St. Martin’s has been showered with many years of blessings from the Lord! If you would like to spend a little time reading of her past, check out our Narrative History–The First 100 Years or our Narrative History–Into the Second Hundred Years. If you would rather see the key dates associated with past happenings, view our Chronologically Dated History.
Great men and great institutions sometimes arise from hardship. St. Martin’s Lutheran Church, which celebrates many years of service to the Lord with great thanksgiving, endured a painfully difficult beginning.
The first decade of this congregation was a struggle for survival–of the congregation, that is, not of the faith of the small band of Lutherans who had joined together to hear the Word of God in the then new city of Winona. They abided in the faith, and because of it so did our church.
Little, unfortunately, is known of these beginning years. It was the spring of 1856 that some 15 adults first came together under the leadership of the Rev. L. F. E. Krause of the Buffalo Synod, who had traveled here from Wisconsin.
There were perhaps seven families, but their names are not known to us definitely. The first Vorsteher (elders) were Tobias Leeb, Nicolaus Wenk, and John Bartels. It is believed that most, if not all of the families who comprised the congregation 10 years later, were in the organizing group of 1856; for the founders were deeply devoted and persevered in the faith.
On a half-lot now designated as 352 E. 5th St. they purchased and built a small edifice, 18 by 30 feet, for $130. It was dedicated shortly before Christmas 1856.
Pastor Krause guided the infant congregation for only a year. From 1857-61 St. Martin’s was served partly by Pastor A. Brandt from Hart and partly by pastors of the Buffalo Synod from Milwaukee and vicinity.
The congregation did not grow with the city; instead it became smaller.
In 1861 Pastor Krause returned, but only for three years. In 1864 the congregation again was without a pastor. Indeed, these were difficult times.
The Rev. Philip von Rohr, who was to become pastor two years later, many years afterward said of these early days, “We must mention Mr. Tobias Leeb, one of the elders of the church, to whose untiring fidelity it is due that the congregation remained in existence. Even if no minister was here, he would go to church with his family and read a sermon to them and a few others who also remained true.”
Mr. Leeb would come to church Sunday after Sunday, a small organ under one arm and a book of sermons under the other.
The preceding facts and statements constitute virtually the entire recorded history of the first decade of St. Martin’s. The seed of faith had not blossomed into full fruit in this pioneer city, but, as it was soon to be revealed, only the guiding and abiding hand of a vigorous and devoted pastor was needed to make it so.
In 1865, the president of the synod proposed that the congregation call Pastor von Rohr, then a young minister at Toledo, Ohio. He accepted the call of Tobias Leeb, Nicolaus Wenk, E. Rother, Christian Henning, A. Zuelke, Fred Burmeister and Fred Buchholtz, and was installed June 27, 1866. In making the call to the young minister, the tiny congregation had been encouraged by a Mr. Fiebranz of Milwaukee, who had business interests in Winona and offered to pay $100 of the $350 annual salary.
At the annual meeting shortly after the installation, Leeb and Rother were named Vorsteher (elders) and Zuehlke and Christoph Schulz trustees.
During the first week or two of Pastor von Rohr’s ministry here, he established a parochial school, with six pupils, and a branch of the congregation at Wilson, to which he assigned one of the seven families (N. Wenk), reducing thereby the number of his communicant members, which had been 21. The Wilson branch, which paid one-third of Pastor von Rohr’s salary of $350 a year, was to be served as a branch for six years.
From this time on, not only did St. Martin’s abound in faith, as it had since its humble beginning, but in numbers and material growth.
By June 1867, it was obvious that more room was needed, and it was decided to purchase property at Broadway and Liberty Street. The price was $275. The next spring the first church–of which no photograph now can be found–was moved to the rear of the present site and an 18- or 20-foot addition added.
Three years later–in 1870–the second church, 36 x 80 feet and of frame and brick veneer construction, was built at a cost of about $5,000. The congregation then numbered 60 families. The ladies’ society furnished the carpets and the young people the baptismal font at a cost of $125. To help finance the construction, the congregation borrowed $1,000 at 12 per cent interest in advance.
The congregation joined the Evangelical Lutheran Joint Synod of Wisconsin and Other States in 1877.
In 1880 two lots at the northwest corner of 5th and Chestnut streets were purchased for $800 and a one-story school building was erected at a cost of $3,200. The first teacher at the school had been Joseph Mueller, a nephew of Pastor von Rohr, who was succeeded by O. Gebhardi. And in 1881 M. F. Walz was installed as a second teacher.
It was Teacher Walz who two years later–in 1883–took charge of a subscription campaign for a new pipe organ which cost $1,300.
By 1885 the growing congregation again needed more room. Three proposals were considered: 1. Begin a branch congregation in the West End and enlarge the existing edifice. 2. Enlarge the 15-year-old edifice, and 3. build a new church. There was no building fund.
A church historian reported some years later, “The members of the congregation showed great willingness to give richly from what they had. Our members had learned that giving to the church did not make one poor.” They decided to build a new church.
The old church was sold for $75 and moved away, but during the construction of the basic building in which we still worship today, services were conducted in the old structure.
Plans for this, the third and largest edifice, drawn by C. G. Naybury and Son early in January 1886, the contract was let to Munck and Lohse for $14,600. Total cost was somewhat above $19.000.
It was dedicated December 12, 1886. The following day the Winona Daily Republican reported in part:
“At 9:30 the congregation assembled at the old church and listened to a short address by the pastor, Rev. Philip von Rohr, whose remarks were in the nature of a farewell to the old church. a procession was then formed. The service was opened by the choir singing ‘Crown the Feast with Flowers.’ Rev. B. Nommensen of Fountain City read a selection of Scripture, being ‘Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the temple.’ Pastor von Rohr gave a prayer and the school children sang ‘Hosanna to the Son of David,’ ‘filling the church with the great song.’ Professor A. Ernst of Watertown, Wisconsin, preached the sermon to the 1,500 attending. In the afternoon, Rev. A. Babenroth preached, and in the evening Professor A. Grabner of Milwaukee preached–in English. ‘Collections of the day,’ the newspaper reported, ‘amounted to $375…The church presented a beautiful appearance’.”
