HISTORY OF OUR CHURCH
Neillsville, Clark Co., Wisconsin
Much can be said about the beginning of churches, but few perhaps have had a more meager beginning than the Zion Church. The history of Zion reads like a great story, filled with hardship, happiness, trial, and success. Through it we can see and trace God’s guiding hand, the wondrous ways in which He keeps His church in its quests and struggles, leading it ever onward in strength.
During the last of the nineteenth century Europe was restless and revolution was impending. To avoid political difficulties, military service and to find religious freedom, thousands upon thousands of immigrants came to America – to a new land of hope. Upon reaching the shores of America, the people moved westward settling in the west central states. Wisconsin grew by leaps and bounds. New settlers arrived daily seeking land and a place to begin again. Among them lay the nucleus for Zion Church.
Long before our church was organized there lived in the community of southwest Pine Valley, Clark County a group of families of German and Swiss descent. The group was small in number as well as divided in church background, yet they felt a need for a church and this spiritual need for worship to God brought them together.
Somehow, with the grace of God, they saw fit to erect a church. Working, building, often letting other matters go the church became a reality. A fitting name “the Prince of Peace Church” was selected by the small happy group.
With the church completed, a call went out for a minister to preach in the German language. Mission House College and Seminary located near Sheboygan, Wisconsin, answered the call and sent alternately the minister from the Stratford church, the Rev. J. Schmalz and Rev. F. Dallmus. Following them came Rev. H. W. Schroer also from Stratford who supplied every eighth Sunday – the Prince of Peace Church being only one of many churches he served.
It was at this time, on September 6, 1903, that the congregation was actually organized, drawing up a constitution and deciding to unite with the Reformed Synod. There were only nine families, or about twenty members. According to the record these first members were: Mr. and Mrs. Fred Pflughoeft, Mr. and Mrs. Heinrich Stelloh, Mr. and Mrs. Wilhelm Martens, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Gehrt, Mr. and Mrs. Friedrich Eggimann, Mr. and Mrs. Robert Reichling, Mr. and Mrs. Wilhelm Zank, Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stache, Mr. and Mrs. Heinrich Gehrt, and Mr. Fred Stelloh. Thus with its organization Rev. H. W. Schroer became the first pastor. Services were now held every third week.
Those first days were trying times especially for the pastor. Rev. Schroer would arrive by train Saturday night and stay with one of the members. On Sunday morning he would begin the service with prayer, then go to the organ to play and sing the Doxology and hymns and then to the pulpit to preach. In other words, he did it all, preach, play the organ, and lead the singing. At the close of the service Rev. Schroer would quickly take off his robe, pick up his grip, and hurry to catch the train to Sidney. It is interesting to note that the only marriage in the Prince of Peach Church was that of Fred Stelloh to Anna Martens in 1906.
The outlook for a growing congregation in Pine Valley was not promising so in 1907 the congregation agreed to move to Neillsville. Coming to Neillsville was a wise decision, but with it came many new problems.
Upon moving to Neillsville arrangements were made to hold services in the Unitarian Church for which fifty dollars rent per year was paid. Because of travel hardships some of the members severed their connections with the congregation. The remainder continued faithfully and with God’s help the congregation grew and became established.
In 1908, Rev. Schroer closed his work here and at Stratford. During this vacancy Rev. J. Stucki of the Winnebago Mission at Black River Falls supplied. Rev. Herman Schmid, a graduate of Mission House College and Seminary, accepted the call to Stratford and the mission charge of Neillsville and Humbird in July 1909. His itinerary called for services once every third Sunday here at Neillsville and Humbird. On March 8, 1911, Rev. Schmid moved to Neillsville in order to give more time and service to these two congregations. With full time resident pastorate a Sunday School was begun and worship service conducted every Sunday morning.
During the years of Rev. Schmid’s pastorate many things of far reaching importance happened to the infant congregation. One of the first organizations apart from the Sunday School was the Ladies’ Aid Society organized in October, 1911. Then as now, this women’s organization was a strong pillar of the church, composed of willing workers who gave unselfishly toward the growth of the congregation. In April of 1912 arrangements were made with the Episcopalian Fellowship to hold services in their church, located on the corner of Fourth and Court Streets, because of a misunderstanding with the Unitarian group. The Episcopal Church is now the Lynn Mutual Insurance Company. This arrangement lasted from April until the middle of November of 1913.
