History of St. Matthew Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod

Written for our 100th Anniversary 2015

From 1902-1904 Rev. J. Duerr of Beulah served Hazen, Golden Valley, and Zap. He was followed by Rev. Schmook who served from 1905-1910. Rev. Elmer Bliss served Hazen the year he was ordained.

A congregation was organized in 1903 north of Hazen known as Wolf’s Gemeinde. It was affiliated with the Missouri Synod and was officially called Zion’s Gemeinde. Pastor Leinhardt served this church for a brief time. After the railroad came to Hazen about 1914, it was necessary to conduct services here and this was done by Pastor Gustav Merting of St. Paul’s at Otter Creek.

It soon became evident that if work in Hazen was to flourish, it had to be organized, so a meeting was called January 19, 1915, of all the people served by Pastor Merting. At this meeting a congregation was organized and a constitution was adopted.

In 1915, the congregation purchased an acre of land in Hazen’s new Keeley Addition and began building a temporary house of worship in the spring. This 20’x30’ building was built to be a school but used as a temporary church until the actual one was built. Through an error on a carpenter’s part, a steeple was put on the first building. Sometime during the summer, building of the parsonage was also started. The dedication was a time of rejoicing even though the crowd was kept down by swollen streams and muddy roads. The combined cost of the buildings was $3,400, of which $1,000 was borrowed from the Church Extension Fund. This was paid back.

Soon after its organization the congregation called Pastor Leinhardt and he served until 1917. He preached his first sermon in English on July 11, 1915. After Leinhardt left, they called Candidate M. A. Berner who was ordained September 2, 1917 and served until August 1922. He also served a mission north of Killdeer and a congregation near Stanton.

In 1918, St. Matthew’s joined the Synod and Zion’s of Stanton organized a parish and was served every other Sunday. Each church paid its share of the salary. The parsonage in Hazen was painted that year. In 1919, a car shed for pastor was purchased from Joseph Bohrer and moved into place. In 1920, the second story of the parsonage was completed and electricity installed. Mr. and Mrs. George Schramm donated land for the cemetery.

Rev. M. A. Berner accepted a call to Indiana in 1922. At that time, English services were held every third Sunday in the evening. During the vacancy, Vicar Gottlieb Mack of Springfield seminary filled in and Rev. Friedricksen of Kronthal conducted the meetings. In the fall of 1923, Candidate H.E. Dueker was called and the mission board was asked to grant a subsidy of $200. The Pastor asked and received permission to start a young people’s Bible class.

In 1924, the congregation purchased a seal; and in January 1925, a modified subscription and envelope system was begun. In May, the parsonage was painted and a well was dug. In June, the tenth anniversary was celebrated. At that time there were 115 souls, 68 communicants, and 19 voters. There were 45 baptisms, 39 confirmations, 15 marriages and 6 burials. In October 1925, Rev. H.E. Dueker accepted a call to Arkansas and Rev. G.H Koslowske filled in. On February 28, 1926, Rev. Fredrick Wohlfeil was installed. In January that year, the congregation ceased drawing subsidy from the North Dakota District and arrangements with Stanton ceased. May 13, 1926, the congregation dedicated a new bell in tone “C” which weighed 403 pounds and cost $193.84.

From 1926 to 1930, a furnace was installed in the parsonage, the pastor also served Mannhaven, the interior of the church was painted, a fence was put around the garden and yard at the parsonage, and the title to the property was legally established.

St. Matthew’s became a joint parish with St. James congregation of Krem in 1930, with Hazen receiving two-thirds of the services; whereas Krem received one-third. In 1931, the congregation received a legal title to the cemetery in accordance with state law.

After Rev. F. Wohlfeil’s death on July 6, 1933, Rev. L.T. Wohlfeil from Hanover filled in during the vacancy. On November 19, 1933, Candidate G. Hinz was ordained and installed. He also served the little congregation in a community called Cambridge. In this year St. James of Krem joined Trinity of Mannhaven to form a parish.

In 1935, there were terrible dust storms and crop failures. During one storm the parsonage garage was destroyed. Despite drought and blinding dust storms, the congregation grew. The church had 136 souls. Pastor G. Hinz accepted a call in March 1936 to Egeland, North Dakota.

Candidate G. Gerike was ordained and installed in May 17, 1936 by his father, H.F. Gerike of Dodge, North Dakota. He was assisted by vacancy pastor, Rev. Reinhold Arndt of Krem. On May 27th work was begun on the garage and back porch of the parsonage.

In 1938, the pastor’s salary was increased to $70 per month. Most of the members living in town were surprised with a July 4th flood, with water standing 3-5 feet deep. The church and parsonage well was destroyed and it was decided to join with city water. The full liturgical service was adopted for English and German services that year. The congregation became self-supporting in 1938.

In 1939, there were 211 souls. In the 25 years of existence there were 219 baptisms, 151 confirmations, 34 Marriages, and 42 tired pilgrims buried.