Improvements continued. To accommodate the needs of the families at the West End, a branch school was established at the corner of King and Minnesota streets in 1890. The lot was purchased for $800 and the building was erected at a cost of $1,200. Classes at the West End school were conducted by the assistant pastor. According to an early history of the church, this constituted the first reference to an assistant pastor. In 1891, a second story was added to the school at 5th and Chestnut streets, and in this, the young men of the congregation were instrumental.
The 40th anniversary of the congregation–in 1896–was a great occasion, being also the 10th anniversary of the building dedication and the 30th anniversary of the ministry of Pastor von Rohr. Professor A. Hoenacke of Milwaukee, Rev. Gerhart of Arcadia, Wisconsin, Rev. A. Froehlke of Lewiston, Minnesota, and the Rev. Gausewitz of St. Paul spoke.
The pastor could report, “Thus we see that the blessing of our Lord has been with us all these years. The congregation now numbers at least 500 families and nearly 1,400 communicants. During the course of my ministry here I have baptized 3,213, married 766, buried 735, instructed and confirmed 1,228. We may well give thanks to the Lord…”
Great preparations were made for the 50th anniversary in 1906. A new altar and pulpit were installed, galleries were placed on either side of the church (increasing the seating to over 1,200), a new roof was laid and the church was redecorated for a cost of about $1,300. The Daily Republican described the altar and pulpit in great detail, reporting that “it is claimed they are the finest to be found in any church in the Northwest.” It added, “The old altar and pulpit will be turned over to some other church.”
Speakers at services were the Rev. A. Nicolay of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, Rev. A. Koch of Columbus, Wisconsin, Rev. A. Babenroth of Milwaukee, Rev. A. Froehlke of Neenah, Wisconsin, Rev. R. Ziegler of Barre Mills, Wisconsin, and the Rev. C. Gausewitz, the latter speaking in English at the evening service, the third of the day.
The church indeed was healthy, but its pastor was not. In the summer of 1905 he had vacationed in the West because of ill health, and not long after the 50th anniversary of the congregation, he and Mrs. von Rohr sailed for Europe to consult specialists. He was still ill with cancer when he returned. A few weeks later Dr. Will Mayo came from Rochester on a special North Western Railway train and performed an emergency operation on the dining room table of the parsonage which prolonged the old pastor’s life for some time.
But two weeks after he baptized a grandchild from a wheelchair, he died. That was December 22, 1908, and he was 65.
During the 42 1/2 years of his ministry, he had, as the newspaper said, been a “man zealous in good works and a mighty leader in the cause of righteousness.” His loss would be felt throughout the entire nation for he had become a national character in the work of the Lutheran Church. The pastor had been president of the Wisconsin Synod for nearly 20 years. He also had been a part-time instructor at Winona High School, a member of the first Board of Park Commissioners and a trustee of the Woodlawn Cemetery Association.
On his death, the Winona Ministerial Association resolved, “The long and beneficent life and ministry of Doctor von Rohr was, under God, a blessing not only to the church of which he was pastor, but to all our churches.”
Among his eight children (five had died) was one Elfrieda, who already had become the wife of the minister who was to succeed this sturdy Lutheran as pastor of St. Martin’s.
The Rev. Alfred Sauer was one of 17 children of John Jacob Sauer, who was a Lutheran minister in Wisconsin and Minnesota after emigrating from Germany. He was born when his father, and second wife, were at Bremen, near Plainview. At Northwestern University, Watertown, Pastor Sauer was captain of the football team in his senior year, captain of the baseball team, captain of the military company, editor of the college literary paper, and valedictorian.
When he graduated from Lutheran Theological Seminary, Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, in 1905, he received a call to be assistant to Pastor von Rohr, the president of the synod. He was installed July 29th of that year.
Pastor Sauer was only 23. A year later when Pastor von Rohr sailed for Europe, the young assistant was left in charge of the large congregation. And only a few weeks before, with the senior pastor’s encouragement, he had married the older pastor’s daughter.
Two years later Pastor von Rohr died, and on January 17, 1909, Pastor Sauer was installed by the Rev. August Vollbrecht of Fountain City, Wisconsin.
It was a tremendous opportunity for the young minister, for the fields were white with harvest. German immigrants were pouring into the Winona area. “The pastor didn’t have to look for new members in those days.” Pastor Sauer often modestly recalled later. “The immigrants, coming from a pious background, came to town and looked for the minister.”
Despite this, however, regular worship services in the English language were installed in 1910.
When Pastor Sauer first came to St. Martin’s, he taught at the West End Parochial School and also preached at Minneiska and Minnesota City. His interest in the schools of the church was an abiding one, and he constantly worked to raise their educational standards. Nothing pleased him more than to note how many St. Martin’s graduates became valedictorians at Winona High School or religious leaders in the congregation.
In 1911, a 20- by 50-foot addition was built to the West End school at a cost of $1,800.
On the 10th anniversary of his installation in 1915, the congregation numbered nearly 900 families, an increase of 337, voting members numbered over 500, and souls nearly 3,000. Societies had been formed and revived. Sunday Schools had been started at Sugar Loaf and East Burns Valley. The last debt of the congregation had been paid in 1912, and a fund had been started for another new organ. Statistically, in 10 years there had been 816 baptisms, 313 marriages, 384 funerals, 826 confirmations and 25,700 at Communion.
Pastor Sauer was still preaching at Minnesota City and the young pastor indeed was busy. Although he served without complaint, many years later, in his autumn years, he once gave this advice to a young pastor, “I would advise him not to take over a large congregation alone.”
At this time the local newspaper described St. Martin’s as the city’s largest Protestant congregation and Pastor Sauer as dean of the Protestant clergy.
His annual salary, incidentally, was $100 a month at this time.
