Pilot Mound Lutheran Church's congregation is marking the church's 100th anniversary on Sunday, Sept. 12, with a church service led by Bishop Harold Usgaard, lunch and fellowship.
The little white church in the valley formerly called "Pekin" stands tall, supported by descendants of determined immigrants who wished to build more than a church and a steeple.
"The Rev. N.A. Giere conducted the first worship service in Pilot Mount in 1904," states the church's centennial history book. "Many Pilot Mound Township citizens attended Root Prairie Church. However, spring flooding of the Root River made this difficult. Earlier religious services were held in the school or in the town hall."
The Pilot Mound Lutheran Church was preceded by several congregations of various denominations - beginning with the Methodist church, organized by nine members on May 23, 1858, and led by Mr. W. Wendall as class leader.
The "Society became inactive" in a matter of a few years but was reorganized in 1864, first led by the Rev. John Klepper and next by the Rev. H. Webb and the Rev. W. C. Rice. The Methodist meetings were discontinued "several years later."
Baptists attempted to establish a presence in Pilot Mound in May 1859, also led by Mr. Wendall. When the Baptist society ended its ministry, a Free Baptist society emerged 20 years later, meeting in the District 55 schoolhouse, with the Rev. Cyrus Calkins as its pastor.
The Root Prairie Lutheran Church was one of the first Lutheran congregations in the area, with a membership that included numerous Pilot Mound residents.
"Flooding of the Root River made passage to Root Prairie difficult, if not impossible, at times," the book reiterated, and Pilot Mound's citizens chose to form their own congregation closer to home, both for safety and convenience.
The historical account continued, "Formal organization of the church occurred on February 12, 1907, with the completion of Pilot Mound Lutheran Church in 1910. The total cost of the building was less than the cost of the bell, which was later installed. In 1926, the church recognized the English language and voted to have every third service in English."
Archie and Tillie Dent were the first couple to be married in the yet-to-be-completed church in 1908, apparently by the Rev. Giere.
Clergy serving Pilot Mound Lutheran Church include the Rev. N. A. Giere from 1904 to 1910, Halvor Roalquam from 1910 to 1916, L. M. Larson from 1916 to 1928, S. Theo Severtson from 1928 to 1957, Percy Larson from 1960 to 1968, Melvin Sucher from 1968 to 1977, James Peterson from 1977 to 1981, Larry Sexe from 1981 to 1989, Art Thorstenson from 1989 to 1997, Lynn Zaffke from 1997 to 1999, and Ronald and Janet Warnes from 2003 to present."
Member Doris Horsman's history cited that "Pilot Mound's Women of the Evangelical Lutheran Church (WELCA), originally known as 'Ladies Aid', was first organized in 1900. As there was no church at Pilot Mound at the time the pastor of North Prairie and Root Prairie churches assisted with the organization.
"The Aid was reorganized in 1929, and a constitution was adopted. In 1932, the Aid was divided into four circles. The Ladies Aid took an active part in supporting the different mission fields, and had done much towards the improvement of our church.
"The circles and WELCA merged recently and continue to hold monthly meetings, and offer services for funerals, church activities, and continue to support the community."
Its Luther League "has been active since April of 1905, although no organization was formed until 1907. Their contributions have been many, consisting of a $200 donation to the congregation to be used for the completion of the church, and in 1912, the League bought an 800-lb. bell, which was consecrated and presented to the congregation on Sept. 1 of that year.
"The Luther League was reorganized in the early 1970s and renamed 'Family League' with events such as the Easter breakfast and annual ice cream social featuring the Chatfield Brass Band, held since 1973. Family League supports children attending camps, vacation Bible school and mission trips."
Pilot Mound's Sunday school was established in 1929.
"Forty-eight children enrolled that first Sunday, and through the years, enrollment has varied. Sunday school term begins in September and includes a Christmas program and singing during special Sunday services, and concludes in April. There are presently 14 children enrolled."
Pilot Mound Lutheran's building has stood tall over the past century, though it suffered some damage in fire, floods and even an explosion.
"The church roof caught fire in 1923 when the District No. 55 school across the road burned down due to a chimney fire. The church was flooded in 1942, when the organ in the basement was completely demolished, and cooking utensils from the kitchen were swept out through broken windows, and although it could be considered a disaster, much good was also derived as the people also enjoyed much fellowship in the working together that followed.
"The church also incurred significant damage when a natural gas explosion occurred in the basement on August 23, 1989."
In spite of challenges both to the building's integrity and to the congregants, the parish perseveres - Horsman noted that "the interior of the church has been newly painted and the exterior has all new siding, and we're very busy with church activities.
Mensink Lovejoy, Gretchen. Pilot Mound Lutheran turns 100 with special events. Bluff Country Newspaper Group. 1 Sept, 2010
The faith community of Pilot Mound Lutheran Church received a very generous gift in March from a neighbor, Karl Unnasch, who is a local artist. Two stain glass windows were created to replace the two clear glass windows in the sanctuary to the left and to the right of the altar. Portions of the new windows were salvaged years ago from a church being torn down with the idea that much of the glass could be taken apart and repurposed rather than disposed of. “Repurposing and recycling to create new art is what I do,” according to Karl.
The recycled portions of the window include images of Jesus, Mary, and a sheaf of wheat. The painting of these images was not done by Karl, however the balance of the work is Karl’s creation.
Karl has always enjoyed the presence of the Pilot Mound Lutheran Church building in downtown Pilot Mound and wanted to give back to the community he grew up in. Thank you Karl for sharing your time, talents, and resources with the faith community of Pilot Mound Lutheran.
Locally Karl has created installations at Rochester Community and Technical College, and John Marshall High School in Rochester, as well as the F & M Community Bank in Preston. Karl’s website is http://www.pilotmounddesign.com/index.htm.
Walker Brown, Pastor Sarah. Donated Church Windows. 1 Apr, 2017
Pilot Mound Cemetery records: