Photo by Becky Armbrecht Turner
Becoming an American Lutheran Church
In 1907, Olean was fifty years old. The congregation was still composed almost entirely of German immigrants and their children. They worshipped in German, taught their children in German, confirmed them in German, and spoke German in their homes.
That was about to change. As it changed, so did many other things. Over the next fifty years America would change tremendously, and the people of Olean would change with America. By 1957, Olean would be a pretty typical American congregation.
It is not necessary to enumerate here all the radical changes brought upon our country by inventions and social changes which affected everyone in similar ways. But we will try to tell here how this congregation in particular found itself changing to adapt to a changing country.
As we said in the previous chapter, Pastor Wilhelm Lüdemann oversaw the celebration of Olean’s fiftieth anniversary. He had been born in Falkenhagen, Germany, in 1850, and thus was 43 years old when he began to minister at Olean. He spoke no English, and his days as pastor were therefore numbered. There was a great deal of pressure in the congregation to begin offering worship in English. Names and spellings were becoming more English (he was now “William Luedemann”) and children needed English to further their education beyond the narrow confines of a German settlement.
[By the way: There is a difference of opinion about whether our congregation should be called St. Paul or St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. The confusion arose because the original German name “Sankt Paulus” (with an s on the end) actually means St. Paul. The German for St. Paul’s would have been Sankt Pauli. So the best translation of the original German name is not St. Paul’s but St. Paul, even though St. Paul’s sounds more like the original German. However, St. Paul’s has also been used often, and is the legal name.]
During Rev. Lüdemann’s pastorate of seventeen years, the congregation built a parsonage and a school building. The senior choir was also founded while he was pastor, and his daughter Agatha played the organ.
On the first of each year, the congregation at Olean would meet and elect their Church Council for the year. The minutes of that meeting in 1907 give a sense of the life of the congregation at that time. (Translated from the German original)
Minutes of the regular New Year’s meeting of the Ev. Luth. St. Paul Church in Olean. The meeting was opened by Pastor Lüdemann with song and prayer. Then the minutes of the regular [quarterly] and the extra [nominating] meetings were read out loud and accepted as correct. Then the account balance and the receipts and expenditures were read and accepted as correct.
1. It was decided that we would forgive Franz Hallfarth the 3 dollars which he owes from 1906 and that from now on he has to pay 5 dollars per year. [This refers to the custom of assessing every member an annual amount for the support of the pastor.]
2. It was decided that the freewill list for the retirement of the debts should be read and accepted as correct.
3. It was decided that the money in the treasury should be left there.
4. It was decided that we should celebrate a Jubilee Festival, but the cost of it must be raised from freewill contributions.
5. It was decided that we should name a committee to see whether they can raise enough money for a Jubilee Festival. The committee is: Fritz Werner, Samuel Fisse, Mrs. R. Hunger, Mrs. Otte, Hermann Hunger, Lisette Früchtnicht.
6. It was decided to contract again for 35 ricks of wood—20 ricks split and 15 ricks of coarse wood.
7. It was decided to receive Mr. Johann Tebbing as a member of this congregation, at five dollars a year. [He had been a member of St. Peter.]
8. It was decided to authorize the pastor to purchase a new book.
9. It was decided from now on to pay $8.00 to start the fire [in the church’s stoves].
Then the election was held. [The nominees are all listed.] The following were chosen: Fritz Tebbing, Karl Hunger, Wilhelm Otte, Fritz Wichmann, and Wilhelm Jacob.
There being no more matters brought to the meeting, the meeting was closed by the pastor with song.
(Signed) William Jacobs, Sec., and Carl Hunger, Pres.
At the next meeting, in April 1907, it was decided by a vote of 23-0 to have the “Jubilee Festival.” The next order of business was the creation of a Building Committee, with Heinrich Tebbing, Wilhelm Schwagmeier, and Karl Hunger. Wilhelm Schwagmeier was made treasurer of that committee. Their first order of business was the repair of one of the walls of the church, and some painting that needed to be done. Apparently the painting didn’t get done, because at the January 1 meeting of 1908 it was again decided: “that some time this year the church and school shall be painted.” That same year, the church purchased additional land to the south, from Mr. Schmidt.
As authorized in the minutes, the pastor purchased a new parish register in the jubilee year—a large, leatherbound volume. The first baptism recorded in the book was that of Hilda Wilhelmine Maria Linkmeyer, daughter of Johann F. and Josephine (nee Lomatsch) Linkmeyer, born March 23, 1907, and baptized April 7, 1907. The sponsor was Mrs. Maria Lomatsch, wife of Alban Lomatsch.
