St. John's Lutheran Church
The founders of St. John's came from Hanover and Westphalia, Germany. When the sea voyage of these good people had ended, they set foot on land where they were strangers, and faced a trek across rugged hills and valleys, following in the trail of relatives and friends who had gone before them. The pioneer forefathers of St. John's settled in the northeast corner of Iowa and the southeast portion of Minnesota, near the banks of the Mississippi River.
The church was built in 1880 on a level site in the "bush" in Union City Township, Allamakee County, Iowa, not from from the Minnesota state line, and was known as the "Bush Kirche." After the "bush" was gone much wheat was raised, and this area thereafter has been called Wheatland.
The first pastor was Reverend Friedrich Wilhelm Spindler, who served two years. He took over his duties as pastor of St. John's on Sunday, August 15, 1880. His first service on that day was the dedication of the new church. Sunday School started immediately after the congregation was organized.
At a special meeting in the summer of 1882, the congregation decided to build a barn for the pastor's livestock. When Reverend Spindler left the congregation, they had a church, a parsonage, and a barn.
The records show these early happenings: the first baptism on record was John Roper on October 4, 1880. The first confirmation class, confirmed on Palm Sunday in 1881, consisted of John Spindler, John Koenig, Pauline Schaefer, and Katherine Dorothy Meyer. The first couple married were Henry Gade and Katherine Meyer, on February 17, 1884. The first burial on record was that of Albert Bettin in 1881.
The second pastor to serve St. John's was Reverend Junker. The charter members of St. John's were inclined to join the Evangelical Synod of North America. Reverend Junker followed a call into the Lutheran Church.
The congregation engaged a neighboring pastor to supply the church. He was Reverend Niedergesaesz of Eitzen.
Reverend Jacob Maierle was the third pastor. In 1883 he came to America and served several churches, including two years at St. John's.
At the annual meeting on January 5, 1885, St. John's became affiliated with the German Evangelical Synod of North America.
In the year 1886, Reverend Ernest J. Birkner was called to St. John's. Born in Germany, he came to America at the age of 20, and graduated from Eden Seminary in 1885.
The next pastor was Reverend Vogelsang, who was born in 1853 in Westfalen, Germany. He came to America in 1889 and served the church for four and a half years.
What is now the dining room of the parsonage was used as the school house, where the pastor taught school four days a week. At the annual meeting in 1895, the congregation voted to build a new school house north of the church.
"Der Frauen Verein" (the Women's Fellowship) was organized on July 3, 1896.
Reverend Kunz and his family moved to St. John's in 1897, to serve six years. Born in Switzerland, he received his education there before coming to the United States.
On January 3, 1898, the congregation decided to build an 18-foot addition to the church and erect a steeple, 58 feet high. That summer an 1100-pound bell was purchased in St. Louis. This bell is still calling us to worship every Sunday morning.
In 1899, the first "Kinderfest" (Children's Day) was held in the woods near the church. This celebration was always the most outstanding day of the year and is still fondly remembered as a part of the congregation's history.
During 1901, the parsonage was remodeled.
Reverend Conrad Bizer came to St. John's in 1903 and served 21 years. He received his theological training in the seminary at Basel, Switzerland. He served one year in the army at Stuttgart, and came to the U.S. in 1886.
In the year 1900, St. John's adopted a constitution.
A new reed organ was purchased in 1905, and that year arrangements were made for the 25th anniversary celebration.
The baptismal font was placed in the church in 1909. The baptismal certificates of some of the older members of the church today, are written in German and signed by Reverend Bizer.
In 1919, a new furnace was installed in the church. They offered 35¢ per hour for digging out a basement, where the furnace could be placed.
Lightning struck the building in the summer of 1921 and damaged the church steeple. The steeple was repaired that fall and lightning rods were installed on all of the buildings on the church grounds. More remodeling was done on the parsonage: the building was raised over a new and higher basement and a new kitchen was added.
The pastor at St. John's from 1924 to 1929 was Reverend Rudolph Zielinski. Born in Berlin, Germany, he received his education in Basel, Switzerland and came to America in 1893.
The gold cross on the altar was purchased in 1927.
The congregation was in great need of a basement, so in 1928 the church was raised three to four feet and a basement was dug under the entire structure. That year also, the interior of the church was overlaid with metal sheeting. The altar and pulpit were purchased in 1929.
