History of Lewis Valley Lutheran Church
The Norwegians who migrated to this area in the early pioneer days were of the Lutheran faith. These pioneers brought with them their Bibles and other religious books, and were known to make diligent use of the Word of God. As time went by they missed their home church and quite often needed the services of a pastor to baptize the children, perform marriage ceremonies and burial rites. Many of these who settled in the Lewis Valley area came from the southeastern part of Norway, near the city of Lillehammer and the Mjos Fjord.
The earliest recollection of this service was the visitation by the circuit-riding mission pastor Nils Brandt who made the trip by foot throughout this region visiting homes and conducting services. It was on one of these trips early in 1855 that he conducted his first baptismal service in Lewis Valley for the late Simon Erickson and the late Mrs. Maria Anderson Ofstedahl.
In the spring of 1856 Pastor H. A. Stub organized the Lewis Valley Norwegian Lutheran Congregation. Pastor Stub was permanently located in Coon Prairie near Westby. He served this congregation from 1856 to 1861. Lewis Valley’s share of the pastor’s salary in 1856 was only $47, as the records indicate.
Lewis Valley, together with the three other sister congregations, La Crosse Valley, Bostwick Valley and Halfway Creek, formed a pastoral charge. This charge later bought a farm located in Halfway Creek. It consisted of 120 acres and was bought for $900. A parsonage was built upon it in 1859 at a cost of $1,800. This first parsonage was destroyed by fire, but was rebuilt in 1866 for $2,500.
When Pastor H. A. Stub left the parish, it was served by and interim pastor, A. E. Friedrichsen, until a full-time pastor could be called. In 1861, services were conducted in various homes and later in the Union Mills School for many years. A bench built by Johannes Anderson Bekkemellum served as a communion bench during the time the schoolhouse was used for services.
The second pastor was P. Laur Larsen, founder of Luther College, served from 1861 to 1862 when he conducted Luther College at the Halfway Creek School site, its first location, until the college was moved from Holmen to Decorah, Iowa where it is now.
The third pastor called to serve the Halfway Creek parish was Pastor John B. Frich. He served from 1862 – 1872. During his ministry the Upper Lewis Valley congregation (now known as Mindoro Lutheran) was organized in 1872, and was added as part of the Halfway Creek parish.
There were no records of the church membership in 1856, but by 1867 there were 100 members of Lewis Valley congregation. In the 1870’s a parochial school was held for a period of six to eight weeks during the summer. This met in the homes at first and later in the different schools. Now an active Sunday school replaces the summer session of religious training for our children.
Pastor Walert J.L. Frich was the fourth to serve our parish from 1872 to 1882. Services were held every three weeks. During this time, in 1877 the Norden Cemetery Association was organized and in 1880 the church choir was organized. After serving for ten years he resigned and returned to Norway. Pastor Otto Christian Otteson Hjort succeeded Pastor Frich and he was our fifth pastor.
The sixth pastor to serve Lewis Valley was Pastor Ulrich Carl S. Hjermstad from 1887 to 1902. It was during his ministry that the Ladies Aid Society of the congregation was organized. This took place in 1888. The Ladies Society contributed much to the progress of the church. In 1890 the Ladies Aid purchased the present church grounds with an addition to the cemetery from Andrew Ofstedahl for $186. The total cost including surveying and fencing was $222.
The church was built in 1893 at the cost of $3,800. At the completion of the church the Ladies Aid contributed towards the interior furnishings. The alter painting was given by Johannes Anderson Bekkemellum and painted by Johannes Ringdahl.
The Lewis Valley Church was dedicated on October 5, 1894. Also in 1894 Lars Skefsrud, a well-known Norwegian world missionary was here. He was known to speak many languages. The service was in charge of Pastor H. Halvorson, who was then the President of the Eastern District of the Norwegian Synod, which in 1917 became a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.
Pastor Olaf Turmo was the seventh pastor to serve our parish from 1902 to 1906. During his ministry the ever-growing membership of the four congregations made it necessary to consider re-alignment. La Crosse Valley, Bostwick Valley and Upper Lewis Valley (known as Mindoro Lutheran now) withdrew to form their own parish. Pastor Turmo resigned to serve that parish. Pastor E. R. Berrum was called to be our eighth pastor; he served our congregation from 1906 to 1929. Holmen began to feel the need of having their own House of Worship, so in 1907 to 1908 they built their own church in the village. At this time the three congregations, Holmen, Halfway Creek and Lewis Valley became known as the Holmen parish. The new church in the village made it more convenient for the pastor to reside in Holmen, so in 1915 the farm was sold, and a new house was purchased at a cost of $3,200, from which all three churches were served. The Lewis Valley share of the pastor’s salary in 1914 was $200. Pastor Berrum was the last minister to use horse and buggy and the church membership now stood at 214 members.
In 1914 the Young People’s Society was organized in the John Gullickson home. For a long time this was a family gathering affair. Meetings were held in homes until 1923 because there was no basement under the church.