In 1940, on the 25th anniversary of the congregation, a new house of worship was adopted at a cost of $7,500 to $8,000. In April the old church was razed; a new basement was dug in three days. The lumber was placed into neat piles. Even the nails from the latches were placed in bundles of 55. A groundbreaking service was held May 26th between the German and English services. On June 30th, a cornerstone-laying service was held in the high school gymnasium. From the high school, the congregation went to the church property and laid the cornerstone, which was made of native granite. It measured 30”x14”x14” and weighed about 550 pounds. Articles placed in the stone were: 1)the Bible which had served the congregation for 25 years; 2) the agenda which had been in continuous use since Christmas 1922; 3) a German-English Catechism; 4) a German-English hymn book; 5) The Synodical Handbook; 6) the 1940 Annual; 7) a list of all the church and Sunday school officers and teachers; 8) a list of all the voters; 9) the carpenter’s name; 10) a copy of the official church papers, Lutheraner and Lutheran Witness; 11) a copy of the Jubilee issue of the Bismarck Tribune; 12) a copy of The Hazen Star; 13) a letter from Governor John Moses containing the North Dakota Great Seal; 14) a letter from President Franklin D. Roosevelt; and 15) a copy of the North Dakota-Montana District Lutheran in English and German.

The new church was 60x30x12-foot frame construction with imitation brick siding. The new pulpit was designed and built by Leonard Wohlfeil. The dedication of the new church and the 25th Jubilee was celebrated November 17, 1940.

In 1940, Pastor G. Gerike accepted a call to Corder, Missouri. Considerable growth was evident in the congregation during the 5 years of his ministry. Pastor G. H. Fiechtner was called in 1941 and installed April 27, 1941.

The Lord in His mercy blessed His people with rich harvests in these years and it was reflected in the giving toward His Kingdom. The church debt was liquidated in one-third time of the loan. In 1947 a $3,670 Wurlitzer Electronic Organ was purchased.

In 1948, a new parsonage was begun and was ready for occupancy the next spring. The old parsonage was sold and moved across the street from the church.

Disaster struck on Jan. 5, 1954 at 9:30 am, when fire was noticed in the church and by 11:00 am the church was completely destroyed. The building had served the congregation from 1940 until 1954. The building and contents were valued at $25,000, of which $15,700 was covered by insurance. Rev. Fiechtner and his wife had left at about 8:45 a.m. for a Pastor’s conference in Dickinson. Nearly all of the church records were in the pastor’s office in the parsonage. The Wurlitzer Electric Organ, one of the first in the western part of the state, was the most valuable fixture lost. Among the other items lost were: 1) two movie projectors; 2) new handmade altar covers for all seasons made by Frieda Barthel; 3) two electric stoves; 4) an electric water heater; and 5) other kitchen items installed the previous summer. The only item saved was a safe containing less than $10 of “Ladies Aid” money. When it became evident that the church could not be saved, the firemen concentrated on the neighboring homes of Ralph Jacobs and Leonard Loewen. A nearly perfect light northwest wind caused smoke and burning embers to drift between the two houses and down the street. Thursday of that week, members were cleaning away debris, even as the fire still smoldered in the coal pile.

Almost 100% of the members met the same evening in the REA building and decided to accept the school board’s offer to hold services and Sunday school in the Hazen School buildings. At the annual meeting of the voters in January, it was decided to build a new edifice. Building and finance committees were appointed, who were to submit plans and ideas.

After an extensive tour of the newer churches in the area, the building committee recommended engaging the services of E.J. Schoenrock and Sons for design and construction. This was accepted by the congregation. The new building was constructed on the same site as the old. Truly a new edifice rose out of the ashes! The basement walls were poured on May 12, 1954, and cornerstone ceremonies were held July 12, 1954. Services were held in the new basement from December 12, 1954, until moving up to the church proper the following year. The new church seats 350 in the main sanctuary, 39 in the choir loft, and 70 in the balcony.

The present structure of St. Matthew Lutheran Church was dedicated on July 10, 1955. This also marked the 40th anniversary of the congregation. Rev. Herbert Burdorf, Zap, ND, delivered the dedication sermon in the morning, with Rev. Wm. Mundinger of Garrison, ND conducting the afternoon services. Rev. H.E. Dueker of Rock Rapids, Iowa, a former St. Matthew’s pastor (1923-1925), led the evening service.

Lightning struck the tower of the church on May 17, 1964 at 11:30 P.M. It completely destroyed the cross, and damaged the tower, the bell, the bell base and the tower wall, with the damage amounting to $3,000.

On February 14, 1967, the Lord of the Church once again summoned a pastor of St. Matthew’s to His Church Triumphant. Pastor G.H. Fiechtner passed away unexpectedly on his 64th birthday after shoveling a heavy, wet spring snow. He had served St. Matthew’s faithfully for 27 years.