The parish register also has a list of communicants, and shows their attendance at Holy Communion. The initial register shows 133 members communing in 1907. Surnames include Schwagmeier, West, Früchtnicht, Ehlers, Otte, Schwengel, Werner, Wichmann, Fisse, Schwake, Jacob, Smith, Tebbing, Obendorf, Stute, Schwegmann, Hallfarth, Hunger, Rosengarn, Stenger, Dresselhaus, Wagenfeld, Lüdemann, Linkmeyer, Kathenbrink, Stegemöller, Arend, Winkler, Auf der Heide, Lomatsch, Lübbe, Kröger, Steingrüber, By 1908 the list included these last names as well: Barth, Vogel, Ellermann, and Kaiser; soon thereafter: Bökenkamp, Peter, Balmann, Jänigen, Tielking, and Peters.
This parish register would remain in use until 1959—roughly speaking the centennial of the congregation.
If you examine the register, you will notice a pronounced difference in handwriting after Pastor Luedemann. He kept records in a truly German script, using German spelling. With Pastor Rasmussen, beginning in 1911, the records are much easier for us to read—although the headings in the register are of course still German.
Three years after the 50th anniversary, in 1910, Pastor Luedemann resigned and retired from the ministry. He died in 1931. The congregation then called Rev. Niels (or Neals) Rasmussen (or Rassmussen). So far as we can tell, he was the first pastor of Olean who had not been born in Germany. He was born in Denmark, but came to America as a high school graduate and attended first Wittenberg and then Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, which was mainly a seminary for training Lutheran ministers. Since Pastor Rasmussen, all of our pastors have been born in America.
Also, beginning with Pastor Rasmussen and running until Pastor Felde—a stretch of eighty-seven years—all our pastors except Rev. Langendorff (who stayed four months) graduated from either Capital University or its successor seminary—Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary.
Pastor Rasmussen was thirty years old—less than half his predecessor’s age—when he arrived at Olean. He had served for only two years after being ordained at Tell City, Indiana, before moving to Olean. After serving here for three years, he served briefly in Michigan City, Indiana. He then moved to St. John, Powellsville, Ohio, where he ministered for twenty years.
Pastor Rasmussen came to Olean as a single man. He was married June 3, 1915, and the confirmation records he signed that year are the last records he signed at Olean.
One of the most important developments during this time was the founding of the Ladies Aid Society, which, according to its constitution, was “to advance the interest of the congregation spiritually, financially and socially.” They elected the following leaders: President, Mrs. Charles Hunger; Vice president, Mrs. Henry Weakman; Treasurer, Mrs. Fred Smith; Secretary, Miss Clara Kaiser.
At one of the women’s meetings (September 11, 1919) the possibility of building a new church was first publicly discussed. They immediately started a building fund!
They were highly organized, taking attendance and charging dues (ten cents). Responsibility for serving refreshments rotated among the ladies, and they were fined $1.00 if they went overboard and served more than coffee, bread and butter, and jelly or jam.
It wasn’t until the 1947 constitution that women were included among the voting members, but with the Ladies Aid Society the women of the congregation began taking a more active role in running the affairs of the congregation. Perhaps this had its roots in the appointment of a 50th anniversary committee that included women?
The Ladies Aid Society had 44 charter members. They met the second Thursday of each month—which in 2007 is still the meeting day for the Women of the ELCA!
In 1913 the last of the founders of the congregation passed away—so it is noted in the record of his funeral: Christian Friedrich Lübbe.
When Pastor Rasmussen left to get married, Olean had a difficult time finding a new pastor. During the interim, we find the names of pastors D. Simon, E. Bliss, and R. Kohlrusch on records in the register. Finally, they called Rev. Langendorf, who had served for fifteen or sixteen years at various churches in Ohio. His first initial may have been F, or P, or A—officials records have all three. At any rate, he neither baptized nor confirmed nor married nor buried anyone, and there is no record of his giving Communion either.
Some histories record that he “showed unfaithfulness to the Synod,” and this may have precipitated his departure. He took a call to a church in Batesville—a “free church,” meaning it was not affiliated with the Ohio Synod to which Olean belonged or any other synod. Thence he went to Chicago, and after 1923 he disappears from records.