At that time the Unitarian Church building was offered for sale. A special congregational meeting was called, at which time, the members agreed to give power and authority to the church officers for purchase of said property and building. Much trouble was experienced in gaining the legal rights to the property but after patience by the minister and members, we secured all rights and the church building became the property of the Zion Congregation. A dedication service of the newly purchased church to the Triune God was held on July 19, 1914. The church is still used in the work of God’s Kingdom and its doors are open to all who seek to know Him, the Triune God.
To help the struggling congregation the Church Erection Board of the denomination gave an interest free loan of one thousand eight hundred dollars for the purchase of the church and seven hundred dollars for a parsonage located on State Street. In the summer of 1914 a German religious day-school was started. The enrollment was small, varying between five and eight children daily with classes meeting in the church. That same summer cement walks were laid and the cement floor in the church basement poured. Instrumental in this work were Mr. Marcus Hoesly and Mr. M. Moldenhauer. On March 1, 1915, Rev. H. Schmid closed his work. His going also marked the close of the struggling, founding years, yet years that saw great strides forward. Zion Church was firmly established in Neillsville and the congregation now had seventy-five confirmed members. The church yet remained a dual charge consisting of Neillsville and Humbird.
Rev. David Grether answered the call and began his pastoral duties June 20, 1915. The obstacles that confronted the congregation at this time, was a debt of one thousand eight hundred dollars on the church and six hundred dollars on the parsonage. However, the little flock was of good courage and looked forward into the future hopefully. A step in that direction was the introduction of the duplex envelope system and the finances of the congregation greatly improved. Another change was the beginning of English service, which helped attendance especially among the younger folks. In 1916 a small pipe organ was installed.
In 1922 the question of a new parsonage was presented to the Ladies Aid. They took favorable to the suggestion assuming full responsibility. The old parsonage was sold. Between the month of August and November of that year a spacious modern house was built directly behind the church on Clay Street, at the cost of five thousand dollars. It took courage on the part of the Ladies Aid to do this. However, under the able leadership of the committee, Mrs. Charles Seif and Mrs. Rose Eberhardt, this work was accomplished.
On September 27, 1925, Rev. Grether presented his resignation in order to accept a call from Salem Reformed Church at Magley, Indiana. Rev. Caleb Hauser answered the call from Neillsville and began his work here in November of that year. During the years of Rev. Hauser’s ministry the Humbird Church became a separate unit having its own residential minister. This helped Zion Church because Rev. Hauser had more time to devote to his various pastoral duties. The records show a definite increase in the Sunday School classes, in the confirmation classes, and in church membership. Rev. Hauser completed his work at Zion Church in 1928 and the Rev. Edwin H. Vornholt filled the vacancy.
Rev. & Mrs. Koehler
Rev. Vornholt served Zion Church for seven years and during his pastorate he did much to strengthen the department of religious education. A strong youth organization developed under his able guidance, the church choir was reorganized, and a Men’s Brotherhood was started. This group did much to stimulate church interest for several years, but it became inactive at the termination of Rev. Dechant’s pastorate at Neillsville in 1950.
It was also during this time that a piano was purchased by the Ladies’ Aid and the Men’s Brotherhood.
German services were discontinued except for special occasions. A big milestone was now reached when the congregation became self-supporting. Prior to this Zion had been a mission charge. Rev. Vornholt resigned in April of 1936.
Rev. Wilson Bixler accepted the call to Zion Church and began his work on July 3, 1936. In the fall of that year a small room was built in the church basement by the members of the Men’s Brotherhood. This room became a meeting place for the young folks of the church being used for instructions, Sunday School, and Young People’s meetings. The youth showed their appreciation by presenting the church with a Pulpit Bible, on Christmas Eve of 1939.
At a special congregational meeting in October of 1939 it was voted that the local congregation become a part of the merged church, thus the name being changed from “Zion Reformed Church” to “Zion Evangelical and Reformed Church.” Later in the fall of that year the first every-member canvas was made and proved very successful.
In March 1940, some of the men under the direction of Henry Stucki put a new floor in the church auditorium. The following spring Henry Stucki and others put a hardwood floor in the church and the Ladies’ Aid purchased carpeting.
