Our Church History:
The beginning of St. John Lutheran Congregation dates back to 1846 when German immigrants from Hessen Darmstadt, Saxony and Bavaria, settled in this area. Lutheran services in the German language were first conducted in the John Laubenstein home and in the district school house by the Rev. Romanowski of Milwaukee, who was also conducting Lutheran services in Town 13 (later Abbott, now Sherman) of Sheboygan County. A letter in German signed by Pastor Romanowski and dated “Mequonriver, 1 November 1848” is filed in our congregation’s folder kept at the Concordia Historical Institute on the campus of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO. In 1849 this group purchased an acre of land at the present corner of State Hwy. 57 and E. Hawthorne Dr. from A.E. Boesewetter to be used as a site for a school and a cemetery. From 1849 to 1858 the Rev. Martin Guenther of the Grafton congregation came once every four weeks on a weekday to serve this group. A Board of Elders was elected and conducted a reading service every Sunday. The Rev. Wilhelm Kolb of Sherman Center came to serve this group during 1858 and 1859. As the number of worshipers grew, space in the Laubenstein home became inadequate. Since the district school house was no longer available for the divine services, a special house of worship was needed.
Organization of the Congregation in Rural Saukville
From 1859 to 1862 the Rev. Frederick Ahner came from Grafton to minister to this small group. Under Pastor Ahner’s leadership the congregation officially organized in 1861 as “The Evangelical Lutheran St. John’s Congregation of the Town of Saukville”. Pastor Ahner signed the document as the congregation’s first “president”. A log cabin church, 22’ x 26’, was soon built across the highway from the cemetery. In 1862, when Pastor Ahner left to serve elsewhere, this newly organized congregation called several pastors jointly with both the Grafton and Cedarburg congregations. Thus, the Rev. Johann Heinrich Werfelmann, who served all three congregations, was the first called pastor. He served the congregation from 1862 to 1871. He came only every fourth Sunday. On other Sundays, reading services were conducted by the Board of Elders.
A school was begun and taught by teacher Theodore Eisenfeldt. Children also received confirmation instructions and then were confirmed at Grafton. In 1872 both Pastor Werfelmann and Teacher Eisenfeldt accepted calls to other congregations and the school had to be discontinued. The Rev. Ferdinand Buechele, called jointly with Grafton, accepted the call. However, due to ill health, he was able to serve for only a short time. The subsequent vacancy was filled by the Rev. E.A. Wilhelm Klaus of Cedarburg until the Grafton and Fredonia congregations jointly called the Rev. Friederich Wesemann in 1872.
In 1874 a parsonage was built on a lot donated by Henry Schardt. Plans called for a new church building to eventually be erected at this location. St. John called and installed its first resident pastor, the Rev. Karl A. Meyer, in October of 1874. He served for seven years and was also the Christian Day School teacher during this period.
In 1875 the congregation joined the Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and Other States (the original name for what is now The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod). Some members refused to pay their offering pledges and a number of members who lived nearby the church moved away. Those who remained in the congregation struggled to adequately support a full-time pastor, and when Pastor Meyer accepted a call to another congregation in 1881, St. John once again appealed to its sister congregation in Cedarburg for pastoral help. Immanuel (now First Immanuel) Lutheran Church in Cedarburg came to their assistance and permitted their pastor, the Rev. Edward Christian Georgii, to accept the call to also serve St. John from 1881 to 1889.
The Move to Fredonia
Many of the congregation’s members now lived in the village of Fredonia and the condition of the log cabin church was deteriorating. The congregation decided to relocate to its present site in the Village of Fredonia. Land was purchased and a new church building was erected and dedicated in the fall of 1885.
After a vacancy of one year, the congregations of Cedarburg and Fredonia jointly called the Rev. Paul Wichmann, who served them both faithfully from 1890 to 1903. During this period the Fredonia congregation was growing and by 1896 there was a need for additional space. The so-called “south addition”, containing a bell tower and topped with a steeple, was added to the original frame building. For many years this entrance area did double-duty as a classroom in which weekday school classes were conducted. The children during this period were taught by students and candidates for the teaching profession. This white frame church, built in 1885, served the congregation until 1958.
A 1,000 pound bell was installed within the steeple in 1896. The bell was rung one hour before each service, at the beginning of a service, and again at the completion of the service as well. It was also rung at 6:00 p.m. every Saturday evening to alert the community of the “Sabbath” coming on the morrow. The bell was also tolled, once for each year of life, upon the death of a member and, likewise, tolled again at the funeral service.
