A Brief History of St. John’s
compiled by Mr. Brian Schulz
St. John’s Lutheran Church had its beginnings in early 1884 when the village of Wood Lake was founded by the railroad to serve the farming families in Wood Lake and Southern Minnesota Falls townships. The small town grew fast with 24 businesses and a population of 100 people by the beginning of 1885. A Methodist Church was founded at the end of 1884 in Wood Lake by the English settlers, however, the German Farmers who settled directly around Wood Lake decided to form a Lutheran church because that was their religious affiliation in Germany. These German families included: August Schulz, Martin Just, Herman Just, Gottfried Henke, Gottlieb Henke, Gottfried Hempel, August Hempel, Johann Schlenner, Martin Kaatz, Michael Frase, Christoph Lange Sr., Paul Hay, Samuel Plath, Adolph Ziebarth, Julius Ziebarth, Theodore Sonnenberg, August Hartke, Fred Giese, August Steaubner, Anton Alke, John Besmehn, Franz Wildermann, Michael Lieske, and Christoph Lieske.
These early pioneers realized the importance of hearing the Word of God, baptizing their children, and educating their children in the ways of the Lord. Therefore, children of many of the above men met with Pastor Wilhelm Scheitel from St. Luke’s Lutheran Church south of Wood Lake on November 30, 1884. They asked Pastor Scheitel if he would be willing to shepherd a second Lutheran congregation north of Wood Lake. Pastor Scheitel agreed and the first service was held the third Sunday of Advent in the home of August Schulz. On January 30th 1885, Pastor Scheitel met with 20 men to decide on the organization of a new church. It was decided to organize a church called St. John’s Lutheran to serve the German families in Wood Lake and Minnesota Falls Townships. The church would be a dual parish with St. Luke’s of Posen Township and Pastor Scheitel would serve both congregations. Pastor Scheitel drew up a constitution and it was adopted February 15th 1885 by the following members: Gustav Schulz, Samuel Schulz, Martin Schulz, Herman Schlenner, Charles Schlenner, Herman Just, Gottlieb Just, Samuel Just, Gustav Just, Herman Henke, Gustav Henke, Herman Hempel, Fred Lange, Christ Lange, Jr., Wilhelm Frase, August Frase, Wilhelm Plath, Ludwig Kaatz, Adolph Ziebarth, Wilhelm Steubner, Julius Alke, Julius Lieske, and Herman Giese. Services were held in the home of August Schulz until October 1885 when the trustees asked to use the English Schoolhouse in Wood Lake. By 1890, the following families joined St. John’s: Busiahn, Boettcher, Kirschbaum, Tesch, Podoll, Stibb, Schwanke, Meyer, Jeseritz, Drager, Schrupp, Fillbrandt, Rhode, Kaatz, Martens, Hinz, Heller, Otto, Thiele, Fischer, Werges, Naab, Sperber, Jensen, Klicker, Fellbaum, Pomplum, Tomford, Arlt, Wegner, Rubitschung, and Bergman.
By March 1891, the congregation outgrew the English School house as a place of worship and they decided to build a new church in Wood Lake. The building was 32 by 54 feet with a school addition large enough for 45 students. The edifice was built on land donated by Gottlieb Just and it stood where the parsonage now stands. The cornerstone was laid July 12, 1891 and the new church was dedicated December 6, 1891. On May 20, 1892 Pastor Scheitel drowned while crossing the swollen Yellow Medicine River. Consequently, the voters decided to become a separate congregation from St. Luke’s and Pastor August Arndt was called to be the first resident pastor for a salary of $500 a year.
In 1899, voters decided to build a new school building. The cornerstone was laid in early 1900 and was dedicated October 1st, 1900. The pastor and part-time teachers from the congregation were still in charge of the education of the children. In 1904, Pastor Arndt moved on after twelve years of service. Pastor Justus Naumann was called to serve the congregation. In 1905, St. John’s became a member of the Evangelical Joint Synod of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. During his Pastorate at Wood Lake, Pastor Naumann became president of the Minnesota District. In 1914, Pastor Naumann accepted a call to Goodhue, MN.
Pastor J.H. Hinck was installed as our next pastor. In the early 1920s, the congregation again outgrew its place of worship and in the spring of 1926 they resolved to erect a larger house of worship. It was decided the church would be forty feet wide by ninety-eight feet long with a seating capacity of four hundred people. The structure would also be the first brick church in Southwest Minnesota. Bartelson Construction of Forest City, Iowa built the church. All the materials were shipped by rail and brought to the building site by Martin and Fred Ahrend. The cornerstone was laid July 11, 1926 and was dedicated February 27, 1927. Shortly after the cornerstone was laid, Pastor Hinck accepted a position to Porter, Nebraska. Pastor Carl Schmidt was installed in September 1926. Realizing the importance of a Christian Education a permanent day school was established in 1927 with George Kieker as the first teacher. School was held in the 1900 school building. In May 1935, the congregation celebrated its fiftieth anniversary. In 1937, Pastor F.E. Traub became the new Pastor of St. John’s and by 1941 the congregation became debt free when they made the final payment for the 1927 church building. 1938 saw the installation of Henry Englehardt as the new Principal/Teacher.
