Church: Withee, St. John's History (1890-1964)


Withee, WI St. John's Lutheran Church History (1890-1964)




----Source: Published by Withee, WI St. John's Lutheran Church for the 50th Anniversary Observance of the Church Building--authors unknown.


Withee, WI St. John's Lutheran Church History (1890-1964)

Our beginning in Christ ....

On February 22, 1903 seven men gathered after Sunday Services in the home of William Brandt, believed to be located at the present site of Altenburg Auto Co. Their Purpose -- to create an official congregation to carry on the work of their Lord. There present on that Washington's birthday more than sixty years ago were William Brandt, August Brandt Sr. August Brandt Jr., August Bruchert, Edward Neimag, John Schwartz, Frank Heideman and the Rev. Adolph Kuring, pastor of the Zion Lutheran Church of Colby.

The constitution adopted that day begins "Since according to God's Word (I Cor.14, 40 Col. 2,5) everything in a Christian Congregation should be done in order, we a number of German Lutherans, have united to form one parish." It further states that "The congregation accepts all of the canonical books of the Old and New Testament as God's revealed word and adheres to all the confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, taken from the Bible and as contained in the Book of Concord (1580) as the rule of faith and conduct. There are: The Apostle's Creed, the Nicene Creed, the Athanasian Creed, the Unchanged Augsburg Confession with its Apology, the Smalkald Articles, Luther's Large and Small Catechisms, and the Formula of Concord."

William Brandt and Edward Naimag were elected elders that day, August Brandt, Jr. was elected treasurer, and Pastor Kuring secretary. Other business transacted was the calling of Pastor Kuring for a salary of 50.00 a year and the decision that the pastor would hold services in Withee once every four weeks during the winter and once every two weeks in the summer. It was at this meeting that the congregation adopted the name "St. John s". It was also mentioned that 1.00 was to be taken out of the collection each service pay for the use of the church building, that which presently is the Methodist Church.

Rev. and Mrs. Adolph Kuring

First Service in 1890
This historic occasion however, does not mark the beginning of worship by the early German settlers of the Village of Withee for they had been served by two previous pastors beginning 13 years before with the Rev. Joseph Fiehler who preached here from 1890-1895, and the Rev. K.G. Bubeck who served from 1896 to 1897. Rev. Kuring served from 1898 until 1904. All three of the pastors came from the Zion Congregation at Colby.

When Rev. Fiehler began serving the preaching station in Withee in 1890 the Village was around 20 years old. The first store had opened just nine years before. The Hamilton Brothers Hotel had been in operation for less than ten years and the railroad depot was just eight years old.

Withee's first school was held in the small building of one room, built in 1883 at the location of the present Woodrow Wall residence. It is believed that it is here where the first services of the young congregation were held.

The first wedding recorded was held in 1899 in the old Frenchtown School, when vows were spoken by Jacob Staeger and Anna Bruchert. The first baptism on record was that of Erna Auguste Wilhelmine, child of Carl and Emilie Schulz in 1893: the first funeral was that of Anna Elizabeth Jaeckel in that same year.

As the turn of the century neared and the official forming of St. John's congregation was not too far off, the Village of Withee progressed into quite a thriving community. 1900 found in the village, three hotels, a drug store, two barber shops, a shoe store, five general stores, a baker, two creameries, a cant hook stock and broom handle factory and two mills. Early in 1901 steps were taken for the incorporation of the Village and incorporation came that same year.

Written church records are unavailable for the period between 1904, when Rev. Kuring left, and 1907. It is known that in those years the congregation was served by Rev.E. Buenger from the Green Grove church and Rev. Oswald Lugenheim from the Colby Congregation.

Pastor Schrein Begins Ministry

Rev. B. H. Schrein

In 1907 Rev. B.H.Schrein, a young student minister who served several congregations, began to serve the Withee Church. It was sometime during his ministry here, 1907 to 1912, that the parsonage was purchased and St. John's had its first resident pastor. Previously Pastor Schrein, like the pastors before him, had traveled to Withee by train and would be housed by members of the congregation until the next day when he could take a train home again. It is recalled that Pastor Schrein most often traveled by bicycle, covering the miles between his congregations at Withee, Stanley, Reseburg, Chippewa and Thorp in this way.

