Gessele, Chris. "Peace Lutheran Church Celebrating 100 Years." Hazen Star, 22 January 2009, 7.
Peace Lutheran Church as it stands in its current location on Central Avenue, Hazen. The original structure was built in 1950, and expanded with an addition on the west side of the building in 1987.
Gerald Knoell of Hazen was destined to be a member of Peace Lutheran Church long before he ever had a say in the matter.
Gerald’s grandfather, Johannes, was one of the original charter members of Peace Lutheran Church, Hazen, and signed the church’s Article of Incorporation. The document is dated back to the church’s very beginnings 100 years ago, come April 9.
The congregation of Peace Lutheran Church – 1,183 baptized members strong – will be celebrating their centennial anniversary throughout the course of the year, kicking off the party during 9 a.m. church service Jan. 25.
Services throughout the year will highlight youth, Scandinavian heritage, military services and German heritage, to name a few. Other speakers are pending.
When taking a look back at the church’s history, Peace Lutheran’s beginnings were a humble one.
According to the Peace Lutheran’s recorded history, German settlers from Russia arriving in the late 1800s and early 1900s were unable to join congregations already established in the county because of transportation issues.
So on April 9, 1909, a small group of German settlers from Russia convened in a public schoolhouse about 2 miles west of what is now Hazen. Under the leadership of the Rev. William Schmoock, the group founded a congregation with the name, “Evangelisch-lutherische Friedensgmeinde.”
Those faithful settlers who signed the incorporation papers included charter members Johannes, Immanual Mattheis, Benjamin Oster, Edward Oster, Jacob Sailer, Andreas Sailer and Fredrich Rueb – who is the grandfather of Gerald’s wife, Karen, a Beulah native.
Gerald didn’t realize both of their grandfathers were charter members of Peace Lutheran Church until scanning the church’s 75th anniversary book a few years ago.
“It’s different. There’s not many families where you’ll find that, I wouldn’t think,” Gerald said.
Fredrich was also a charter member of Zion Lutheran Church, Beulah.
Peace Lutheran’s membership grew, and the congregation built their first church and parsonage in Hazen at a combined cost of about $3,000. The church was dedicated in 1915.
But this story is not of just one church.
In fact, over the past 76 years, congregations from four different churches have combined to form the current congregation that makes up Peace Lutheran: The “Wolf church,” located about 8 miles northwest of Hazen, disbanded in 1933; St. John’s congregation at Krem disbanded in 1947; St. Paul’s Church, also known as the Red Butte church and located about 8-10 miles south of Hazen, disbanded in 1948; and St. Peter’s congregation along State Highway 1806 disbanded in 1958.
Many members from all four churches came together to form the Peace Lutheran family.
Because of original, faithful efforts by so few, over the course of a century Peace Lutheran has been able to enrich the lives of so many. And the proof of that enrichment is the list of Peace Lutheran’s “Sons of the Church,” or church members who have grown up and became pastors.
Karlene Gehring, Peace Lutheran member since 2001, contacted all seven known Sons of the Church and will add their words to the church’s centennial book.
Peace Lutheran’s Sons of the Church are: Rev. Milbern Goetz, Rev. Larry Wagner, Rev. A. Ambrose Netzer, Rev. William J. Gutknecht, Rev. Richard Schwarz, Rev. Don Bentz and Rev. Delbert Sailer.
Each Son shared memories of growing up in Hazen, and building an unshakable foundation of faith while attending Peace Lutheran Church.
“It was Pastor (David) Genter who first asked me the question, ‘Larry, have you ever thought about being a pastor?’ wrote Larry, the son of Ted and Irene Wagner. “I had not, and thought it to be the silliest idea that I’d ever heard. However, once that question was asked, I could never run fast enough to ignore it or leave it behind.”
Larry now serves as a pastor at Ascension Lutheran Church in Thousand Oaks, Calif.
Milbern is now a pastor at Our Saviors Lutheran Church in Greeley, Colo. He recalled the church’s early fundraisers, where the churchwomen would operate a fleischkuechle stand on Main Street for the annual Harvest Fest. The food sold for a quarter, and one year they raised just under $2,000 in two days.
“It was during my latter high school years in Hazen that I sensed a call to use my gifts and skills in the ordained pastoral ministry. That call was shaped by my faith formation and experiences beginning with Peace Lutheran and its youth ministries of that day – not only locally but also as part of a church on an area, statewide, and national level,” Milbern wrote. “Those connections provided the impetus, which led me to enjoy a pastoral career with a deep sense of faith, loyalty, and community. These are values imparted by the Gospel as begun for me by my growing up days in Peace Lutheran. May those same values continue for Peace Lutheran as it enters a new century of its life. May you be strong in faith, loyalty, and openness to God’s grace in community as you live and serve the changing and challenging world to which the Lord calls you.”
William’s ties run deep in Peace Lutheran lore, as three generations of the Gutknecht and Goetz families were part of the early beginnings of Peace Lutheran’s history. William’s grandparents, Ferdinand and Sophie Gutknecht, German/Russian immigrants, were part of the founding membership of St. Paul’s Church and Gottfried and Rosina Richter Goetz were firmly anchored with St. John’s at Krem. Their memberships would eventually be incorporated with Peace Lutheran. Finally, William’s uncle, William F. Goetz, would become the first Son of Peace Lutheran to be ordained.
“Over the years, when I have been asked by colleagues and members of the congregations I have served in California, ‘What was it about that Hazen, N.D., congregation that produced so many pastors from its midst, four of whom, at one time served congregations in California?’ I tell them something of my history and the lessons of spiritual faith and foundations stones provided by Peace Lutheran’s pastors and people during the years of my childhood and youth,” William wrote.
Seven. It seems like a high number. Marilyn Krause – a Peace Lutheran member along with her husband, Dalles, since 1962 – noticed a trend in the Sons’ words that would explain why.
“I think the members are very dedicated and made sure there were some good youth programs,” she said. “Many of (the Sons) talked of their involvement with Luther League and going to camps. I think that had a big part in it.”
The church is striving to ensure youth have access to youth programs in the church, she said, and is currently searching for a youth director.
“It sure makes a difference,” Marilyn said.
The Rev. Walt Wolff has been pastor at Peace Lutheran Church since June of 1991. And though not a Son of the church, he recognizes the history he follows – and what has enabled the church to last 100 years.
“Faithfulness,” Walt replied. “It’s a solid group of good people who sometimes sell themselves a bit short,” he added. “It may be modesty; I don’t think they realize how good they really are.”
What will enable the church to endure another 100 years?
“By the grace of God – continuing that faithfulness,” Walt said. “It’s the people that make the church. They’re the ones that deserve the credit.”
Reprinted with permission from the Hazen Star, BHG, Inc.