A basement was added to the church in 1923, and a needed furnace was installed. The Ladies Aid purchased other necessary furnishings, and individual members donated many other articles.
At this same time a change in the order of the service was made. Where Norwegian language had been used exclusively, now services were being conducted in both Norwegian and English.
Pastor H. C. Smeby was the ninth pastor to serve the Holmen parish. He served from 1929-1945. Services were held every two weeks, and the Norsk Language was eventually dropped in 1940. Pastor Smeby passed away while serving our parish.
The tenth pastor to serve our parish was Pastor Kenneth R.Torvick. He served from 1945 to 1949. It was during his ministry that Lewis Valley celebrated its Ninetieth Anniversary on November 24, 1946.
Pastor E. T. Anderson served Lewis Valley from 1949 to 1955 and was our eleventh pastor. In 1952 a new electronic organ was purchased to replace the reed organ that had been a part of the church furnishings from the beginning. The growth of the Holmen parish made it necessary to consider the change suggested by the La Crosse Circuit Realignment Committee. Early in 1954 Lewis Valley was tendered an invitation from Mindoro Lutheran to join them and form a new two-point parish. Several meetings were held and finally after much discussion it was voted on November 29, 1954, that we join with Mindoro. When the realignment was completed the Lewis Valley congregation withdrew from the Holmen and Halfway Creek, with whom they had been affiliated with for almost ninety-nine years. At this time, the inside steps were added to the basement.
Winston Grant, who had previously served a student pastor, accepted the call to serve the newly formed Mindoro – Lewis Valley parish. Because Mindoro had been served out of West Salem there was no parsonage to house the new pastor and his family. A new parsonage was erected in Mindoro and it was dedicated on October 9, 1955. Pastor Grant served our congregation from 1955 to 1960 and was our twelfth pastor. Lewis Valley celebrated its centennial in July 1956.
Pastor O. Rolf Olson served our parish from 1960 to 1967 and was our thirteenth pastor. It was during his service that evening and afternoon Bible study groups were organized. In 1966, Sunday school rooms were built on to the church. The “Red Hymnal” replaced the “Blue Hymnal”. The current membership was 331 baptized, 224 confirmed and 89 enrolled in Sunday school and Bible classes. Also, in June of 1966 Marilyn Peterson served one year in the Peace Corp. with “VISTA” Volunteers in Service to America, she worked with the Cherokee Indians in Oklahoma. Ron and Lillian Nordin served as missionaries from 1966 to 1968. They traveled to Port Moresby the Capital city of Papua New Guinea. While there Lillian taught the first nursing program and also taught English to the natives. Ron was a vicar with Dr Albert Frericho and two other evangelists. There they ministered to thousands. On June 4, 1967 Trygve Holter, the first member of our congregation to enter the pastoral ministry was ordained.
Pastor Ivan H. Vallum was the fourteenth pastor to serve our congregation from 1968 to 1974. In 1968, Lewis Valley had 324 baptized members and 219 confirmed members. Also in 1968, Clifford and Joyce Gilbertson were commissioned as lay missionaries to Cameroon, Africa, where they served for nine years. In February of 1972, Mike Bertelsen joined the Peace Corps and traveled to Paraguay to teach the natives modern farming techniques. In 1974, Luther League celebrated its fiftieth Anniversary.
Our fifteenth pastor was Pastor Paul A. Johnson; he served our congregation from 1974 to 1981. It was during his service to our congregation, when the church burned down on December 16, 1976. Ground breaking for the new church was held on April 24, 1977 and the first services were held December 18, 1977. The new church was dedicated on July 9, 1978. In 1979, we began using The Lutheran Book of Worship, commonly called “the green hymnal”.
From 1981 to 1987, Pastor Miles E. Renaas served our congregation. He was our sixteenth pastor. The mortgage for the new church was burned on September 16, 1984. During his service in 1985, efforts doubled toward the Lutheran Hunger Appeal. In 1987 a new roof was put on the church.
Pastor Frederick C. Thoni served our congregation from 1987 to 1990. He was our seventeenth pastor. In 1988 Lewis Valley joins the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. The women’s organization celebrated its 100 years with a Centennial Style show. From February 1988 to August 1990 Eric and Lea Ofstedahl served as house parents for troubled teens in Escuela Caribe, a small town of Jarabacoa in the mountains of the Dominican Republic. This was part of New Horizons Christian boarding school based out of Marion, Indiana.
The eighteenth pastor to serve our congregation was Pastor Karla Schollmeyer Griffen. She served from 1991 to 1996. On October 20, 1991, our Mission Fest speaker was Anastasia Malle, professor of Hebrew and Old Testament at Makumira Seminary in Tanzania, Africa. On November 1, 1992, our Mission Fest speaker was Zakayo Malekwa of Tanzania. In 1992, the Knute and Ethel Bertelson Youth Ministry Endowment Fund was established by their children in memory of their parents. In 1993, the room on the north end of the Narthex is renovated and made into a Library and sitting room. The Library was dedicated on September 19, 1993. In that same year, October 3, Lewis Valley celebrated one hundred years of worshipping at the present site. The church bell was recovered and commemorated. Repairs were also done to the cemetery shed. In 1994, our congregation increased the number of children attending Sugar Creek Bible Camp.