On the 60th anniversary of the congregation, June 25, 1916, a new Austin organ was dedicated. This organ, still the musical instrument of the church, had 1,757 pipes, 30 stops and a console of three keyboards. Professor C. Rupprecht of Chicago was the dedication organist.
The tremendous growth of the congregation naturally occasioned some problems. For example, as early as 1914 there is mention of the need for a new congregation in the West End, and it was decided to start a building fund for that purpose. It was some years before the movement culminated. Peaceful release of about 165 families to the new congregation of St. Matthew’s was given in March and June of 1920.
In June 1921, St. Matthew’s was permitted to collect for its new church as soon as St. Martin’s had paid its debt on the new $14,000 brick parsonage (built in 1919 on the third lot west of the church to replace an old frame house adjacent to the church). That payment, however, was not accomplished until 1924. St. Martin’s then immediately resolved to establish a recreation hall and schoolhouse fund.
On the congregation’s 75th anniversary, June 14, 1931, the present St. Martin’s School structure, which had been erected at a cost of $75,000, was dedicated. T. W. Zuberbier was the first principal there.
In addition to classrooms for children from kindergarten through the ninth grade, it contained a kitchen, auditorium-gymnasium, and four bowling alleys.
St. Matthew’s is not the only child of St. Martin’s. In 1936, a group of Lutheran families at Pickwick, some of whom belonged to St. Martin’s, were organized and formed a new congregation. Together with the First Lutheran Church of Minnesota City, which Pastor Sauer had served from 1905 to 1936, the newly organized St. Luke’s church at Pickwick called a pastor in 1937.
It was in 1943 that Pastor Sauer was given an assistant, his first in 35 years. It was his son, the Rev. Alfred von Rohr Sauer, a grandson of Pastor von Rohr. Pastor Sauer had just lost his wife, who had borne him two other sons. The son helped his father until 1948, when he accepted a Professorship in Old Testament Theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri, and the Rev. Wilmer G. Hoffmann, a student at the St. Louis Seminary, became assistant pastor.
These were the autumn years of this second long-time pastor of St. Martin’s. He was virtually in excellent health until not long before his death. His almost-daily walks from the parsonage to Winona General Hospital–about three miles round trip–were a Winona tradition. While his son was assistant, he and his wife lived with the pastor. When the family left, the pastor took his meals with another son, David, and his family.
The last few weeks of his life were spent at Winona General Hospital, and a nurse said later, “When patients grow feeble a vast residue often comes out of their subconscious revealing what their life was really like; from the pastor’s inner being radiated nothing but kindness and love.” He died May 17th, 1955, at the age of 73, not long before the 50th anniversary of his installation as assistant pastor. During his half-century, Pastor Sauer baptized 3,316 children, confirmed 2,284, married 2,463 couples and buried exactly 2,000. At the time of his death there were 1,100 families and 3,000 souls. During his 42 years, Pastor von Rohr had baptized 4,089, confirmed 2,032, married 991, and buried 950.
Shortly before he died, Pastor Sauer commented on changes he had observed. He said, for example, “People are more interested in church and religion than they were when the century began. Young people are the same today as they were when I came to Winona. Although they have greater temptations, their morals are just as good.”
During his lifetime he was active in the community, too. He was resident director of Winona State Teachers College for four years beginning in 1937, a period during which the new college library was erected.
St. Martin’s centennial year, 1956, marked the culmination of a physical improvement program extending back over 10 years. In 1943 a memorial gift was made to start a remodeling fund, but it was not until 1948, under the leadership of Pastor Sauer, that a five-year plan was adopted to raise about $30,000. In January 1951 the congregation decided to begin the first of the three phases of renovation: 1. heating and providing a church basement; 2. redecorating and renovating the interior of the church; 3. renovating the exterior.
On March 21, 1954, a rededication was held following the completion of the first two phases at a cost of about $83,000. The Rev. Irwin Habeck, Milwaukee, Vice President of the Wisconsin Synod, was speaker.
Later that same year it was quite evident that something had to be done since the congregation was in debt from its building program, and contributions were not meeting running expenses. On September 9, it was decided to launch a Centennial Stewardship Campaign, which proved to be one of the most successful ventures of faith. Although the goal of $320,000 dollars was not reached, yet $245,000 was pledged for a three-year period to meet the ever-rising day-by-day costs, for support of Synod, and to finance such physical improvements as the renovation of the church, improvements to the parsonage, teacherage, school, and the purchase of a second parsonage. This campaign marked an increase of giving of nearly 50%, and its influence is still being felt today.
With such faith and courage, the congregation in January, 1956, approved contracts for the third phase of the renovation: Refacing of the brick exterior of the church with stone and redesigning and lowering of the steeple, long the tallest in the city. A new red tile roof was later approved, making the total contract about $155,000.
Pastor Backer was installed, February 13th, 1955, and preached his first sermon on February 20th. He came to St. Martin’s from Mount Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church, La Crosse, Wisconsin.
Associate Pastor Hoffman, upon his return to the Seminary for his final year of studies in 1949-1950, accepted the call back to St. Martin’s, and was installed by Pastor Sauer on August 27th, preaching his first sermon on September 3rd. In addition to Pastors Sauer and Hoffmann, three vicars or students supplied St. Martin’s with valuable help. Mr. George Luecke, 1949-1950, a missionary in India; Mr. Donald Sellnow, 1952-1953, a Pastor in Rapid City, South Dakota; and Mr. Robert Carter, 1953-1954, a tutor at Northwestern Lutheran College, Mobridge, South Dakota.
After the installation of Pastor Backer, a stewardship program of several phases was launched. In 1955, lay representatives three times visited the 1100 families of the congregation of 3,000 souls. A second parsonage was purchased at 306 E. Howard St. occupied by the Rev. W. G. Hoffmann, associate pastor, and his family. The congregation also enlarged its teacherage at 221 E. Sanborn St. which it had purchased in 1950.
In this vigorous spirit, then, St. Martin’s continued to seize the spiritual opportunities of the mid-20th Century with greater numbers, greater resources and better facilities than the small band of sturdy Lutherans of 1856, but with the same Word.
