Buena Vista County, IA
USGenWeb Project


  History of the German Methodist Episcopal Church

Storm Lake, Buena Vista County, Iowa


The German Methodist Episcopal Church Society, Storm Lake, IA., was incorporated on December 18, 1875 by Pastors E. E. Schuette and Gottlieb Haefner of the Northwest German Conference.  The Society had Charges (satellite churches) in:  Buena Vista County (Coon Township and Storm Lake), Sac County (Richland and Eden Townships), Cherokee County (Diamond Township) and Varina, Dover Township, Pocahontas County.  The Society also had three Classes.  A Class was comprised of at least 12 members who received religious services and activities from the German Methodist Circuit Rider on a periodic basis.  All three were located in Buena Vista County:  Nokomis Township, Washington Township and Newell Township.

The Society consisted of all of the Charges and Classes.  The Storm Lake Charge was the “Head” church of the Society and was called the Mission.

The first Trustees of the Society were Friedrich Petersmeier and Jacob Buehler of Richland Township, Adam Hartmann and Christian Schaeffer of Eden Township, the latter two townships in Sac County and Rickels Claussen Riekelfs of Storm Lake.  The Society’s first Pastor was Gottlieb Haefner.  The Society went out of existence in 1933.

The following has been translated from the German publication, Die Nordwest Deutsche Konferenz der Bischöflichen Methodistenkieche (The Northwest German Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church).  E. W. Henke, W. H. Rolfing, Friedrich Schaub, L. J. Brenner, J. F. Hartke, Publications Committee, Charles City, IA., 1913.

Storm Lake Mission

(pp. 379 - 385)

In 1870, the Illinois Central Railroad was built through that beautiful area, Buena Vista County, and a city was established on the lake (Storm Lake). The lake is about 2 1/2 miles wide and 5 miles long.  Although beautiful and alluring, it is also stormy and easily moved, probably due to the fact that the area is almost the highest point in the state of Iowa.

Although we traveled through here in 1871 - 72, since we had two positions in Sac County, south of Storm Lake, we didn’t hold services there since there were almost no Germans in the little town.

In 1875, Storm Lake appears on the list for the first time as a mission, with Gottlieb Haefner as pastor and living in town.  The area was in dire straits because of the grasshopper plague, which totally destroyed the crops and most settlers were already poor and struggling even before.

The situation called for a courageous pastor and that he was.  He was optimistic and hopeful, he knew how to encourage others and he shared what little he received.

In 1878, a house was built under his oversight, which costs $1,100 and $600 remained as a debt for the tiny congregation.  But the pastor had a home and other congregations gave generously to help reduce the debt.  The most important position was in Eden Township, about 11 miles south of Storm Lake, where meetings and worship services were held in a schoolhouse.

Among the leading church families were J. Woodke, Chr. Schäfer, A. Hartmann, Chr. and L. Lüke and Wm. Eitelgeorg.  The first members in the city were R. C. Riekelfs, Geo. Witter, Jac. Brecher, C. Scholl and A. Harms.

In the fall of 1878, E. W. Henke became the pastor for the area.  Services were held in the English Methodist Church or in the courthouse, but the need for a church building soon became evident.  This was a major undertaking for the few members we had there, but they took up a collection among the business and in 1879 a church with a steeple was built for $2,000.  Some debt remained, but it was covered before long.  The church was dedicated on January 18, 1880, by Heinrich Roth, Presiding Elder.

In 1881, the church was built in Eden Township at a cost of $2,500.  It was fully paid for at the time of its dedication on Sept. 25, 1881.  Fr. Koop was invited as guest speaker.  In the same year, the house in Storm Lake was sold and the proceeds used to build a new one next to the church.  The pastor and family moved into it in August 1881, and he preached his farewell sermon at the church in Eden.

The charge now numbered 23 probationary and 75 full members and had church property worth $7,500.  The mission collection was $75.

C. F. Tramm served this mission from 1881 to 1883.  At the end of his tenure, the congregation had 38 probationary and 90 full members, and the mission collection had also grown.

In 1883, C. A. Heinrich was appointed to the mission and he served one year.

