was made by the Defense Council to close the school, but this was declined, with the stipulation we would make more use of the English language in the school. English services would therefore be used on the second and fourth Sundays of each month. Communion was celebrated six times a year, three of these services to be in German, and three in English. It was resolved that we would fly an American flag on our property. It was also resolved to raise the pastor’s salary to $700 a year. Saturday school classes for confirmation teaching was considered and left to the discretion of the pastor, if he wished to teach it.In August of 1919, it was resolved to hold a special homecoming service for our returning soldiers. It was also resolved to take an offering for needy fellow Lutherans in Germany. On May 16, 1920, Pastor Menkens received a call to New York and St. John’s reluctantly agreed to grant a peaceful release. It was considered an urgent matter to obtain the services of a new pastor immediately, so on this same date St. John’s met and issued a call to the Rev. Carl G. Winter of Ocheyedan, Iowa. It was also resolved to raise the salary from St. John’s to $900 a year and to request that Bethlehem, Wales, our mission congregation that our pastor also served, raise theirs to $200. Pastor Winter was installed here on August 1, 1920. He also agreed to teach school daily in our Christian Day School. On July 18, 1921, holding a meeting in the school house, the minutes for the first time were recorded in the English language. At this same meeting, Pastor Winter offered to hold a 10:30 a.m. and a 7:30 p.m. service on Sundays, alternating between English and German. Sunday school classes were to beonly taught in English. In January of 1922 offering envelopes were instituted, once a month for the pastor’s salary and one every two months for Synodical purposes. In October of that year it was resolved to purchase hymnals in English. It was also resolved to renovate the interior of the church for a total sum of $485. The Sewing Circle (later called the Ladies Aid) offered to give $200 for this project.
School Closing and World War II
Electric lights were installed in the church in 1927. The school was taught by Pastor Winter until 1938, at which time it was closed. The details of the closing are not disclosed in any history, but it appears the burden was rather heavy for a pastor to teach five days a week along with his pastoral duties. Everyone, including St. John’s, was affected by World War II. United States and church flags were placed in the church to encourage and to show patriotism. Two beloved sons of our congregation, Lloyd Miller and Glenn Jones, lost their lives in Europe. In 1950 the church building was moved 75 feet to the north over an already-prepared basement. This newlower level quickly became a meeting room for many organizations and dinners at the church. The balcony was lowered and the interior enlarged. Water was piped from the parsonage to the church for use in the church basement. The congregation was saddened by the death of Pastor Winter’s only son, Carl, who died of pneumonia atthe age of 21. Pastor Winter served faithfully until 1958. As he was losing his eyesight, members of the congregationwould assist by driving him to visit shut-ins and other church members for the last several years of his pastorate. Upon his retirement, he moved to Arlington Street in North Prairie with his daughters Esther and Ruth. He remained a member of St. John’s until his death.
A New Church Building
The Rev. Henry Naumann of Sharon, Wis., was called in late 1958 and installed on January 18, 1959. OnFebruary 9, 1964, a special meeting was held to discuss the possibility of adding on to the present church or building a new one. The vote was tied at 18-18, so it was tabled until a future meeting. On March 8, 1964, an architect was present to speak of the advantages a new building. The vote for a new church building was 27 to 19. A letter was sent to all members in an attempt to raise funds for the approximate $150,000 that would be needed. After viewing plans by several contractors, it was decided to ask Mr. Waterman, the architect, to hold the cost to $100.000. Apparently that was not possible, so eventually a new contract for the church was worked out for a total cost of $147,283. Ground-breaking for the new church took place on March 27, 1966. An every-member canvas to raise funds for the new church was held. The final action to build was taken during the celebration of our 75th anniversary year. Pastor’s Naumann’s words at that time were: “Nothing we say, no act we perform, no promise we resolve can ever repay God for these 75 years of blessings. Perhaps a resolution to build a new house at the place where God dwells would be a token of thanks.” (Although this record of events has been shortened considerably, the decision to build did not come about without many concessions by all concerned.) Yearly salary forthe pastor at this time was $4,000; the organist received $200 per year, and the janitor $250. At this time, as Pastor Naumann was recuperating after major surgery, it was authorized to employ assistant pastors two Sundays a month. Pastor Naumann submitted his resignation on the day of the ground-breaking for health reasons. He and his wife Judith moved to Mukwonago. After issuing calls to three pastors that were declined, a call was issued to the Rev. William R. Lewis, who accepted. He had been serving dual parishes in Iowa. Pastor Lewis arrived in August of 1966 with his wife Joyce and four