California German-Russian History: The Lodi German Seventh-Day Adventist Church

"California German-Russia History: The Lodi German Seventh-Day Adventist." California, Spring 2004.

This article has been edited and adapted from a longer piece written by Ruby Henneberg, who has been a member since 1946, of the two successor churches to the Lodi German Seventh-day Adventist Church. Ruby Henneberg was born in Loyalton, South Dakota; her people, the Kruegers and the Hageles, came to South Dakota from Bessarabia and from Glckstal, South Russia. Her husband Wilbert was born in Kulm, North Dakota; his people, the Hennebergs and the Hildebrands, were from Kulm, Bessarabia. he first official meeting of a group of Seventh-day Adventists in Lodi, California was in March, 1905. The seventeen parishioners met in a tent, the home of one of members, in what is now Lawrence Park. Subsequent meetings were held in different homes, but then in 1906 the first church building was established on East Lodi Avenue near Garfield Street in a remodeled private residence. The membership quickly increased, the unusually rapid growth attributed in large part to the high number of German-speaking believers who were moving into the community, many coming from North Dakota, South Dakota and Kansas. For some time English services were conducted in the forenoon, German services in the afternoon. In 1908 the English-speaking believers built a church on Central Avenue, and the church on Lodi Avenue became the "Lodi German Seventh-day Adventist Church". During the early years the church had no regular pastor, so the local elders and visiting ministers provided leadership. Among these were Valentine Leer, and Elder Henry Schultz, who became the first regular pastor. The earliest name recorded is Brother Jacob Schmidt, who was baptized on May 11, 1908. Then these names appear in the records: Dollinger, Ebel, Knecht, Mertz, Rott, Wagner and Werner. After 1920, these names were added: Batch, Baumbach, Beglau, Bietz, Bitzer, Buchmiller, Ensminger, Gaede, Hein, Heinrich, Heiser, Kelm, Kiesz, Krieger, Leer, Mayer, Meier, Miller, Reimche, Reiswig, Renchler, Reuscher, Ruhl, Schaffer, Scheideman, Scheuffle, Schlenker, Suelzle, Tonn, Troutman, Unterseher, Wiesz, Zweigle.

As was the custom in the German churches, the men sat on the right side of the sanctuary, the women and children on the left. The young girls would sit on the left on benches in front of the women, and the boys on the right in front of the men. If they did not behave, one of the fathers
would get up and come up and pull their ear to remind them they were in church.

In February 1921 the membership was 156, and the congregation was continuing to grow. The church became too small, and in 1922 the church building and lots were sold in preparation for construction of a new and larger building on the corner of Hilborn and Garfield streets. Two of the brethren, Krieger, of Krieger Motors, and Samuel Schmidt, loaned the fledgling congregation the money they were short at 6% interest. By 1925 the membership had grown to 274 members, and in 1926, at a camp meeting by the river at Clements, 25 new members were baptized. In 1936, this building also became inadequate, so they cut it in half and spread it apart, making it nearly twice its former size; it seated about 700. Bill Bechthold was in charge of the project; twenty-three years later Bill directed the work on the new Fairmont Church.

All the services originally were conducted in the German language, though it was inevitable that the English language would eventually be utilized. It began in the children's Sabbath School divisions and then in some of the adult classes. Occasionally the worship hour would also be in English. Page numbers for the songs were announced for the German "Zions-Lieder" and the English "Christ in Song" books. In 1942 the church dropped the "German" name and became known as the "Hilborn Seventh-day Adventist Church." By this time all the major services were conducted in English, though some Sabbath School classes and evening meetings still were conducted in the German language until about 1965.

At the beginning of 1951, with a still-growing membership of 653, the church entered a fund raising and building phase that saw them move in 1960 into the present site at 730 South Fairmont Avenue. The main sanctuary seats 1,200, the chapel, 342, and there are six classrooms. Walter Kiesz, the church organist for many years, gave a concert at the dedication service in 1964 on the new 3-manual, 18-rank Moller pipe organ.

Ruby Henneberg closes her article by saying that "Over and over you see the names of families who were 'pillars of the church' when it was on Lodi Avenue, Hilborn Street and now on Fairmont Avenue. Some of them and their descendents are still with us. Looking through church records from the 1930s is like going through a 'who's who' of the current membership roster." Ruby recommends a book about the development of Seventh-day Adventism in the Dakotas. Long out of print, Nothing to Fear by Bob Dupuy was published in 1983 by Pacific Press Publishing Association. Used copies are available by using the search service at LNF Books,, (800) 732-2664. Ruby says that this book "gives some background of how Adventism went with missionaries from the Dakota Territory to Russia, and then came back, and gives a little history of small Dakota SDA churches, some of which are no longer in operation." The Fairmont SDA Church in Lodi.

The CDC Report is seeking detailed information about other early
California German-Russian churches. Contact Editor, CDC Report, 3233
N. West Ave, Fresno, CA 93705.

Pastors, Associate Pastors

A glance through the list of pastors of the German-Hilborn-Fairmont Seventh-day Adventist Church in Lodi, below, shows a predominance of German last names through 1975.

1924-1932 Carl Leer
1932-1934 P.F. Richards
1934-1936 J.F. Huengergart
1936-1943 Benjamin A. Reile
1943-1946 George H. L. Loewen
1946-1949 Carl Becker, Don Mansell
1949-1952 Emil H. Oswald, J.J. Reiswig
1952-1954 Leroy A.Baughman
1954-1959 Jacob (Jay) Dollinger, J.J. Reiswig
1959-1969 Edward Koenig, Rodney Applegate
1969-1975 Merlin Foll, Roger Patzer
1975-1976 Mark Williams, Fred Ramsey, Stanley Hickerson,
William Hull
1976-1978 Elwood Staff, Monte Jones
1979-1980 Monte Jones
1980-1985 Jerry Sornson, Doug Clark
1985-1986 Doug Clark
1987-1993 Antonie M. Wessels, David Wellman, Harley Schander
1993-1999 Ronald Carlson, Trevor Fessendon, Carlos Garcia,
Francis Ruddle (visiting), Joedy Melashenko
2000-2001 Gordon Mattison
200l-to the present Ralph Watts III, Chris Guadiz

Our appreciation is extended to the editor of the California District Council Report for permission to use this article.

Permission to use any images from the GRHC website may be requested by contacting Michael M. Miller