In 1903 a parsonage was built at what is now 825 Fredonia Avenue. A full-time resident pastor, the Rev. A.F. Nees, was called to serve the St. John congregation. He accepted and was installed by Pastor Wichmann. At that time the church building was also renovated. New pews were purchased, gasoline chandeliers replaced kerosene lamps, and the altar furnishings were renewed. Pastor Nees also taught the Christian Day School students. He served the congregation until June 6, 1909.
Pastor Nees was succeeded by the Rev. E. Buenger, who was installed on October 3, 1909. He served the congregation until 1916 and then resigned. On December 3, 1916 the Rev. L. Fischer was installed as the next pastor. He served until he resigned from the ministry on May 4, 1919.
The Ladies’ Aid
During Pastor Fischer’s tenure, a Ladies’ Aid was organized in 1917. The group of ladies contributed a great deal to both the moral and financial benefit of the congregation. They shared in the custodial duties and annually prepared and served a congregational dinner as part of a mission festival. The Ladies’ Aid treasury was funded by the voluntary contributions of its members. Among other things, they helped purchase materials used in the Christian Day School. Donations were also made to institutions such as the Lutheran Children’s Friend Society, the Bethesda Lutheran Home in Watertown, and to Concordia College in Milwaukee among others. Monthly Ladies’ Aid meetings were originally held on Sundays after the worship service, but later were changed to a weekday afternoon.
On February 19, 1947, the Ladies’ Aid joined the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML), the women’s auxiliary of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. The primary objective of the group remains mission education, mission inspiration, and mission service based around Bible Study and the support of mission projects throughout the world. The local ladies’ organization later changed its name to the Ruth Guild and it remains active in the congregation to this day.
Pastor William Graf
In July of 1919, St. John Lutheran Church called and installed the Rev. William Theodore Friedrich Graf as its pastor. He served the congregation for a period of fourteen years, providing a period of stability and growth. With the exception of his last year, during which he was in ill health, Pastor Graf also taught the children in the congregation’s Christian Day school. During the 1932-1933 school year, Teacher John Koehn taught the students.
In 1920 the parsonage was enlarged at a cost of $1,100. On June 19, 1921, the congregation observed its 60th anniversary celebration at the Singer Hall in Waubeka.
In July of 1925, a committee was appointed to gather pledges for the construction of a school building. Within a week, pledges amounting to $4,600 were received. By October, construction of the new building was already underway. A one room, red brick school house with a basement was completed at a cost of $6,200. Dedication took place on April 18, 1926. The lot immediately to the east of the church, upon which the school was built, was secured from Mr. John Wiese. A few members purchased the lot from Mr. Weise for $500 and then donated it to the congregation. The children in grades one through six were all taught by Pastor Graf.
Beginning in 1932, a major renovation of the church building’s interior took place, including the installation of stained glass windows. Electricity was also installed and the gasoline chandeliers which had been used since the early 1900s were replaced with electric lights. The congregation now enjoyed the luxury of electric lights in both the church and the school!
Dedication services for the remodeled sanctuary took place on Palm Sunday, April 9, 1933. Pastor Graf, even though in failing health for some time due to diabetes, led this renovation project with great interest and ability. A few weeks later, on Sunday, May 21, after confirming a class of seven children, Pastor Graf broke down completely. He was taken to Memorial Hospital in Sheboygan where he died on Wednesday, May 24, 1933. Funeral services were conducted in Fredonia on Saturday, May 27. The Rev Edmund Heubner of St. John-Sherman Center preached a sermon in German, and the Rev. C. Gutekunst spoke in English. Burial took place in the church cemetery. Pastor Graf is the only pastor in the 150 year history of the congregation to have died while in active service as its pastor.
Worship and Activities
During the early years of the congregation and well into the 20th Century it was a strict, but common practice that, during the worship services, men were seated on the left side of the sanctuary and the women on the right. Very small children sat with their mothers. Children of school age, starting at age six, were seated in the very front pews near the chancel with boys in front of the men on the left and girls before the women on the right.
