St. Stephen Evangelical Lutheran Congregation
100 Years of Grace
In the early part of 1883, the original Batavia St. Stephen’s Lutheran congregation was a mission formed and supported by the St. John’s Lutheran congregation of Sherman Center. The first Divine Services were held in Batavia by the Rev. Philip Wambsgans of St. John’s or at times the service was conducted by readings of the members. These services were held in a small room above a blacksmith shop owned by Gottlieb Trader.
On March 18, 1884 a meeting of the local Lutherans was called and St. Stephen’s Evangelical Lutheran congregation was formed with the following charter members present: David Stolper, Gottlieb Hubrig, G. A. Leifer, Henry Wangerin, Frederick Capella, William Sauter, William Pheifer, Edward Schilling, Jacob Reiss, Edward Capella, August Buhs, John Wangerin, Gottlieb Capella, William Knohr and Karl Krahn. Two provisory elders were elected at the meeting: G. A. Leifer and Gottlieb Hubrig. The newly-formed congregation made plans for a constitution and the constitution was formed on June 2, 1884. A membership in the Missouri Synod was granted the following year. The officers were elected as follows: overseers, G. A. Leifer and Frederick Capella; elder, Gottlieb Hubrig; secretary, Henry Wangerin and treasurer, Jacob Reiss.
With the founding of the congregation, the place of worship was soon transferred to a new church (46’ x 30’) built by the congregation during the summer and fall of 1884 on an acre of land purchased from Mrs. Wilhelmina Dreger. A small belfry was placed on the roof. This church was dedicated on the second Sunday in February 1885.
Pastor Wambsgans continued serving the new congregation. Every other two weeks services were conducted in the afternoon. When Holy Communion was celebrated, the service was held in the forenoon.
In the first year of its existence, 1884, the congregation also purchased an acre of land from John Schwenzen, a member of the congregation for use as a cemetery. The first trustees of the cemetery were Gustav Leifer, Henry Mann and John Schwenzen.
In the fall of 1884, a religious school was begun. The classes were held in a small partitioned section in the rear of the church. At first the school term was set at four months, from September to Christmas, but later this term was lengthened. The first teacher was Miss Johanna Wambsgans, the daughter of Pastor Wambsgans. Later the local pastor served as the school teacher.
The Rev. Wambsgans continued to serve the congregation until 1886, when the Batavia church separated from the Sherman Center Church and united with St. Paul’s church of Cascade. The Rev. C. G. Haehnel of St. Petersburg, IL accepted a call from the two churches and was installed as pastor on May 15, 1887. Cascade provided a dwelling place for the pastor.
On February 10, 1895, the tenth anniversary of the dedication of the church was celebrated. For this occasion a baptismal font, the one still used today, was presented to the congregation by Nickel & Kegler Monumental Company.
In 1900 the Batavia congregation felt the need of a full-time pastor. On March 16, 1900 it was decided to build a parsonage and secure a resident pastor. Near the end of September, 1900 the parsonage was completed and early in October it was dedicated as the home of St. Stephen’s pastors.
Rev. Haehnel, who had served the joint parishes accepted a call to Batavia and preached his first sermon as resident pastor on October 14, 1900. He also served as the full-time teacher. On February 17, 1902, Pastor Haehnel organized a Ladies Aid Society. On September 6, 1903 the he was forced to resign due to poor eye-sight and hearing.
The Rev. A. Luebkemann of Forestville, WI was called to succeed Rev. Haehnel and on November 22, 1903 he was installed as pastor.
On June 12, 1905 the old public school building on an adjoining property was purchased and moved to the church property. The Rev. Luebkemann was called to his reward on December 11, 1905 due to cancer. His earthly remains were laid to rest on the congregation’s cemetery.
Pastor Edmund Huebner of Sherman Center served the congregation during the ensuing vacancy. The Rev E. Hanow of Shawano, WI was installed as a successor on May 6, 1906.
On October 6, 1907 a new reed organ was purchased by the congregation at a cost of $190. In the same year the tower of the church was rebuilt and enlarged. A Bell was also purchased (weight 1300 lbs.) at the price of $316.
In 1909, the congregation celebrated its twenty-fifth anniversary. Two years later on August 19, 1911, the Rev. Hanow resigned due to ill health. During the vacancy, Pastor Gustav Kaniess of Town Scott served the congregation. The Rev. Richard Heschke of Medford, WI accepted the call to Batavia and was installed on November 10, 1911.
Toward the close of the World War I, the congregation decided to rebuild and enlarge its church. Many improvements were made. Besides the extension of the church proper, a sanctuary, vestry and room for elders were added. The choir loft and two rest rooms were changed. Stained glass windows were installed, a new altar and pews were purchased, and new carpeting was laid throughout the church. A basement was built below the new addition to provide for a furnace room. Up to this time the church had been heated by the means of stoves. The church was rebuilt, enlarged and redecorated at the cost of $5,500.
On November 7, 1918, after the remodeling was completed, the church was re-dedicated. At this time English services were introduced. The first regular held English service was held on February 4, 1923. From this date on, English services were conducted on the first Sunday of each month.
After thirteen years of faithful service, the Rev. Heschke was called to Hilbert, WI. Again the Rev. Gustav Kaniess of Town Scott served during the vacancy. The Rev. Herman F. Gruell of Brown Deer accepted the call to Batavia. He was installed on September 21, 1924 and served until November 11, 1929 when he received a call to Town Center, WI. The Rev. Rudolph Schroth of Adell served during the vacancy.