Harold Heideman has vivid memories of the pastor pulling his tooth with a string on one of his visits with the Heideman family.

First Confirmation Class

Pastor Schrein conducted the first confirmation class in Withee in 1908. Prior to this most children were confirmed at the Colby church. Mrs. Ehma Bruchert recalls that she lived most of one winter at the parsonage in Colby so she could attend confirmation classes. Members of that first Withee class were Harry Baehr, and Mabel, Elsie and John Schwartz. Since the pastor was not yet living in the Withee parsonage, John Schwartz, Sr. would pick him up from the train and drive him to his home where the classes were held. The Schwartz home was located across the road from the Baehrs. Pastor Schrein would stay over night with the Schwartz's and then Mr. Schwartz would take him to the train the next day.
Both Harry Baehr and his wife (who was confirmed by the same pastor but in the Reseburg congregation) have fond and clear memories of the young pastor. They remember him as a "tall slim fellow" who used to play games with the children, such as fox and geese in the winter time. They recall that he was not a strict teacher in the catechism class but rather that they had "pretty much fun".

During Pastor Schrein's term of service in Withee, the congregation continued to viorship in the Methodist church building.

Rev. Schwertfeger recalls Building problems


Rev. F. Schwertfeger

Rev. F. Schwertfeger was the second resident pastor and served St. John's at the time the church was built. Rev. Schwertfeger, now living in Horicon, Wisconsin remembers very clearly the problems facing the church at that time. He writes:
"Allow me to extend my heartiest congratulations for the occasion of the fiftieth anniversary of your church building of St. John's of Withee. Even today, after fifty years, I must marvel at God's grace and blessing, when I think of the almost insurmountable difficulties of that day confronting us in the erection of a church building. These difficulties were not caused by a lack of devotion or consecration on the part of the members, but rather lay in the extreme poverty of most of our members at that time. Yes, many of them were desperately poor. They had come from Chicago and purchased small tracts of cut over land, on a land-contract basis and were just beginning to clear small portions for farming. Quite a few lived in log-cabins and their only possessions seemed to consist of a few chickens, a cow, and perhaps a horse or a yoke of oxen. During the winter months they worked in the lumber mill at Owen for 1.35 a day (ten hours) and in the spring and summer they cleared the land and planted small patches of grain. Of course, there were also a few fairly well established farmers, but they too were far from being wealthy. All wanted a church of their own, but despaired of being able to build one.

"I had come to the Withee parish, consisting of Congregations at Withee, Thorp, Reseburg (a rural congregation three miles south of Thorp and now amalgamated with the Thorp Congregation) and Stanley. Later on I also began preaching in the Finnish Lutheran Church at Owen (english). The congregation at Withee had purchased a parsonage and two adjoining lots just north of the parsonage, on their own, shortly before I arrived, but worshipped in an Evangelical Church just south of the R.R. Tracks on the road to Greenwood. In this church I was inducted into my office. However, soon after we were informed that this church would not be available to us after a certain date in the near future.
No other building suitable for worship was to be found in the whole town.

"To survive, we were compelled to build. But when I suggested that to the congregation I was told that it would be impossible. One excuse was that a debt of $300.00 still rested upon the parsonage. To encourage the people, I promised to visit the other Congregations and ask them to help us liquidate that debt. They were still very skeptical, but I gained the impression that redeeming the mortgage would stimulate a church-building program. So I borrowed a horse and a two-wheeled cart from a Mr. John Schwartz, a member of the Withee Congregation and canvassed the other congregations for contributions and by the grace of God actually succeeded in collecting the $300.00. And that did encourage the people. They were a little more hopeful.