Every Sunday as part of the worship service, immediately after the sermon, the pastor conducted a 15 to 20 minute “teaching session” with the children in the presence of the entire congregation. Using Luther’s Small Catechism with Explanations, the pastor assigned several pages of Bible passages, questions, and answers for the children to study at home during the week. The following Sunday the pastor asked questions pertaining to the previous assignments. Children continued to participate for several years after their confirmation, even when as young adults they were seated with the adults of the assembly. In the early 1930s these teaching sessions were discontinued. With the population growth of the community and new families joining the church membership, the custom of segregated seating was gradually discontinued. Worshipers then sat in family groups as they do today.
Pastor Reinhard Jagow
Following the death of Pastor Graf, there was a brief pastoral vacancy until the Rev. Reinhard G.F. Jagow was installed as pastor on September 10, 1933. He and his wife, Esther, and their seven children came to Fredonia after having served twelve years at congregations in North Dakota.
The Schaefer Organ
In the fall of 1933 a rebuilt two-manual Schaefer pipe organ was installed in the church at a cost of $900. Organ dedication took place on November 19, 1933. Prior to this time a reed organ (on which the organist had to work foot pedals to pump air into the bellows) had been used to accompany the congregational singing.
Up until this time all worship services, church meetings, and confirmation instructions and examinations had been conducted in the German language. In 1934 the church constitution was revised and rewritten in English. Two worship services, one in English and one in German, were now held every Sunday morning. Confirmation instruction was now given in the English language.
St. John’s Christian Day School
Upon the arrival of Pastor Jagow, grades seven and eight were added to the Christian Day School. The school now also received state accreditation, and the pupils were required to write county examinations. The eighth grade graduates received county diplomas in addition to certificates from the Missouri Synod. Enrollment increased from 24 to 41 students. This necessitated the hiring of a full-time teacher. Miss Elizabeth Martin, a graduate of Milwaukee State Teachers College, was hired. She taught all subjects in all eight grades with the exception of Religion, Music and German, which were taught by Pastor Jagow. Miss Martin taught for only one year. The congregation then called Mr. Harold Panning, a graduate of the Synod’s Teacher’s College at River Forest, Illinois; he taught for two years. Mr. Benjamin F. Steinberg of Shawano, Wisconsin succeeded Mr. Panning. In 1939, Pastor Jagow accepted the responsibility of teaching all the classes of the Christian Day School in addition to his pastoral duties.
After World War II, in 1947, a time in which many other congregations were revitalizing their schools, daily classes at St. John were discontinued and the Christian Day School was closed. The school building was then used for Sunday School purposes.
Saturday School and the Walther League
As a replacement for the Christian Day School, and as a supplement to the Sunday School program, Saturday morning classes of Christian Education were conducted for children in grades three through eight. Teachers for these classes were students from the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary at Thiensville and from Concordia College in Milwaukee. Parochial school teachers from neighboring congregations, members of the congregation and the pastor also taught. Pastor Jagow was in charge of the program. Saturday School for grades three through eight continued up to 1979. Saturday School was not confirmation instruction! Children in grades seven and eight also met with the pastor on Wednesday evenings for confirmation instructions in addition to their Saturday and Sunday School classes.
About 1936 a young people’s group for those who were confirmed through age twenty was organized. It affiliated with the Synod’s official youth auxiliary, the Walther League, named in honor of the Missouri Synod’s first president and leading theologian, C.F.W. Walther. The youth met regularly for Bible study, which was led by the pastor, and afterward enjoyed a brief period of Christian fellowship. Sister congregations of the circuit had similar groups and, at times, all met together. An outgrowth of these meetings was the Circuit Chorus, organized and directed by Pastor Jagow and accompanied by his daughter, Ruth, at the piano and the organ. This chorus met regularly for practice and presented sacred concerts for public enjoyment during the years of 1948 through 1957.
The school and church buildings were heated by separate coal fired hot air furnaces. In 1941 a boiler was installed in the school basement to heat both buildings. This necessitated the construction of a tunnel for the pipes which transferred the water to heat the church. The tunnel was approximately 30 feet long, 6 feet high and 6 feet wide. It also served as a walk-through passageway, thus making both school and church functional as one unit. Mission Festival dinners, for example, were prepared in the school basement and served in the church basement. For the Christmas Eve service, the children would meet in the school and enter the church in procession via the tunnel.
The New Church Building
With church membership on the increase, there was a need for a larger worship sanctuary. A Building Fund was established in 1954. By the fall of 1957, construction of a new building was well underway, and a special service to observe the laying of the cornerstone was held. Construction continued during the winter months, and on Sunday, June 8, 1958, the new church building was dedicated. This lannon stone structure featured redwood trim, clear glass windows, and a copper spire. The front entrance into the narthex was at the southwest corner with the chancel on the east end of the building. Total cost of the building project was $150,000.