On January 21, 1945 Pastor G.F. Zimmerman was installed and in September 1945 the congregation celebrated its 60th anniversary. To mark the anniversary the congregation purchased a statue of Christ and placed it on the altar. Also, at the end of 1945 Teacher/Principal Henry Engelhardt left after seven years of service. In 1946, a new teacherage was purchased from Martha Podoll for $2,500 and with a few repairs this house served as the teacherage until 1981. Then in 1948, construction began on a new parsonage at a cost of $16,000. The new building was built on the site of the old church. The old parsonage was sold to the Harry Timm family which still stands directly west of the new parsonage. At the end of 1948 Pastor John Stehr was installed as the new Pastor and he was the first pastor to move into the new parsonage in 1949.
In 1950, Herbert Grams was installed as Principal, a new furnace was installed in the teacherage, and the interior of the church was painted. Plans also began to build a new school building on the west end of the church. Bids were sought in 1953 and Sheehy Construction Company was selected to build the new school building. The new building matched the church with the same brick stature and it included a gym, locker rooms, bathrooms, two large classrooms, and a principal office. The new school was dedicated December 6, 1953. The cost was $70,000. The old school was razed in 1954 after serving the students of the congregation for 53 years. Also, in 1954 Paster Stehr was called to serve a congregation in Waconia, MN. Pastor Lloyd Huebner accepted the call to lead the congregation. During his pastorate German services were cut to two times a month. In 1958, Pastor Huebner and Teacher/Principal Herbert Grams left us.
Pastor N.W. Kock and teacher/principal John Schultz were both installed in 1958. The calendar turns to February, 1960 when the congregation celebrated 75 years since twenty-three men signed the constitution. Two Sundays in June were used to honor this occasion with many former pastors and teachers returning to celebrate. In August 1960, the last German service was held. From then on services were all held in English. Dennis R. Schultz was installed as principal in 1964. In 1966, the church was rewired and new light fixtures were hung. The stain glass windows were releaded and a new organ console was purchased. Pastor Kock left us in 1966 and Pastor Norbert Gieschen was installed.
In 1969, David Fehlauer was installed as principal of St. John’s school. Thanks to Pastor Gieschen, a sister congregation was established in Granite Falls, called Bethany Lutheran Church, in 1972. The congregation also started a church entrance fund in 1972. Gerald Steffenhagen was installed as principal in 1973. At the end of 1974, Pastor Gieschen left for Loretto, Minnesota. Pastor David Meyer was installed in June of 1975. In 1980, the brick on the church was regrouted and sealed; the interior walls of the church were painted; the angels that guarded the church arch were repainted in Milford Paxton’s design; and the church roof was re-shingled. In 1982, a new teacherage was purchased and the old teacherage was torn down to make room for a new playground. In 1985, the 100th anniversary of the congregation was celebrated. Pastor Chester Zuleger replaced David Meyer as pastor in 1985.
In 1986, the constitution was revised allowing male members to automatically become voters and to hold church offices at the age of 21. Mr. Gerald Steffenhagen resigned as principal after 13 years of service. He was the longest tenured principal and teacher in St. John’s school history. John Meyer was installed as school principal in 1987. In 1991, pre-kindergarten classes were begun and a new entry and elevator lift was installed on the north side of the church. A kindergarten room was added in part of the gymnasium and a church library was added in the church basement in 1992. James Schmidt was installed as principal of the school in 1992. In 1995, new hymnals were purchased and Kurt Maciejczak was installed as principal of the school. The front steps of the church were repaired in 1997. In 1998, the basement floor was replaced after a flood from a broken water main.
Unfortunately, in 2000 St. John’s Lutheran school closed after 53 years of Christian service. The school closed because of decreasing enrollment and tight funds. The teacher residence was also sold in 2000. In 2001, Pastor Zuleger retired as pastor He had the honors of being the longest tenured pastor in St. John’s history after 16 years of service. Pastor Christopher Raiford was installed in 2001. Also in 2001, a new furnace, carpet, central air conditioning, new cupboards, and kitchen flooring were put in the parsonage. A new microphone system was installed in the church in 2002 and the exterior of the church was tuck pointed in 2003. The interior of the church was painted and new carpeting was installed in the church in 2004. Pastor Raiford resigned as pastor and Michael Berg was installed in 2005. A pre-school program was established in 2006 and the school basement and bathrooms were remodeled. The Organ was repaired and the floors of the church and balcony were refinished in 2008. Finally in 2010, the basement and gym were painted and new blinds were installed on the basement windows. A new attached garage and addition to the parsonage was added in 2012.