"Memories of Herman Thurn and St. Andrew's Lutheran
Church (Andreas Gemeinde), rural McIntosh County, North Dakota"
By Carol Just Halverson, St. Louis Park, Minnesota (Carol_Halverson@tcilink.com)
A son of the prairie, Herman Thurn, of rural Zeeland, ND, died on Sunday morning, October 31, 1999.
Herman and I shared a common passion. We believed that St. Andrew's Lutheran Church (Andreas Gemeinde), located in rural McIntosh County, ND, the spiritual community built by our German-Russian emigrant ancestors .......... is a special and holy place. Herman was a child of the congregation, living most of his life on the farm nearest the church. My connection began with a history of worship visits dating from early childhood.
Even as a child, I knew that St. Andrew's stood as the spiritual link to my ancestral German villages in Russia. Herman knew that too and spent much of his life devoted to insuring that St. Andrew's history was recorded properly, that the cemetery was cared for and each grave properly documented on the cemetery map. In short, Herman was a walking history book about the church. When a member of the congregation died, it was often Herman who climbed the steps and rang the church bell the number of years that person lived on this earth.
One wonderful story about Herman tells the tale of his encounter with a skunk in the church basement. It seems that no one at the church council meeting could understand why punctual Herman was uncharacteristically late.......until they smelled him coming. It seems he had arrived early to check something and surprised the unsuspecting furry animal. He had no choice but to go home and wash and wash and wash.
Herman, his wife Ruth, and a small band of devoutly dedicated church members have managed to keep the doors of St. Andrew's open in the face of declining membership, stricken farm economy and the general drifting of members to urban churches. A shortage of available clergy has made it virtually impossible for St. Andrew's to operate on Sunday mornings. Not to be defeated, the church offers monthly Sunday evening hymn singing events for the community as a way to keep the doors open and the spirit of St. Andrew's alive.
A man of few words, Herman spoke by his actions. He was one of the congregational leaders when I proposed a centennial celebration idea in the spring of 1992. The congregation, then numbering fewer than 30 families, took up my proposal and the rest is history. A year long series of mini-events on the theme of "Andreas Gemeinde, A Beacon on the Prairie." climaxed with a two day event on the church grounds attended by an estimated 700 descendants of the congregation from across North America.
When nearby Wishek, ND celebrated it's centennial in 1998, Herman hand created perfect replica's of the old stone church built in 1883 and the lovely white church built in 1906 that remains in use for those monthly hymn sings.
Herman will be missed by all who knew him. He leaves his wife, Ruth, children, Mark and Vicki, several granchildren and his 97 year-old mother, Katharina. He will be buried Wednesday, November 3rd in the cemetery at St. Andrew's where his emigrant ancestors lay. This time when the church bell tolls, it will be someone else notifying the community that their prairie son has come home to rest.