This new church was built just a few feet west of the white frame church. On the day of dedication, the service began in the old church and, following a procession into the new church, the service continued and the dedication was completed. In the procession to the new building, Church Council members carried the chancel and altar furnishings, including the baptismal and communion ware, Bibles, some hymnals, and vestments into the new church and placed them in their proper positions within the new chancel. The old white frame church which was originally built in 1885, with an addition in 1896 and an interior remodeling in 1933, served the congregation for 73 years. Soon after the dedication the frame church was removed and the church bell placed into storage. With the dedication of the new sanctuary, worship services in the German language were discontinued. A single English worship service was conducted each Sunday morning.
In 1962 a free-standing bell tower built of redwood and complementary to the design of the church building was erected a few feet southeast of the church. The original bell purchased in 1896 was installed in this new home and again put into service. The bell was now electronically operated—manually from the organ console and automatically with a time clock.
The End of an Era
Pastor Jagow faithfully served St. John Lutheran Church from 1933 to 1964 when a sudden illness led to his retirement. On May 1, 1966 the congregation honored Pastor Jagow at a special worship service celebrating the 45th anniversary of his ordination. Two months later on June 30, 1966, he was called to his eternal rest. Burial was in St. John’s Cemetery. Pastor Jagow remains the longest serving pastor in St. John’s history.
Pastor Arthur Senn
From February to August of 1964, the congregation was served by the Rev. Kenneth Roever, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in the Town of Jackson. Upon receiving the congregation’s call, the Rev. Arthur C. Senn accepted and was installed as pastor of St. John Lutheran Church on August 2, 1964.
During Pastor Senn’s time of service, the Saturday School, Sunday School, Confirmation Instructions, Youth Group, and a summertime Vacation Bible School all continued and prospered.
In 1965 chimes were added to the organ. Several years later a speaker system was placed in the spire and an electronic carillon installed. The carillon played hymn tunes at various times during the week. These and numerous other items were made possible by memorial contributions and by gifts of members and friends of the congregation. In 1970 a parcel of land east of the parking lot was purchased from the village for future expansion of the parking lot.
In 1971, two Sunday morning services were begun to encourage greater attendance. During the summer months, Saturday evening services were also offered.
Previous to this time, Sunday School classes were held in the old school house. These classes were now transferred to the church basement. A very enthusiastic youth group of high school age students became active and held their gatherings in the old school house.
In 1972, an Adult Bible Study class taught by Pastor Senn was inaugurated. These were conducted regularly on Sunday mornings during the Sunday School hour between the two worship services.
By a joint effort of the Ruth Guild and AAL Branch 2074, a Senior Citizen Group began to gather once a month. These gatherings occurred monthly from August through May as members came together to enjoy Christian fellowship, a noon meal followed by a hymn sing, and a short Bible study led by the pastor. The meals had since been renamed St. John Fellowship Meals and, though they followed the same agenda as the Senior Citizen Group, were open to any member who wishes to attend. Due to a lack of attendance, the meals were dropped in 2015.
A Planning Committee was appointed to study possibilities for the future growth and ministry of St. John’s congregation. After many hours of study, the committee presented a proposal for the possible construction of an educational unit adjacent to the west portion of the church. Viewing the future needs and benefits, and with this proposal in mind, the congregation voted to purchase the property at 836 Fredonia Avenue (often called “the Oehme Property” or “the West Property”). This purchase was made in 1973 with the thought of eventually removing the house and building the educational facility in that area.
Planning also began for a new parsonage. Many plans and locations were carefully studied. It was at this time, December of 1974, that Pastor Senn accepted a call to Redeemer Lutheran Church in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. He had faithfully served St. John for a little more than ten years.
There was a nine month vacancy during which time the Rev. John Stephan of Pilgrim Lutheran Church in West Bend served as the interim pastor and the Rev. Arnold Beawer, Emeritus, of West Bend conducted the worship services.
During the summer of 1975 the red brick school house was razed to enlarge the parking lot. The Voters’ Assembly also agreed to purchase a lot for the new parsonage at 134 Edmaro Street. The home was designed by William Barber, a member of the congregation. Many members contributed labor and skills during the time of construction, which began in the early winter of 1975. Meanwhile, the old parsonage at 825 Fredonia Avenue was sold. The new parsonage was completed at a cost of $71,000 and dedicated in June of 1976.
