DEDICATION — Pastor Brian Gegel, left, standing next to Steve Schroeder, tells about the newly constructed cemetery directory at LeSueur River Lutheran Church. (Star Eagle photo by Kathy Paulsen)
By KATHY PAULSEN
LeSueur River Lutheran Church celebrated its Sesquicentennial - 150th year – on June 19, 2011 and on June 18, 2017 they dedicated their newly constructed cemetery directory. Over the years they have also completed several other projects, including a beautiful new kitchen, steeple shingles and new siding.
The congregations of LeSueur River and Vista Lutheran Churches held a joint worship service on Sunday, June 18. Following the service, the cemetery directory dedication service and celebration meal were held at LeSueur River church, is located 4 1/2 miles northeast of New Richland.
As people arrived at the church they were presented with copies of the origin of LeSueur River Lutheran. A roster of the congregation’s first settlers included 36 people in 1856 and many of them went on to be buried in the church cemetery.
Dennis Knutson shared several songs on his flute during the prelude to the morning service. Gratia Johnson, church organist, served as his accompanist.
Following the service everyone was invited outside for the dedication of the cemetery directory and celebration. It was explained that the seeds for this project had been sown a few years ago and now the crop was being harvested.
Steve Schroeder, who organized the building of the directory, shared introductory remarks. Schroeder credits his interest in establishing this cemetery directory to his grandparents who had died before he was born. The grandparents were buried in the German cemetery at Brownsdale, but Steve had no idea where their burial spots were located when he went to visit. The cemetery had a directory that helped him locate his grandparents. After his visit, he got to thinking that a directory would be a wonderful addition to his church’s cemetery.
Schroeder thanked the church board for letting him proceed with the project. He said that it was hard work coordinating everything, but he also had fun along the way.
Schroeder also offered up a large number of thanks to others who had assisted him with the project including Al Hagen, Jennifer Wyrum, Erik Jacobson, Josh Gegel and Pastor Brian Gegel, who were on the committee.
Pastor Charles Espe was also thanked for all that he had done to help with the development of the directory. He had taken pictures of each of the tombstones over the years and developed an alphabetical list of everyone that had been laid to rest in the church cemetery.
The directory includes the name of the person, the year of their birth, as well as their death. In the process of developing the directory, a map of the entire cemetery was developed and each gravesite was assigned a number in regards to where they were located.
Schroeder also thanked Mike and Bonnie Anthony, Jim and Verlane Krueger, Duane and Mary Edwardson and Josh Gegel along with other volunteers who helped organize the dinner served following the dedication. Schroeder especially thanked his sidekick, Duane Edwardson, for his ideas and labor.
Also thanked were Jeff Helle of Agri Steel, Home Solutions, Pete Johanson Carpentry, artist Dave Wallin and his crew at Rocks and Roots Landscape, Orrie Anthony of Straight River Electric, Matt Staloch of Staloch Construction, and the Jacobson family, including David and Karen and Eric and Tyler.
Said Schroeder, “Our church is a very special place to worship God and gather in fellowship, and the generosity of our congregation has allowed several projects to be completed over the year. Those whose faith and lives preceded us and whose names are listed on the cemetery directory would be proud.”
Schroeder also thanked the many people who purchased memory bricks which were used for the walkway that leads into the cemetery, and located in the area developed under the display area.
Schroeder thanked the many great people from the area who helped to make this a very valuable and worthwhile project. He especially thanked Pastor Espe for the countless hours he spent putting together the names and history of the church for the directory.
Schroeder also thanked Josh Gegel for his help with the initial publicity, spreadsheet expertise in getting all the names organized for the directory, and for coordinating with Thrivent which provided matching funds for the project.
All members, former members of the church and non-members who have purchased pavers were also thanked as well.
Pastor Espe, who served LeSueur River as pastor from 1968-2006, gave a historical presentation with the assistance of Jennifer Wyrum, who put together a DVD presentation. It showed a number of pictures of the church, former pastors, as well as many of its members and events over the years.
Pastor Espe asked people to let their imaginations run back 150-plus years to the time when there were no buildings, towns, stores or people except a few Native Americans passing through the area.
Today there is a beautiful church, and nearly 900 stone monuments located in the cemetery located near the church. It is believed the total number of people buried in the LeSueur River cemetery would be well over 1,000.
