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