Martin Luther had written: “We cannot give God anything; for everything is already His, and all we have comes from Him. We can only give Him praise, thanks and honor.” By God’s grace, through times of war, depressions, or the abundant years, St. Martin’s Lutheran Church has continued to praise, thank, and honor God through proclaiming the Gospel by Word and Sacrament.
In l948, the Rev. Alfred von Rohr Sauer was called to serve as professor at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis. Pastor Wilmer G. Hoffmann became Assistant Pastor in l950 as the Rev. Harold Backer was Senior Pastor at this time. In 1957, Rev. Hoffmann accepted a call to Illinois, and by 1958, the position of assistant pastor was filled by Rev. Emil Geistfeldt. Two years later, Pastor Backer died suddenly of a heart attack, and Rev. Rudolph Korn stepped forward to assist.
The physical appearance of St. Martin’s Lutheran Church was addressed in l956/57. The steeple, which had been the highest in the city, was lowered by removing the spire. There had been fears as to the condition of the spire, but upon removal, it was found to be structurally sound. The red brick exterior of the church was faced with stone; the roof covered with red tiles, and a wall was built at the back of the nave to form a separate narthex. With the installation of new stained glass windows, the entire project had a total cost of 155,000 dollars; an awesome amount for those times.
Gay Frey, church and school custodian, began recording church services using a large reel-to-reel recorder. These were then delivered to shut-in members. In l955, a record enrollment of 285 students was set at St. Martin’s Lutheran School, and students numbered 265 in l956.
As there existed a synodical turmoil regarding Lutheran doctrine in practice, St. Martin’s congregation withdrew from the Wisconsin Synod and joined the Missouri Synod in l961. That same year the Rev. A. U. Deye became Associate Pastor.
In l963, Rev. Geistfeldt accepted a call to serve parishes in the Vernon Center area of Minnesota. In 1964, after graduation from the seminary in St. Louis, The Rev. Merlin Wegener served as Assistant Pastor until 1966. A year later, the Rev. Ronald Jansen took the Assistant Pastor position, which he held until he accepted a call to Zion Lutheran Church at Albert Lea in l970.
In this interim, Rev. C. F. Kursweg served as assistant, and after Rev. Kursweg’s death in August of l970, the Rev. Louis Bittner assisted.
At this time, a group of members saw the need for a facility to care for the aged. As a result of their efforts, and with gifts in memory of Pastor Sauer, a corporation was formed to direct the establishment of the Sauer Memorial Home, dedicated April 2, l966.
January l966 saw the establishment of a memorial endowment fund whereby the principle of bequests and certain designated contributions would be kept intact, providing income every year to the congregation for needed projects. The year l968 marked the discontinuance of the German Worship Services, which had been conducted twice monthly for many years.
In l971, The Rev. Kenneth Krueger was ordained at St. Martin’s on June 27th and then called as Assistant Pastor, serving until l976. The Couples Club funded the first set of handbells, and a newly formed bell choir enhanced services. At this time St. Martin’s listed 2,720 baptized members and continued to provide Christian education in the parochial school, kindergarten through grade nine.
The year l978 included Pastor Deye’s decision to step down as Senior Pastor, with The Rev. Richard Krenzke accepting the call to become head Pastor. The Rev. Walter Lieder assisted as Visitation Pastor.
With buildings under continual use, there were always maintenance requirements. It became necessary to insulate the church roof, repaint the interior, and have the organ renovated. This redecorating and restoring project was undertaken in l979. And again, the narthex wall was moved forward, expanding the narthex size.
The active component of mission work known as The Women in Mission, now became organized into The Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML).
Special services were held May 2nd and 3rd, l981, as the congregation celebrated its 125th anniversary. Former pastors were invited. Those who participated were Pastors Alfred von Rohr Sauer, Wilmer Hoffmann, Merlin Wegener, Ronald Jansen, Emil Geistfeldt, and at a later time, Kenneth Krueger. On June 28th of that year a farewell was held for Pastor Deye, who accepted a call to St. Mark’s, Rushford.
In l981, a pre-school program was added to St. Martin’s School, as well as various changes to provide offices and conference room space. During this 115th anniversary of the school the student enrollment, kindergarten through grade nine, stood at 142 pupils.
Following the church’s 125-year milestone, Rev. M. J. Fox was installed Nov. 8, l981, to fill the Associate Pastor vacancy. Borrowing from the Endowment Funds, a parsonage located at 3743 Ninth Street was purchased in l982. The congregation acquired its first Director of Evangelism on Nov. 20, l983, with the installation of Mr. Robert Cloeter, who at this writing has continued to serve in that capacity.
When Pastor R. L. Krenzke left in June of l986 to become assistant director on the LCMS Social Ministry staff, Chaplain T. M. Schoewe served as interim pastor until Aug. l987, when The Rev. Ronald Dommer was installed as Senior Pastor.
An apartment house located at 305-308 East Broadway was purchased with Endowment Fund money. The rental income was designated for maintenance and repayment to the Endowment Fund. The house on E. 5th Street, which had been church property since l966, was taken down in l986 to enlarge the parking lot, which then was blacktopped in l987. In the same year, a school endowment fund and an Adopt-a-Child program were instituted.
On August 28th, l988, The Rev. Jonathan Wessel, serving at that time as Campus Pastor, was installed as half-time Assistant Pastor. In this year also, a facilities committee began formulating plans for such improvements as handicapped access. Congregation and staff needs were surveyed and architects were interviewed.
Always in the interest of proclaiming the Gospel to the world, support of Lutheran Bible Translators, in addition to the regular missionary support, was begun in l989. To provide spiritual nurture to local members physically unable to attend services, a Visitation Ministry was started with twenty-two members making regular home visits from l989 until l996.
In l990, the apartment house at 309 East 5th Street was purchased, and this rental income also intended to repay the Endowment Fund. In June of that year, The Rev. M.J. Fox left to accept a call to Ham Lake, Minnesota.
