The Story of Oronoco’s Grace Lutheran Church
By Barbara Smallbrock
A group of German settlers came to this area in the mid 1800s and homesteaded along the south branch of the Zumbro near what was later known as “white bridge.” Many of these settlers were of Lutheran background.
Rev. William Lange, a pastor at St. Peters church near Pine Island served this group as early as 1875. He resided at Poplar Grove.
They would gather for services at the Coon Grove school house.
Later, for a time, Rev. Schaaf, of Rochesters Missouri Synod served this group. He helped organize them as St. Pauls Lutheran Church in 1879. In 1880, Rev. Lange once again served this group and joined them with St. Peters of Poplar Grove and Minneolas Township congregations as a single parish.
In 1900, about half of the people left the congregation and founded their own church in Oronoco. They continued to use the Coon Grove School building for worship. During 1907-1908, the membership had grown so much that the schoolhouse was too small. So for a time they had their services at the Presbyterian Church in Oronoco where they met afternoons.
In 1908, the St. Pauls Lutheran Church was built in Oronoco and the first service was held November 29, 1908. The pastors that served this congregation were:
- Rev. J.C.A. Gehm, 1905-1918
- Rev. H.A. Kuther, 1919-1922
- Rev. F.W. Wendorf, 1922-1927
- Rev. M.C. Kunde, 1928-1940
- Pastor: J.C.A. Gehm
- Trustees: F.M. Koenig and Henry Tiedeman
E.C. Osterrreich was the building contractor. The building committee was:
- Andrew Becker
- Karl Glabe
- Fred Koenig
- Jacob Ferber
- Albert Krause
The parsonage was built next to the church which is still in use.
THE CHURCHES BECAME ONE
In 1941, there were two Lutheran churches in Oronoco.
The other one was called St. Johns. At that time the members of the two churches held a joint meeting for the purpose of uniting the two churches. Pastor Julius Levy and Pastor Theodore Koch represented the two churches. The group voted to name the united church “Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church.”
The trustees were Louis Tiedeman, William Koenig, and Henry Schriever. Paul Koenig was the secretary and George Mohlke was treasurer.
St. Pauls church was used for fellowship and St. Johns was used for worship and education.
The first service of the month was conducted in German but after the war, it was decided to discontinue this practice (1943).
In 1945, the Hammond Organ was purchased and dedicated and the colored windows were installed in 1973. From 1941 to 1967 the basement was used for Sunday school and confirmation but by 1958 they were aware that both areas were not adequate.
In 1878 repairs and remodeling was discussed. It was decided to build a new building.
The last service in the St. Johns building was December 8, 1995. The dedication of the new building was August 3, 1986.
After that time, the old St. Johns building was no longer needed so it was sold to the Kastlers from Mazeppa and the parking lot was extended to include that area.
The colored windows, altar and a great many other furnishings were incorporated into the present building.
The first funeral in the new building was Julius King, (March 21, 1986). Joanna Krudwig and Clayton Wittlief were the first wedding (May 17, 1996) and the first baptism was Brandi Rose Kranz (December 15, 1985).
The pastor was Rev. Robert Berg.
THE EDUCATION BUILDING
Eventually, there was a shortage of space for the Sunday school (educational) area so in 1956 the congregation purchased the land south of Grace church and in 1966 the education addition was started. Ground was broken on May 15, 1966. Early in July 1966 Floyd Larson received the construction contract and Prescher Electric of Kasson received the electric contract.
The Owatonna Granite Company donated the granite date stone. It was dedicated July 30, 1967.
With this addition, it was decided that St. Paul was no longer needed because the basement to the new addition could be used for ladies meetings and other uses.
So St. Paul was removed and the lot provided a nice lawn as an addition to the parsonage.
In 1978, repairs and remodeling at Grace was discussed and it was decided to build a new church. The last service in the St. John building was held December 8, 1985 and dedication of the new building was held August 3, 1986.
The present choir was organized in 1982. There is also a handbell choir. Eunice Kohlmeyer was the music director.
