THE HISTORY OF ZION LUTHERAN CHURCH, GILLESPIE, ILLINOIS
The beginning of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gillespie, dates back to the year 1869. In that year, several families came from Germany and settled in this community to establish their new home. Having been reared in Christian homes and members of the Lutheran Church, these settle5rs were not content to earn a livelihood only. They also desired food for their souls.
To organize a Christian congregation, and to build house of worship was their chief concern. First meetings were held in the homes of members and in an old brick building connected with the old Gillespie mill, and in Mr. Querbach’s wagon shop on Walnut street. The Rev. L. Gaus, an uncle of the Stehlin brothers made occasional trips to this hamlet from Bunker Hill and officiated as called upon.
In the spring of 1870, eighteen members organized the present congregation, and by October had completed the erection of a modest frame church which served the congregation for 31 years.
Those who signed the Constitution as charter members are:
The first officers of the congregation were:
Ten pastors have served Zion congregation throughout her 100-year history:
Pastor Keiser of the Hermannsburg Mission Society in Germany became the first regular ordained clergyman of this church in 1870, and served it with great faithfulness, however short should be the duration of his activity. In 1871, God took him home. His remains found their resting place I the church yard, where for 36 years his grave had been properly kept. In 1907 the remains were placed in a new grave in the city cemetery.
Pastor John T. Miller then served this church until 1874. He was succeeded by Pastor Janssen, who remained for only one year however.
Under of the pastorate of Pastor Carl Becker who served this church from 1875-1881, a parsonage was built and occupied by him in 1881. Pastor G. M. Fischer of Danforth, Illinois became the successor of Pastor Becker, who had accepted a Call to Alton, Illinois, Pastor Fischer had served devotedly and successfully until 1886 when in the trail of typhoid fever, death took him away unexpectedly.
Pastor George Kittel then became minister of this church and served with great faithfulness, true to his convictions from 1886 to 1896. After serving 31 years, the house of worship was sold in 1901 to the Christian Church and was used for their house of worship until they built their new church. Then it was sold by the Church Board, and was used as a store building at the corner of Macoupin and Easton Avenues. It was a part of the Red and White Store that was owned by John Russell, and was destroyed in the tornado March 19, 1948. The parsonage and old schoolhouse in which many of out older members received their Christian instruction, were sold in 1907. The school is now a part of the dwelling across from the Gillespie Community High School and the old arsonage was destroyed by fire.
In August, 1896, Student L. L. Krekeler of Wartburg Seminary was engaged to preach at Zion, Gillespie during a vacancy. The second Sunday in August, Pastor Krekeler preached his first sermon here. He was at once called to become pastor of Zion.
Born August 25, 1875 in the Lutheran parsonage at Brakel, Westphalia, Germany, where his father was pastor, Rev. Krekeler grew up in a strict Christian environment. At the age of 12 years, he left home and was sent to the College School at Guetersloh for 5 years, where he was also confirmed. Having a desire to follow the footsteps of his father and his grandfather on his mother’s side to enter the Lutheran ministry, he came to America in 1893 at the age of 18 years at the advice of his brother-in-law, Pastor S. Siefkes in Iowa, to attend the Wartburg Theological Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa.
Having accepted the call to Zion, Gillespie, he arrived by train. When he arrived, he was met by the president of the council, Carl Folkerts at Mt. Olive, in a one-horse cart. On the way to Gillespie, he had to drive through the flooded creek to the Folkerts home. He was ordained September 22, 1896 at Cross Plains, Wisconsin. He was married to Miss Anna Trieloff, September 24, 1896 at Dubuque, Iowa. She passed away on October 23, 1943. Pastor Krekeler served this congregation for 59 years and 4 months. He died December 10, 1955.
The present church building was erected in 1901, and dedicated October 6 of that year. John Henry Guckes was the tinner that made the box and sealed it at the laying of the cornerstone. Sermons were preached by Pastor Volk, Lengen, Schutze, and Krekeler, and a large crowd attended. Every window of the church is an art window with a memorial tablet. Especially meaningful are the pictures of the Risen Christ in the narthex of the church; Jesus in Gethsemane in the sacristy (pastor’s room); and the large window above the altar, Jesus the Prince of Peace.
