HISTORY Pg. 3
After the close of World War I, peace having been declared, the congregation entered into a building program from the summer of 1919 to 1924. The parsonage, a frame building, was erected on the site of the former schools in 1919 and 1920 at a cost of $8,500. In March 1923, the congregation again began to discuss the renovation of its church building, which had been decided once before, but had not been carried out for want of funds. The subscriptions at the time did not prove quite sufficient for the building of the parsonage alone. Now, however, considerable enthusiasm was aroused, and the final plans included much that had not been previously thought of. In fact, a pretty radical change of the chancel end of the church building was effected. A new addition, to form a cross was added. A new roof was placed over old and new sections. The exterior was covered with stucco; the interior newly decorated; and hot air furnaces with blower system were installed; new pews, new windows, new lighting fixtures, a rebuilt organ, an altar with carved figures of Christ in the center and the four evangelists, two on each side and a pulpit from old Immanuel Church, St. Louis were installed; and the balconies were rebuilt. Also installed were acousticons for those with defective hearing. About $28,000 was expended. The result was pleasing to the congregation, and great was the joy of the congregation when the people could reoccupy their remodeled and beautiful house of worship.
The dedication of the renovated church took place on the fourth Sunday in Lent, 1924. A brief valedictory service in German was held in the temporary place of worship, in the school hall. Rev. John Deye, of Bremen, made a short address on Ephesians 2:22. The church was then formally opened in accordance with the new English agenda of our Synod. In the first service on the church Rev. Carl Strasen, of Plymouth, Michigan, former pastor of the congregation, preached in English from Psalm 84:1,2,10-12. In the afternoon Rev. J. H. Hartenberger, formerly one of our members, preached in German on Exodus 20:24, and in the evening Prof. Walter A. Maier, of St. Louis, preached an English sermon on I Chronicles 29:5. Mr. Walter Wismar, of Holy Cross Church, St. Louis, gave organ recitals after the German service in the afternoon and preceding the English service in the evening. The church was filled to overflowing at each service; many were turned away for lack of room. The ladies' society, with the aid of the young ladies of the church, worked strenuously and successfully to serve meals to the large gathering.
Of interest is the fact that Marie Allmeyer (Nellie Crisler's mother) died shortly after spending much time at helping with cleaning up the church after the completion of the 1924 remodeling. Also, Christian Stallman (Paul C. Stallman's grandfather) hauled the large iron cross that is on the steeple of St. John up from near the river, where it had been brought either by train or by barge. It was brought up to the church on a flat-bedded farm wagon pulled by a team of horses. The large sandstone rocks that were used for the steps of the church came from the Stallman farm bottom-land near Gravel Creek.
The Ladies’ Aid and the young people's society were also active in raising funds for the building treasury and in providing some of the church furnishings. In short, there was a willingness all around to take a hand in carrying the whole project to a successful completion.
Mention should be made here of the building committee. Mr. John Herschbach was chairman, Mr. Fred Eilermann was recording secretary, and Mr. Herman Gilster was financial secretary. The trustees were Henry Diefenbach, Oscar Fey, Edward Mueller, Sr., Adolph Eggers, and Rudolph Welge. They were rewarded for their arduous labors by a result far exceeding the expectations of the congregation. Mr. Wm. Bartels, a member of our church, was superintendent of construction, and he also worked hard for the success of the undertaking.
A month following the dedication of the renovated and remodeled church, the congregation observed its 75th (Diamond) Anniversary. Three services were held on the day of dedication, April 27, 1924. Preaching for the first German service in the morning was Pastor Gustav Mueller of McKees Rocks, Pennsylvania, a son of the former Paster Mueller of St. John; for the second German service in the afternoon was Pastor J. G. F. Kleinhans of Staunton, Illinois, President of the Southern Illinois District; and for the third service, conducted in English, was Pastor Richard Eirich of Baltimore, Maryland, a son of the former Pastor Eirich of St. John.
Pastor Behrens continued to work producing great blessings within the congregation. It was with sincere regrets that in July of 1924, he was granted a peaceful release to accept the call to be professor of Practical Theology and teach Biblical Hebrew at Concordia Theological Seminary, Springfield, Illinois. Pastor Behrens was called to his eternal reward on March 29, 1943.
7. Pastor H. C. Schreck, 1924 - 1948
Rev. H. C. Schreck came to St. John from Pinckneyville in 1924. After having been called twice by the congregation, September 25th and October 9th he accepted and was installed on the first Sunday in November by Pastor J. Deye of Bremen, Illinois, assisted by Rev. Duenow of Steeleville, Rev. Hartenberger of Red Bud, Rev. Glahn of Evansville, and Rev. Wessel of Sparta. He served St. John congregation until his death in 1948.