A vicarage call placed in July, l991, was filled by Kenneth Tatkenhorst, a colloquy graduate with seventeen years teaching experience. On August 12, l992, he was ordained and installed as Associate Pastor. Events this year also included re-roofing of the school and redecoration of the narthex. The month of October marked the 135th anniversary of the Congregation and the 125th anniversary of the School, and special services were held. This year also ushered in the technological age with the installation of two computers in the Church office. The confirmed membership listed then at 1,872.
The first worship service at Messiah, a mission congregation, was held at the Knights of Columbus basement in La Crescent, Minnesota on January 10, l993. Forty-eight worshippers attended. From this humble beginning, through the power of the Holy Spirit, this small group became a viable congregation, able to call its first pastor, The Rev. Jose Flores.
The end of l993 saw the departure of Pastor Jonathan Wessel who answered the call to serve at St. Paul’s in Delaware, Iowa. Then, in l994, Eric E. Klemme was ordained and installed as Part-time Associate and as Campus Pastor. This year, beginning in July, individual cups for Holy Communion began being used exclusively.
Initial plans for an addition to the church were presented at the l994 August meeting. The vision included a new entrance, elevator, and handicap accessible restroom, the costs of which to be funded via a bank loan and the Endowment Fund. The need for future parsonage renovation was also addressed.
At the Church Council meeting of July 20, l994, an interest was expressed for the introduction of regular contemporary services at St. Martin’s. Summer work that year included installation of new carpeting in the church and repainting of the school classrooms. Pastor Walter Lieder asked to be released from Visitation Pastor duties as of August l, l994.
Building planning continued in l995. In addition to previous elements, a parents’ room, stairs, and expansion of the narthex requiring removal of sixteen pews, were listed.
During l996, St. Martin’s School became a part of the Virtual School of Winona, a World-Wide-Web site. Teachers, students, and parents began communicating by electronic mail. This project was funded by a generous grant from the Hiawatha Education Foundation.
As a result of the vision, planning, and construction, the new church addition was dedicated June first and second of l996, the 140th anniversary of the Congregation. St. Martin’s now had a ground-level entrance, an elevator, enlarged narthex, a cry room, and a handicapped-accessible restroom on the main level. Also, a new public address system, new heating and air conditioning systems were installed. The total cost was $536,668. Thankful members continued to experience spiritual enrichment through such opportunities as Sunday Morning Adult Bible Classes, Tuesday Morning Ladies Bible Class, Men’s Tuesday Morning Prayer Time, and Wednesday Morning Men’s Bible Study Breakfast in addition to regular Saturday and Sunday worship services. Over the years, a Men’s Club and a Couples’ Club each held meetings for fellowship, and these also funded various church-related projects.
The sixth Annual Strawberry Festival on June 23, l996, was the first fest wherein the wet weather forced the activities indoors on that day. This well-received community event helps in the funding of St. Martin’s School. Also, as a note of interest, at one time during that year, there were five Second-Century Members. They were: Mr. Fred Schletter, Mrs. Adela Vick, Mrs. Elsie Sandvig, Mr. Ernest Tews, and Mr. William Koeller.
The 150th anniversary of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod was observed April 27, l997. Former pastor, Rev. Jonathan Wessel was the guest speaker. Evangelist Robert Cloeter began monthly Monday evening prayer gatherings, and he also led yearly observances of the National Day of Prayer at St. Martin’s. He organized the Neighborhood Story Time, a yearly event of Bible lessons, songs, and crafts for children at the Maplewood Townhouses and at the East Belleview Homes.
Concern over the deterioration of the parsonage and the condition of the school windows prompted discussion on the need for renovation in the not-too-distant future. The summer of l998 saw the subsequent repair and renovation of the school windows.
1999 saw the inception of the AAL Matching Program for gifts to Lutheran Education Institutions, and also marked the 25th anniversary of service by Lois Stark as church secretary.
The Board of Property, in its efforts to maintain and protect God’s House, reported the existence of a serious oxidation and moisture problem with the stained glass windows of the church. Due to the aging and wear of the storm windows, the stained glass portions were not receiving the protection from the effects of weather/moisture. With later approval of the voters, and with bids reviewed, Cathedral Crafts of Goodview completed the work. This involved removing the stained glass windows to clean them, replace damaged glass, relead, caulk and replace. The east storms were replaced with Lexan. The west storms were to remain until the next church building phase would be initiated. The cost came to $25,784. The condition of the rose window was such that it did not require work, so was not part of the project.
Pastor Tatkenhorst accepted a call to serve as Head Pastor at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church and School, Sedalia, MO. A farewell was held for the Tatkenhorst family on July 7th, 1999, and the Goodview parsonage was then sold; the $90,000 from the sale returned to the Endowment Fund. Now, with the shortage of pastoral staff, and in order to continue and expand the work of the congregation’s commission to spread God’s Word, lay people were urged to assist. Lay members came forward to make hospital and shut-in visits, and in subsequent years, 2000-2003, helped in other areas. St. Martin’s now had its own Web page and a program called Dial-a-Devotion was also begun, allowing people to call in and be blessed by a daily serving of the Word on the telephone.
St. Martin’s now moved into an era of difficulty in that Pastor Klemme received a call to Messiah Lutheran Church, Moundsview, MN, leaving in Sept. l999, and Pastor Dommer began experiencing diminishing health. Unable to perform his duties in a timely manner, he was given a time of sick leave until January 8, 2000 and then retire in August of that year. Lay members stepped forward again. One example: four teams of Caring Ministry, which started training in Sept., 1999, began serving 75 shut-in members with visits and Holy Communion.
Since Luther’s time, the Lutheran Church has been noted for its glorification of God by the use of sacred music, and discussion began on the establishment of a Director of Music position at St. Martin’s. It was decided that a church and school of this size with its strong desire for excellence in the music tradition, required the services of a trained music director. A call was extended to Mr. Philip Klemp in September l999, and he was installed as St. Martin’s Director of Music on January 16, 2000.