A new 9 room parsonage was built in 1907. Several acres of land just back of the church were also purchased, and some land west of the parsonage, called the Lutheran Church Addition. The church in 1904 sold the land beside the church to the railroad, the trolley cars helping to bring people to church from outlying areas. An addition to the church and a purchase of a pipe organ took place in 1914. The parish house with a stage was dedicated in 1921, a set of new bells in 1927, and any improvements through memorials in 1945. In 1905, Pastor Krekeler began holding services for a group of Lutherans in the Dorchester area, and a congregation was organized, taking the name of St. John. He served this congregation 50 years. Pastors Wulff and Hesterberg continued to serve this congregation until it united with Zion, Shipman, to form a parish in 1963. Discussion started in February, 1963. The congregation met with Dr. Elmer A. Nelson, Illinois District President, Chicago and called a pastor April 1, 1963. Pastor James Haller was installed in St. John Church, Dorchester and Zion Church, Shipman, June 16, 1963.
Pastor Krekeler, in early days often went to Dorchester by horse or by handcar the railroad left for him to use, or by walking down the railroad tracks. An old church was first bought and redecorated; it was destroyed by fire in 1929 and in 1930 the present church was built. Pastor Krekeler was blessed by God that he didn’t miss one single service due to illness in more than 50 years. In later years, he only missed four Sundays due to surgery.
On September 12, 1920, when Zion Church held its Golden Jubilee, the officers were William Meyer, president, Louis Kortum, secretary, Fred Cordum, treasurer and trustees: C. W. Smith, John R. Weyen, and Charles Fuess. On August 5, 1945 the congregation celebrated its 75th, or Diamond Jubilee. Speaker at the morning service was Dr. M. P. F. Doermann, River Forest, Illinois, the district president. Evening speaker was a close friend of Pastor Krekeler, Rev. S. J. Altpeter, Chicago. Officers of the congregation in the Diamond Jubilee Year were Herman Seekamp, president, John Tuscher, secretary, Fred Meyer, treasurer. Trustees: William Pluennecke, chairman, Albert Osterman and Walter Young.
The services of the congregation since its founding, had been conducted in the German language. It discontinued regular German services around the time of WW I, with German continued on the first Sunday of the month. In the PARISH MONTHLY, May 1938, published by Pastor Krekeler, is an item stating that “at a recent congregational meeting, it was decided to discontinue the regular German services as they were conducted on the first Sunday of each month. A German communion service on Good Friday morning or other special services, such as Mission Day, will still be conducted.”
On August 11, 1945, the congregation observed Rev. Krekeler’s 50th anniversary as pastor of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church. Speaker was Dr. Hermann W. Siefkes, Waterloo, Iowa, Pastor Krekeler’s nephew. Rev. Altpeter, Chicago was liturgist. There was a fellowship dinner at noon and a public reception and open house on the church lawn at 2:00 PM. Pastor Krekeler died December 10, 1955. His funeral was on December 14, 1955, with Dr. H. W. Siefkes, Waterloo Iowa District President, his nephew, preaching the sermon. The Zion, Mt. Olive choir sang. He was laid to rest beside his wife in Mayfield Mausoleum, Carlinville, Illinois.
After the death of Pastor Krekeler, Pastor Arnold G. Wulff was called from Evansville, Indiana to become pastor of Zion. He was born in Kentucky and reared in western Canada, where his pastor-father worked in the mission field. Pastor Wulff graduated from Capitol Evangelical Lutheran Seminary, Columbus, Ohio and interned in Detroit, Michigan. He accepted the call and was installed on April 14, 1956 by Pastor James E. Seim, pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, South Litchfield, who had acted as interim pastor here. Pastor Wulff served Zion congregation for 6 years. During his pastorate the new red hymnals were introduced and an organ fund was started.