In 1925 the joy of the congregation was again overshadowed by a cloud of sorrow when it pleased Almighty God suddenly to call His faithful servant, Teacher H. Zastrow, out of the Church Militant into the Church Triumphant. Teacher Zastrow was stricken with a heart attack and called out of this life while he was serving as organist for a worship service. (At this time the organ console was located in the front left balcony and his being stricken during a service caused a lot of upset for the worshippers. Some years later the organ console was moved to the right rear balcony.) Mr. Zastrow's vacancy in the school was temporarily filled by a student teacher.
On June 26, 1926, the congregation called Teacher W. E. Beinke of Cleveland, Ohio, to teach grades 5 and 6. He was installed August 29, 1926. In September 1928, the Rev. Gustav Roesener was called as a teacher at our school. He served in this capacity teaching grades 3 and 4 for several terms, then the 2nd grade, and later several terms of grades 5 and 6 until 1948, a total of 20 years, when he retired from teaching. During this time he also assisted with ministerial services with Pastor Schreck and served as a part time chaplain at the Menard penitentiary. When in 1933 the school enrollment had grown, the need for an additional teacher was evident and a call was sent to River Forest for a graduate. Mr. Adolph Leitz was assigned to Chester where he taught grades 3 and 4. Mr. Leitz would teach at St. John for 11 years.
Tying in with preparations for the 100th anniversary of the Missouri Synod, the congregation began preparing for the 90th anniversary of the congregation (1939). The interior of the church was redecorated, two additional stops were added to the organ, and a new steam furnace and city water and lavatories were added to the church. This was also the time that the city paved West Holmes Street. Observance of the 90th anniversary began on Monday evening, April 17, 1939, continuing with a series of services each evening through the week, and climaxed with a special Jubilee service on Sunday, April 23, 1939. All societies aided in sponsoring this program which gave individual emphasis to each phase of work of the church. The Lord continued to bless St. John congregation and school.
In 1942 an addition to the school was completed at a cost of $42,000. Again, devoted congregational participation helped. Gib Crisler (husband of Nellie Crisler) trucked the brick from the brickyard in Pinckneyville that was used for the 1942 school addition.
In 1944 the congregation observed Pastor Schreck's 25th anniversary of ordination and in the spring of the same year, Mr. Lietz accepted a call to Royal Oak, Michigan.
In June of 1945 St. John began a departmentalized Sunday School for children of all ages that met at 9:15 on Sunday mornings. They also observed special programs such as an annual 'Rally Day', Christmas and Easter programs, pupils' birthdays, and the like. A special endeavor of the pupils was to support the orphan homes of the church. According to the notes of the Centennial report, there were an average of 20 classes meeting each week. Mr. Clarence Nordmeyer and Mr. Elmer Schaardt served as the original superintendents. Teachers and officers at that time included: Verdell (Beck) Brelje, Lydell Downen, Fern Hartenberger, Dorothy Heinks, Nora Moeller, Ruby (Mueller) Minks, Velma Lee Powley, Mildred Sasse, Elvera (Brelig) Rathert, Florence (Erdman) Heinks, Mildred (Heineman) Amschler, John Kober, Velma (Moeller) Adams, Carl Powley, Nora Powley, Marie Welten, Mary Alice Crisler, Faye (Hartenberger) Magers, Mrs. George Herschbach, Mrs. Edna Lemmerman, Alice Mueller, Edward Powley, Lela Reuscher and Joretta Rodewald. Although this was the organization of the formal Sunday School, there had been a Sunday School in existence for several years prior to 1916. This school was conducted on Sunday afternoons for about two hours by the Pastor or one of the teachers. It had been discontinued during World War I and apparently had not been resumed officially until this time.
In 1946 Mr. C. Berndt was called from Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, as principal. He would serve for 10 years, until 1956. Mr. John Kober of Bridgman, Michigan, and Mr. Aaron Kopf, a graduate of Concordia Seward, Nebraska, were called in 1948 to augment the teaching staff.
In spring of 1948 Pastor Schreck and the congregation began to prepare for the Centennial Observance. It was resolved to reface the exterior of the church building with Permastone and to redecorate the interior. New chancel furniture was installed and the floors were covered with tile. The front of the church was remodeled by adding two new entrances, all new doors and concrete steps across the entire front. The organ was again remodeled and large fans were installed in the bell towers for the circulation of air through the church.
