Prairie Church Will Turn 100 in 1989

Donovan, Lauren. "Prairie Church Will Turn 100 in 1989." Hazen Star, 15 December 1988, 5.

The little church on the prairie, St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of rural Hazen, will turn 100 years old when the calendar turns over to 1989. A special centennial celebration is being planned.

The church is cold, waiting from Sunday to Sunday for a parishioner to arrive early and stroke life and warmth into its coal furnace.

But if St. Paul’s Lutheran Church is left cold and essentially unheated for the sake of economy, there is nothing cold about the church itself and the people who are a part of it.

When the last leaf of the 1988 calendar turns over into 1989, it will mark the beginning of a special year for the prairie church north of Hazen.

It will turn 100 years old, making it the oldest surviving church in Mercer County.

That is no small accomplishment for a congregation that members only 30 or so families, most of them clustered within a 15-mile radius.

According to Morris Kruckenberg, the special dates of observation of the anniversary will be June 24 and 25.

The church plans to hire a tent and hook up outdoor speakers for the event that will focus on old fashioned food and family togetherness, as well as prayer.

Special offerings have already been taken to help pay for the celebration is selling commemorative plates, cups and bells as well as hats, which are available at Prairie Rose Ceramics in Hazen and from centennial committee members.

It will, after all, be the event of the century for St. Paul's.

The four walls that compose the church contain a lot of tradition, says Kruckenberg.

Where other churches might have folded, it’s taken no less than the famous German stubbornness to keep this one going for all these years.

“We’ve hung in there, and we’ll do so for as long as possible,” says Kruckenberg, who is chairman of the centennial committee. “It’s that old German stubbornness. There’s an awful lot of tradition.”

There was a boom in membership at the church, back in its heyday of the ‘40s and ‘50s. Today, however, church membership stands at the same level it was when the church was chartered in 1889.

The present building is the second St. Paul’s. The first was destroyed in a tornado in 1920. The parsonage remained intact, but today is a dwelling on the Herb Hintz farm south of Hazen.

According to church history, services in 1889 were held in school buildings at the Bohrer and Birkholtz schools and also in a sod building at the Priebe farm until the first church was built in 1902.

The congregation belonged to the Krem parish until 1913, when the congregation voted to become self-supporting.

Today, says Kruckenberg, St. Paul’s is unique in that it collect annual dues from its members. “It’s not strictly free-will. It has worked and if it works, you don’t fix it,” Kruckenberg says.

Until the 1950s, St. Paul’s had its own pastors. It became a sister congregation with Our Savior’s Lutheran in Shanton and now the churches share pastors.

With the recent resignation of Rev. Mark Bogen, both church have been without a fulltime minister, though they are being served by a temporary minister.

Not having a minister to help with the celebration will be difficult. “We make an awful lot of the decisions ourselves that we’d rather not be doing. But we’ll make it. We have before,” says Kruckenberg.

He attributes that “can do” attitude to the closeness of the parishioners themselves, most of whom are related in one way or another.

“Everybody is involved to make this celebration a success. We’ve always worked together,” he says. Plans have been underway for two years.

Whether St. Paul’s will exist in another 100 years is uncertain. “The future is not that bright. As members pass away we can’t replace them. We are going to get smaller. When that becomes a deciding factor, I don’t know,” says Kruckenberg. There are only nine students in Sunday school.

Yet, the small parish holds a great deal of loyalty. Even members who move away sometimes choose to maintain their membership out of feelings of nostalgia for the small church on the prairie.

Because of that, Kruckenberg says the committee expects about 500 people will join them for the Saturday and Sunday event.

Carol Sailer, who is secretary-treasurer of the centennial committee, says that no one in the church likes to talk about the possibility of St. Paul’s closing its doors. “Nobody wants to hear someone say we won’t be here. Everybody has to work together to make a small church work.

“It’s like going home. That’s what I like about this small church out here,” she says.

As a centennial planner, Sailer says the celebration will be very casual. “We’ll have horseshoe for the men and games for the children and a tent so people can sit outside and visit.

“The expectation to get to 100 years is so exciting,” she says.

Saturday will feature a potluck and Sunday a home cooked noon meal.

Former pastors as well as the bishop will be invited and the German language, still in evidence in the church in the early ‘60s, will be heard in song.

A service will be held Sunday morning and a program commemoration 100 years will be held in the afternoon. Two of the churchwomen specialize in making cakes, which will probably be served after the program, says Sailer.

The theme of the weekend is “Century on the Prairie – Where but two or three are gathered in my name.”

Other centennial committee members are Adolph Miller, Albert Sailer and Ramona Sailer.

Church woman recollect old days at St. Paul’s

The set of silver candleholders and cross are all that remains of the original St. Paul’s, which was destroyed by a tornado in 1920.

Horse rides to church. Men on one side, women on the other and the children up front. Tending the old stove.

Those are a few memories that three older churchwomen had of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church of rural Hazen.

The women, all close to their 90s at the time, were interviewed two years ago for oral history on the state’s older churches.

Hattie Kruckenberg, Alvina Rathjen and Amalie Kilber provide glimpses into yesteryear on the eve of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church 100th anniversary, which will be celebrated in 1889.

Church, said the ladies, was the primary weekly gathering, a time for catching up on news, as well to receive less tangible gifts to the spirit.

At one time, St. Paul’s was one of three churches served by the same minister and since he, too, traveled by horse and wagon, service was held in the afternoon.

Alvina Rathjen recalled that before the merger, the church was always called the “Ohio church,” even though the founding fathers were German-Russian immigrants.

The women tended the heating stove that sat in the middle of the church, as well as took care of the ashes. Every year they blackened the stove with stove polish.

Hattie Kruckenberg recalls that church women took church visitors to their homes for noon-day meals during Mission Festivals. The ladies would serve dinner, hastily tidy up and hurry back for afternoon services.

The original church had a balcony and a pipe organ. But the children would pump the petals, creating so much noise, that eventually the organ was moved to the front of the church where no child would dare approach it with mischief in mind.

The woman recalled the tornado in 1920, which destroyed the church. A number of children were attending Bible school at the time. None were killed and all but one were thrown from the building. The church was totally destroyed and the insurance money was used to build a newer, smaller church.

The original silver candle holders and cross survived the tornado, the ladies said.

Reprinted with permission of the Hazen Star.


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