"I do not recall whether they elected a building-committee, in all probability they did, but the work of collecting and securing pledges was again up to the Pastor and to him alone. However, that should not reflect upon the people. In rural congregations in those days that was the common procedure. So this time I borrowed a bicycle from one of the boys and sought to raise money for the church, and after much effort succeeded to raise about $900.00. This was not sufficient. We needed at least $1500.00. This I reported in the next congregational meeting, gave them a little pep-talk and asked if they could not do a little better. Some responded and after that meeting we managed to get a little over $1300.00.
"Now we consulted a contractor, a man by the name of Matson, who lived just a five doors away from the parsonage, and after many consultations, he consented to build this church for $3,000.00 if the congregation would dig the basement. Here again, Mr. Schwartz deserves a lot of credit. He dug that basement almost single-handed. But how could the balance be raised I applied to the District Church Extension Fund and was told, since we were not a subsidized parish, no loan could be made. One other source remained. I applied to the Aid Association for Lutherans in Appleton and to my great joy they loaned us the balance of $1,500.00 at three per cent.

"An altar and a pulpit were presented to us by a congregation in Chicago. I believe it was a Jehovah congregation. The altar was rebuilt for our church by one of our members Also a reed-organ was given to us by a traveling salesman. This organ was in storage in Burlington and the condition was that we pay the freight, which amounted to six dollars. That organ was in very good condition and served, as I understand, for quite a few years.
"So the church was built and dedicated in September 1914. The other congregations of my parish were invited and the collection exceeded my fondest expectations, over $200.00, so that we could pay the contractor in full. To meet the interest payments and to reduce the loan, we now introduced envelopes and through this system succeeded to pay off on our mortgage even after the first year. That briefly is the history of the Lutheran Church in Withee, as I-remember it. It was the grace and blessing of God which made it possible. Soli Deo Gloria."

The church records indicate that a building committee was appointed, consisting of Pastor Schwertfeger, John Schwartz, William Missling and Henry Petke, who was authorized to draw up plans for the building. The plan called for a building 32 x 50'.

In the Annual Meeting of January 1, 1914 the voters decided to borrow the needed $1,500.00 and reported a cash balance on hand of $27.64. At the samemeeting a rule was adopted for new members, that they pay at least $8.00 for pastor's salary. It was also decided that each member furnish 4 yards of gravel or $5.00.

As 1914 continued, a committee, consisting of Fred Plader, Edward Neimag and Edward Missling, was chosen to purchase benches. Money was to be collected from the members.

Owen Congregation Formed

It was in 1916 that Rev. Schwertfeger began preaching at the Finnish Lutheran Church in Owen. That congregation, formed on October 7, 1916, was the English Evangelical Lutheran Zion Congregation. This congregation operated as a mission station being served by Withee Pastors until 1942 when it was officially combined with St. John's and its membership was transferred to the Withee Congregation.
First signers of the constitution were, besides Pastor Schwertfeger, E. A. Schroeder, E. F. Rusch, Arthur Sdhwenke, Gust Braun, Louie Herzberg, Mrs. Charles Spaeth, Mrs. Caroline Candahl, Inga Jonson, August Sell, William Schultz, and one other member.

Elected to the first term of office were Arthur Schwenke,president E.Schroeder,Treasurer and E. F. Rusch, secretary.

The Owen congregation had an active Ladies' Aid and a Sunday School of over 40 pupils.

Through the years of its existence it was called upon to help with the upkeep of the parsonage at St. John's.

The mission station closed on July 19, 1942 in accordance with action taken at a July 12th meeting. The application for the transfer of the members of the Zion English Lutheran Church was made possible by a motion by Louis Klabon, seconded by Edward Frederick.

Pastor Schwertfeger remained until March, 1917.

Rev. H. Laabs served as resident pastor for one year, 1917-1918. It was during this time, in February, 1918, that St. John's resolved to enter into membership with the Missouri Synod. That fall Mr. Edward Missling was sent to the district convention at Clintonville, Wisconsin. Julius Petke and Mr. Sievert traveled around in the District to collect some money to help Withee pay off its debt on the new church.
In July of 1918 an extra meeting was held to welcome into membership Edward Fredrich, John Rohland, William Lentz, John Engel, Julius Cizek, Fred Molzan, Jak.Cizek, Karl Bitof, Fred Schwenke, John Lankheim and Ludw. Schafer. This group had come from Chicago and had purchased a school building in which to hold Polish services. In view of the fact that the group still had a debt to retire on the school the voters of St. John's decided to release them of any obligation of church debt retirement. At the same meeting it was decided to permit a pastor to come three times a year for the purpose of holding services in the Polish language for those members not too well acquainted with the German.