After sending out several unsuccessful calls, the congregation took the advice of the District President and called a student graduating from Capital University—Henry A. Barth. He accepted the call and was installed in June 1916.
For a young pastor in his first call, Pastor Barth accomplished many things. There was already some impetus to build a new church prior to his coming, and that became a reality within six years. Some say (we have no documentation of this) that Pastor Barth actually designed our present church. He undoubtedly had the opportunity to influence its design.
Henry A. Barth was born October 5, 1888, in Chatfield, Ohio, to John and Victoria (Brown) Barth. He graduated from Capital University in 1913 and the Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1916. That same year he married Clara Seeger, before moving to Olean.
He stayed at Olean until 1924, and then moved to Trinity in Union City, Indiana, where he served until 1944. From 1944-58 he served St. John in Otwell, Indiana, where he retired. He passed away November 26, 1979, at the age of 91 years.
A previous history records: “During his pastorate the congregation had many blessings. The need of a new church was felt by this pastor and many of the members. New Year’s Day, 1921, found most of the voting members present to vote their “yes” for the erection of a new church. Enthusiasm ran high when finally it was decided that all who were in favor of a new church should make it known by subscribing a liberal sum toward the same. In this way, beyond all expectations, almost $5,000.00 was subscribed without soliciting a penny. The vision was no longer a dream but a picture of the reality. Committees were appointed, work began, and the cornerstone was laid with impressive ceremonies on July 31, 1921. Generous donations of labor and materials by the members made possible rapid headway in construction so that by the Grace of God the new church was formally dedicated to his Honor and Glory on February 5, 1922.”
Immediately after arriving, Pastor Barth (the youngest pastor the congregation had ever had) organized a Young People’s Society—on October 22, 1916. Twenty young people joined the society.
The Ladies Aid Society continued strong. Its minutes during these years show an active interest in caring for, furnishing, and decorating the old church and the new one.
Pastor Barth continued the transition from German to English. He confirmed the last German class in 1918: Velma (Cutter) Aufderheide, Louis Gardemann, and Clarence Werner. Their classmates were confirmed in English: Roy Smith, Wilbur Stegemoller, Arnold Werner, Howard Ehlers, Norma (Swingle) Lomatsch, and Alice (Mefford) Lomatsch. The minutes of congregational meetings were still kept in German—but that would change in 1921.
[On March 14, 1918, Pastor Barth performed the marriage of Dr. Karl H. Barth and Lavinia C. Brose, both of Chatfield, Ohio. Was this perhaps the pastor’s brother?]
The church erected under Pastor Barth’s guidance is still standing for all to see. The shape of the room reflects a then current trend in American church architecture. The nave is not long and filled with straight pews; it is wider than it is long, and the rounded (technically called “radius”) pews direct the worshipers’ attention to the altar.
The stained glass windows for the church were ordered from the Von Gerichten Art Glass Company in Columbus, Ohio, which supplied similar but not identical windows to over eight hundred churches in the eastern, midwestern, and a few western states. Marilyn Miller of Gahanna, Ohio, a librarian at Ohio State University, is studying the work of this art glass studio and plans to publish a book at some point. One of the large windows was purchased by the Ladies Aid Society and one by the Young People’s Society, each for $165.
The altar, pulpit, and font for the sanctuary were handmade by John W. Reuter, about whom we know nothing more.
The original organ with its pipes, the clock, balcony benches, and pews were moved from the old church to the new. (Men sat on the south side of the new church, women on the north.) There was no indoor plumbing in the original design. Heat was provided by a coal furnace—the old church had two wood stoves.
The local newspaper carried the following notice regarding the opening of the new church:
Last Sunday, Feb. 5, , in the presence of a communion of saints to the number of about three hundred, the new church at Olean was formally opened, entered and dedicated unto the glory of God and the salvation of his saints.
Next Sunday we expect to conduct our first regular service in the English language in our new church dedicated to this purpose. Services to begin at 10:30; Bible study class at 10:00.
Regular young peoples’ meeting next Sunday evening at 7:30.
Don’t forget the Home-Coming for young and old for next Thursday evening Feb. 9. Come and bring your friends with you and together let us enjoy ourselves in a social as well as profitable way.
The Ladies’ aid has been postponed for this month.
Meeting of the church council some time during the home coming Thursday evening to decide some urgent matters.
You are welcome at our services.