In the fall of 1884, A. M. Brenner became Superintendent of the charge and served 2 years.  The membership had increased to 16 probationary and 110 full members, and the mission collection had risen to $130.

From 1886 to 1889, E. W. Henke was again pastor of this mission.  Good revivals were held at several of the preaching sites and a number of new people joined the church.

Especially in Coon Township (now Varina), the Lord blessed the work of his servant, August Porath, local preacher.  The church now has 29 probationary and 148 full members, and the mission collection had risen to $225.

In 1889, Gottlieb Haefner was now appointed to this mission for the second time, and he stayed 3 years.  Under his supervision, a beautiful church was built in Cherokee County, about 12 miles west of Storm Lake.  He worked there with youthful vigor, and despite great difficulties that had to be overcome, his work was not in vain.

In the fall of 1892, Christoph Schulz succeeded him and served this mission 3 years.  The Eden appointment had separated off, so the charge now had only 6 probationary and 119 members remaining.

In September 1894, E. W. Henke was appointed to this charge for the third time, and he served 2 years.

In 1897, Adolf Dulitz succeeded him and remained 3 years.  Pastor J. W. Feller served here from 1900 to 1906.

Since the church in Eden, which bore the name of Schaller, had had a number of members who moved away and the position in Cherokee County had folded, but the church in Coon Township had grown considerably, the time came in 1904 for Schaller to be moved to Storm Lake, and Coon Township separated from it.  This caused some dissatisfaction in the Schaller congregation, in that people insisted that it was still a rural appointment and that the worship service should be held in the morning instead of the afternoon.  However, the pastor had to preach in the city in the morning.  They got along as best as they could under the circumstances for two years, but the devil was also active during this time and the church suffered.

Finally, we had to stop holding service there because people just stopped coming in the afternoon, primarily because several families who insisted on undermining the work if they couldn’t have their way.  The devil won that victory because we no longer had services there.

But was the work there in vain?  No, not at all, for good revivals were held there and many conversions took place.  A large number of old members who worshiped there had already gone to their reward.  No less than 15 families moved away and are church members elsewhere.  The congregation even produced several pastors and the English church received a number of members from this congregation.

From 1906 to 1909, H. R. Schmidt served in the church in Storm Lake.  Through the lost of the Schaller church, the membership in the charge declined considerably and there were now 4 probationary and 45 full members through moves or death.

Pastor F. H. Schuldt has been there since the fall of 1912.

Six young men from this congregation (including Schaller) have become preachers of the Gospel:  Peter Schnert, J. F. Zemke, J. W. Witter, E. E. Witter, and Friedrich G. Henke.

We still have a number of good members there.  First, there is the Geo. Witter family.  He was Sunday School Superintendent for over 33 years.  Also members for many years were Adam Witter, John Müller, C. H. Nitzke and Louis Henne.

We also remember father Geo. Föll, who was the class leader of the congregation for many years.  The Lord had blessed him richly with earthly goods, so that his family is well provided for.  He decided to erect a monument and was moved by Pastor Wm. Hein to give the handsome sum of $6,000 for the President’s residence at Charles City College.

Has the mission work here been worthwhile?  It surely has, for the fruits confirm it.  Magnificent victories have been celebrated in the little church and some day there will be many sheaves above.

Valley of Joy

(pp. 236)

In Buena Vista County, Iowa, there lived a family named Jammerthal.  He was a joyful follower of God and would often say, “My name is Jammerthal (meaning Valley of Woe) but I have become a Freudenthal (meaning Valley of Joy).”  He prayed and the Lord turned his sorrow into joy.

Humans with Horns

(pp. 236)

At a Quarterly Conference meeting held in Storm Lake, Iowa, discord broke out over a particular matter.  It was finally settled, and at the end of the conference, an older member was asked to give a closing prayer.  He prayed only one sentence, “Dear God, you gave us horns, but not so that we should charge each other.”

Many people have powerful “horns” and charge with them like animals.  A Christian shouldn’t behave that way.

submitted by: Ted Fetkenheuer a direct descendant of R. C. Riekelfs, Storm Lake Pioneer Blacksmith.