In the summer of 1967, the congregation called Pastor Vernon Mickow, who accepted the call and was installed in the fall of that year.

That same year, the congregation decided to once again build a new parsonage. Theo Huber Construction started work on the home in the fall of 1967, and it was ready for occupancy in the spring of 1968 at a cost of $23,000. The old parsonage was moved to the west end of 3rd Street.

Pastor Vernon Mickow accepted a call to Kingfischer, Oklahoma in 1973. The pulpit was again vacant until Pastor J.N. Sellmeyer was called and installed on July 21, 1974.

In 1979 the congregation began raising funds for the installation of a new church organ. It was built and installed later that year by the Wicks Organ Co. of Highland, Illinois. The 11-rank Pipe Organ was built from basic materials, took 18 months to complete, and cost $40,000, installed. The congregation’s fund raising efforts were very successful, the new organ was paid for on installation. Leonard Wohlfeil was very instrumental in this project, coordinating the purchase and installation of the new organ. Leonard served the congregation of St. Matthew’s and the Lord for 57 years as church organist. Combined with the time he played at Rolla and St. Thomas, Leonard served in this capacity for 64 years. The son of one of our former pastors, Leonard has been recognized several times over the years for his efforts, which are yet greatly appreciated.

In 1981, Pastor J.N. Sellmeyer accepted a call to a church and parochial school in St. Louis, Missouri. The pulpit was vacant while a number of calls were sent out — to no avail.

The voters then called Candidate Gary J. Carstens who served as Vicar, and after ordination was installed as Pastor.

During 1985 and early 1986, a number of constitutional changes were made; notably women’s suffrage was adopted and the name of the church changed from “St. Matthew’s” to “St. Matthew” Lutheran Church.

On February 23, 1986, Pastor Gary Carstens preached his last sermon before entering the United States Navy as a Chaplain.

Pastor David K. Suelzle came to us from Hay Springs, Nebraska and was installed November 16, 1986. Pastor Suelzle was a very well received member of both church and community. His love of music and concern for children opened many doors for the people of St. Matthew Lutheran Church, and brought us closer as a family in Christ.

In 1989, a Needs Study Group was organized to determine whether we should build and addition. On January 21, 1990, this group reported on the definite need for expansion.

At the 1990 Spring Voters meeting, the members of St. Matthew re-established a building fund and made a commitment to build a fellowship hall, additional classrooms, and kitchen and bathroom facilities to accommodate the handicapped.

In July of 1990, a Building Committee was selected. They were Delmar Schramm, Harold Mathisen, Robert Albers, Dwight Henke, Glen Podoll, Bobbie Schram, Myron Maas, Robert Goetz, Dr. Harold Balas, and Pastor David Suelzle. An Advisory Committee of Art Ziemann, Theo Huber, and Art Mueller was also formed. David Schoenrock was chosen as Designer and Architectural Supervisor in January of 1992. Approximately $45,000 in cash was raised and $77,098 in a three-year pledge program was received before construction began. Total funds required – all costs included – amounted to $444,571.

The Mortgage Survey of the church property was completed on December 18, 1992 at a total value of $873,000.

The groundbreaking for the new addition was held on August 30, 1992. Work was continued throughout the winter and the following spring and summer. The new addition was completed by November 1993. Dedication was held on January 9, 1994 with Rev. Norman Sincebaugh, ND District President, as the Main Speaker.

In 1994, a very special touch was added when three stained glass windows were installed in the east windows. These windows, along with the stone sculpture above the door, complete the gospel message and serve as a constant reminder to all who pass by our church that St. Matthew Lutheran Church is focused on Christ.

The basement was remodeled at the end of 2006 to include more classroom and storage space. The total remodel came to $7,000.

Pastor Suelzle accepted a call to serve Grace Lutheran Church in Fargo, North Dakota. He preached his last sermon, after serving St. Matthew for 22 years, on November 16, 2008. Rev. Suelzle’s sons, Michael and Daniel, also went into the ministry.

A new sound system was installed in January 2009 at a cost of $38,560, which allowed for continued mission and ministry to shut-ins, approved acoustics in the sanctuary and allowed video to the fellowship hall for overflow. The service also, began to be broadcast on the public access channel each week. The local radio station also broadcasts the services live each week.

Rev. David S. Tannahill served the congregation from August 30, 2009 to February 7, 2010 before returning to Kentucky. Through our extended vacancy, congregations in our district and 17 pastors faithfully served our congregation, helping to prepare St. Matthew for their next Pastor.

Rev. Kirk Peters accepted the congregation’s call and came to Hazen from Buffalo, Wyoming and was installed December 2, 2012. Since his installation, there has been a return to Bible Study and a revitalization in the congregation.

Five ordained sons of St. Matthew Lutheran Church have been called to serve the Lord as ministers: Rev. Leonard Galster; Rev. A. David Sailer; Rev. Rodney M. Meske; Rev. Michael Suelzle; Rev. Daniel Suelzle