Before all the plans could be carried out Pastor Schreck was taken ill. His last Sunday sermon was delivered on Mothers’ Day of 1948 (preserved in our archives) after which he served in a limited capacity. The Lord called him to rest on July 8, 1948. He had served his Lord, and the congregation and community in Chester faithfully for 24 years, and the esteem in which he was held was evidenced when he was laid to rest in the Lutheran Cemetery, July 11, 1948.
8. Pastor O. B. Hussmann, 1949 – 1956
After a six month vacancy God heard the prayers of His people and again gave them a faithful and consecrated shepherd, Pastor O. B. Hussman, called from Topeka, Kansas. Pastor Hussman was installed on January 9, 1949 by Rev. J. Mueller of Steeleville, assisted by Pastors L. Behnken of Steeleville, R. Barlag of Sparta, H. C. Welp, President of the Southern Illinois District, O. Jagels of Campbell Hill, and M. Clausen of Red Bud.
Pastor Hussmann graduated from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis in 1929. His first charge was a mission congregation in Eldorado, Kansas, also organizing a congregation in Augusta, Kansas. He became the pastor of Trinity, McFarland, Kansas in 1937. In August 1944 he entered the United States Army Chaplaincy and served with the 92nd Field Hospital Unit first in the Phillipines and later in Japan. He served fifteen months overseas and was discharged in April 1946. He was pastor of St. Paul, Topeka, Kansas from there being called to Chester.
The distress of the war years drew the people into closer relationship with their God, with their Pastor, and with themselves; and this, by God’s blessing worked to bring the congregation’s 100 years of existence to a worthy celebration of grace in the Centennial Observance. On April 22, 1949 the congregation began its Centennial – jubilant and thankful – with the rededication of its renovated and remodeled church. Special historical services were held the second Sunday of each month for a year, finishing in April 1950. The congregation made prominent use of Psalm 100 in setting the theme:
“Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands. Serve the Lord with gladness: come before His presence with singing. – enter into His gates with thanksgiving, and into His courts with praise: be thankful unto Him, and bless His name. For the Lord is good, His mercy is everlasting; and His truth endureth to all generations.”
In 1949 the congregation numbered 1,400 souls, 1,080 communicants and nearly 200 voting members.
On May 1, 1949, arrangements were completed and the beginning of radio broadcasting of worship services from St. John was begun over Radio Station KSGM. At the beginning services were broadcast from the vestry by means of a temporary installation. During the week of July 3, however, the radio committee, with permission of the trustees built a special radio control booth in the upper room of the narthex and installed a permanent broadcasting system. Mr. Walter Beinke (St John School’s 5th and 6th grade teacher) served as the first radio announcer for our broadcast services. Later this year Mr. Leonard Weber volunteered to serve as radio technician. He served in this task until 1994 (45 years) when he and his wife Fern left Chester for Arizona due to health reasons. In 1951, Charles Heinks joined in providing technical assistance. He served with Mr. Weber for about 40 years. Charles was a dedicated and reliable partner in this service and occasionally served as an announcer when needed. Other announcers were Mr. Wib Adams, Paul Preusse, Wib Alms and Ted Search along with Steve Egge, Warren Buescher, Mardell Granger and Chris Urquhart. Mrs. Lynn Rickenberg has joined as one of our radio technicians along with Brian Snider and Dr. Robert Platt. Over the years St. John has received cards, letters and phone calls from about a 100 mile radius around Chester expressing appreciation for the broadcasts, requesting prayers and providing gifts to the broadcast fund in support of this wonderful ministry.
Several teachers were added to the school faculty during these years. Carolyn Mahon arrived in 1951 and taught here until 1961. Mr. George Bargman joined us in 1953 and taught here until 1966. And Mrs. Mildred Dial arrived in 1956 and taught here until 1966.
9. Pastor Henry F. Gerecke, 1950 - 1961
On July 9,1950, the Rev. Henry F. Gerecke, came to Chester as Assistant Pastor of our congregation and Lutheran Chaplain at the two Illinois state institutions. Pastor Gerecke was installed by Rev. Harry Welp, president of the Southern Illinois District, Rev. Hussmann of St. John leading the worship and Rev. Henry Rehwald of East St. Louis delivering the sermon.
Pastor Gerecke came to Chester from seven years’ service with the United States Army Chaplaincy. Prior to his army career he served the Church as teacher at Emmaus Church, pastor of Christ Church, and Executive Secretary of the Lutheran City Mission Association in St. Louis.
