St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church
St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church
St. Stephen’s History
This is God’s Church … The Little Church on the Corner
In the fall of 1895 the Rev. William Staehling of Peace Lutheran Church,
Rosendale, contacted a number of Lutheran pioneers in the Rogersville
community the goal of organizing a local congregation. Arangements were
made to conduct services in the public school house the first being held on
October 11, 1896. On January 8, 1897, at a meeting held in the home of
Gustav Ballwanz, the congregation was formally organized with the following
charter members: Casper Amrhein, Carl Behm, Wilhelm Battig, Gustav Ballwanz,
Friedrich Heinz, Carl Kottke, John C. Matwig, Herman Meier, Gustav Nook,
Michael Mueller, Johann Pfeiffer, Herman Pinno, Ernst Wienke, August Wustrack,
Otto Wustrack and Ludwig Zimmerman.
The new congregation adopted the constitution prepared by the Iowa
Synod Lutheran Church and affiliated with this body. The name “St.
Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran Church” was chosen. The first officers
of the congregation were Gustav Ballwanz, William Battig John
Pfeiffer and Michael Mueller. Services were conducted in the
Rogersville public schoolhouse for over a year. St. Stephen’s and Peace
Lutheran in Rosendale shared a pastor until 1996, when the two
churchcs became independent parishes.
In the summer of 1898, St. Stephen’s acquired some land from A. L.
Williams and erected the preset church building, which is 30′ by 46′.
This building was dedicated on September 18, 1898 – “the little church
on the corner” as it has often been called!
First Pastor was William Staehling 1897-1901.
First Baptism was Edward Carl Pinno, born February 26, 1896 and
baptized on December 20, 1896.
First Confirmation was Bertha Wienke on April 11, 1897.
First Wedding was Carl Albert Kottke and Louise Emillie Koslowski on
November 17, 1898.
First Burial was John C. Matwig on January 28, 1899.
Rev. William Staehling served as pastor from 1897 until 1901. Rev
Konrad Behrens who served until 1915 succeeded him. During his
tenure, in 1910, a church schoolhouse was erected just south of the
church. It was used for church instruction and catechism. Known as
“Saturday School” the religious instruction was given by the pastorpartly
in German. The German language was used for many church
services. Near the end of the 1940’s the German services were
Rev. Chris Gerach became the pastor in 1915 and served until 1921.
Then the Rev. Gustave Schmidt came untill929 followed by Rev. Chris
Domke. Rev. Domke and his family left in 1934, but his daughter Ruth
stayed and married Lester Leu of the St. Stephen’s congregation. She
served as the first president of the “St. Stephen’s Ladies Aid”, organized
under the direction of Rev. Roy Schmeichel who succeeded Rev.
Domke. Other officers were Vice-President Mrs. Harold Wustrack and
Treasurer Mrs. Louis Garb. Other charter members were: Lily Laing,
Irene Kottke, Elsie Wastrack, Mrs. Walter Bluemke, Mrs. Robert
Bundtraack, Mrs. Frank Dornbook, Mrs. Augusta Garb, Mrs. Herman
Leu, Mrs. Gustav Leu, Mrs. Elmer McNeil, Mrs. Arthur Pfeiffer, Mrs.
Paris Rand, Mrs. Louis Rhode, Mrs. Roy Schmeichel, Mrs. Herbert
Wustrack, and Mrs. Otto Wastrack.
The Ladies Aid or the Women of the ELCA as we are called today, was
and is a vital arm of the Church.
In 1937 a Sunday School was organized. There was no church
basement, so the teachers met with their students in small groups in
the church proper. Now nearly 71 years later, we are blessed with a
large Sunday School enrollment and dedicated staff. Each Sunday
there is opportunity for students of all ages to study God’s world and
our place in it.
World War II began in December 1941. In September 1942, Rev.
Schmeichel was called to serve and a Chaplain in the Sea Bees. Rev.
August Draeger came in December of 1942.
In 1943 electric lights were installed in the church. A furnace replaced
the old potbellied, wood burning stove in 1946 after the basement was
finished. The basement was a do-it yourself chore done by the men of
the church in 1945. They started in the spring digging by hand and
carrying the dirt out by the pail full. The first digging required crawling
on their stomachs and filling the pail, then crawling out with the pail full
of dirt. The job took all spring and summer, fitting the work around
farming and other jobs. When the basement was ready for use the little
schoolhouse was sold and moved away.
