by Richard Lamb–Advance Editor
A celebration of one hundred years of St. John Lutheran School drew an overflow crowd to the school auditorium Sunday. The school began in 1916 with the hiring of its first fulltime teacher.
The Rev. Galen Grulke, former student and current pastor of Heart of the Shepherd Lutheran Church, Howell, served as master of ceremonies for the event, which drew several former teachers and pastors. Several offered remarks at the celebration potluck at the school.
“You all are here because somebody taught you that Jesus loves you and you, in turn, did the same for others,” Rev. Grulke said encouraging the congregation to continue the work of the school.
Current teacher and principal Linda Schalk introduced former teachers and pastors in attendance including Larry Wissner, Les Roth, Carol Roth, Bud Helmreich, Kathy McFall, Ken Schroeder, Rodney Goehmann, Holly Wirgau, the Rev. Barton Gray and the Rev. John Schreiber. Schalk also welcomed Marcia Weller, daughter of longtime pastor the late Rev. Robert Weller and former teacher Clara Weller.
The Rev. Eric Voigt, who serves both St. John and Immanuel Lutheran in Moltke, said his time serving the congregation has been an enjoyable experience.
“It has been a joy to witness the growth in the kids over the past 11 years I have been serving. It is wonderful to see the wonderful young men and women these students have become,” Rev. Voigt said.
As a history major in college, Rev. Voigt said he appreciates the history of the school and all of the pastors and teachers who have come before him.
Bruce Braun superintendent of 159 schools for the Michigan District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod congratulated the congregation for the success of the school. Braun said back in 1916, costs were high and the economy was not great, but yet the congregation pursued starting a school.
“We live in a world where Lutheran schools are needed more than ever,” Braun said. He said it was an honor to sit on the stage with former teachers and pastors, whom he called a “hall of fame.”
God calls us to accept challenges, Braun said, saying it is not easy to maintain a Lutheran day school.
Rogers City mayor Tom Sobeck presented a plaque declaring May 22, 2016 St. John Lutheran School Day. He acknowledged the cost of a faith-based education is high, but worthwhile.
“Every penny, every minute, every ounce of sweat that it takes is worth it. When we go through a faith-based education, I don’t think we realize until we are well past that age, what value that was and what effort our parents took to get that to us. One hundred years of doing that is incredible,” Sobeck said.
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Lutheran education actually began at St. John in 1873 with the calling of the first pastor, but the congregation voted to build a school building in 1910. Brothers Max and Leopold Kulhman constructed the building at a cost of $945. With the enrollment increasing over the years, that building became too small and was sold and moved to house the present St. Luke Episcopal Church on the corner of Erie and First Streets.
The church called Louis Schilke in May, 1916 to serve as its first full-time teacher with a salary of $60 per month. He served two years until moving to Austin, IL, causing a two-year suspension of school operations. With the arrival of Hans Hanson in 1920, school resumed. Hanson stayed for nine years as the school grew. By the end of the decade, enrollment surpassed 100 pupils for the first time.
Classes were taught in German until 1926 and church services, previously conducted in German, were switched to English the same year.
With the arrival of teacher M.L. Wiess in 1929 and the Rev. Louis Linn in 1930 enrollment increased, as did congregational membership.
The school had two teachers from 1930 until the 1941-42 school year when a third teacher served the school. A fourth teacher came in 1951 and a fifth teacher came in 1955. Six teachers served beginning in the 1959-60 school year.
The Mendrick building on Erie Street, directly across the street from the former location of the old church, served as school from 1930-1941. At a cost of $50,000, a new school was dedicated at its present location, adding three classrooms, offices, kitchen and an auditorium to the school.
In 1954, expansion came again at a cost of $95,000, adding three more classrooms to the north side of the property, a 6,200 square foot addition preparing for the peak enrollment of 226 in 1959. Present at the dedication were the Rev. Robert Weller, Rev. Linn and principal Norman Utech.
Some of the longest-serving teachers at the school included Ray Newkirk 1954-1987, Elsie Gruhn, 1955-1973; Noel Schroeder 1965-1993; Phyllis Schroeder 1969-1993; Kathy McFall 1975-2003 and Les Roth 1965-1981.
The school now has an enrollment of 70, including preschool and kindergarten. Linda Schalk, herself a former student of the school, has served as a teacher at St. John for the past 19 years and principal since the retirement of Ken Schroeder in 2009.
“It is amazing how I can remember all of my teachers from St. John but not so much from my high school and college years. What an influence they had on my life and the lives of the many students they came in contact with,” Schalk said.
The current staff consists of teachers Mrs. Jennifer Voigt, Mrs. Laurie Maynard, Mrs. Stacy Purol, Miss Karen Quade, Mrs. Tonya Langlois, Mr. Eric Frisco and secretary Julie Riddle.