children, adding two more children to their family during his pastorate here. The new church building, which had begun under Pastor Naumann, was dedicated on December 11, 1966, with services beginning in the old church building and the congregation then proceeding to the new building. The dedication booklet contained this statement: “At this point let us pause to thank all of our members who have made the erection of this new building possible. We gratefully acknowledge the special monetary gifts offered for the Building Fund. … Our God will bless these gifts given to His glory. May all who spent so much of their time as members of the Building Committee be richly blessed for their sacrifices and labors in behalf of our Savior.” In 1968 it was resolved to also build a new parsonage and use the present parsonage for Sunday school rooms. A lot was purchased across the street from the church for $2,000, and a parsonage built, totaling $26,900. In 1970, Pastor Lewis accepted a call to Bethlehem, Milwaukee, stating he had always felt his true calling was to serve in the inner city. The congregation reluctantly gave him a peaceful release. Rev. Marvin Hoyer was called from Trinity, Sheboygan, where he had been serving as an assistant pastor; he was installed on September 20, 1970. He served here until February of 1972. During that time, TrudyRupp, who had been doing volunteer work for Pastor Naumann and for Pastor Lewis, was hired to serve as the church secretary, later to become the administrative assistant. The property directly to the south of the old parsonage became available and was purchased for $17,000, the house on the property to be used for Sunday school rooms. The old parsonage was purchased from us and was moved to Arlington Street, where it is still in use. In September of 1970, Pastor Burton Harger was installed as pastor at Bethlehem, Wales. Prior to this time the pastor of St. John’s served Bethlehem also, as our mission congregation. Pastor Harger was asked to serve St. John’s as its vacancy pastor until a new pastor would arrive. The Rev. Lester H. Dumer of Lyons, Kansas was called in 1972. He arrived with his wife Marion, son Joel, and daughter Lisa, and was installed on September 9, 1972. In an effort to keep the congregation informed, he instituted a mailed monthly newsletter, the Prairie Preacher. This was continued until 2008, and resurrected again in 2011. He also introduced children’s messages in the worship service. During this time, Pastor Byron Wallschlaeger was employed to assist on communion Sundays, teach Sunday school, preach several times a year and perform other duties. He served here for several years.
Day School Established
On January 30, 1977, it was resolved that St. John’s Lutheran Day School be established, with classes for kindergarten through grade six to begin in the fall of 1977; grade seven to be added in 1978-’79, and grade 8 the following school year. On May 26, 1977, Bert Thompson was called as principal/teacher. In April of 1978 Mr. Thompson resigned due to illness. David Kostrzewa was then called as principal/teacher and his wife Kathleen asteacher. At this time we had an enrollment of 33 students, 20 of whom were St. John’s members. Kindergarten was added in the fall of 1981, but later discontinued. In January of 1979, as we now had 36 students, an eight-member school building committee was established to work on plans for a school building, as classes had been meeting in the basement. This made the basement space unavailable to other groups. Arthur Waterman, architect, was contacted to draw up plans for an addition. A plan was proposed for the school to be attached to the east end of the present church building at a cost of $220,480. In the meantime it was resolved that Pastor Dumer be given the option of owning his own home. It was decided that St. John’s would sell the parsonage to him for $55,000. These funds were applied to the new school building debt. The school was eventually completed in 1981, with a four-classroom addition. The 1980 school year began with 28 students, under the direction of Catherine Marriott. (At this time St. John’s had 576 members, 414 of these communicants.) As we now had classrooms, in June of 1982 St. John’s allowed the North Prairie Fire Department to burnthe unused building at the southwest corner of our property. Pastor Dumer received and accepted a call to Trinity, Coal Valley, Illinois in March of 1983. He was reluctantly given a peaceful release from St. John’s. The voters then moved to purchase the parsonage back from him. After many contentious meetings, in February of 1984 it was voted, 26 to 24, to discontinue our day school at the end of the ’83-’84 school year, for financial reasons. (This was not accomplished as easily as that sentence makes it sound.) Rev. Daniel Gartzke, who was serving a dual parish in Iowa, was called and accepted the call to St. John’s in March of 1984. A motion was approved to accept women as voting members in March of ’84, but was rejected as improper at this time, as it required a constitutional amendment. In the June Voters meeting, after the proper constitutional amendment was proposed, women who had reached the age of 18 could vote and serve as officers and members of boards and committees as long as these positions were “not directly involved in the specific function of the pastoral office.” As our school was discontinued, the space was rented out to the Mukwonago Area School District with a two-year contract from 1985 to 1988 for $1,250 per month, plus $300 for utilities.