Pastor Gruell was succeeded by the Rev. Clarence Krueger who was called from St. Paul Church of Durango, CO. Pastor Krueger was installed on March 3, 1929.
In January of 1932 the congregation decided to have and maintain a complete Sunday school. The first classes were held on the last Sunday in January of 1932. During the same time the Junior Bible Class was conducted for the confirmed youth.
In the summer of 1932, in the month of June, a Summer School was started and conducted by Pastor Krueger to supplement the Sunday school. This school was conducted for approximately 20 days each June for many years.
Also in 1932, the old reed organ suffered an irreparable breakdown after twenty-five years of service. On the 6th of December the congregation purchased a rebuilt pipe organ at the cost of $250. The organ was dedicated on January 17, 1933.
In May of 1933, Branch #2147 of Aid Association for Lutherans was formed. In the fall of 1933, a Junior Society was also organized, which was affiliated with the Walther League a number of years.
Early in 1934, a Senior Society was organized. Later in the year the old barn was torn down. From the lumber salvaged, a two-car garage was built for the pastor. In the fall of 1939, a new blower-type furnace was purchased at a cost of $650.
In 1939, the old school building was removed from the church premises. A new building was erected on the south-central portion of the church property. This building consisted of a basement and main floor. The cost was approximately $3,000. It was dedicated on November 1, 1939.
At the beginning of 1941, the congregation took a step toward establishing permanent care of the cemetery. The cemetery was placed in charge of seven men; forming a cemetery association. The first men to serve on this association staff were: Elmer Garbisch, Ervin Hintz, Walter Krahn, Herbert Leifer, Levi Melius, Noah Seider and Alfred Wegner.
In April of 1944, a new Ladies organization was started under the name of the “Ruth Guild”.
In 1951, Pastor Krueger left St. Stephen’s to become Associate Pastor of St. John’s Church in Racine. WI.
In 1952, the Rev. Fred Rutkowsky of Holy Cross Church and Immanuel Church of Staunton, IL accepted St. Stephen’s call. Pastor Rutkowsky was installed on February 3, 1952. During 1952 the chimes were bought. In 1953, Pastor Rutkowsky left St. Stephen’s congregation.
In 1954, Pastor August M. Bachanz accepted St. Stephen’s Call. He was installed on March 7, 1954. Pastor Bachanz came to St. Stephen’s from Immanuel Lutheran Church of Adams, WI. On April 15, 1959 the LWML (Lutheran Women’s Missionary League) was organized.
Rev. Bachanz left St. Stephen’s in 1960 when he accepted a call to Waupaca. During the year of 1960, Pastor Carl W. Knorr accepted St. Stephen’s call. He was installed on October 2, 1960. Pastor Knorr came to St. Stephen’s from Hope Lutheran Church of Milwaukee. He was forced to retire due to his health in September of 1972. Pastor Knorr passed away from cancer on March 24, 1973 and his earthly remains were laid to rest on the congregation’s cemetery. He was 56 years of age.
In October of 1972, Pastor William L Robinson of Milwaukee became pastor of St. Stephen’s. In March of 1978 Pastor Robinson organized the Service & Fellowship Circle.
In March of 1982 St. Stephen’s and Immanuel of Town Scott formed a dual parish and it was decided that Pastor Robinson and his family would relocate to Immanuel’s parsonage. It was also decided that St. Stephen’s would rent the parsonage in Batavia to someone who would act as the churches custodian. In July of 1982 the George Gersmehl family moved into the parsonage and took over as custodians.
On Sunday, March 25, 1984, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church was presented a plaque at ceremonies at the Batavia Elementary School designating it as an historical landmark. The plaque was presented to President James Muench by Rev. Duane R. S. Mills, President of Landmarks, Ltd.
Pastor Robinson served both parishes until 2002. He served 30 years. In the summer of 2002, seminarian Kurt Ziemann was assigned as vicar. He served under the guidance of Rev. Robert Zick of Fredonia. Following a year of vicarage, both congregations issued a call to Rev. Ziemann, and he was ordained and installed in July of 2003.
During the past 100 years, St. Stephen’s has been served by 12 different pastors of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod.
Organist Devotes over 50 years of Talents
Mrs. Selma Janke was St. Stephen’s organists for more than 50 years. She began playing at St. Stephen’s at the age of 14. When Mrs. Janke was 11 years old she took music lesions from an old man who went from house to house giving lessons. Later she studied with Mrs. Edgar Stolper of Batavia, a teacher of piano and the organ.
Marriage and becoming a mother of three daughters did not interfere too much. She played the organ since the days of horse and buggy.
On a wintry Sunday, she and her small daughter walked a mile from their home in Batavia because the snow was too deep to drive there. The organist felt she must be there. Only a few faithful worshipers were present – the majority of the townsfolk did not venture out.
When Mrs. Janke started as organist, services were entirely in the German language. She accompanied the hymn singing, a once existing choir and also played for Christmas and Easter programs of the children. She also accompanied their confirmation services. During the five decades of her musical service there were eight ministers of the church.
In November of 1963 a special recognition was given to Mrs. Janke by Pastor Carl W. Knorr. In appreciation for the gift of her time, talents and dedication over the years, the congregation expressed its esteem and gratitude with a wall cross of polished walnut and brass.