Rev. Gerecke had served as a military chaplain during World War II and was one of the chaplains to the Nazi war criminals, including several of the notorious heads of the Nazi government, while they went through their trials for war crimes. From 1943 to 1950 he served as Chaplain with the 98th General Hospital in England, France, and Germany, with the United States Constabulary at the Nuernberg trials, and with the Army Disciplinary Barracks in Milwaukee. He distinguished himself particularly in his service to the high Nazis on trial at Nuernberg, remaining with the defendants with the counsel and consolation of God’s Word, and rejoicing to see repentance worked in the hearts of a number of the men by the Gospel. He attended them with Word, Sacrament, and prayer to their very end, walking the last mile with the condemned men. Accounts of Pastor Gerecke’s service in Nuremberg are in St. John archives and copies are available.
In 1946 Chaplain Gerecke returned to the States and was assigned Prison Chaplain at the Milwaukee Disciplinary Barracks. Of his assignments and experiences Pastor Gerecke has said:
“I was in Milwaukee 33 months dealing with men, mostly young men, whom the world wanted to forget. I feel that some good was accomplished in these seven years in the Army Chaplaincy. To be sure, I acknowledge this by the grace of God. With all my blundering, the Holy Spirit used the Word to save some among the Armed Forces and among the enemy. It is my sincere hope that with all this background of experience I shall be more humble as an ambassador of the Lord and a little better qualified to tell the sweetest story ever told.”
Years after his time in Nuremberg Pastor Gerecke talked about his experiences, but never divulged their confessions. He told of praying before meeting the men as he walked the long corridor, of becoming physically sick listening to anti-Semitic ravings of one, and of long talks to determine whether those who claimed to be repentant were genuinely so. Four months before the executions, when Pastor Gerecke was scheduled to return to the states, 21 of them wrote and signed a letter to his wife Alma pleading for Pastor Gerecke to stay on, which he did.
Pastor Gerecke was a very well loved man. The large white cross with the neon lights on the school roof was a gift memorial from the many men ministered to by him at the prison and Security Hospital. Orville Hodge, who was once Illinois State Auditor and candidate for Governor, served over five years in the Menard Correctional institution. During this time he was assigned as a clerk for Rev. Gerecke and wrote an article for This Day, a magazine of the Lutheran Church, giving an account of Rev. Gerecke’s ministry and schedule. He wrote highly of Pastor Gerecke as a “patient, humble, tolerant and dedicated man of God.”
There was a special “Lutheran Day Communion” offered each last Tuesday of the month, and regular Lutheran services on the first and third Sundays in the afternoon. This is the Life films were often shared after worship services concluded. Editions of This Day, The Lutheran Witness, Good News and Portals of Prayer were distributed to every Lutheran communicant in his cell.
Pastor Gereke died of a heart attack on Oct 11, 1961, and the entire community, as well as inmates of the institutions he served, mourned his passing.
10. Pastor Eric Cash, 1957 - 1967
Rev. Eric Cash began his pastorate at St. John on July 28, 1957, when some 800 people attended his installation. He was installed by Rev. Henry Welp, president of the Southern Illinois District, Rev. Gerecke of Chester delivering the sermon and Rev. Ralph Fessler of Steeleville leading the worship. Pastor Cash was born October 27, 1920, in Gorton, Manchester, England. He graduated from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis in 1947; serving in Maplewood, Missouri; St. Johns, Michigan; and Ionia, Michigan before coming to Chester.
1957 was a year of change as Roland C. Rehmer became principal of the school and Robert Holste joined the faculty. Principal Rehmer would serve until 1970, 13 years. Mr. Holste would teach here until 1967, his wife Betty joining the faculty from 1964 to 1966. After their time in Chester the Holstes would teach in Evansville, Indiana, until retirement and then serve as volunteer missionaries in Thailand, where they currently are.
Telephone Meditations were begun and the student vicarage program began with Arlan Busse of St. Cloud, Florida, installed on Oct 1, 1961. Other vicars trained by Rev. Cash included Harvey Kath, David Shoemaker, Ted Dallman, Daniel Clausen and Jerry Klug. In June 1963, the St. John Ladies' Aid members celebrated their 100th year of service to our Lord at St. John and to the needs of those around us. To put this in perspective, in June 1863 it was just a few months after President Abraham Lincoln had delivered his famous Gettysburg Address and the Civil War was in the midst of some of its most severe fighting. It was at this time that several Lutheran women of St. John met to organize the “St. Johannes Frauen Verein,” the forerunner of the Ladies' Aid. It was speculated by the historian of the Centennial record, that the ladies probably served their Lord and fellowman by making bandages for wounded soldiers. This has been the oldest society within our congregation and has a long history of service through their sacrifice of time, treasure and talents.