The beauty of the Lord in his sanctuary, the beauty of his sanctuary as a house of worship, and the beauty of the assembling of ourselves together, beckons you to come. Yes come, find rest for your soul at the throne of grace and depart in peace.
H. A. Barth, Pastor.
And it was only six months since the cornerstone had been laid on a hot July 31, with a pitch-in (yes, there was limburger cheese!) and the church band from St. Peter’s Bear Branch playing “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” The speaker that day was one of the most distinguished American Lutheran biblical scholars, R. C. H. Lenski, who published a famous series of New Testament commentaries still in use decades after he died.
Notes taken by Pastor Hallman from a conversation with Viola Swingle about the opening of the church: “On that festive February 5, the weather was warm and beautiful. The day began with the entire congregation meeting at the old frame church on the west side of the road. The old building was empty since the old church benches, organ and lectern had all been moved to the new church. Everyone gathered inside, and Pastor Barth had a word of prayer. Then everyone left except the church council. Then he gave the communion vessels to the church council to carry across the street.
“After the doors of the old church were closed, there was a procession to the new building. The pastor was followed by the church council, the choir, and then the congregation. Ada Tebbing and Viola Swingle, sopranos, were the first ones in the choir. Charles Smith rang the bell from the time they left the old church until they arrived at the new church and turned the key. Mrs. Barth played the organ softly. Then Pastor Barth read Psalm 122.”
“There was no electricity at the time, so the organ was hand pumped. A blower was donated, and a Delco system of electric batteries then kept the blower working.
“Pastor Arthur Borchardt from neighboring St. Peter’s Lutheran in Bear Branch delivered the English sermon, and the President of Capital University the German one. After the service, dinner was held in the schoolhouse which was located just west of the well.”
As we write this in 2007, Mr. Lawrence Green is probably the last living member able to remember walking across the road to the new church.
It is important to notice that Pastor Barth specifically stated that the new church was built—and regular services in English were now to be held—in order that Olean might begin to welcome others to church. This was a remarkable development in a church which had relied on the recruitment of fellow German speakers—and marriages—for new members.
Pastor Barth’s tenure was not without controversy. In the midst of the building of the new church, on December 11, 1921, a special meeting of the congregation was called to decide what to do about a situation that had arisen with a couple of the children—one who had been enrolled by her parents in the parochial school of St. Paul, Dewberry, and one (son of the congregation’s president) who had apparently been dropped from the confirmation class. The tone of the meeting was conciliatory, with apologies extended to the parents and the desire expressed for an improvement of the religious instruction of all the children of Olean. It was even suggested that the Ripley County school board be asked to set aside one day a week (not Saturday) for religious instruction.
At the April 1922 congregational meeting, the old custom of depositing a special offering at the altar when taking Communion was dropped.
A special meeting in March 1923 considered whether Pastor Barth should accept a call which he had received. (This was a constitutional requirement in those days.) The congregation voted unanimously for Pastor Barth to stay. The congregation then voted a substantial pay raise for him. On the following January 28, though, the congregation voted unanimously to give him leave to accept a call to Union City “which he was inclined to accept.”
January 1924 saw the congregation agreeing to ask each member to fill out a pledge card and return it to the Secretary—and to try the “budget System.”
Barely a month after Pastor Barth accepted his call to Union City, Indiana, the congregation met to vote on which of three candidates to call: Rev. Pilsch, Rev. Borkhart (Borchardt), or “Student Geiswinkler.” On the second ballot “student Geiswinkler” was chosen, and a third ballot was unanimous.
A call was sent to him, and they let him know that he would have to preach in German two Sundays a month and the remaining Sundays would be in English. Rev. Frederick Geiswinkler arrived the middle of 1924, and by the middle of 1925 he was gone. He confirmed one class, buried one member (Charles Hunger), and baptized a few babies.
His short time was marred by a great controversy in which he excommunicated a family because of their son’s treating him rudely. The Church Council, congregation, and district president sought to mediate the controversy, but Rev. Geiswinkler refused to be reconciled with them, and resigned one Sunday (July 12, 1925) without preaching a sermon.
There are no official records to be found regarding Rev. Geiswinkler, which suggests that the young pastor may have left the ministry after this difficulty.
One happy result of his ministry was that he found a wife, Clara Anna Maria Werner, to whom he was married at Olean on July 28, 1926. (A few months earlier, on February 28, 1926, another Lutheran minister named William A. Gramlick took a wife from Olean, Alma Anna Stegemoller.)