In 1930, Reverend Fredric Bemberg came to St. John's and he served until 1937. He also served St. Peter's in New Albin. He was born in Germany in 1874 and came to the U.S. in 1904.
A pipe organ was installed in 1930, and stained glass windows were also installed. This was the year that the church celebrated its Golden Jubilee.
Throughout all these years, services were conducted in the German language. In 1935 English services were introduced, alternating with German every other Sunday. For sixty years, all minutes had been written in good high German, but beginning in this year they were entered in English. The last confirmation in German was in 1932.
Reverend Armin Suedmeyer was born in Missouri in 1910. He became pastor of St. John's after his ordination in 1937 and served the church until 1940.
A great improvement for the parsonage and the church was the independent light plant installed in 1937, and the following year water-works were added to the parsonage. Electricity came to the whole community in 1944.
On June 20, 1940, the congregation became known as St. John's Evangelical & Reformed Church.
Reverend Emil Roth answered the call to St. John's in 1941 and served until 1950. He was born in Switzerland and came to America as a young man.
The church women began serving family style dinners at Mission Fest in 1943.
Reverend Paul Franzmeier of St. Peter's and Crooked Creek supplied St. John's during the pulpit vacancy of 1950 and 1951.
Reverend Edmond DeBuhr came to St. John's in the fall of 1951. He served the church for 16 years. Born in New Holstein, Wisconsin, in 1892, he attended Mission House at Plymouth, Wisconsin.
During Rev. DeBuhr's pastorate an oil-burning furnace was installed in the parsonage. Rev. DeBuhr began to serve as supply at Mt. Hope in 1954. Since 1954, St. John's has been yoked with Mt. Hope Presbyterian Church. The front of the church building was remodeled in 1955 so that people could go directly to the basement from the church.
August 1955 marked the seventy-fifth anniversary the Diamond Jubilee.
A well was drilled near the parsonage in 1959 to supply the buildings with water.
A Conn organ was purchased in 1960. A new communion tray was purchased in 1962.
The congregation voted to build an addition to the west side of the church in 1964. A basement was excavated to enlarge the kitchen and in order to have room for two new oil furnaces. Upstairs a council room, study, and restrooms were added. The barn was torn down, and some of the lumber reused.
In 1964 a new constitution was adopted, and the congregation became known as St. John's United Church of Christ.
Reverend James Ford was called as supply pastor in 1967, until Reverend Bert Downey arrived in 1968.
Rev. Downey served until 1970. He was born in June, 1907, in Syracuse, New York. He graduated in 1935 from Andover Newton Theological School.
After Rev. Downey's departure, St. John's was supplied by Reverend Calvin Helming from December 1970 to June 1971.
Kent Wever was then called to St. John's as pastor and served until November 1975. He served Mt. Hope and supplied Grace Methodist Church in New Albin. During his pastorate the sanctuary was redecorated with brick paneling and, in 1971, a new furnace was installed in the parsonage.
Once again a supply pastor was needed, and Reverend Francis Jones served from the fall of 1975 until July, 1976.
Water seeping into the basement after heavy rains presented a problem so the church voted to lay tiling around the church. That same year the cemetery was enlarged by adding onto the north side.
In March 1976, the congregation voted to remodel the parsonage, and in the summer, Reverend James Parker took over the duties of pastor. He served until 1979. He was born in Minneapolis in 1927. In 1954 he graduated from Northwestern United Lutheran Theological Seminary and was ordained into the Congregational Christian ministry.
Two new appliances were bought for the parsonage, and new sidewalks were constructed in 1977. A new constitution and by-laws were written and accepted in 1979.
A Presbyterian minister, Reverend Edgar Adair, supplied the pulpit from June 1979 to April 1980.
Reverend Milton Kading started his duties as pastor of St. John's in the spring of 1980. He was born on a farm near Reeseville, Wisconsin in 1916. After graduating from high school there, he helped his father in a dairy farm operation. At the age of 38, in 1954, he felt called to the Christian ministry and left the farm to prepare at Mission House Seminary. He was ordained in 1959, and served several parishes in Wisconsin and Illinois before coming to St. John's, where he stayed until 1987.
The church also celebrated its Centennial in 1980.
In 1983, the Karl Tompkins fund was established as a scholarship fund for students attending college.
Reverend Diane Shelley served as supply pastor in 1987, and Reverend Lane Zaffke served as supply pastor in 1987 and 1988.