Pastor David Seybold
The Rev. David E. Seybold was ordained and installed as the pastor at St. John on September 19, 1975. A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, he graduated from Concordia College-Milwaukee, Concordia Senior College-Fort Wayne, IN and Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, IL.
Due to the need for extensive repairs, energy conservation, and a parking lot location too far from the church entrance, a major renovation of the church building was begun in 1979. The orientation of the worship space was completely turned around. The main entrance was moved to the east end of the building and what originally had been the chancel became the narthex (entrance hall). A large canopy covering a two-lane driveway was erected over the entrance. The choir cove became the library and an “overflow” area when extra seating was necessary. A balcony was added over the narthex to accommodate the organ and the choir.
The former clear glass windows within a grid of redwood frames were replaced with new faceted stained glass windows. The eight windows in the nave illustrate the Lord’s Prayer. The St. John window (now located in the Education Building) recognizes the Apostle John for whom the congregation is named. The two windows in the chancel on either side of the altar also have special meaning. The one on the left depicts the Almighty Hand of God the Father, the Creator and Preserver from whom all blessings flow. The dove in the window on the right symbolizes the Holy Spirit, “the Lord and Giver of Life” who sanctifies (“makes holy”) people by bringing them to faith through the gospel. In between the windows and above the altar, the large wooden cross proclaims the once and for all sacrifice of Christ Jesus, the Savior and Redeemer of all mankind. Thus, the windows together with the cross visually confess our Christian faith in the Holy Trinity—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.
New cushioned pews were purchased and the entire church was carpeted. The erection of the canopy necessitated the removal of the bell tower. Once again the bell was temporarily put into storage awaiting the construction of a new bell tower. The parking lot was surfaced with blacktop. The total cost of this renovation was $160,000. Members of the congregation worked together on the project, willingly and cheerfully donating many hours of volunteer labor. During the five months of this renovation project, all worship services were held in the church basement (the Fellowship Hall). Dedication of the remodeled facility took place on September 21, 1980. On this same day, the congregation also observed the fifth anniversary of Pastor Seybold’s ordination.
In 1982 a nineteen foot copper-colored fiberglass spire was donated and placed upon the cupola of the church, replacing the copper-clad spire that had rotted. In 1987 the congregation erected a new steel bell tower. Ladies of the congregation volunteered many hours of loving labor to make needlepoint kneeling cushions for use at the communion rail. A cushion was also made for use at confirmations and another for use at weddings. All of the costs of this project were covered by the Ruth Guild.
In 1983 the console of the Schaefer organ which served the congregation for fifty years was replaced with that of a Haase eight-rank organ. Pipes from the Schaefer and Haase organs were combined and installed in the balcony. The console and pipes of the Haase organ were all purchased from Immanuel Lutheran Church of Mayville.
In August of 1987 Pastor Seybold, for personal reasons, unexpectedly resigned as the pastor of the congregation. He had served St. John for nearly twelve years. The vacancy was filled by the Rev. Edwin Keiper, a retired pastor residing in Port Washington. The practice of occasionally having lay readers of the Old Testament and Epistle readings at the worship services was begun during his tenure.
Pastor Robert Zick
In October, the congregation called the Rev. Robert C. Zick of Resurrection Lutheran Church in Monroe, WI to be their pastor. Pastor Zick accepted the call and he, along with his wife, Liz, and their five children arrived in late November of 1987. A native of Milwaukee, Pastor Zick graduated from Gospel Lutheran School, Milwaukee Lutheran High School, and UW-Milwaukee. He graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary of Fort Wayne, in May of 1979. After ordination, he served the South Wisconsin District as a Missionary-at-Large working to establish the Resurrection-Monroe congregation in 1980. He was installed as the pastor of St. John in a special afternoon service on Sunday, December 6, 1987 with the Rev. Harold Senkbeil preaching.
Pastor Zick retired on Sunday, June 24, 2018, preaching his final service on that day.
Pastor Marshal Frisque
In May 2018, Marshal Frisque graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and he accepted his first call to be the pastor at St. John Fredonia. He moved into the parsonage with his wife, Kolyssa, and three children in July 2018. He was ordained on July 14, 2018. Both Pastor Frisque and his wife are Wisconsin natives and were happy to return to their home state after several years of work and school in Illinois and Indiana. They had a fourth child their 2nd year of living in the parsonage and serving St. John. Kolyssa started doing part-time church secretary work editing the service audio and creating the newsletter, "The Weekly Bell," to send out every Sunday afternoon. She also redesigned and started managing the church website.