Through God’s bountiful grace, St. Martin’s Lutheran Church entered the new millennium, and also by His grace continued to provide the Winona area, and even areas of the world, with the glorious Gospel of Jesus Christ. Extending from the solid base of worship, preaching, and teaching, to the outreach included the Day School, Sunday School, Vacation Bible School, Campus Ministry under the direction of Dr. Ruth Badciong, Youth Programs, Neighborhood Story Time, sermon tapes for shut-ins, radio broadcasts, Bible classes at church and members’ homes, support for missionaries in Korea, Russia, and Mexico, a mission trip to Jamaica, new member classes, prison visits, Caring Ministry, and the ministry to the local Hmong and Sudanese immigrants. The willingness and energy of members and staff served and sustained such worthwhile activities as: voice and bell choirs, Altar Guild, Ladies Aid, Social Ministry, the live Nativity scenes at Fifth and Huff, Education and Mission Boards, and the assistance in continued growth of the “daughter” congregation, Messiah Lutheran Church of La Crescent. In this New Millennium, by prayer and trust in our Lord, St. Martin’s strove to continue in His Commission.
To facilitate uninterrupted worship and other services during the pastoral vacancies, an Administrative Committee was appointed. This committee met weekly to work out scheduling and to keep the communication lines open. A calendar of services was drawn up wherein various lay members were scheduled to lead worship and give the Message. In the case of funerals, area pastors conducted the services. Retired Pastor Armin Deye filled-in as visiting and communion pastor at the Sauer Memorial Home and the Watkin’s Home. The “Called” staff at this time included the school staff of Christopher Kamprath, Frank Martens, Roberta Schlesselman, and Annamary Seltz.
Frank Martens gave notice of his retirement as of June 2000, so a call to fill the position of school principal was extended to Igor Skrastins. He responded with acceptance in April 2000, and was installed in July of that year.
With the apparent necessity for major work on the parsonage, approval was given for renovation, including new roof, soffits, new windows, carpeting, and interior decorating. This project was completed by the summer of 2001, at which time an open house was held to display the beauty of the restoration and a job well done.
For some time, our Youth Program was directed under the leadership of Dianne Zeches with assistance from Steve and Diane Holmay. Stephanie Schauland began serving as interim, part-time Youth Director, then assumed the position full-time beginning June 3rd, 2000.
A great manifestation of God’s mercy and His love for His Church occurred during the summer of 2000, at a time when the congregation was in dire need of a pastor. The Rev. Timothy Dost of Portland, Oregon, phoned, saying that he was coming to Winona to teach at Winona State University, and adde that he would be available to perform pastoral work in the area. This news was greeted with thankfulness and formal acceptance. Roger Papenfuss flew to Oregon to help the Dost family move to Winona, and Pastor Dost preached, taught classes, and made out-of-town hospital visits. Mrs. Dost (Nanette) served us as teacher. The congregation benefited from their stay in Winona until Pastor Dost accepted a call to a professorship at St. Louis Seminary.
Due to the dedication and teamwork of the laity and staff, programs were kept in force. Many gave of their time and talents–serving in such capacities as elder, board member, usher, greeter, Sunday School and Vacation Bible school superintendent, teacher, finance committee worker, Messenger assembler, volunteer carpenter, painter, gardener, deliverer of bulletins to shut-ins, choir member, nursery caregiver, and Children’s Message presenter.
At the Elder’s meeting of November 2000, discussion was held concerning the start of contemporary style worship services. It was decided to table a decision until St. Martin’s would again have a Senior Pastor. Planning for Phase II building projects also began that month. This master plan included renovation of the church basement, offices, and the addition of an annex, a new school gymnasium, and remodeling of the school.
The hand of our Lord continued to guide the congregation in 2001. The St. Martin’s staff took on greater workloads, and together with the officers, and volunteer lay members, the Gospel preaching, teaching, reaching, mission kept on a steady keel. Instead of foundering, the congregation sensed the blessings of members’ participation and concern–a determination that when we would be granted a senior pastor, he would find our congregation in spiritual good health. The organization functioned well and every aspect went on, as the Lord was truly our Pilot.
In response to requests for contemporary-form services, the first of these was held in the school gymnasium in August of 2002. Later, in June of 2003, contemporary services, known as “New Life” were moved to the nave and replaced the traditional 10:30 Sunday services. Traditional services, known as “Heartfelt,” continued to be held at 5:30 p.m. Saturdays and at 8:00 a.m. on Sundays.
2002 saw the coming of the Rev. David Henslin as interim pastor on August 20th. Other events that year included repeat appearances of Missionary Gary Thies, a mission trip to an orphanage in Haiti, and the addition of a counter-style welcome center in the narthex. A new telephone system was installed at a cost of $13,089, and the school received lighting improvements. To help proclaim to our city the birth of our Savior, a series of Christmas card billboards were made and placed at various places on Broadway.
The SOWING, GROWING, OVERFLOWING mission statement formulated by Mr. Klemp was adopted and manifested in many ways by many workers. Average weekly church attendance was 515, and in September of 2002, there were 97 students in K-grade 8, with 28 in pre-school.
Although at this time, forty congregations in the Minnesota South District were without a pastor, the congregation was blessed in 2003, when The Rev. Lyle Kath accepted his call. Upon his installation August 17, 2003, there was now a Senior Pastor and family again residing in the parsonage.
Enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit, the vision of a Lutheran High School in our area became a reality. A “High School Association” was formed, and the ad hoc committee laid out plans, prepared a mission statement, and contacted Synod churches in the area. September 2003 saw the opening of Hope Lutheran High School, beginning with grade nine. Classes met in the St. Martin’s School basement, with a plan to continue there until a permanent location could be found. Blessings of sowing and growing bestowed on this project had nurtured it to the point of opening the 2005-2006 season with three grades and four churches in the Association.