Pastor Otto Schreiber from the Greenwood congregation served for one year as vacancy pastor. Pastor Schreiber, now living in Suring, Wisconsin, writes:
"One thing I never forgot was the hearty singing in your church services. When I'd get there for a service the "short" Petke (there was also a "long", but I do not remember their first names) would ask for the hymn numbers in the German and the English hymnbooks. Then he would also look up the numbers for the same hymns in the Polish hymnbook and then post all three lists on the hymn board. And then each one sang in the language he or she preferred. And it almost seemed as though each one tried to have his language heard above the others. I had a visitor with me one Sunday. He was from the southern part of the state. After the service he told me 'My those people sure can singl They almost raise the roof with their singing. Such hearty singing we do not hear in our part of Wisconsin., "Now I wish to assure you that I join you in thanking God for the Spiritual Blessings he has bestowed upon you in your church services these past fifty years and also in praying to God to continue to bless you also in the future. May He in His Grace preserve unto you the preaching of His word in its truth and purity and also grant you His Holy Spirit's power to accept and believe it for the saving of your souls here in time and hereafter in eternity. So that if we should not meet again here on earth, we will celebrate a glad reunion before the throne of God in heaven. Amen."

Withee Congregation Leaves Parish

On July 6, 1919 it was voted to separate the Withee Congregation from the Thorp, Reseburg, Withee parish and call a pastor for St. John's.


Rev. H. Laabs
Calling continued until sometime late in 1919 when Pastor Laabs returned to Withee to remain resident pastor for three years until 1922.
On February 29, 1920 at the annual meeting the voters decided to have an English service the first Sunday in each month.

Pastor Groh Installed

Rev. George Groh

Pastor Groh as installed here on May 28, 1922 and in 1924 the congregation celebrated the 10th anniversary f the church building. At this time the congregation was thinking about acquiring a bell for the church. In a meeting on July 26, 1925 it was announced that electric lighting had been installed in the parsonage.

In December, 1926 Pastor Groh received a call to Milan, Wisconsin and was given a release. Pastor Stapel of Thorp served as interim pastor with a salary of $30.00 per month. The parsonage was rented and the rent money applied n the church debt.

Rev. Stapel served from 1927 to 1928.

In January 1928 a special meeting as called to see how much money could be raised towards pastor's salary. After much discussion, it as decided to call another pastor, to raise $600.00 annually toward his salary, and to ask the mission board for assistance. Pastor Wuebben of Abbotsford as engaged as vacancy pastor at $30.00 per month.

Pastor Hoffmann Accepts Call


Rev. O. Hoffman

In February 1928 a call was issued to Pastor Otto Hoffmann of Libby, Montana, who accepted the call and came to serve the Withee church for 2 years, 1928-1930. Pastor Hoffmann, now living in Clearwater, Florida, sends his greetings to the congregation."

"We certainly are happy with St. John's Lutheran Church of Withee that the members can look back on 50 years of service in the Kingdom of their blessed Lord. While its beginning was modest and unassuming, yet after these 50 years of service the congregation can lift its head in humble pride to give glory to God for all the blessings He had so graciously bestowed upon the members, past and present, and through them upon others in the name of Christ.

"While we only served the congregation for two years, yet our memories of the congregation are fond memories of willing service to the Lord.

"It is our sincere prayer that the Lord will continue to bless the congregation and its members and that the members will continue to serve the Lord to the glory of His name and the eternal welfare of souls purchased by the precious blood of Christ.

"We wish we could be with you on the anniversary, however, distance will not permit this. One of these years we will journey northward and then e will surely pass through Withee and visit with such as remember us."
In November 1928, the voters decided to raise $675.00 for the next year's salary for the pastor and to ask the mission board for $525.00 to make up the balance. It was also voted in this meeting to have the Thanksgiving service in German and also in English, the Christmas Eve service in English, and the Christmas Day and New Year's Day services in German. At the same meeting members were reminded to bring wood to heat the church.
In October of 1929 the voters lowered their request to the mission board by $25.00, and asked for $500.00 assistance. At this meeting it was decided to toll the bell during the Lord's Prayer and do away with the custom of separating the men and women during the service.