The first Brotherhood meeting at St. Stephen’s was held November 6,
1947. Dues of $1 per member were charged. Charter members were:
Rev. Draeger, Louis Garb, Oscar Garb, Charles Jocobitz, Lester Lew,
Robert Leu, Albert Pucker, John Reynolds, Earl Schroeder, Harold
Wustrack, Herb Westrack, Lawrence Curtis, Charles O’Neil, Fred
Worm, Harold Lew, Ed Schaumburg and Lester Kielsmier.
In 1950 Rev. Draeger received his release and Rev. Lawrence Sanger
became our pastor. He stayed until September 1952. On December 6,
1953 Rev. Phillip Metzler was installed and remained until 1968.
The church building underwent several changes during the 1950s and
’60s. The balcony and front entrance were added and the interior of the
church was remodeled and redecorated. Rev. Glenn Davidson became
our pastor shortly after Rev. Metzler left in 1968. Rev. Davidson stayed
until 1972 when he left to do chaplains work.
St. Stephen’s felt richly blessed when in July 1969, Diane O’Neil, a
daughter of the church went to teach in the missions field of New
Guinea. Diane spent four and a half years witnessing to and teaching
the people of New Guinea.
After a year of visiting pastors, Rev. Bruce Buslaff arrived in August
1973 and brought with him an enthusiasm and energy that sparked the
same qualities in the church. He preached from the back of the church,
the balcony and even preached on a stepladder! Once he played Lazarus
and rose up from the organ corner. Often called the “Master Pastor” by
his colleagues, he organized the community ecumenical church
services with the United Church of Christ, Catholic and Lutheran
churches of the area. The first services were held in the summer in the
park and later Thanksgiving Eve services were held in the Laconia High
Music has played an important part in our worship. Soloists and small
groups presented from time to time special music, no organized choir
appeared until the ’70’s. Pastor Buslaff was very involved in getting the
choir started and had hand. in their name, “Singers”. Since then the “St.
Stephen’s Singers” have grown in number and experience. Many
services are enriched by their offerings. Christian musicals also have
been presented with great response from participants and audience.
In the early 1980s as membership and ministry grew in both St.
Stephen’s and Peace it became evident that more staff was needed. It
was with great joy on November 29, 1981, Diane O’Niel was installed
as our Parish Staff Associate.
Diane served in that capacity until September 1990, when she left to
work in social services for the elderly. Diane continues to serve St.
Stephen’s both as pulpit supply when the pastor is on vacation and
dedicated Sunday School teacher.
In April 1993, Nancy Bliefnick Schkade, another daughter of the
church was hired as the full time Parish Staff Associate. Se served both
St. Stephen’s and Peace in the capacity until 1996.
In February 1995, after nearly 23 years of serving our parish, Rev. Buslaff
accepted a call to interim ministry. During the search for a permanent
pastor, Rev. Paul Holte served as our interim until December 1995.
In 1996, 99 years after our organization, we became an independent
church congregation and early in 1996 Rev. Victoria Fink accepted the
call to be our pastor.
In March of 1996, plans began for a new addition to our church. We
found that the people wanted more space. The Sunday School area was
inadequate, room was needed for office space and the people wanted a
October 1996 began a year of celebration as we commemorated 100
years of mission and ministry as a congregation. “God’s Church-Christ
our Cornerstone” was chosen as the theme. Events were held
throughout the year including an “old-fashioned” Sunday, a Music
Service, Balloon Release and an “Old-Fashioned Christmas” featuring
a musical program, horse and sleigh rides. In September 1997, we
concluded our year celebration with a special service, dinner and
afternoon program to which we invited former members, clergy and
friends of St. Stehpen’s. In the year we had reflected on our past and
formed a vision for our future.
The plans were completed for the “Building Project” and as so many
times before, parishioners rolled up their sleeves and worked together
on the project. Ground breaking for the new addition was held on July
5th, 1998. By November 1998 the building was nearly completed and
the dedications was held on November 15th, 1998.
Pastor Vicki received a call closer to her home and family and
conducted her last service at St. Stephen’s on October 3, 1999. We were
blessed on October 4, 1999 with Rev. Sue Sheffer-Meyer. Initially she
served as our interim supply pastor and in June 2000 was installed as
our permanent pastor. In spring of 2003 Pastor Sue received a call with
her husband to St. John’s in Marion, WI.
St. Stephen’s went searching again for the perfect match. In August of
2003, Pastor Kimberly Stowell became our saving grace. After
spending the summer at St. Stephen’s, she knew we would be her new