First Congregational Church Celebrates 100 Years: Laurel, Montana

"First Congregational Church Celebrates 100 Years: Laurel, Montana." Laurel Outlook, 16 January 2008.

100th Birthday The congregation at First Congregational Church will celebrate its 100th birthday later this month. The church, located at the south end of Durland Avenue, is also getting a new pastor this month, Rev. Bob Wittstruck. Outlook photo by Larry Tanglen

Sunday, Jan. 27, Laurel's First Congregational Church will celebrate its 100th birthday and it will be the first Sunday at the church for its new pastor, Rev. Bob Wittstruck.

There will be a special service that Sunday at 10:30 am., followed by a potluck dinner to welcome the new pastor and his wife, Pam. The Wittstrucks are moving to Laurel from Kulm, ND, south of Jamestown, ND.

Another celebration of the church's centennial is planned later this summer during the Laurel Centennial Celebration in August.

The early German families arrived from the Volga region of Russia with their faith and the clothes on their backs. These hard-working families were recruited by railroad and sugar beet companies to till the virgin soil in the Yellowstone valley to produce sugar beets.

Their desire to have a church-home grew so strong in the hearts of these believers that they summoned the Rev. H. Seil of Fargo, ND and the Rev. John D. Grosz of Loveland, CO to help them organize as a congregation.

At the church's first meeting on Jan. 28, 1908, the charter roll was signed by 103 members and the name of the newly organized church was chosen, The German Evangelical Lutheran Reformed Congregational Church. Such a name was due to the varied religious backgrounds, and in order to have peace and harmony. Today, it is known as the First Congregational Church.

The first church building was erected on lots donated by George Weber on the corner of Third Street and Durland. Each member contributed $5 to the building fund effort. With faith in God and faith in tomorrow, they erected their first sanctuary. It was 28 feet by 16 feet in size, not much larger than a single-stall garage.

The church's first minister was O.J. Tiede, a student minister, who served the church for a short period of time. His salary consisted of the offering each week from the collection plate. The first marriage in the church was between Jacob Koch and Katherine Frank. The first child baptized was Marvin Marker.

Many hardships prevailed among the members according to Elsie Johnston's book about Laurel history. One of the greatest, the flu epidemic of 1918 which claimed many lives, both young and old, including the life of Pastor David Preikzas. Not only did they encounter illness, but using their native language was forbidden by the Sedition Act.

Membership grew and by 1938 the rolls increased to 546. The congregation built two additions to the church, the first in 1924 and another in 1938.

The church purchased a Hammond electric organ in 1947. The congregation bought seven acres of land off of Durland Avenue and Fifth Street in 1963, where the current church building is located. The new church was built in 1970 and dedicated May 16, 1971. In 1976 the old church bells were installed in the church tower of the new church. The congregation has made other improvements including paving the church parking lot and further additions to the church building.

Last year, Laura Frank celebrated her 50 year anniversary as church organist. She became church organist in February 1957. Before Frank became church organist, Rev. Ruben Maier's wife was organist at the church.

The church has been without a full-time pastor since Rev. Doug Tofteland resigned nearly two years ago. Ed Veldhuizen and Gary Bobo have filled the pulpit at the church in the absence of a full-time pastor. Congregation co-chairs during this centennial year are Priscilla Fairlee and Carol Zundel.

Information for this story was taken from church records and the Laurel history book, Laurel's Story: A Montana Heritage, written by Elsie Johnston.

Reprinted with permission of the Laurel Outlook.

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