A financial report in January, 1930 showed total receipts of 1,115.31 and a disbursement figure of $1,063.31.

On February 23, 1930 a release was given to Pastor Hoffmann who had received a call from the Colby congregation. On March 30, 1930, the voters decided to call a 1930 graduate pastor, and if possible, one acquainted with the Polish language. It was also decided to engage a student to serve the congregation in June and July.


Pastor Wendling Here During Depression

Pastor Wendling and Family

On October 5, 1930, Pastor E. L. Wendling was ordained and installed and began a term of service of 11 years. Pastor Wendling, who now lives in Waupaca, Wisconsin, writes:
"We enjoyed our stay at Withee, though the going was rather hard. These were depression years when farmers were losing their farms, getting only about 75 cents per hundred pounds of milk. The Pastor was to receive $85.00 per month, but didn't always get it. The money just wasn't there. Still the Lord provided for us. The people were good to us. When they had no money, they gave us food and the like."
That the "going was rather hard" is plain also from the minutes of the congregation. On October 9, 1932 the voters could not decide on a specific amount of money to raise but agreed to raise as much as possible. On January 8, .1933 it was decided to reduce the pastor's salary from 700.00 to 550.00 for 1932 and 1933 and in a 1935 meeting the 52.00 delinquent salary money due the pastor was canceled upon the okay of the pastor.
In April of 1935 the young people of the choir purchased another organ for the church and the old organ was given over to them.
The next year the church and parsonage were painted and a new cement floor was put in the church basement. An interesting note in the January 3, 1937 Minutes states: "It was decided to begin services promptly on time henceforth, and from June to Christmas at 10:30 A.M. From Christmas to June 1st at 10:45 A.M."

In May 1938 it was decided that English services be conducted every Sunday morning at 10:00 and German services be held every 1st and 3rd Sunday immediately after the English service.
For 1939 the congregation pledged 650.00 for salary. That same year a new culvert was placed in front of the garage.
In the fall of 1939 the 25th anniversary of the church building was celebrated. Pastor Schrein of Chippewa Falls and Pastor Hoffmann of Colby were invited to speak. In the same year it was announced that the Ladies' Aid had offered to pay expenses for a partition through the basement, for wallboard on the ceiling, and paint on the walls. The offer was accepted with thanks.
In the Quarterly meeting of October 29, 1939 it was decided to change the service to the extent of having all prayers said at the alter rather than at the pulpit.

Witness Placed in Every Home

In the January 7, 1940 meeting it was resolved to make an effort to place the Lutheran Witness or the Lutheraner into every home of the congregation. The treasurer reported that $166.00 had been raised for missions during the last year, $26.65 for the centennial offering and $727.00 for home expenses.
In the same year it was decided to put a new roof on the parsonage. Ed Fredrick and Adolph Cizek were appointed as delegates to a Laymen's meeting and Ed Petke was appointed delegate to Synod.
In a later 1940 meeting it was decided to have the young men of the congregation act as ushers. For the year 1941 the congregation increased its pledge for the pastor's salary to $675.00 and consequently the subsidy requested from synod was $25.00 less. World War 11 The minutes show the effect of World War 11 on the Withee church when it reports that it was decided to purchase New Testaments for the boys at the camp and later that in case a member of our congregation should fall in service to his country that a prayer be read for him at the time of death and a memorial service be held for all fallen members once a year.
On November 16, 1941 Pastor Wendling was given a peaceful release in a special meeting, held jointly with the members of Zion congregation of Owen. It was decided to ask Pastor Hoffmann of Colby to serve as vacancy pastor.

Rev. Schedler Arrives

Rev. Schedler

In a December 7, 1941 meeting Pastor Walter Schedler was elected to receive the call from the Withee church. Pastor Schedler accepted the call and arrived in January. Pastor Schedler, now serving in California writes:
"My ministry at Withee began in January of 1942. When we arrived we were directed to Mrs. Bruchert's home where we were treated to a lovely meal. After supper my wife and I went to the parsonage and got a few beds set up so we could spend the night there. It was cold and it was a cold house.

"The installation service was in the afternoon and Rev. O. Hoffmann of Colby installed me.