Pastor Espe said there are at least three in the cemetery who attained the age of 100-plus: Barbara Jordheim, Martha Sme/Sorenson and the oldest, Martin Reese, at 104.
There were at least 12 people who were born in the 1700s, the earliest, Katrina Opgaard, who was born in 1784. Of that group, only four have monuments or markers in the cemetery.
The land for the cemetery was given by Hans Sunde in 1861 and a log church was later constructed. From the annals of Pastor Bernt Juluis Muus, it was learned that he was on his fall tour of the western settlements or congregations of the parish at that time.
There was a service of Holy Communion for at least 51 communicants plus children at that time, which means that the little log church, which measured 20 X 26, must have been overflowing. At the first dedication of the cemetery, 16 people were memorialized. Nine of them had died in 1862, five had passed away in 1863 and two others had died earlier. Of the 16 remembered during the first dedication all those years ago, 12 were children under 3 years of age.
Pastor Espe said it was assumed that Pastor Muus that led the first service in the newly-constructed log church dedicated Nov. 8, 1863. A new church was built in 1875 and dedicated in 1876, before New Richland existed.
Building materials for the new church were brought from Waseca and Owatonna by members of the congregation.
From reports of the History of Waseca and Steele Counties it has been learned that the church cost about $5,000 to construct and the seating capacity was 550, which was felt were highly exaggerated.
Another picture that Pastor Espe had included in his presentation showed what the church looked like in 1885. Espe made note of the tree growth and a fence located near the church. Several times in the early minutes of the church it was noted that church attendees were told, “Do not tie your horses to the fence.”
The second pastor at the church was A.N. Quammen, who served from 1866-1872, followed by Pastor O. A. Melby. Melby was born, raised, and educated in Norway. Upon his graduation from the seminary he accepted a call to LeSueur, where he served from 1872-1914. It was interesting to note that Le Sueur was his only parish, and he served there for 42 years. One member told Espe that Pastor Melby’s sermons were long and that he spoke slowly.
A picture was also shown of Tollef Tollefson, the first parochial school teacher, and there was a picture of the Luther League in those early years, which back then was called the “Young People’s Society.” Almost everyone came. The young people would have the program, which included singing, recitation, devotions and lunch.
Another picture was believed to be the first photograph taken of a confirmation class, which included 26 students. Another picture was of Martha Sme, who lived across the road from the church, who was a very faithful member of the church in those early years.
Pastor Espe also showed a picture of the Anthoni Sampson, as well as one of three pioneer women of the congregation, Martha Sunde, Martha Sorenson and Katrina Hedenstad, who were responsible for the altar painting, which still remains.
Following the slide presentation people were reminded that a cremation unit had been added to the cemetery two years ago. It is located on the south side of the cemetery in the area where our country’s flag is displayed for special occasions. A brick sidewalk of “pavers” was added one year ago and two families donated benches to the cemetery.
More than 100 brick “pavers” were sold prior to the cemetery directory dedication, and more were bought on Sunday following the service.
Following the conclusion of Pastor Espe’s historical presentation, Pastor Gegel invited everyone outside for the dedication of the cemetery directory.
Following the dedication, everyone was invited back into the church for a celebration fellowship meal, which included pork chops, baked potatoes, coleslaw, dinner rolls and assorted desserts. The Red Leaf catering service helped prepare and serve the dinner.
Ice cream cones were also shared following the historical presentation.
Following the dedication, Josh Gegel shared information about the “How well do you know the cemetery scavenger hunt” which would be held, as well as about tours that would be available of the cemetery.
Josh made up 25 scavenger hunt kits, which people used to find the gravestones of a number of people in the cemetery. A number of the kits contained gift certificates received in honor of the special occasion, while others contained sweet treats.
People were encouraged to stay and spend time in the cemetery in remembrance of those who had gone on before. It was interesting to see many people making their way around the cemetery in search of many of their family members and friends. A few people used golf carts that were available to make their way around the cemetery.
It was a beautiful day of remembrance for many people in the New Richland area and, as stated earlier, a great number of thanks were extended to the many people and businessed who helped make it possible. An extra big thank is extended to Steve Schroeder for all that he has done to make this project a reality as well as successful. It is a certainty that many people will use the directory for many years to come!
Church services continue to be held at LeSueur River on Sunday mornings at 9, and during the school year Sunday school follows at 10 O’clock.