The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod had allowed its member congregations to share the privilege of voting (suffrage) with women in 1969. However, congregations were not compelled to do so. The St. John congregation had followed this second option and had not granted suffrage to its women. In 1989 the subject arose once more and Pastor Zick and the Elders conducted a study of the issue, particularly examining the pertinent passages of Scripture and the reasoning of the Synod’s Commission of Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) on the subject. Study of the issue also took place at regular Sunday morning Bible studies.
Upon the recommendation of the Board of Elders, the Voters’ Assembly of the congregation extended voting privileges to the women of the congregation on October 19, 1989. Women, in keeping with biblical teaching and the policies of the Synod, were (and are) not allowed to serve on the Board of Elders or as the Chairman of the congregation.
The Steiner-Reck Organ
The passing years continued to exert a toll on the aging parts of the combined Schaefer-Haase organ. Necessary repairs would be expensive and not improve the sound or range of the instrument. An Organ Committee was appointed to investigate all options. Dr. John Behnke of Concordia University Wisconsin was hired as an organ consultant.
The committee examined the pro’s and con’s of electronic, electro-pneumatic, and “tracker” (mechanical connections between the keys and pipes) organs. Eventually, their recommendation was to pursue the “tracker”-type option as being the most durable and cost-effective over time, as well as being esthetically the most pleasing. Dr. Benke drew up a basic design that outlined the basic parameters of the new instrument and the capabilities it needed to have to suit the congregation’s purposes. He also recommended three builders who were given the opportunity to design specific proposals. After much study, discussion and debate, the committee recommended the purchase of a new 13-rank organ to be built by the Steiner-Reck Company of Louisville, KY. The recommendation to purchase this organ passed the Voters’ Assembly on March 19, 1991. It would take three years to build and cost $103,000. In addition, the choir loft (balcony) had to be rebuilt at a cost of an additional $2,054 and 528 hours of time donated by members! The congregation organized its own capital campaign to cover the costs and the members responded generously with sacrificial gifts both small and large to make it happen. The organ would not be delivered until September of 1993.
The organ was completely assembled at the factory in Louisville, then disassembled and packed into panel trucks for delivery. A team of craftsmen from the company, led by organ builder Gottfried Reck, drove the trucks to Fredonia arriving on a Sunday afternoon. Large plywood sheets, some covered in green felt, were placed over all of the pews, then members of the congregation along with the factory workers carried the hundreds of pieces, big and small, into the church and laid them out upon the plywood. It looked as if a large, 3-dimensional puzzle was about to be constructed, which was pretty much the case. The builders spent the entire week reassembling the organ so that services could be conducted in the sanctuary the following Sunday. The organ was not yet ready to play, but it was put together! Everyone marveled at the beauty and exquisite craftsmanship of the organ case. Later, Gottfried Reck returned with various assistants to first “voice” and then “tune” the instrument.
Finally, the organ was formally dedicated to the glory of God and the service of His Church at the Sunday morning worship services on October 24, 1993. That evening Dr. Behnke played a dedicatory recital highlighting the various capabilities of the new organ which was primarily designed to lead and worshipfully augment congregational singing and liturgy in the Lutheran tradition.
Preschool and Childcare
As noted above, the congregation since the 1970’s had viewed the “West Property”, on which stood what had once been the Paul Oehme residence, as a potential site for an educational facility. A good deal of wrangling over what should and should not be done with this property had transpired over the years. At times the house was rented out and at others it was used for youth work and storage.
In the early 1990’s Esther Oehme, an active member of the congregation and a former Lutheran teacher, began talking up the idea of starting a Christian Preschool for the congregation. At the time many such preschools were being established by LCMS congregations. Many of the members supported the idea, and St. John Lutheran Preschool was established in 1991 and Esther Oehme was chosen to be its administrator and teacher. The first classes were held on one end of the Fellowship Hall (that is, in the church basement).
The Preschool Program under Mrs. Oehme’s dedicated direction was quite successful and drew students for its 3K and 4K programs from both the congregation and the community. Eventually, as the preschool grew and larger facilities were needed, the congregation removed the stage from the west end of the Fellowship Hall and converted it into a classroom. Nevertheless, it soon became apparent that even more space was going to be needed. In addition, interest was growing in establishing a Christian Childcare Program to supplement the Preschool classes.