When Pastor Arthur Borchardt declined a call from Olean that was unanimously voted, the congregation called another seminary graduate, this one by the name of Frederick H. Roepcke. He was born April 17, 1899, in Seymour, Wisconsin. He graduated from Woodville Normal School, Woodville, Ohio, in 1922; and from Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary, the seminary of the Joint Synod of Ohio, in 1925.
Rev. Roepcke served thirteen years at Olean. The congregation voted 111-4 in October 1927 that he should stay at Olean rather than accepting a call he had received. But in 1938 he moved to Christ Lutheran Church in Dayton, Ohio, where he served until he retired in 1965. He died August 27, 1968.
The baptism register shows two Roepcke children baptized while they were at Olean. One, Carl A. Roepcke, grew up to become a Lutheran minister and is now retired after serving several congregations in Ohio.
An earlier history of Olean reports: “Through his thirteen years of leadership and untiring efforts an appreciable number of members were added to the congregation. Introduction of the Duplex Envelope System during his pastorate put the congregation on a better financial basis. Other improvements were: German services were discontinued; the American Lutheran Hymnals were purchased; the parsonage was modernized; and the church interior was redecorated.” We might add that the hymnals purchased then were used until 1979.
The envelope system was not adopted by a unanimous vote, according to a report.
A major change in the congregation’s governance occurred when in January 1927 it was decided that instead of electing five members to Council and having them organize themselves, beginning with the 1928 election there would be two candidates for each position on Council and the congregation would elect one of the two.
On June 3, 1927, the Young Peoples’ Society voted to purchase an ice cream freezer, and the first Ice Cream Social was held on July 29, 1927. The society also helped the congregation in other ways: setting up the platform and the wood plank seats for Mission Festival and Children’s Day, purchasing a stereoptical lantern for picture shows, buying new batteries for the light plant, conducting a pie and box social, and going on group trips to Coney Island and Clifty Falls State Park.
In 1928, the congregation voted to have Sunday School at 9:00, English services at 10:00 every Sunday, and German services at 11:00 twice each month. However, in January 1929 a motion to drop German services passed by a vote of 16 to 5.
In 1937 a Sears and Roebuck house was constructed for Margaret Hunger on the lot just south of the church. Some other members lived there over the years, including Gilbert and Joyce Althoff, Keith and Ruth Hunger, and Denton and Doris Fischvogt. That property has since been bought by the church. The house, which had fallen into disrepair, was dismantled and taken away by the Amish.
A picture of the Ladies Aid taken in November 1938 on the occasion of Pastor Roepcke’s departure (November 20), shows the following women: Elsie West, Ruth Fuehrer, Helen Freuchtnicht, Anna Vogel, Norma Swingle, Ada Tebbing, Maggie Hunger, Leola Werner, Emelia Geisler, Mrs. Roepcke, Dora Cutter, Flora Schwake, Minnie Lomatsch, Kate Hunger, Laura Hunger, Josie Linkmeyer, Carrie Barth, Anna Fisse, Carrie Aufderheide, Ella Tebbing, Aurelia Werner, Velma Aufderheide, Lyda Werner, Elsie Fischvogt, Lizzie Schwagmeier, Clara Fischer, and Lisette Ahrend.
When Pastor Roepcke left to move to his new call in Dayton, the congregation considered several names for his replacement. After sending one call unsuccessfully, Olean called Rev. Harry Ray.
Rev. Harry William Ray was forty-five years old when he was called, having been born April 6, 1894, in Dark County, Ohio. He graduated from Capital University in 1919 and Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1922. That same year he married Olive Frear. They had two children, Eugene and Alice. Alice married Luther Mann, a Lutheran minister, on August 28, 1945.
Pastor Ray served as pastor in Clyde, Salem, Fremont, and Somerset, Ohio, before coming to Olean in 1939. After serving at Olean he was pastor of St. John, Bridgewater, Michigan, until his retirement in 1961. He passed away March 6, 1975.
The November 1943 issue of “The Messenger,” published by Olean, is worth quoting in full because of the light it sheds on the congregation’s life at that time:
Sunday School 9:30 A.M., Divine Worship 10:30 A.M., Catechism School Saturday 1:00 P.M.
“Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is.” Heb. 10:25
The Luther League will meet Thursday evening Nov. 4. Let all the young folks of the congregation be present.