Some of their activities were quilting, serving meals for the local Rotary Club, and rummage and bake sales. Through these they provided funds for their treasury which were then distributed to Lutheran institutions such as the Bethesda Home, local and national charitable organizations, and Christmas and Easter seasonal gifts.
At the time of the Lutheran Ladies' Aid Centennial there were 75 members. Officers were Mrs. Gertrude Welge, President; Mrs. Frieda Koopman, Vice President; Mrs. Esther Braun, Secretary; Mrs. Rudelle Welge, Treasurer. (Mrs. Rudelle Welge served in this capacity for 38 years; truly a devotion to the Lord and the organization that is noteworthy.) The ladies were also affiliated with the International Lutheran Women's Missionary League (LWML), sharing regularly through Mite Box donations in the outreach of the International LWML. One of the major mission activities they were involved in during 1967 was the support of building the Lutheran Student Center at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. Mrs. Rudelle Welge represented our District LWML by turning the first shovel full of dirt at the ground breaking.
In 1964 a $40,000 renovation program was undertaken at our church and a new organ was installed.
In 1967 Pastor Cash accepted the full-time position as Protestant Chaplain at the prison and five years later he left Menard to serve a congregation in South San Francisco, California.
11. Pastor W. A. Ranta, 1967 - 1981
On August 27, 1967 Rev. W. Arnold Ranta from Chesterland, Ohio, assumed the pastorate of our congregation. He was installed by Rev. Herman Neunaber, president of the Southern Illinois District, Rev. Reuben Baerwald, first vice-president of the Southern Illinois District delivering the sermon and Vicar Jerry Klug leading the worship. Pastor Ranta was born in Poplar, Wisconsin July 13, 1928 and graduated in 1951 from Concordia Theological Seminary in Springfield. He began his ministry by serving a parish of five congregations: Bethany, Wakefield and St. Mark, Bessemer, Michigan; and Iron Belt, North York, and Marengo, Wisconsin. From there he was called to Fort William, Intoca and Lappe, Ontario, serving preaching stations in Murrillo, Mokomon, Sunshine and Kamanistiqua, Ontario as well. Pastor Ranta was then called to serve as Mission Developer in Chesterland, Ohio, from where he was called to come to Chester.
The first ten years of his ministry Pastor Ranta served in bi-lingual churches, in the English and Finnish languages. On one occasion in Chester Pastor Ranta began his sermon with several paragraphs in Finnish. Prior to the merger of the National Evangelical Lutheran Church with the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in 1963 he served 8 years as secretary of the Synodical Extension Board; in Canada was president of the Thunder Bay District for 4 years; and in Ohio as president of the Lower Lakes District of the National Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Pastor Ranta’s emphasis was on ministering to youth and the aged. Under his guidance our school was continually upgraded. An Altar Guild was formed. A Ladies' Bible Class was organized. The Acolyte program was begun. And the importance of Holy Communion was stressed. Under his guidance in 1968 St. John made the change from having a special service of Communion held after the regular service, to including Communion as a part of the regular service.
He also continued the Vicarage training program. Former vicars of St. John included Alan Bachert, Harold Austerman, Robert Muller, Les Weiser, John Elke, John Sellmeyer Russell Zimmerman, and Fred Campbell, all trained under Pastor Ranta. Pastor Ranta provided regular services for the Menard Psychiatric Center and occasional services at the General Division of the Menard institution.
The years 1970 – 1974 saw the arrival of seven members of our school faculty who would serve for many years. In 1970 Mr. Chris Urquhart joined us, having graduated from Concordia, River Forest. He would become Principal in 1991, and has to this time served 32 years at St. John.
In 1971 four teachers arrived. Mrs. Pam Sheely is a graduate of Concordia, River Forest and has taught at St. John for 28 years. Mr. Charles Winterstein, a graduate of Concordia, River Forest taught here until 1985. Mr. Ralph Granger, a graduate of Concordia, River Forest, had taught in Hamblin, New York and Grand Rapids, Michigan. He served as teacher and Principal until 1991. Miss Lydia Homan, a graduate of Concordia, Seward, had taught in Saginaw Michigan and Murphysboro, Illinois. She would teach at St. John until 1992, when she had to retire for health reasons. After her retirement Lydia did a great deal of volunteer service, teaching public school confirmation for several years, tutoring many children, and teaching the 6:00 a.m. Bible Study for many years. That Bible Study decided to study their way through the entire Bible, beginning in Genesis. Lydia was able to lead them as far as the Book of Psalms before having to quit. In 2001 her Lord called her to her eternal reward.