Over the years, St. John had purchased the fields to the north of its original site in the village. As the expansion of the preschool program progressed, there were long and difficult discussions as to how and where the congregation should expand its educational facilities. Almost no one publicly spoke against building a “school”, as many termed it, but there was a great deal of talk about where on the property it should be erected. People also discussed whether or not the “West Property” should be sold and the proceeds used to partly finance the cost of the new construction. In the end, the majority favored demolishing the Oehme house and erecting an Education Building on that site so that it could be both attached to the church building and prominently visible from Fredonia Avenue.
The congregation sought financing through the LCMS’s Lutheran Church Extension Fund (LCEF) and chose to utilize a professionally designed capital campaign offered through an agency of the Synod. The “As We Have Opportunity” Campaign was successful in raising enough funds so that the congregation could easily qualify for an LCEF loan and begin construction. Once again God’s Spirit moved His people to be generous. One individual assumed the entire cost of the capital campaign ($1,000) so that everyone else’s gifts would go directly toward the cost of the building. Another individual donated more than $67,000 toward the project.
As the planning stages of the Education Building came to an end and construction bids were being taken, a retired member of the congregation, Roger Prosser, who had experience as a construction manager, came forward offering to coordinate the construction for the congregation. The congregation accepted his “bid” and saved about $100,000 in cost. Mr. Prosser enlisted the assistance of other retirees within the congregation. Prominent among these were Jerome Minzlaff, Roger Maas and George Brookins. Gordon Fairbert, as Volunteer Coordinator, worked to enlist and coordinate over 100 other volunteers to assist with various aspects of construction. Lon Horton, a self-employed painter, lent many hours of labor as well as his expertise. George Slattery, a construction instructor at MATC, did the same and assisted the congregation in applying for both carpentry and cabinetry work to be done by MATC students. Thus, with a combination of professional subcontractors, volunteer and student labor, the Education Building was built during 2001-2002 at a total cost of just under $670,000. It immediately had to be insured for more than $1,000,000. The current indebtedness on the building is now below $220,000.
The Education Building was dedicated in a worship service on Sunday, May 5, 2002. At the end of the service, the congregation in procession, followed the altar cross outside of the church and reassembled before the doors of the new building where prayers and words of dedication were offered and read. South Wisconsin District President Ronald E. Meyer was in attendance.
As the Preschool began its first year in its new building, it also had a new leader. Mrs. Michele Gnan served as both the lead Preschool Teacher and as the Childcare Administrator. After one year, Mrs. Gnan left to take a teaching-only position in another congregation’s preschool. A member of the congregation, Miss Ann Jacque, although having no professional childcare experience, was available to help and stepped in to assume many of the administrative duties until a new Childcare Administrator could be found. Miss Jacque provided much needed stability and quiet leadership during a very vulnerable period in the Childcare Program’s existence.
In the spring of 2004, Mrs. Janet Liermann, a member of the congregation and already a part of the Preschool/Childcare staff, was chosen as the new Childcare Administrator. The great success enjoyed by the congregation’s Childcare Program is due in great measure to the blessings our Lord has given us in the person of Janet Liermann.
Erin Schmidt joined the Preschool and Childcare as the 4K Preschool Teacher in 2016. In 2018 she was promoted to Director as Janet prepared for retirement. Erin continued teaching 4K Preschool and balanced many roles, keeping the Center in its great success.
In spring 2020 the Preschool and Childcare Center had to shut down due to COVID-19 statewide shutdown and safer at home orders. Through some difficult times and challenges for the entire nation, difficult decisions had to be made by all. By God's grace the center was able to open again under new leadership after several months of being closed. St. John called Cheryl Krueger to be the new Director of the center. Cheryl Krueger brought with her over 20 years of experience and was just what the center needed to bounce back after the nation-wide shut-down. Today we continue to enjoy the great success of the Childcare and Preschool.
Other Areas of Service
For more than eighty years the congregation has enjoyed the beauty of choir and organ music to enrich Sunday services as well as special occasions. Choir directors have included Gordon Fairbert, Helen Jagow, and Elizabeth Zick. Organists have included Edwin Laubenstein (who served for 50 years), Arline Johnson, Ruth Jagow, Helen Jagow, Olga Senn, Roselyn Bottesi, and Elizabeth Zick. Sunday School music was led by Olga Senn during the 60’s and 70’s, and Dorothy Parchim for much of the past 30 years.
