This history is transcribed from both the "Zion Lutheran Church, North Shelton History from 1885" and the "Directory 1976, Bi-Centennial Edition" with some editing. There was a great deal of work put into the gathering of this information and the translation of German records. The Reverend Hines translated the early records in 1933. The history was compiled and written by Mrs. Floyd Pope of Ravenna, Nebraska, and Pam Trubl of Kearney, Nebraska, and the printing was done by the Shelton Clipper newspaper of Shelton, Nebraska.
The Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church in Gardner Township, Buffalo County is one of the earliest Lutheran churches in Buffalo County. It is located nine miles north and two miles west of Shelton, NE.
The congregation was organized on May 25, 1885, but came together several years earlier when families in this territory were served by Rev. August Baumhoefner of Grand Island. Services were held in the homes and in school houses.
There were six children baptized in 1884. The first recorded death was of Martin Bellin, age ten, who died in 1885. Wilhelmina Hadenfeldt died in 1885 at age 7.
Some of the founders of the church were Claus Hadenfeldt, Claus Holm, Claus Sothman, Theo Sothman, W. Schmidt, W. Reese, Elbert Reese, Fritz Ohlmann, C. Puchert, Henry Rohwetter, Max Specht, and W. Kuester.
In 1889, a candidate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO was called by the Mission Board of the Nebraska District to serve the city of Kearney, Kearney and Buffalo counties. It was especially noted that he was to take care of the "Sachsenkolonie" which was about five to six miles west of the present Zion church site. The candidate, the Rev. Henry Schobacher, had studied in Germany and in Ft. Wayne, IN. (A candidate is one who is an ordained graduate, but has not yet served a congregation.) His salary was to be $300 per year, half paid by the district, the other half paid by the parishioners he served.
Rev. Schobacher stayed in Kearney for while, with little progress in his mission, then settled in Gardner Township. He resided in a temporary sod house near the present church. Rev. Schobacher married a lady from the east in the spring of 1890.
The first church was built in the winter of 1889-1890. The architect was Claus Holm. The Rev. Schobacher donated 1,600 bricks for the foundation. The body of the church was painted white and the tower was black. Also in 1890, a 12'x24' sod house, with two rooms, two doors, and four windows was built. Money was borrowed at 12% interest to build it. The house sat on the east side of the road across from the church and cemetery, one-mile east and two and a half miles north of the present site. The cost of the church and parsonage was $1,117.60.
Dedication speakers were Professor George Weller of Seward and F.H. John of St. Libory. A common noon meal was served in a neighbor's outbuilding.
The pastor began school on the first Tuesday of January, 1890 in a sod schoolhouse that was sited one-half mile north of the present church. German was taught in the morning and English in the afternoon, four days a week. In October of 1890, the congregation decided by resolution, that every child who was able to write with pen and ink was to pay five cents a month. The later part of the year, and in 1891, school was held in the attic of the new church.
In 1891, Pastor Schobacher also took care of the Sweetwater church near Hazard. Schobacher left in February of 1892 to serve a congregation at Thayer, near York, and Rev. Baumhoefner, then serving at Watertown, officiated during the vacancy. There were seven in the first confirmation class of 1891.
In May 1892, the congregation of twenty-four voting members called candidate Rev. Koch from St. Louis, who was installed on Sept. 18, 1892 by Pastor Baumhoefner. The twenty-three year old had one dollar in his pocket at ordination. A frame room was added to the parsonage, and in early November, Rev. Koch brought his bride to Buffalo County. His salary was $300 a year along with fuel (corn cobs and some coal) and feed for two horses.
Later in the month he began school with an enrollment of 20, which increased to 25. He also served a congregation of 13 members at Sweet Water in a sod church, and the "Kolonie" west of Zion with 12 families who met in a public schoolhouse every two weeks. The following year the Hope Congregation at Prairie center, later called Poole, was added to Pastor Koch's charge. The members had built a new frame church, and he dedicated it with his first sermon there. Also the same year, Pastor Koch started services at Divide, about fifteen miles northwest of Sweetwater, for about eight families. He preached in homes and at a Presbyterian church, which was offered free gratis. Later on, a pastor who lived closer assumed the duties.
Although in 1894, the harvest was a total failure and some people were provided clothing and feed from other areas, five acres of land was bought from John Waters for $200. As people who came into the territory bought land in the area farther south, the new location was more central. This is the site of present church. The congregation planted 250 ash, 250 mulberry and 50 cherry trees on the property.
About the same time the congregation joined the Missouri Synod. Fritz Ohlmann was elected to be the first delegate.
In May of 1895, Rev. Koch received and accepted a call to IL. Another candidate from St. Louis, the Rev. E. Firnhaber, accepted the call to the congregation and in August 1895, was ordained by his brother August. The following January he married Louise Schmidt, daughter of C.C. Schmidt.