Celebrating 100 Years
In February of 1986 an organizational meeting was held to begin plans for St. John’s 100th anniversary in 1987. Walter Pett and Art Isleb were selected to serve as co-chairmen. Pastor Gartzke wrote in the October Prairie Preacher “… whether we have been a member only since yesterday or since our birth, we share together in the glorious resurrection of Lord and Savior Jesus Christ …” At the close of 1986, there were 586 baptized members, 411 of these communicants, with an average Sunday attendance of 265. Special services were held commemorating milestones in our past history. On February 6, 1987, we celebrated the anniversary of the first meeting held in the home of Fred Dable, former St. John’s Pastor, William Lewis, being the speaker. On March 29, Rev. Ron Meyer, District President, was the guest speaker. Pastor Lester Dumer was the guest preacher for the April 26th service, the anniversary of the adoption of St. John’s constitution. Rev. Marvin Hoyer, former pastor, was the guest speaker at the Mission Festival. The Service Club hosted a reception for Pastor Hoyer, his wife Lynn, and children Heather and Sean. Our final anniversary celebration of the centennial year was September 13, with more than 450 people sharing a catered dinner. Ras Kalnes was master of ceremonies, and introduced all the former pastors present, the music directors, educators, and other guests. At the quarterly meeting during this same time, it was moved to call Paul Pett, congregation member and seminary student, to serve as vicar from June through August, preaching one Sunday a month. He was installed in the June 14th service. In June of 1992, St. John’s moved to allow Elders to assist with the distribution of communion. In June of 1993, St. John’s approved the calling of a Director of Christian Education. Tammy Schwartz,former St. John’s member, who was serving in Afton, Missouri, was issued a call. She was installed on August 15, 1993.
On April 18, 1990, Rosie Caldwell proposed beginning a preschool at St. John’s. After much discussion it was approved by voters, and begun with Mrs. Caldwell as director. In 1991, there were 40 children enrolled. A new board was formed to govern only the preschool. In 1995 Kindergarten was added. As Rosie moved on to direct a preschool at Christ the Life in Waukesha, Karen Staker took over as director and was followed by Anne Alles. On Anne’s resignation, after moving on to other employment, Paula Pierce eventually became the director, which would soon have an enrollment of 100 students. Pastor Gartzke announced that attendance had increased at our Lenten services from an average of 76 in1990 to 116 in 1991, with Sunday attendance also improving. In January of 1996, the Elders and Board of Property proposed that new offices and narthex be considered. After many meetings and discussions a motion was made and approved to hire an architect to draw up preliminary sketches for the expansion. A motion presented to the congregation was approved that we proceed with the building program as proposed, with a maximum cost of $450,000. There were 44 voting yes, 5 no, with 2 people abstaining. The year 1998 was an eventful one, as Tammy, our DCE, accepted a call to serve in Marshfield, Wisconsin; a month later Dan Gartzke submitted a letter of resignation, leaving the ministry for personal reasons. The vacancy from June of 1998 to December of 1999 was very capably served by Pastors LeRoy Hass and Edward Eggert.
The Early 2000’s
Pastor Mark Gefaller, who had served as a military chaplain, was called and installed in December of 1999. Pastor Eggert was retained to assist him. Pastor Gefaller served here for eighteen months, leaving on June 1, 2001. A call committee was formed as soon as it could be arranged and after receiving the call, Pastor MarkBelow arrived with his wife Barb in December of 2001. During his time with us an extensive NCD (Natural Church Development) program was established, involving the whole congregation. It was during this timethat Paula Pierce was hired to direct the preschool. Under Pastor Below’s direction an Adopt-A-Studentprogram was begun, supporting a seminary student. During that time we sponsored a live nativity (whichtook place in below zero weather), along with our Birthday Party for Jesus. Pastor Mark accepted a call to serve in the Synod office in early 2006.
In March of 2006, there was a unanimous vote by the congregation to call a 2006 seminary graduate. This resulted in Synod’s assignment of Pastor Brady Finnern to St. John’s, North Prairie. He arrived with his wife Amy and daughter Kajsa in June, and was installed as pastor on July 23, 2006. After Pastor Finnern’s arrival, St. John’s agreed to fund PALS, a three-year program to bring new pastors together for continued education, support, and mentoring. We joined in a limited partnership with Hope/Bethlehem Lutheran Churches in Milwaukee, the new hymnal (Lutheran Service Book) was put into use, we became active in A Place of Refuge, and purchased an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) for church and school use. We watched the Finnern family grow from three to five, with the addition of a daughter, and a son. In 2009 we began the Specific Ministry Program, a new ministry opportunity “for men who feel the calling to the pastoral office.” Long-time St. John’s organist, HC Reichold, expressed the desire to be a part of this program, and it was moved we would support him with our prayers and resources. HC continues to serve us faithfully as our organist and now as vicar; he teaches a Bible class and visits shut-ins, along with his other duties. He is expected to complete the first half of his pastoral training and be ordained in fall 2012. On July 1, 2010, Trudy retired as administrative assistant after more than 40 years in the church office. St. John’s is now being capably served in that capacity by Julie LeBlanc. Pastor Finnern accepted a call to serve at Messiah in Sartell, Minn., in June of 2010. Rev. Bryan O’Connor, former pastor of Christ the Life in Waukesha, served St. John’s well as its vacancy pastor. In November 2010, St. John’s called Pastor Daniel Torkelson from Zion Lutheran Church in Clyman, Wis. He, his wife, Jennifer, and their five children moved into the parsonage in January 2011. (They added child number 6, a son, in April 2012.) “Pastor T” continues to serve as St. John’s spiritual leader today.