Since 1940, regular Sunday School classes for elementary students have been conducted. During the summers a two or one-week period of Vacation Bible School has also been offered to the children of the congregation and the community. Teachers and helpers have been volunteer lay personnel of the congregation under the direction of the pastor. VBS coordinators who have served numerous years include Dorothy Parchim and Kathy Wenzel.
Many areas of service to the Lord, His Church, and both the local and world-wide communities often go unnoticed and are under-appreciated. In recent years the congregation’s Prayer Chain was rejuvenated and a Women’s Prayer Group met twice a month to quietly take the needs of congregational members, family, friends and the world to the Lord in prayer. More recently the Camo Quilt Project came to Ozaukee County. Women from throughout the county meet in St. John’s Fellowship Hall on a Saturday twice a month (September through May) to sew camouflage colored quilts to send with service men and women being deployed to Afghanistan and Iraq. These quilts are greatly appreciated as an augment to their standard issue military gear! A smaller group of women has also sewed simple one-piece dresses for girls in Haiti who are in great need of decent clothing.
The 150th Anniversary
Plans for observing the 150th Anniversary of the congregation’s founding began in the fall of 2010. The Elders decided that they would take the initiative in spearheading the planning and preparations for the event. Early on it was decided to have a single Sunday service at which the congregation as one could celebrate the eternal salvation and unity that are God’s gifts to His Church through His Son Jesus Christ. A bonfire was planned as a “fun” event for the night before the Anniversary Service. As planning continued, the Saturday night bonfire was expanded to include free entertainment and refreshments open to the entire community. As the great bonfire lit up the sky, Pastor Zick led the singing of favorite hymns and closed with a devotion upon “Christ, the Light of the World”.
The Anniversary Service began at 9:00 a.m. on September 11, 2011, with the processional cross being carried in as the congregation sang “Lift High the Cross”. Parts of the liturgy reflected worship forms used by the congregation at various times during its history. The Rev. Kevin Ader, who was confirmed at St. John in 1978, preached the sermon: “My! What Beautiful Feet You Have!” based upon Romans 10:12-17. Readers of Scripture included the Rev. Brian Liermann, confirmed at St. John in 1997 and ordained here in July of 2011, as well as the Rev. Arthur Senn, Pastor Emeritus who served St. John from 1964 to 1974, and the Rev. President John Wille of the South Wisconsin District of the LCMS. The service concluded with the recessional hymn “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” reminding all that the mission of the Church is to take the message of salvation by grace through faith in Christ out into the world. The celebration ended with a wonderful picnic lunch of pulled-pork sandwiches, potato salad, beans, cole slaw and homemade desserts. Many remarked that the event was an enjoyable time of celebration and inspiration.
Men and women came to Ozaukee County for reasons of religious and economic freedom seeking to provide better lives for themselves and brighter futures for their children. Many of them also were determined to worship the Lord their God in good conscience and to share their faith in Jesus Christ with their children and grandchildren and with the people of their communities, the surrounding areas, and, ultimately, the world. Among such people were the founders of St. John Evangelical Lutheran Church of Fredonia, Wisconsin.
Life could be hard and the task was not always easy to perform. Sin and self-centeredness were all around and the distractions and temptations of the world alluring. Yet, in faith, people in decade after decade, continued to hear the word of God. They were moved to possess it and to follow it and to teach it and to share it in its truth and purity. They knew and believed that God’s love for each individual and for the entire world is communicated through the word of Christ—the message of the cross, grace, atonement, redemption, forgiveness of sins, resurrection, and life, new and eternal.
Outward circumstances have changed, transportation, communication and treatment of physical diseases are vastly different than 150 years ago, but inwardly, spiritually, people are the same—sinners, alone, incomplete and perishing without the fellowship of the God who created them. They need to have God recreate them! That is why today at St. John, in a beautiful, air-conditioned building, we preach the same “eternal Gospel” (Rev. 14:6) as was preached in the humble John Laubenstein cabin over 150 years. For we, as they, by the grace of God, believe that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”. Romans 10:17
Regular Worship Schedule:
Sundays 8am & 10:30am Divine Services
Wednesdays 7pm Divine Service
St. John Lutheran Church
824 Fredonia Ave.
Fredonia, WI 53021