Rev. Firnhaber also served congregations at Majors, and Prairie center. His yearly salary was $250 from the Zion congregation, Majors contributed $100, and Prairie center gave $75. At this time there were about forty members at Luce (Zion), twelve at Majors, and twelve at Prairie center. He also taught some forty children and those from other congregations boarded with them. After three years Rev. Firnhaber became ill and quit for two years.
The first marriage on Aug. 30, 1896 was that of Ernest Meyer and Elsie Ohlmann. The second was between John Ohlmann and Dora Ostermeyer, on Oct. 18, 1896.
In 1897 the first church was torn down and rebuilt at the present site. Later on this building served as the school.
The Major's congregation called their first resident pastor, W. Langrof, in 1898. He also served the Zion members during the next two vacancies.
In 1899, candidate A. Engel succeeded Rev. Firnhaber, and although a very good teacher, he was not physically strong and served only nine months when he evidenced memory problems. During this time a second hand organ was bought for $135.00, and Rev. Landgrof was asked to be the organist. Rev. Firnhaber was asked to be the vacancy pastor.
The congregation called Rev. W. Butzke, the first pastor who was not a candidate. The Butzke family came to Garnder township in September of 1900, and lived in the sod parsonage for some time. A frame parsonage was built in 1901-1902. The salary was $350 a year, later $100 more. At various times, Pastor Butzke served Litchfield, Hazard, Majors and Prairie center, and also Hayestown. After 1909, he also preached in Ravenna once a month.
In 1900, there were seven confirmands on April 8; four on Mar. 23, 1902; five on Mar. 27, 1904; nine on April 8, 1906; and six on March 24, 1907. Some of the surnames were Holtz, Reese, Scheil, Hadenfeldt, Ahrens, Gehle, and Gosda.
Pastor Butzke taught school for nine years, with approximately 30 children attending. Later on he acquired neuritis and required help from two students. He served into 1911, and later in the year of 1911, the Rev. J.M. Schaeffer was installed and remained until 1919.
In 1912, the present church was built. Pledges were solicited to fund the new church. It was to be 32'x48', with a tower 75 feet high, and a four foot foundation. It was to have red cedar beams and white pine siding. The altar area was to be sixteen feet across. It is believed that the pastor's brother was the main architect. Carpenters were W.M. Reese who lived 3/4 mile north of the church, Henry Stroup, and volunteers from the congregation. Probably all the members helped with the shingling. Mr. L.O. Ahrens hauled out the twelve feet (or more) tall cross and statue of Jesus in his wagon, likely from Shelton. Stories from the old-timers of the area indicated that pulleys were used to haul the bell up inside the tower. The cross was apparently placed in the same manner. Sited on a hill, the church was visible for miles around.
The first baptism in the new church was that of Esther Ohlmann on Dec. 29, 1912. There were ten confirmants on May 4, 1913 in the new church. They were: Richard Ohlmann, Maria Ahrens, Edwin Meyer, George Hadenfeldt, Fred Muhlbach, Amanda Ohlmann, Fred Poehler, Wilhelmina Ahrens, Carl Poehler, and Minnie Muhlbach. The first marriage was that of Frank Bedke and Anna Maria Niederschmidt on Oct. 15, 1913. The first funeral was that of Frederick Zacharis Ohlmann, on April 27, 1913.
In 1919, the Rev. O.W. Juengel and his family came to the parish and remained until 1928. The Juengel's had four boys and two girls; one eleven-month old girl died and is buried in the church cemetery. Pastor Juengel taught the parochial school until Mathilda Riedel was hired. She taught in 1923 and 1924. Dorothy Bredthauer taught 1924 -26.
The next pastor was the Rev. O.W. Ninke, a widower who came in 1928. He became ill after a few months, and with his death, orphaned several children.
In April of 1929, the Rev. John Heins and his family arrived from Chappell, NE. They unloaded their truck in a fierce dust storm. Rev. W. Pebler of Hayestown conducted the installation service, assisted by Pastors W. Dallman of Ravenna, H. Daehnke of Hazard, and A. Moeller of Grand Island. Three children were born to the Heins, one dying a day after birth. The pastor served vacancies at Hayestown and the Cairo-Kelso parishes.
On March 2, 1930, this Circuit began to broadcast from the Ravenna radio station. On April 6th, the choir and Pastor went on the air for the first time, and repeatedly thereafter. Minnie Reese and Pastor Heins sang a duet. Later the station moved to Kearney.
During this time, it was decided to hold English services the first three Sundays and German on the fourth and fifth Sundays. The Walther League youth group, Ladies Aid and Sunday school were started.
School continued to be conducted for nine months each year, with enrollment ranging from 12 to 26. Alfred Brandhorst (1928-29, Ed Hoehne (1929-30, Leonard Schulenberg (1930-31, Lydia Krause (1931-33, and John Stohs (1933-35) were teachers. The teachers were first paid $75 a month, but J. Stohs was paid $20 a month the first year, and $25 the second year, plus board at $10 per month.
In 1930, the congregation sold the one and one-half acre plot north of the old cemetery for $100.00. Sewer pipes were laid for the house, and used single desks were purchased for the school from the Kearney City Schools. A coal shed was built for the school.