Early in 1996, Pastor Jean Kloss served our parish as an interim pastor. It was during her stay that the church celebrated its 140th year. A new alter portrait of Jesus Walking on the Water was dedicated on March 10, 1996. This portrait was replicated from the original painting that was part of the altar from the old church. “With One Voice” Hymnal was purchased and is used along with the “Lutheran Book of Worship”.
Our nineteenth pastor was Pastor Mark Jolivette. He served our congregation from 1997 to 2006. In 1997, a new Rodgers digital organ was purchased, which replaced the old electronic organ. In that same year the Church and the Norden Cemetery received a donation of land, from the late Walton and the late Marion Ofstedahl and John and Dorothy Ofstedahl. It is located south of the parking lot and cemetery, for expansion. In 1998 the electronic organ was sent to Drury Lutheran Church, which is located in the Red River area of Minnesota. That area sustained heavy flooding. The flood destroyed many of their church furnishing. In 1999, many things took place. On Valentines night an event was held “Light the Fire” this was to burn up treetops damaged by the storms over the past year and to relight the fire within us. The church purchased new altar paraments made by Joyce Abernathy. We started a Mission Partner with Shepherd of the Hills, in Jackson WY. The church exterior grounds were landscaped and the church parking lot was enlarged and repaired. In 2000, our congregation received a large pictorial holder to hold all of the confirmation photos. Skylights, stained glass windows and new carpeting were installed in the worship area upstairs. A new serving cart was purchased to hold cookies and homemade goodies to increase fellowship. Members were no longer ushered out for the same reason. From January 2001 to April of 2005, Will Pfaff served with the Peace Corps in Guatemala. He worked with the people there to promote small business. Also in 2001, an elevator fund was established and pew chairs were added to the worship space upstairs. In 2002, home ministry was established. This allowed lay members to bring communion to the homebound, and Communion is now given to children younger than confirmation age. New larger hymnal racks were installed to accommodate the extra hymnals. A new well was drilled. In 2003, a new communion Patten and Chalice were purchased. In that same year Anne Jolivette (the daughter of our pastor) traveled to Argentina to do mission work, working with Women’s Rights issues. Shoes were collected and delivered to the area where she was volunteering. Later the next fall Anne brought shawls back from Argentina to be sold to help create income for these families. In 2004, the sidewalks around the church were replaced. In 2005, air conditioners were installed. In 2005, Lewis Valley committed to a three year Focus on the Future campaign for Sugar Creek Bible Camp. The goal is $15,000. This is to expand the present camp and to add needed housing. A joint choir was organized with Mindoro Lutheran. Our Mission Fest speaker in 2005 was Bishop April Larson, starting our 150th anniversary celebration. In 2006, Jack Card and Rich Anderson along with members from Mindoro Lutheran traveled to Ocean Springs, MS on a mission trip to help them clean up after Hurricane Katrina. Also in 2006, new gas furnaces were installed and the roof was replaced with a stone-coated steel roof. Pastor Jolivette resigned and Pastor Jeff Ruetten was our interim pastor. In October 2006 we celebrated our 150th year. And to that we say to “God be the Glory”!
In December 2006, Pastor Jerene Houser came to serve our church. She was our twentieth pastor.
In 2007, we started having monthly Joint Council meetings with Mindoro Lutheran to increase communication between the two congregations and an increased sense of unity.
Confirmation was returned to spring by parent decision. And, a joint auction was held in June to help with operating expenses. A Sunday offering counting team was formed, freeing up council members from that duty.
In 2008, church members helped Pastor Houser move to Colorado to be with friends as her health declined. Our twenty-first pastor, Pastor Janet Wollam came to serve our parish in March 2008. The parsonage lot line was resolved, marked, recorded, and both Mindoro and Lewis Valley are on the deed to the property.
In 2009, the new cranberry hymnal - “Evangelical Lutheran Worship” - replaced the green hymnal – “Lutheran Book of Worship”.
In 2010, we had our first “Spring in the Valley” Plant Sale.
In July 2011, our new website was published and launched. In 2011, we turned our annual fall bazaar into the “Fall Festival” making it an all-day event with family activities and a car show along with our live auction. A Vision Team was created along with Worship, Outreach, Education, Property, Finance, and Staff Support teams.
In August 2011, the Outreach Team hosted its first Neighbor Night; and in February 2012, had its first Community Dinner.
In September 2015, Pastor Janet Wollam retired; and in November 2015, Pastor Kris Fahey became our Interim Pastor.
In March of 2017, we had our first Fish Fry.
On June 4, 2017, Rev. O. Trygve Holter, celebrated his 50th Anniversary of Ordination. On June 4, 1967, Trygve Holter, the first member of the Lewis Valley congregation to enter the pastoral ministry, was ordained.