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Ashippun's Zion Lutheran Church celebrates 100 years with special service

Nov. 5, 2012

Town of Ashippun - On Sunday, members of Zion Lutheran Church in Ashippun are invited to celebrate the church's 100th anniversary. The historic church beginnings are connected to German pioneers from the area. Members of the church shared this history, which will be presented at Sunday's special service.

German heritage

In 1911, a group of determined and devout German-speaking farm families gathered around the kitchen table of Karl Habeck's home at W1846 Roosevelt Road in the Town of Ashippun to worship. Other meetings were held in the home of Robert Liesener and a church organization was formed on Dec. 26, 1911. A constitution was drafted and on Jan. 28, 1912, the congregation was incorporated according to the laws of the State of Wisconsin.

According to historical accounts, the founding members were the families of Karl Habeck, Robert Liesener, August Liesener, Albert Schwartz, Frederick Beck, Emil Gennerman, Herman Burchardt, Richard Bernhagen and William A. Neitzel.

A significant factor in the congregation's early years was its German ethnicity. It should be remembered that the first few years of the congregation's existence were also the years in which the United States entered into the First World War with Germany. All the pastors until 1964 were fluent in German and held regular German services.

During these infant years the congregation was served by Rev. Wilhelm Lange. Rev. Lange was the pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church, Lebanon and St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Sugar Island. This arrangement for pastoral services continued until Rev. Lange's death in 1937.

A new home

According to the records of the Ohio Synod, church affiliation did not occur until 1916. Membership statistics were listed in 1913 as 39 members. In 1917, work began on a new church building. Four lots were purchased in New Ashippun on what was then the farm of Herman Burchardt. Fifty-seven people attended the cornerstone laying on Sep. 9, 1917. There were 44 communicants and 57 souls in the congregation.

The dedication of the new sanctuary was on June 9, 1918. A newspaper reported more than 1,000 attended. Rev. Wagner from Iowa led a service in German in the morning and Rev. Alberts of Hamilton, Ohio, led an afternoon service in both German and English. The Ixonia choir sang and the Lebanon band played. At a third worship service, Rev. George Beckman, pastor of Cross in Ixonia, preached in English. Membership was up to 55, with 12 voting members and 47 communing members.

Changes in leadership

In 1943 major improvements were made in the church building. One year after the completion of the improvements, on Oct. 22, 1944, fire broke out in the church. The north tower was burned from the basement to the roof. Smoke damaged the interior, ruining the redecorating and destroying the organ. Once again remodeling and repairs were made, and on March 11, 1945 a rededication service was held.

Zion's first full-time pastor came to Zion on Dec. 31, 1947, Rev. William Otto Heidtke and served until April of 1949.

The Rev. August Julius Quandt accepted the call to Zion in 1949. In 1950, the Mission Aid, later to be called the Ladies Aid, was organized. By 1955, the congregation had grown to 303 baptized members with 222 confirmed. The German services were still held every other Sunday. Sometime during Rev. Quandt's tenure, women were given the right to vote in the congregation.

More growth

In 1957, an addition was built on to the back of the church building, which included a general purpose room and restrooms. Dedication services were held on Oct. 27, 1957. In 1959, the synod reported a membership at Zion of 319 baptized, 242 confirmed, a Sunday School of 54. In 1960 several ethnic-rooted synods merged to form the new American Lutheran Church and the red Service Book and Hymnal was introduced. Rev. Quandt accepted a call to another church in Milwaukee in 1964.

Rev. Wayne George Radke was the first non-German speaking pastor at Zion and came to Zion directly from Luther Seminary. Radke's ministry at Zion coincided with the "baby boom" era with membership at 316 baptized, 210 confirmed and 86 in Sunday School. The additional need for space led to the acquisition of the house immediately behind the church being purchased and renovated to provide needed classroom space. Rev. Radke accepted a call in May of 1969 to Arcadia, Wisconsin,

Rev. Daniel Dimick assumed pastoral duties at Zion in August of 1986. Membership in 1987 was 328 baptized, with 250 confirmed and 97 in Sunday School. As Rev. Dimick continued the Crossways Bible Study, the examination of Biblical issues had members also questioning the merger of the American Lutheran Church with the Lutheran Church of America. There were debates, but eventually the church joined the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America in 1988. Rev. Dimick left Zion in January of 1989 and is now in private practice as a licensed psychologist and marriage/family therapist.

New developments

With a new church building on the horizon, cost estimates were around $600,000. With members doing most of the work themselves, the estimates were $160,000. Furnishings from the old building, including the stained glass windows, pulpit, altar, and pipe organ, were incorporated into the new church. Groundbreaking was May 21, 1989 with interim Pastor Martinus Silseth presiding.

The new sanctuary was dedicated on Aug. 26, 1990 with former pastors attending the service in the old church, then processing to the new building for a fellowship hour and dedication service. All this building energy spilled over into a desire to build a new parsonage and the old parsonage was sold in September of 1994. Again volunteers came together and built a house east of Highway 67 on Highway O. The dedication was in May of 1995.

In October of 2007, Rev. Thays was installed. He was instrumental in updating the computer systems in the church and in 2010 developed the projection system that has replaced the weekly bulletins. He is the current pastor.

Anniversary celebration

Zion Lutheran Church in Ashippun is celebrating its 100th anniversary with a special service and reception on Sunday, Nov. 11. The service begins at 2 p.m. Former members, friends and neighbors are invited to share in this time to remember the history of the church and its founding members.

The highlight of the 100th Anniversary Service will be a video production of the history of the church, special organ selections performed by Steve Rhode, Director of Music at Christ King Parish, Wauwatosa, and music from the Zion choirs.

If you go

What: Ashippun Zion Lutheran Church 100th anniversary

When: Service begins at 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 11 followed by video of church history, special music

Where: N557 Main St., Ashippun

Info: or call (920) 474-7234

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