During the stock market crash crisis, the congregation continued the school for the first two years, managed to pay the $1,200 salary for the pastor and $75 a month for the teacher. For three winters, Henry Poehler furnished wood for the parsonage. John Franks furnished wood for the school and church, and several big cottonwood trees were donated by Charlie Ackerman of Gibbon. Twenty-five loads were chopped and hauled by the men of the congregation.
Although a drought year occurred in 1934, the people of the congregation survived, no one being in extreme want, nor were there any foreclosures of property.
In 1935 Pastor Heins was called by Immanuel Church in Lincoln. His successor was Pastor Edwin Beckler who served from 1935 to 1941. He and his wife had six children.
Roy Peterson was hired as the parochial teacher in 1938. His wages were $40 per month, and he had to locate a place to board. He stayed until 1941.
The Rev. Karl Kuebler came to shepherd the congregation the later part of 1941 and stayed for six years.
In 1942, German Services were dropped. In 1942, 24 children were attending the school, and the teacher, F.W. Meinke, (1941-42) was paid $90 per month with no board. The church organist was paid $2 per month. Paul Aufdemberge taught 1942-43. In 1944, the total expense to run the church and school was $2,450. Lorna Bergt, from Watertown, who was attending Kearney College was the teacher. The congregation helped pay expenses for the Kearney radio station broadcasts; at first the cost was $7.50, later the Walther League collected five cents per member to support broadcasts. F.W. Meinke returned to teach in 1945-46.
In January of 1946, Rev. Kuebler was given permission to conduct services in Shelton, where a new congregation was started. Religious school was proposed for Saturdays, but a teacher could not be found. Also in 1946, the church decided to close the school because of financial problems. The last teacher was M.C. Ahlschwede.
Rev. Alvin Becker came to Zion in 1947, and remained until 1951. During this time a basement was put under the church, using a fund of $1,350. The church was repainted, sidewalks were put around the building, and electricity was installed, as was an oil-burning furnace.
In 1951, Zion congregation joined with Poole as a dual parish. Zion paid two-thirds of the pastor's salary and Poole picked up the remaining amount.
In 1952, a basement kitchen was furnished by the Ladies Aid and other improvements made to the basement. The parsonage was modernized, also. In 1953, a new electric organ was purchased.
When in 1952, Pastor Becker accepted a call to Juanita, the Rev. Bruce Opsahl, a candidate, took his place. He and his family remained for two years before moving to New Jersey. During the vacancy years, Reverends Kebschulle and Russser of Ravenna, Rev. Potratz of Kearney, and Rev. Graebner of Grand Island were pastors.
The Poole and Zion dual parish was dissolved in 1954. The cemetery was enlarged sixty feet east, and sixteen feet south. (The old Zion Cemetery remains where the original church was sited, however many of the deceased were moved to the new church site. Only a few graves remain.)
The Rev. F.W. Gieswinkler served the parish for a short period of time in 1958. In 1960, Zion and Cairo became a dual parish. Pastor Paul Ruff accepted a call to the parish and lived in Cairo until 1964.
The 75th Anniversary of the Zion Evangelical Church was celebrated on Sept. 25th, 1960 with morning and afternoon services, and a noon meal. Many former members and friends enjoyed the occasion. On Dec. 9, 1963 the congregation celebrated the 50th anniversary of the church building with the Reverends Heins and Portratz as speakers.
Improvements and upkeep continued, and in 1964 the parsonage was sold to the M.H. Ohlmans, as it was no longer used. The old church/school and other outbuildings had been sold previously.
The Rev. Walter Lemmerman came to the dual parish in 1965 and served the Zion congregation until December of 1970. Improvements to the building continued, and in 1967 perpetual cemetery care originated with the establishment of a trust fund.
Mission Festival Services, a long established celebration of both morning and afternoon services during the summer months, was amended in 1969 to only a morning service. A Sunday School worship center was established in memory of Carol Niemack in 1970.
In June of 1971, Pastor Ardell McLachlan came to serve the Zion and Cairo dual parish. This would be his first parish. During his pastorate, the 60th Anniversary of the church was celebrated.
Pastor McLachlan accepted a call to Hastings in August of 1976. Vacancy pastors were Tom Johnston of Ravenna and David Casperson of Shelton.
There have been 561 baptisms, 392 confirmed, 104 marriages and 138 burials. The last recorded death was of Martin H. Ohlmann on Oct. 8, 1876. The membership as of 1976 is 137. The Ladies Aid has 24 members, Sunday school continues, as does the Walther League, and there is a Couples Club.
A former member of Zion congregation, I congratulate the elders and congregation for the foresightedness in recording these chapters of history. Those German forbears survived and grew in faith during daunting years of drought and hardship, and worked wholeheartedly together to support their fellowmen, build their community, and build their churches. Two of those families were homesteaders, the Rohrbachs and the Muhlbachs...my great grandparents.
Submitted by Roma Muhlbach Black email@example.com