On May 7, 1941, Rev. Bixler tendered his resignation. For almost a year and a half Zion was without a minister. During this vacancy the church ws supplied by students from Mission House and by neighboring pastors including Rev. Benjamin Stucki who is always willing to aid the congregation. It was also during this time that the present electric organ was purchased. This was accomplished by much effort on the part of the members.
In November of 1943 Rev. N. J. Dechant began his pastoral work in Zion Church. During his pastorate plans were carried through for the observance of Zion’s Fortieth Anniversary. On Good Friday evening of 1944 a communion service was held at which time a new pulpit and communion table were dedicated. This new furniture was made by Henry Embke from material donated by Henry Stucki, Ole Aspen, and Mark Vornholt. New hymnals were also purchased by the congregation. Under Rev. Dechant’s guidance the church continued to grow and serve the community of which it is a vital part.
In January of 1950 Rev. Dechant terminated his work at Zion to begin a new field in southeastern Wisconsin. During the interim Zion was supplied by students from Mission House and by Rev. Benjamin Stucki.
After a trial sermon on Palm Sunday, Rev. William Koehler was elected and accepted, beginning his work on July 9, 1950.
Before Rev. Koehler arrived plans were under consideration to improve the church basement. Upon his arrival a special meeting was called by the church president, Mr. Albert H. Zank, and a committee was appointed to proceed with the remodeling of the church basement and the installation of a new furnace. Under the direction of the committee which consisted of Mrs. Richard Albrecht, Mrs. Rose Eberhardt, Mr. Ivan Lauscher, Mr. Kenneth Van Gorden, and Mr. George Shaw, the work was carried out to completion. At the same time a modern kitchen was installed. The whole project was possible only because of the willing and selfless efforts of every member.
During the remodeling program the men of the consistory established a “consistory fund” to be used for special projects in the church. The first undertaking was the rearranging of the Sanctuary, namely: the placing of the altar at the rear with the pulpit and lectern on either side and choir sections. Mr. Embke made the altar and Mr. Henry Stucki made the lectern. At the same time new carpeting was purchased by the combined choirs.
In the fall of 1950 a Memorial Fund was started. The money received in this fund is used for memorials of those who have passed away. Many gifts have been given by relatives and friends of the departed to beautify the church.
In the spring of 1951 it was decided to hold during the summer months an early service. Under this summer program worship services were held at 8:00 A. M. and 10:30 A. M. This plan has proven successful and has become a part of the present Church program.
Another addition during the fall of that year was the road signs found on the main arteries entering the city.
In the fall of 1952 a new entrance was added to the church under the direction of Mr. Jacob Hoesly and Mr. Hiram Haugen. Again the men responded to the call for help.
Thus our history up to the Fiftieth Anniversary.
In reading the history of our church we find interwoven the guiding hand of God. From a small beginning we have grown and become a vital part of the life of our community. What lays ahead no one can say, but of this we are certain: a congregation that is built upon faith and trust, which has Christ for its cornerstone and its head, shall never fail. Let us then rededicate ourselves anew as members and as a church to the Triune God.
History of Clark County (1918)
Zion’s Reformed Church, of the Reformed Church of the United States, at Neillsville. – This congregation was started at Columbia, Clark County, by the Rev. W. H. Schroer, services being later held in Pine Valley, where the church was organized Sept. 6, 1903, nine families taking part. The original members were Fred Pflughoeft, Henry Stelloh, William Martens, Herman Gehrt, Fred Eggimann, Robert Reichling, William Zank, Karl Stache, Henry Gehrt and Fred Stelloh.
The first services in Neillsville were held in the Unitarian Church building, and in the same year the Ladies’ Aid Society bought the parsonage. There are now seventy-nine communicant members. After the pastorate of the Rev. W. H. Schorer there was a vacancy in the pulpit during which time the church was service by the Rev. J. Stucki from Black River Falls. Then, in the summer of 1915, the Rev. D. Grether was ordained and installed as pastor. The church is now well established and is doing effective work in helping to maintain a high moral and religious standard in the community.
(When the church was in Pine Valley at the corner of Sidney Ave. and W Sand Rd, it was called Prince of Peace Church. Many years ago we always referred to that as “The church corner”. Dmk)
Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon & Janet Schwarze.
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