"I had my first baptism a few days later. I baptized Judith Auberg, the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Roy Auberg. I had her in my confirmation class in 1954, the year I left to go to Bear Creek.

"The work at Withee was quite hard at first and progress was slow. But soon some of the younger men took a hold of things and progress became more rapid. At this time Withee was under the mission board. Withee paid $60.00 per month and the district $40.00. I believe we went self supporting in 1945 or 1946.

"Some of the physical changes that took place were the insulating of the house and then the church, the work being done by Albert and Ernest Petke. If I m not mistaken they charged only $95.00 for the parsonage.

"The church also got additional lights at this time and the parsonage got hot running water and a bathroom. Then the church got an oil furnace and the basement fixed up nice. Also the parsonage got an oil furnace and an electric water heater. Next the church got a mother's room and another exit from the basement. We also got sidewalks around to the back of the church and over to the parsonage. The amplifying system was installed by John Isaacs for $100.00 with the congregation, Ladies' Aid, and Men's Club sharing the expenses. Also the movie projector was added pretty much in the same way. And let's not forget the rebuilt reed organ we bought that gave us so much trouble, especially the blower and how it was then replaced with the present Hammond which was paid for before 90 days of free loan were up.

"Spiritual growth came in a very gratifying way. God's Word was by no means preached in vain. The mission contribution went from hundreds of dollars to over $1500 per year and the church attendance from an average of 50 to 145. All this because the Lord was working in the hearts of the people of Withee and vicinity and because the people worked together. People spoke well of St. John's Lutheran Church and many also spoke well of the pastor. These two things do help so much to draw attention to the local congregation where the outsider will then also come and hear the soul-saving word. I do believe that these two things were a contributing factor to the fact that so many adults were confirmed during my ministry there. Of course, it brought great joy to me to confirm these adults after a 3 to 4 month period of instructions. Truly the Gospel is the power (dynamite) of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth.

"I wish I could be with you on such a happy occasion. May the Lord continue to bless all of you and May all of, you continue to serve the Lord faithfully."

Additional highlights of Pastor Schedler's ministry here were the adoption of the pastor's pension plan in April, 1942, the combining of Zion Lutheran Church of Owen with St. John's of Withee in July of 1942, Vacation Bible School began in the summer of 1948 Sunday German services were discontinued in 1949 the 50th anniversary of the congregation was observed in May of 1953, with Rev. Schrein, Rev. Schwertfeger and Rev. Clarence Cizek invited to speak, and the 40th anniversary of the church building was observed in 1954.

Rev. Schedler was given a peaceful release to accept a call to Bear Creek, Wis., at a special meeting on November 14, 1954. At the same meeting the voters decided to ask Rev. Brauer of Greenwood to serve as vacancy pastor.

Rev. Predoehl Sends Greetings

Rev. Predoehl

Rev. Brauer

Pastor Brauer served the congregation for 6 months. Pastor Theodore Predoehl was installed on June 19, 1955 and served until April of 1961. Pastor Predoehl writes from Glidden, Wisconsin:
"May the Holy Spirit guide all to gladly hear God's Word, be touched with the heavenly fire ,and be saved by the grace of God in Christ.

My family and I extend our best anniversary wishes to St. John's congregation as they observe the 50th Rev. Brauer anniversary of their church dedication in Sept. 1964.

During Pastor Predoehl's term of service it was seriously considered by the congregation to build an addition to the present church structure but for various reasons this project was never brought to completion.

Rev. Harold Timmerman

After Rev. Predoehl left, St. John's experienced a vacancy of a little more than one year during which time the congregation was served first by Rev. Harold Timmerman of Green Grove and then Rev. Daniel Zielske of Greenwood. The vacancy was highlighted by many call meetings, a Spiritual Life Mission project, and finally the building of a new parsonage on the lots across the street from the church.

Rev. Urman Installed in 1962

Rev. Leroy A. Urman

In January of 1962 the voters decided to issue a call for a graduate student and on July 8, 1962 Pastor Leroy A. Urman, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary of Springfield, Ill., was ordained and installed. In January of 1962 the voters decided to issue a call for a graduate student and on July 8, 1962 Pastor Leroy A. Urman, a graduate of Concordia Theological Seminary of Springfield, Ill., was ordained and installed.



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