A Natural Church Development program was initiated in 2004 to address congregational relationships as expounded in the Books of Corinthians and I John. Invitation weekends and classes were scheduled to aid in inter-personal relationships, dealing with conflict in a loving manner, and greater encouragement among staff and lay members. A Hmong Outreach event was hosted April 6, 2004, and attended by 24 children and two mothers. The first Healing Service was held Feb. 29, 2004, in which ailing members were welcomed to come forward during a time in regular services to receive prayer and the laying on of hands.
To help evaluate, explore, and share our mission purpose, a very fine mission fair was held in the school auditorium the weekend of Oct. 16-17, 2004. Nearly all the various organizations manned booths displaying their mission focus, and Missionary Gary Thies encouraged us with his remarks at services.
Pastor Kath began experiencing a medical problem in his throat in late 2003. However, in his dedication and fortitude, he did not allow this difficulty to interfere with his ministry among us for many months. However, to the regret of all, his recovery, so much prayed for, did not materialize. He expressed his feelings regarding his physical inability to serve as he would have wished, and announced his resignation in August 2005.
The Phase II building committee that had spent years working on the expansion plans, presented their proposals. The illustrations of the annex and the floor plans were posted on the fellowship room walls for study. Decisions on procedure for the plan came later at the voters’ meetings. As tiles were found missing from church roof deterioration, repair was now imminent. A threefold Sanctuary Project of was offered to members for approval. The sanctuary walls were repainted, with a price of $20,500; the lighting was upgraded and expanded at a cost of $42,524; and the roof repaired at $14,500. Contributions came in for the project which was completed in early 2005. The painting turned out to be a delight to all, and the new and brighter lighting was greeted with appreciation.
The Rev. Greg Hovland accepted the part-time position as administrator of Hope Lutheran High School in addition to his ministry at Messiah, LaCrescent.
The year 2005 was met with continued dedication to our ministry; however, financial support was not keeping up with costs. To move forward in faith a Sustained Giving Stewardship Emphasis was begun. Larry Solberg from Lutheran Church Extension Fund served as the consultant. Joan and Don Roessler and Dave and Margaret Hohenstein were Co-Emphasis Directors of this extensive project. The goals were to provide future generations with facilities and programs proclaiming God’s Word, to eliminate the deficit, and to promote unity in purpose. Every member was contacted and invited to make a three-year commitment above and beyond their regular tithing/giving.
Beginning with the services of July 2005, a regular service was reinstated at the 10:30 service. This complied with the decision of the Board of Elders, June 15th meeting, which recommended that the three services for a given weekend be the same format, but that variety of style be utilized.
With the sesquicentennial approaching in 2006, a committee was formed to draft celebration events. The plans included publication of a cookbook, ornaments featuring the church building, services with former pastors as speakers, and an anniversary dinner. Dianne Zeches and Diane Holmay co-chaired this committee.
As Pastor Lyle’s health had forced him into early retirement, so also was lost the ministerial services of Rev. David Henslin, also due to health issues. The congregation was fortunate that retired Rev. Vern Kettner was willing to assume the interim administrative and pastoral duties. Area pastors at this time, in latter part of 2005 and in much of 2006, assisted in preaching and performing other pastoral duties. Then, the call voters extended to The Rev. Richard A. Moore, pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Chapel, St. Louis, was accepted. Pastor and wife, Laurie, with daughters Rachael and Johanna, moved from St. Louis to Winona. On Sunday, August 13, 2006, Pastor Moore was installed as Senior Pastor at a thankful and joyous, sacred service. The Rev. Dr. Larry Griffin, the Minnesota South District First Vice-President, presided.
Baptized members at the 150th anniversary were numbered at 1,732; school enrollment, preschool-3 through grade 8 was at 124 students; amd Hope Lutheran High School, now grades 9 through 12, had 39 students. The 2006 summer Vacation Bible School was attended by 91 students.
By the grace of God, St. Martin’s very existence has rested on the faith and duty to reach the unsaved and nurture the saved. After over a hundred-and-fifty years, we continue to sing of those bells that are “still are chiming and calling,” and thousands have welcomed the ringing of those bells. And by the grace of God, the congregation continues in its commitment to serve God and bring glory to Him!
The First 125 Years
1856–St. Martin’s Lutheran Congregation, named after St. Martin of Tour's (the founder of our modern day chaplaincy programs), was organized with fifteen adult members by the Rev. L. F. E. Krause of the Buffalo Synod. Among the organizing members were Elder Tobias Leeb, Nicolaus Wenk, and John Bartels. A half-lot was bought at 352 E. Fifth for $130.00 upon which they built an edifice 18 x 30 and dedicated it shortly before Christmas, 1856.1857-1860–St. Martin’s was served by Pastor A. Brandt of Hart and pastors of the Buffalo Synod around Milwaukee.
1861-1864 were years of diminishing growth of the congregation. Pastor Krause, who had served the congregation for one year in 1856, returned for a three-year period of ministry.
1864-1866 were years without a pastor. During this time Tobias Leeb would come to church with a small organ under one arm and a sermon book under the other to conduct a service for his family and a few other worshippers.
1865–The President of Synod proposed Pastor von Rohr of Toledo, Ohio become the new pastor. Seven members of the congregation called him and he was installed on June 27, 1866. A Mr. Fiebranz of Milwaukee, who had business interests here, offered to pay $100.00 of the annual $350.00 salary.
1866–In early July, Pastor von Rohr started a parochial school with six pupils and by fall of that year he had eighty. A branch congregation at Wilson was also started which paid a third of his salary for six years.
1867–In June of this year, property was purchased at Broadway and Liberty for $275.00.
1868–The church was moved to the rear of this property and a twenty-foot addition was added.
1869–The growing enrollment caused the congregation to employ a full-time teacher, Joseph Mueller, a nephew of Pastor von Rohr.
1870–By this time the congregation had grown to sixty families and a second church with brick vaneer was built measuring 36 x 80 feet for $5000.00. The congregation borrowed $1,000 at 12% interest.
1877–St. Martin’s joined the Evangelical Joint Synod of Wisconsin and other States.