The Luther League will sponsor an oyster and chili supper on Wednesday evening Nov. 10 in the basement of the church. Members and friends of the congregation are cordially invited to take their supper with the Luther League on that evening. The price will be very reasonable. Serving will begin at 6:00 P.M. Be present.
The Ladies Aid will meet Thursday afternoon Nov. 11 at 1:30. At this meeting nomination of officers for 1944 will be held. Let all the members of the aid be present.
The Happy Family Circle will meet on Wednesday evening Nov. 16. The attendance has not been very encouraging the past few months. Why not be present at our next meeting. Nomination of officers will be held.
Do not forget to turn in your special envelope for the new Sunday School song books which we are needing so badly in our Sunday School. As soon as enough money is on hand we will order the new song books. Thank you.
Your pastor preached the mission festival sermon at St. Peters Lutheran Church Dillsboro, Ind. Sunday evening Oct. 16. He also is to preach the Reformation sermon at St. Peters Lutheran Church Bear Branch, Ind. Sunday afternoon Oct. 31.
Have you been writing to our men in the service? They enjoy immensely the letters from friends back home. Let us take time and drop them a line once in a while. Here is their present address:
T-4 Herbert Stegemiller-Hq. Co. Mtn. Bn. A.P.O. 251 c/o Postmaster New York, New York.
Pvt. Woodrow S. Barth—2Bn. 158 Inf. Med. Det. A.P.O. 3470 c/o Postmaster San Francisco, Cal.
James Harry Booster E.M.2c—26 Naval Const. Batt. Co. B. c/o Fleet Postoffice U.S.N.R. San Francisco, Cal.
Cpl. Henry Stegemoller- 23rd Airways Communication Sqd. McCook A.A.B. McCook Nebraska.
Cpl. Maurice Werner – 499 Collecting Co. 60th Med. Group Camp Pickett Va. U.S.A.
Pvt. Norman C. Werner – Btry C. & 82th A.A.A. Bn. (A.W.) Camp Haan, Calif.
Pvt. A.J. Feller – C.E. Co. B. A.P.O. 7078 c/o Postmaster New York, New York.
Pfc. Herbert Kuhn – 411th Air Base Sqd. U.S.A. Air Base, Alliance, Nebraska.
Melvin Cutter S.2c. – Brks. 302 L.S. M9-15 Service School U.S.N.T.S. Great Lakes, Ill.
Pvt. Edwin Smith – Co A. 12th Q.M.T.R. Camp Lee, Va.
Pvt. Raymond West – Battery D. 832 A.A.A. (Auto Wpn) Bn. (Sem) Camp Haan, Calif.
Elmer P. Schraub A.S.-U.S.N.S. Company 1220 Great Lakes, Ill.
Robert J. Booster A.S.-U.S.N.T.S. Comp. 1550 Batt 38 Great Lakes, Ill.
One of the above mentioned soldiers, Woodrow Barth, was killed in action on Luzon, the Philippines, on January 11, 1945. He was a medic with the rank of sergeant in the 158th Infantry, 2d Battalion. He was buried at Olean on July 24, 1945.
In December 1943 he was an “aid man” and litter bearer in some of the hottest fighting of the battle of Arawe in New Britain (a part of New Guinea only 60 miles east of Siassi Island, where Rev. Cecil Logan was a missionary for many years), and later in the VI Army’s invasion of Luzon. Between those two battles the unit regrouped at Finschhafen in New Guinea, which has been a center of Lutheran mission work in New Guinea since the 19th century. (Pastor and Mrs. Felde and their family visited Finschhafen during their time in New Guinea.)
It is likely, given the date on which Sgt. Barth was killed, that he was killed in the battle which took place on the second day of the regiment’s invasion of Luzon in the Philippines. To quote from an online history of the engagement, “On 11 January, 1945, the 158 RCT was part of a large invasion force landing at Lingayen Gulf, Luzon. The RCT ran into heavy fire and suffered large losses from well-entrenched enemy forces along the Damortis-Rosario road.”
In a sense the Americanization of Olean was complete, when so many of her sons were fighting a war in which Germany, the land of their forebears, was one of the enemies. It must have been painful for the oldest members of Olean, still quite conscious of their German roots, to see this happen. And to think that the war with Germany began less than fifteen years after Olean stopped holding services in the German language!
