75 years and going strong

Friday, November 10, 2017
(Sentinel Photos by Beverly Van Buskirk) Grace Lutheran Church pastor, the Rev. Timothy Geitz and members Paulette and Richard Wilkins, stand in the sanctuary of the church at 1430 Seventh Ave. S.E., in Le Mars. The congregation is celebrating its 75th anniversary with a special worship service at 3 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 12.

LE MARS — For 75 years, Grace Lutheran Church has been a part of the Le Mars community.

This Sunday, Nov. 12, the congregation is celebrating those years of service as a faith community with a special service and time of reflection.

The Rev. Timothy Geitz has served the congregation since 2009.

The anniversary service will be at 3 p.m., followed by a catered dinner. The dinner is by reservation only and the RSVP date has passed.

“We’ve invited past members, current members, former pastors and their families and vicars who served at Grace,” Geitz said.

Only one former pastor, the Rev. James Rassbach, is living.

Music will have a large role in the afternoon service. Joanne Draayer, a former organist for the congregation, will be the guest organist.

Grace Lutheran’s adult choir and children’s choir will sing. The bell choir from Redeemer Lutheran Church in Sioux City will also play for the service.

Grace is a Missouri Synod congregation, and Iowa District West president, the Rev. Dr. Steve Turner, will be the guest preacher for the afternoon service.

There will be a brief program from 4:30 to 5 p.m., following the service and before the dinner.

Geitz, and members Paulette and Richard Wilkins, took time to share about Grace Lutheran and its history and the celebration.

“Planning has been underway for at least a year,” said Paulette.

Geitz added the church has received “a good clean up inside and out.”

“This is also a big celebration in our church body because this is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation,” Geitz said. “We’re combining the two celebrations.”

Learning about the history of Grace Lutheran in Le Mars has been an interesting journey for Geitz and the Wilkins.

“Grace is a daughter congregation of Trinity Lutheran Church, rural Hinton,” Geitz explained.

In the early 1940s, Trinity’s pastor, the Rev. H.D. Stahmer, was making shut-in calls in Le Mars for a number of his members who had retired and moved to Le Mars.

“So many, in fact, that he thought it would be good to have a congregation here. So that’s how it got started,” Geitz recounted.

The first meeting of Grace Lutheran members was Oct. 27, 1942, with charter members Ed Beck, R.H. Eilts, Gustav Johnson, Walter Heimgartner, Kenneth Beck, Gustav Schulz, Fred Lang, Don Waring and George Bunjes.

The first service was held Nov. 7, 1942, at St. George’s Episcopal Church with rent of $3 per service. Thirty-two people attended that first service. The church’s articles of incorporation were signed Dec. 28, 1942.

By May 2, 1943, the Rev. Harry H. Meyer was installed as the first resident pastor and on Aug. 23, 1943, Grace became a member of the Iowa District West of the Missouri Synod.

The first baptism was Joan Pfaffle on Dec. 6, 1942 with the first funeral on Sept. 1, 1943, for Walter Heimgartner.

There were 12 members of the first confirmation class on April 2, 1944.

The first wedding was conducted on Sept. 20, 1944, for members Wayne Kenowith and Helen H. Reich. Helen is still a member of the congregation.

By November 1944, services moved to the Old Union Hotel Annex, with rent at $50 per month.

The congregation also purchased property at Second Avenue and Third Street Southeast in 1944, where the first church building was built at a cost of $47,002. Groundbreaking was April 1946 and the first service was held in the basement on Sept. 21, 1947.

The church was dedicated May 2, 1948.

As membership grew, the congregation used a neighboring house for Sunday School classes.

The congregation purchased a five-acre lot on Seventh Avenue Southeast in April 1979, for $55,000. Groundbreaking was Nov. 11, 1979, with dedication of the new church on April 12, 1981.

Geitz noted that while the dedication was in 1981, it wasn’t until January 1982 that services were actually held in the sanctuary.

Paulette added the pulpit, lectern, altar and a stained glass window were brought from the old structure to the new one.

The church property expanded in 1998 with a new addition dedicated in 2006.

The expansion allowed for more Sunday School rooms, a larger fellowship hall and a larger kitchen.

The kitchen expansion included fryers, a dishwasher and a larger area which helps when the congregation serves its annual broasted pork chop dinner in October. That tradition has gone on for many years.

Paulette shared there are many activities at the church each week in addition to the 9 a.m. Sunday worship and 10:15 a.m. Sunday School classes.

There is a men’s breakfast, a women’s coffee, youth groups and youth activities and outreach activities, such as raking leaves for members.

“We have Bible studies, too,” Geitz said.

Confirmation students and Grace Kids meet on Wednesday nights, and each summer the church hosts a large Vacation Bible School group.

“If nothing appeals to you today, wait till next week. There’s always something going on,” Paulette said.

The congregation also supports a seminary student and four missionary families.

When the Wilkins became members in 1998, Richard said the pastor thought he should get involved.

“I got involved and I think I’ve been in a leadership part of the church ever since,” Richard said. “That’s very satisfying. it’s always good to be involved when you’re serving God.”

The Wilkins and their daughter have their favorite pew, which makes it easier for their daughter to see the screen which projects the church service.

Paulette said people do have their pew where they sit each week, but that also reminds her when someone isn’t there.

Attendance averages 200 people each Sunday. Worship services are recorded and also aired weekly at 6:30 p.m., Wednesday on cable channel 12.

The couple said they love being involved.

“I think we also found a family here, too. People that we could depend on and confide in if necessary sometimes. and coming from a small family, I found that very important,” Richard said.

Paulette added, “This is our family now.”

Geitz said the time spent gathering the history has helped him connect many of the dots for him.

“The most wonderful part about celebrating an anniversary is to be able to look back on the blessings that God has given to this congregation, and through them, to the community. And using that as maybe a confidence builder in continuing to reach out in the future, knowing that God has blessed us already and he will be there to continue blessing us in the future,” Geitz said.

“So it’s kind of like what God asked the Israelites to do. He asked them to remember the things he had done for them in order that they could more confidently walk into the future, even though some of that future is unknown,” he added.

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