"Memories of Herman Thurn and St. Andrew's Lutheran
Church (Andreas Gemeinde), rural McIntosh County, North Dakota"
A son of the prairie, Herman Thurn, of rural Zeeland, ND, died
on Sunday morning, October 31, 1999.
Herman and I shared a common passion. We believed that St. Andrew's
Lutheran Church (Andreas Gemeinde), located in rural McIntosh County,
ND, the spiritual community built by our German-Russian emigrant
ancestors .......... is a special and holy place. Herman was a child
of the congregation, living most of his life on the farm nearest
the church. My connection began with a history of worship visits
dating from early childhood.
Even as a child, I knew that St. Andrew's stood as the spiritual
link to my ancestral German villages in Russia. Herman knew that
too and spent much of his life devoted to insuring that St. Andrew's
history was recorded properly, that the cemetery was cared for and
each grave properly documented on the cemetery map. In short, Herman
was a walking history book about the church. When a member of the
congregation died, it was often Herman who climbed the steps and
rang the church bell the number of years that person lived on this
One wonderful story about Herman tells the tale of his encounter
with a skunk in the church basement. It seems that no one at the
church council meeting could understand why punctual Herman was
uncharacteristically late.......until they smelled him coming. It
seems he had arrived early to check something and surprised the
unsuspecting furry animal. He had no choice but to go home and wash
and wash and wash.
Herman, his wife Ruth, and a small band of devoutly dedicated
church members have managed to keep the doors of St. Andrew's open
in the face of declining membership, stricken farm economy and the
general drifting of members to urban churches. A shortage of available
clergy has made it virtually impossible for St. Andrew's to operate
on Sunday mornings. Not to be defeated, the church offers monthly
Sunday evening hymn singing events for the community as a way to
keep the doors open and the spirit of St. Andrew's alive.
A man of few words, Herman spoke by his actions. He was one of
the congregational leaders when I proposed a centennial celebration
idea in the spring of 1992. The congregation, then numbering fewer
than 30 families, took up my proposal and the rest is history. A
year long series of mini-events on the theme of "Andreas Gemeinde,
A Beacon on the Prairie." climaxed with a two day event on the church
grounds attended by an estimated 700 descendants of the congregation
from across North America.
When nearby Wishek, ND celebrated it's centennial in 1998, Herman
hand created perfect replica's of the old stone church built in
1883 and the lovely white church built in 1906 that remains in use
for those monthly hymn sings.
Herman will be missed by all who knew him. He leaves his wife,
Ruth, children, Mark and Vicki, several granchildren and his 97
year-old mother, Katharina. He will be buried Wednesday, November
3rd in the cemetery at St. Andrew's where his emigrant ancestors
lay. This time when the church bell tolls, it will be someone else
notifying the community that their prairie son has come home to