In January, 1942, in a move that was typical of congregations with German roots, the Ladies Aid and the Luther League were authorized to purchase a national flag and a Christian flag for the church. At the time, this was a way of showing that the people of the church were loyal to America, even though they might be perceived by some as “German.” There was in fact quite a bit of hostility expressed towards German immigrants during this war and the previous. The congregation also purchased (in 1943) a $500.00 Series G. War Bond with the money in the cemetery fund.
In 1942 the congregation celebrated its 85th anniversary.
In November 1945, after an investigation by a committee, the congregation affirmed its constitution’s clause prohibiting members from belonging to secret societies.
In May 1947, the Church Council voted to connect the minister’s telephone to the “Friendship Line.”
The ladies served Lions Club twice a month, beginning in 1948.
September 1949 saw Rev. Harry Ray accepting a call to St. John’s Lutheran Church in Bridgewater, Michigan. Once again, but only after having four calls declined, Olean turned to the seminary to provide a new, young minister: Pastor Rust.
While the congregation awaited his coming, they decided to purchase a plot of land behind the church from Charlie Smith for $300.
Rev. Harold Carl Rust was born April 17, 1925 [editor’s note: Same birthday as Pastor Roepcke!] in Wood County, Ohio. He attended Capital University and Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbus, Ohio. After his brief stay in Olean he was pastor in Bryan, Ohio, Baltimore, Maryland, Wheeling, West Virginia, Oak Harbor, Ohio, and Barefoot Bay, Florida. Today he lives in retirement in Lakeside, Ohio.
Pastor Rust arrived at Olean July 9, 1950 and left April 30 of the following year. His new position was only twenty-five miles from where he grew up, and during that year he got married to Ann Heller.
He was here long enough to baptize a few babies: Tom Cutter, Sandra Althoff, Dorothy Schraub, Karen Sue Boekenkamp, Earlene Thieman, Linda Cutter, and Ellen Konkle. He did not confirm a class, although he did receive a few new members, including Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Ralston.
He did institute some important changes which have stuck with us ever since: the weekly church bulletin! The oil furnace was installed, and the basement was improved with folding walls. We find written Church Council minutes for the first time. He also invited a missionary to India to come and speak at the church.
Pastor Rust had to deal with a broken window in 1950. Three boys were playing ball when the ball went through the round window over the altar. It was fixed at the time, but it wasn’t until 1969 that it was repaired in a satisfactory manner. One of the three confessed that he felt quite a bit of guilt in church, looking up and seeing over the altar the result of their misdeed!
Just after Pastor Rust left Olean, the congregation had the privilege of witnessing and participating in the ordination service of one of her sons, Paul Steingruber. After serving in Florida, Rev. Steingruber was a minister in Georgia when he was killed in a car accident in 1992.
Olean now called Pastor David Frey, who would serve Olean for five years. (The vote was between him and Rev. Wilbur Budke, who would be called to Olean five years later!)
David Frederick Frey was born in Georgetown, Ohio, on August 14, 1923. He attended Eastern State Teachers College in Richmond, Kentucky, and graduated from Evangelical Lutheran Theological Seminary in 1951. He married Grace Sievert in 1954. After leaving Olean in 1956, he served St. Paul in Willowdell, Ohio, and Emanuel in Versailles, Ohio (a two-point call), then Trinity in New Lexington, Kentucky, and Solomon in Eagleport, Ohio (another two-point call), then Trinity in Shumway, Illinois. He resigned from the ALC and joined the Missouri Synod in 1987 (upon the formation of the ELCA), and was pastor of Trinity in Stewardson, Illinois, until he retired in 1992. He now lives in retirement in Stewardson.
Pastor Frey reminisced about his first pastorate at Olean: “An ancient Model A Ford that died in Texas – a coal fired furnace – a cistern that could run dry – plays that even went on the road as far as Sunman – a party line telephone – travel to Ft. Wayne, somewhat disguised – doubling the occupancy of the parsonage – a hand cranked mimeograph – a new organ etc. etc.”
Pastor Frey’s wife started the junior choir in 1955, which continues to this day. That same year the Junior Mission Band was organized, which became the Junior Lutherans. The organization included all children from two to confirmation age. They met during the school year on Saturday mornings to hear Bible stories, see videos, do crafts, and enjoy refreshments. There has not been a Junior Lutherans group now for several years.