Mrs. Wulff, being very musical, encouraged the Senior Choir and introduced a Junior Choir. As the interest in Sunday School increased, the need was felt for a larger educational building that would better fulfill the needs of the congregation. Pastor laid the groundwork for the present educational building. The Building Committee was commissioned in January of 1961. In the spring of 1961, Pastor Wulff received and accepted a Call to St. Paul Lutheran Church, Forest Park, Illinois, which congregation he is still serving.
Pastor Paul Hesterburg, born and reared at Gifford, Illinois, received the Call to serve Zion Congregation while he was still a student at Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque. He had served his internship at Anaheim, California. He accepted and arrived in the summer of 1961. He was installed at an afternoon service July 16, 1961 by Pastor John Prange, of Litchfield, after he had been ordained at his home church, St. Paul Evangelical Lutheran Church, Gifford, Illinois, June 25, 1961.
During his pastorate, the white frame 2-story parish house built in 1921 was moved off present property to the Richard Sies farm, to make room for a newer and more modern building constructed on the same site. A building committee had been commissioned in January of 1961. They were as follows: Lyle Smith, Harold Heyen, Kenneth Alexander, Lloyd Loveless (D-’64), Wayne Young, Edward Meyer, Herman Franke and Arthur Komnick. Mr. Kenneth Alexander, who had served ably for over 3 years as chairman, resigned just as construction began and Mr. Harold Klocke was elected to take his place. Mr. Lloyd Loveless who died in 1964, resigned already in 1963 because of ill health.
On April 25, 1962 the committee under the leadership of Pastor Hesterberg, submitted results of a preliminary study and survey of the congregation’s needs. On this date the congregation voted to engage C. R. Miller and Sons of Decatur, Illinois as the firm to design a building that would fit our needs. In July of 1963, after a series of “cottage meetings” in the homes of members of the congregation, at which plans were shown and discussed, the congregation voted by two-thirds majority to go ahead with construction as son as there was $20,000 on hand with which to begin.
On Sunday, March 1, 1964, a day of “reminiscing” took place in the old parish hall. The contractor’s bid had been $5,460 and with additional amounts for wiring, heating, plumbing and furnishing, the total cost of the building was approximately $6,500. (Today it would cost $30,000). On the program was a “re-run” of the church council and congregational meetings in 1921, when it was decided to build. An original poem, written by Marcella Krekeler was also read. On April 5, 1964 the ground breaking ceremonies took place on what was then the back parsonage lawn. The weather was the worst--cold and rainy--but it could not dampen the spirits of those who had gathered under the two tents hastily erected for the occasion when the bad weather came.
Throughout the spring and summer as construction progressed, volunteer workers came in to help with the many hundred tasks such a project requires. Their money saving labors helped make it possible to have the building built for $3,000 less than the actual estimate of $111,000 and still have many fine “extras” worth about $11,000 in the building. During the duration of the construction, Sunday School was held at Maple Street School at a small rent, thanks to generous school officials. The congregation thanks the school for this accommodation.
The new building was dedicated on January 31, 1965 at a 2 PM service, with Pastor Wulff preaching the sermon and Pastor Hesterberg, assisted by neighboring ministers, in charge of the dedication itself.
Also during Pastor Hesterberg’s ministry here, double services were started on Sunday mornings and the Bethel Bible Study Series was introduced.
In September, 1966 Pastor Hesterberg followed a Call to Immanuel Lutheran Church, New Auburn, Minnesota, where he is still pastor. Pastor Luther A. Meyer, Luana, Iowa, who was born in Michigan City Indiana and reared in Illinois and Iowa, accepted the Call to Zion congregation , arriving on January 5, 1967. He had attended Wartburg Seminary, Dubuque, Iowa, and interned in Fond du Las, Wisconsin. He was installed at an afternoon service January 8, 1967, by the district president, Dr. Elmer A. Nelson. The congregation had bought the “Bunn House” beside the new educational building in order to enlarge its property. The thought was to rent it out and let the rent pay for the building. When this wasn’t feasible, it was decided to move the pastor and his wife into it after fitting redecoration. The “new” parsonage was dedicated June 18, 1967 and an open house was held that day and after services the next Sunday. Pastor and Mrs. Meyer moved in June 28, 1967.