The altar guild was organized through the Ladies’ Aid and it is responsible for the care and set up of communionware. Baptismal cloths are sewn by Aid members. They organize luncheons for funerals and are available to serve at weddings and anniversary receptions.
Hospitalized members are remembered with gifts at Christmas. Elderly and shut-ins are remembered with fruit baskets throughout the year.
In 1991 the Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church celebrated its 50th anniversary.
The past pastors since 1941 have been:
- Rev. Norbert Reinke 1942-1953
- Rev. Gordon Fuerstenau 1954-1963
- Rev. Darryl Bruemmer 1965-1971
- Rev. Robert E. Berg 1972-1993
- Rev. Paul Baldauf 1994-present
During World War II, the United States flag was placed in the nave to remind the congregation of their allegiance to their country.
The church is a member of the Wisconsin Synod.
In the 2000s, the windows were built into the bell tower and in 2009 the final colored windows were incorporated into the tower.
ITEMS TAKEN FROM ST. JOHN’S TO THE NEW CHURCH
Altar – the present altar was purchased in 1938
Statue of Jesus – Rev Kunde, pastor at that time, gave it as a gift. This graces the altar.
Crucifix – Pastor N. A. Reinke gave this to the congregation in 1951.
Flags – In 1943 the Ladies Aid placed the flag of the USA in the nave as well as the Christian flag.
Six Ceiling Altar Lights
The families that made the “Windows of Grace”
1. Crosses in the door: Mr. and Mrs. Alex Koenig, Mr. and Mrs. Marvin Haack
2. “Ever Living Jesus”: Mr. and Mrs. Harry Stolp, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Stolp, Mr. and Mrs. Albert Wittlief
3. The Dove – altar window: In memory of August Koenig
4. Flames of fire: In memory of Mr. and Mrs. Norman Kunz
5. Shell and three drops of water (baptism): Mrs. Gordon (Cecil) Rietmann
6. The keys: In memory of Mr. and Mrs. Philip Kaul
7. Cup and wafer of bread: Mr. and Mrs. John Tiedeman, Mr. and Mrs. Louis Tiedeman, in memory of Mr. and Mrs. F. M. Koenig
8. Incense burner: In memory of Mr. and Mrs. Carl Stolp
9. Triangle and Circle: In memory of Mr. and Mrs. Fred Siems
10. The Commandments: In memory of Mr. and Mrs. George Mohlke; in memory of Mr. and Mrs. John Campbell
Rev. J.C.A. Gehm 1905-1918
Rev. H.A. Kuether 1919-1922
Rev. F.W. Wendorf 1922-1927
Rev. M.C. Kunde 1928-1940
Rev. Norbert A. Reinke 1941-1953
Rev. Gordon A. Fuerstenau 1954-1963
Rev. Darryl Bruemmer 1965-1971
Rev. Robert E. Berg 1972-1993
Rev. Paul Baldauf 1994-present
Pastor Berg was a native of New Richland, Minnesota. He graduated from Wisconsin Luther College Seminary in 1967. He served St. Paul/St. Katherine in Menomonie, Wisconsin, and St. Matthew/St. John of Stoddard, Wisconsin. He married Evelyn Pagel and they had 7 children.
THE STEEPLE CHASE SKI AND SNOWBOARD AREA
In 1986 the old St. Johns church building was sold and removed from the area and that area was then used as a parking lot. It was purchased by Richard and Marilyn Kastler. Richard was a civil engineer and he had purchased land between Mazeppa and Oronoco along a dry run that fed into a branch of the Zumbro River. His two sons (Kevin and Lou) along with his wife helped him work on a ski resort project.
Richard died on October 16, 1995, so all came to a halt. In 1998, work began on the chair lift and the underground water pipes to use in the snow-making machine.
They had moved the St. Johns church building to their resort to use as a chalet.
On January 19, 1999, the Steeple Chase Ski and Snowboard Area became a reality and a year later the grand opening was held.
Click on the links below to view more pictures of the church and its members.