Mrs. Frey may have also been behind the initiative of the women’s group (led by Marie Konkle) in sewing things to send to New Guinea. Her brother John Sievert was a missionary at that time in New Guinea. He edited the Lotu Buk (hymnal) of the Lutheran Church in Papua New Guinea. Interestingly, one of the hymns which he translated to include in the Lotu Buk was a hymn by one of Olean’s early pastors, Philip A. Peter: “Who Shall Ope for Us the Portals.” (This coincidence was discovered in 2006 when Olean had a guest from New Guinea, Rev. Gigmai Okuk.)
The women were busy in many ways during these years: buying doors for the basement, plastering the basement, selling 36 bottles of Watkins Vanilla to purchase a coffee maker, giving the pastor $56 to purchase a private communion set, agreeing to have flowers on the altar each Sunday (1954), contracting for the installation of the rest rooms, buying a water heater, etc.
In 1952 Marilyn (Cutter) Jeffries began teaching Sunday School to the youngest children—and she is still teaching that class in 2007.
About that time the Senior Choir began performing Christmas cantatas, a tradition which lasted many years.
The minutes of the congregation’s second quarterly meeting on July 12, 1953, include this: “A motion was made by acclamation to buy a new organ. A committee was appointed by the congregation as follows: Ruth Swingle, George Daily, Irma Obendorf, Irene Fischer, Mary Jo Green, Ella Steingruber, Rev. Frey. Their duties were to find out which organ would be best for our requirements and the price.” An organ fund had been started in 1951 with a gift from the Gardemans—Elizabeth, Sophia, and Louis—in memory of Charles Gardeman.
In September 1953 Olean contracted with the Kilgen Organ Company of St. Louis to build a new organ, at a cost of $5,234—an amount which today would not purchase even one rank of pipes. A major gift supporting the purchase of the organ was a gift from Hope Robinson (now Fisse) in memory of her late husband. Signing the contract for the church was George Daily, president, along with Arthur Feller, Otto West, and Henry Howard. The organ contained three ranks of pipes. It was installed behind the facade of the former organ. The organ was dedicated on Sunday, February 21, 1954. (It was fifty years to the day after the previous organ was dedicated!)
In October 1954 we note that the road in front of the church was about to be improved—the congregation voted to grant right-of-way to Indiana State Highway Commission for this purpose. In July 1955 it was decided to install rest rooms “under library room and front entrance to church.”
In 1955 the women adopted a new constitution and became officially “The Women’s Missionary Society of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church – Olean.” For years, mission work had been one of their interests. They supported mission work in India as well as New Guinea. They were also continually involved in initiating and enabling improvements of the church and parsonage—for example landscaping, carpet, decorating the sanctuary, installing rest rooms, etc.
As St. Paul Lutheran Church in Olean approached its centennial, the people who were its members had become assimilated to their American surroundings. Some of their cooking and some of their habits retained a German flavor, but even in this they were typical citizens of an immigrant nation. Their new parish register would no longer say “Taufe” for “baptism” and “Trauung” for “wedding.” Until 1907, the names in the wedding registry were almost exclusively German. But during the next five decades, several of the names were not German: McCoy, Jones, Ryan, Ralston, Underwood, Cash, Day, were some of the new names.
Between 1907 and 1957 the church became a much busier and more complicated institution. Its finances were pretty simple in 1907. They still kept a list of members and their set contributions, and the list of “extra” expenditures was very short: paint, nails, a chair, wine for communion, etc. In 1957 the finances were much more complicated. An envelope system monitored contributions, and a much larger building and membership meant that everything was more work to keep track of. Until the Joint Synod of Ohio became a part of the American Lutheran Church in 1930, the parish register kept a detailed list of mission giving, listed according to the causes: European relief, Orphans and Old Folks, Home Missions, Foreign Missions, Negro Missions, Mexico & Brazil, Grace Samaritan, S. American Mission, alongside District Treasury, Capital University Appeal, etc. After 1930 this kind of giving was consolidated, and it shows “Synodical Benevolence.”
Whereas in 1907 everyone was pretty settled at Olean, by 1957 there was a steady stream of arrivals and departures, noted in the minutes.
While remaining true to its Lutheran roots, the congregation had emerged from its immigrant cocoon and was taking its place in the open, vibrant society of post-World War II America. The Joint Synod of Ohio to which Olean belonged had merged with other small bodies into the American Lutheran Church in 1930, and in 1960 it was about to be part of an even larger merger, The American Lutheran Church, with millions of members.
The next pastor, Rev. Wilbur Budke, would arrive a couple months before the actual centennial. We will leave his story, and the story of that celebration, for the next chapter.