1880–By this time a second classroom was needed. Two lots were bought on the northwest corner of Fifth and Chestnut for $800.00 and a one-story school building was erected for $3,200. The first teacher was Joseph Mueller and the second teacher, O. Gebhard.
1881–A second teacher was called by name of M. F. Walz.
1883–A pipe organ was purchased for $1,300 through the special efforts of M. F. Walz.
1886–The old church was sold for $75 and a new church was dedicated on December 12th at a cost of over $19,000.
1890–The West End Branch School was established at King and Minnesota Streets. The lot and the building cost about $2000. It was taught by the Assistant Pastor.
1891–The original school at Fifth and Chestnut had grown too small and a second story was added.
1896–On the fortieth anniversary, the congregation numbered 500 families and 1400 communicants.
1905–The Rev. Alfred Sauer came to St. Martin’s on July 29th and married Elfrieda von Rohr, daughter of the Pastor. After the death of Pastor von Rohr, Alfred was installed as Pastor on January 17, 1909. He taught at the West End School and conducted services at Minnesota City and Minneiska.
1906–Pastor and Mrs. von Rohr left for Europe to consult a specialist for the Pastor. He returned ill with cancer. Shortly after his return, Dr. Will Mayo came to Winona on a special train. The doctor operated on Pastor von Rohr in an emergency on the dining room table, which prolonged his life for a few years. Pastor von Rohr died on December 22, 1908 at the age of sixty-five years, two weeks after baptizing his grandchild from a wheelchair. He had served St. Martin’s forty-two-and-a-half years, was President of The Wisconsin Synod twenty years, and served in various civic capacities.
1906–The fiftieth anniversary of the congregation, at which time a beautiful new altar and pulpit, termed the finest in the northwest, were added to the church. New galleries on both sides of the church, a new roof, and a redecorated interior were part of the celebration.
1910–Mr. Max Hackbarth was installed as Principal. He served until 1931.
1911–At a cost of $1,800, an addition was made at the West End School. This school continued until 1921.
1915–Sunday Schools were conducted at Sugar Loaf and in East Burns Valley. By this time, the congregation numbered 900 families and about 3,000 souls.
1916–On the occasion of the Sixtieth Anniversary a new Austin organ was installed, which is still in service today.
1931–The present two-story brick school was built north of the church at Fifth and Liberty. Mr. Traugott Zuberbier became principal that year.
1936–A new congregation was started in Pickwick, and they called a pastor in the next year.
1939–St. Matthew’s began sending pupils to St. Martin’s.
1943–Pastor Sauer was given his first Assistant in the person of his son, Alfred von Rohr Sauer, who helped him until 1948 when he was called as Professor of Old Testament Theology to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri.
1946–Dr. Alfred von Rohr Sauer became principal, serving until 1947.
1947–Emanuel Arndt was called as Principal.
1948–Following Pastor Alfred’s departure, Wilmer Hoffmann was called as Vicar.
1950–After finishing his last year at the Seminary, Pastor Wilmer Hoffmann was called back to St. Martin’s and installed by Rev. Sauer. Three other vicars provided assistance at St. Martin’s, Mr. George Luecke- ’49-’50, Mr. Donald Sellnow- ’52-’53, and Mr. Robert Carter- ’53-’54.
1951–Three phases of renovation are begun.
1954–The Centennial Stewardship Campaign raised $245,000 over a three-year period.
1955–The Rev. H. Backer. coming from Mt. Calvary Lutheran in La Crosse, Wisconsin was installed on February 13th. Pastor Sauer died on May 17th, at the age of 73 years, shortly before his fiftieth anniversary of service to St. Martin’s. St. Matthew’s built their own school. The previous year, St. Martin’s School enrollment reached a record 285 students. The following year the enrollment was still 265, including 30 junior high students from St. Matthew’s.
1956–A brick exterior of the church refaced with stone gave it a new look. The steeple was lowered by removing the spire, which had been the highest in the city and was found in good structural condition. A new red-tile roof and stained-glass windows were added for a total cost of $155,000.
1957–Pastor Wilmer Hoffmann accepts a call to Illinois.
1958–The Rev. Emil Geistfeld becomes Associate Pastor, taking the place of Ref. Hoffmann.
1959–The Rev. Harold Backer dies suddenly of a heart attack. The Rev. R. Korn assists during the interim.
1961–The Rev. A. Deye is called from St. Paul to become Associate Pastor, after the Congregation decided to join The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. Mr. Floyd Broker is called from Young America, Minnesota to be the Principal. He also served as organist and choir director.
1963–The Rev. Geistfeld accepts a call to Vernon Center,Minnesota. St. Martin’s becomes active in helping to establish the Sauer Memorial Home.
1964–The Rev. Merlin Wegener is called from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis to become Assistant Pastor. He served until 1966.
1967–Another St. Louis Seminary graduate was called as Assistant Pastor, namely The Rev. Ronald Jansen. He served until 1970 when he accepted a call to Zion Lutheran of Albert Lea, Minnesota. During the interim, Rev. C. F. Kurzweg assisted, and after his death in August, 1970, Rev. Louis Bittner helped with the work at St. Martin’s. Mr. Robert Wolf, who had been called as teacher from Trinity, Lone Oak, Minnesota in 1961, became principal.
1971–The Rev. Kenneth Krueger, a graduate of Concordia Seminary was called as Assistant Pastor and served until 1976.
1978–Pastor A. Deye terminates his position as Sr. Pastor and the congregation calls Rev. Richard Krenzke as Head Pastor.
1979–A church redecorating project as well as an organ renovation is undertaken. Mr. Gerald Nast accepted the call to serve as principal. He had formerly served in Michigan.
1981–The congregation celebrates her 125th Anniversary with special services on May 2nd and 3rd at which time former pastors were invited to participate, including Pastors Alfred von Rohr Sauer, Wilmer G. Hoffmann, Merlin Wegener, Ronald A. Jansen, Emil Geistfeld, and later in the year, Kenneth Krueger. The School had 142 pupils in grades Kindergarten through ninth grade. A preschool was added and the building underwent changes to provide offices and conference room space.