The old parsonage was sold to Lane Willis and moved to a location at 419 E. Elm Street. It was moved October 19, 1967 and many people turned out for the event. Then the basement was filled in and the place landscaped, giving a very fine view of the new parish house.
Another event that brought out crowds of people over a 3-day period was the big train wreck the Saturday after Thanksgiving, November 25, 1967. About 9 big freight cars surrounded the church, one of them leaning dangerously to within 27 inches of the sacristy (pastor’s room). But services were held the next morning in the church as usual, even though people had to pick their way through the wreckage of the steps and the canopy over the entrance. And the railroad took all the cars away without one of them hitting the church. A real miracle by the Lord protecting His church!
Because of the coming Centennial, a committee was appointed in the fall f 1969 by chairman Gene Hildebrand at the direction of the congregation. Plans were made for the Centennial, and carried out, including the sand-blasting and tuck pointing of the exterior of the church, done in the fall of 1969; and the re-decorating of the interior done in the spring of 1970. The last Sunday of each month was set apart for something special to bring to mind the Centennial Year.
Centennial observances are planned for September 27, with Pastor Arnold Wulff as morning speaker and neighboring Lutheran pastors to bring greeting in the afternoon; and Sunday October 4, with Pastor Hesterberg as morning speaker and Gillespie community pastors to bring greetings in the afternoon. Other facets of the congregational life over 100 years: The Ladies Society was organized April 15, 1888. The Dorcas Circle was organized in 1904, the Luther League in 1922, the Brotherhood in 1926, and the Women’s Missionary Society, forerunner of the American Lutheran Church Women in 1945. There were choirs from time to time, some of them covering a number of years. Ever since the beginning, the Sunday School has done its important work of instructing children and youth in God’s word.
The organists were Jordan Eilers, Mrs. John Weyen, Anna Behrens (Mrs. John Giles), Anna Smith (Mrs. Earl Clarke), Christina Meyer (Mrs. Weert Janseen), Mrs. L. L. Krekeler, Mabel Heyen (Mrs. Oliver Hartke), Melva Hauschild (Mrs. Robert Reid), and Mrs. August (Esther Rink) Sies who has played faithfully for us for 22 years.
In the early years, confirmation was held in the school, then in the parish house. When World War I broke out and our beloved country was drawn into the conflict, hearts were rent by sorrow and grief . When the call came to “rally ‘round the flag”, it was heard and answered by out young men. Thirty-two were summoned and thirty-two went, several enlisting.
When World War II also came, 64 men and 3 women answered the call to the colors from Zion. Six of them paid the last great sacrifice of devotion: James Behrens, Frederick Broers, Leonard Komnick, Robert Luken, Wilber Osterkamp and Edgar Patterson.
In the 100 years of history, Zion Pastors have performed 1752 baptisms, confirmed 1257 people, married 485 couples and given 915 people Christian burial. As part of its privilege to do world-wide mission work, the congregation in 1962 decided to sponsor a missionary on a foreign field. Pastor and Mrs. Theodore Ager (he of Manchester, Iowa and she of Australia) were the ones chosen. Each year the congregation has renewed its desire to have this “loving link” with the New Guinea mission field. And the Agers, coming home twice on furlough, were here for 2 weeks of Bible School in 1964, and a preaching engagement in our Centennial Year, December 7, 1969, to keep us posted on the fast changing events in out New Guinea field. Today Zion Lutheran Evangelical Lutheran Church numbers 440 baptized, 301 confirmed members and 210 families. No one can deny that the 10 years of existence of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church has been a period of continued blessing by the eternal God. This congregation is a living witness to the truth of God’s promise “My word…..shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” (Isaiah 55:11).
May God inspire both pastor and people with a zealous and harmonious spirit as, together, we go forward in faith. To Him be glory, praise and honor forever and ever!
Used with the permission of Pastor
- Submitted by Src #2