Reverend Doug and Reverend Lou Gordon-Denniston arrived in 1988, and served as co-pastors until 1990.
In 1990, a new Yamaha piano was purchased. New storm windows were also installed in the basement.
In 1990 Reverend Jan Bodin came to serve as interim pastor, and she remained until 1991.
In 1991, a Communion table was purchased.
Reverend Larry and Reverend Laura Odegard were called in 1991 as co-pastors, and they served here until their retirement in 1997. The Odegards live today in Waukon.
In about 1992, a two-car garage was added to the parsonage, as was central air. Three ceiling fans were also installed in the sanctuary of the church.
In 1995, the women of the church gathered their favorite family recipes and created a church cookbook, the proceeds from which are being used to purchase new choir robes and to help pay for the cost of our 125th anniversary celebration this year, in 2005!
In 1996, a playground was built with swings and slides, and a new roof was put on the parsonage.
In 1997 Reverend Bill Reese supplied the pulpit for about three months. Then Reverend Glen Holland served as interim pastor, from 1997 until June 1999.
In 1998, there was hail damage to the church and other buildings. In 1999 new carpet and linoleum were installed in the sanctuary.
The current pastor, Reverend Paul Burgess, was born in 1956, and grew up in Poynette, Wisconsin. He graduated from the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary and was ordained a Presbyterian minister in 1985. Reverend Burgess served churches in Washington State and Illinois, and earned a Ph.D. at Duke University, before arriving in July 1999 to become pastor at St. John's and Mt. Hope.
In 2000, an Eagle scout project was carried out to refurbish the small one-car garage next to the parsonage; and what was once the chicken coop behind the parsonage, now used for storage. In 2004, another Eagle scout project was completed to install a memorial stone in the cemetery. On the back of this stone is a list of names of "unmarked" graves at St. John's.
In 2001, an electronic organ was purchased.
In 2002, new shingles were placed on the steeple.
St. John's has a very active Youth Fellowship, which has participated in many different projects, activities, and denominational events. In the summer of 2000 some of our youth attended the UCC National Youth Event in Ames, Iowa; in 2002, the Regional Youth Event in Sioux Falls, South Dakota; and in 2004, the National Youth Event in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Current traditions at St. John's include our annual Chicken BBQ, held on the first Sunday in May. Money raised from this meal goes into the building fund for St. John's. Mission Festival is held the second Sunday in September. Most items for the meal are donated by the congregation members. Half of the money raised goes to worldwide missions, while the other half goes to local mission work.
Communion is held four times a year: the first Sunday in January, Good Friday, the first Sunday in July, and the first Sunday in October.
In the first 125 years of our church there were 590 baptisms, 555 confirmands confirmed, 188 marriages, and 280 burials.
Pastors who have served over the years at St. John's
1880-1882 F.W. Spindler
1882 Rev. Junkers*
1882-1883 Rev. Niedergesaesz*
1883-1886 Jacob Maierle
1886-1892 J. Ernst Birkner
1892-1897 Bernhard Vogelsang
1897-1903 Henry Kunz
1903-1924 Conrad Bizer
1924-1929 Rudolph Zielinski
1930-1937 A.P.C. Fredric Bemberg
1937-1940 Armin A. Suedmeyer
1941-1950 Emil Roth
1950-1951 Paul Franzmeier*
1951-1967 Edmond De Buhr
1967 James Ford*
1968-1970 Bert Downey
1970-1971 Calvin Helming*
1971-1975 C. Kent Wever
1975-1976 Francis Jones*
1976-1979 James Parker
1979-1980 Edgar Adair*
1980-1987 Milton Kading
1987 Diane Shelley*
1987-1988 Lane Zaffke*
1988-1990 Doug & Lou Gordon-Denniston
1990-1991 Jan Bodin**
1991-1997 Larry & Laura Odegard
1997 Bill Reese*
1997-1999 Glen Holland**
1999-date Paul Burgess
* = supply pastor
** = interim pastor
~source: church history adapted and abridged from the 75th,
100th, and 125th Anniversary Books, for the Quasquicentennial
celebration of the church, October 2005
~history & the photos are used on the Allamakee co. IAGenWeb with permission of Pastor Paul Burgess, January 2009
~St. John's Quasquicentennial website (more photos & information)
Return to Church index