Pastor Paul Koehneke wrote in 1922, ďIn the fall of 1855 when Winona was but a small hamlet and only two settlers were living between Hart and Winona, a number of settlers arrived here after a very tedious overland trip from their former home in Randolph County, Illinois. At the head of the party was Rev. Albrecht Brand with his wife and family, his son-in-law, Harry Ronnenberg, and a brother of Mr. Brand, John Brand. They traveled in a covered wagon and also brought cattle with them. Mr. Brand settled on the farm just north of St. Johnís Lutheran Church. Water had to be gotten in Wiscoy Valley and many trees had to be cleared away. Slowly more settlers came from Germany and other parts of the United States.Ē
At first Rev. Brand tended to the spiritual wants of the people and conducted services in homes and occasionally at St. Martinís in Winona but due to eye trouble and failing health he was unable to continue this.
He sent a request to St. Louis to the first president of the Missouri Synod, Dr. C.F.W. Walther, for a pastor to be sent to minister to the Brand family and others and to celebrate the Lordís Supper.
Excerpts of Dr. W.G. Polackís The Building of a Great Church and the Minnesota Districtís Planting Story, provide very insightful descriptions.
About Christmas 1861, H.F.C. Grupe received a letter from Dr. Walther urging him to go to Winona, Minnesota, since he was the nearest missionary, whence a ďMacedonian callĒ had come for a Lutheran preacher, these people thereabouts starving for want of the Bread of Life. Touched by the appeal, soon thereafter in the first days of January of 1862 Grupe started out on horseback to make the 80 miles in two days, although the ground was covered with deep snow and the weather was cold. Shortly before he reached his point of destination, called Frank Hill, an infidel, animated by ferocious hatred of Christ and His gospel, purposely misdirected Grupe in order to have him drown. Following the manís directions, Grupe suddenly found himself on ice. In a moment the horse had broken through the ice, and horse and rider were floundering in icy water, and it was only Godís gracious omnipotence that saved the young pastor from a watery grave in Lake Winona.
After further inquiry, he found the man who had sent for him, Albrecht Brand. The day after his arrival, messengers were sent out in all directions informing the people of the advent of a Lutheran preacher and inviting them to a service to be held the coming Sunday. On Sunday morning Mr. Brandís room was filled with eager souls, hungry for the comforting gospel. After the service they expressed their wish to have a pastor. When Grupe offered to come regularly, they accepted his offer with grateful hearts.
Pastor Grupe was then informed of the Lutheran families at Silo about 15 miles away. Pastor Grupe also looked up these families. It was agreed that these two places should form a parish. This was proposed to Dr. Walther and he recommended that a call be sent to Rev. Grupe. He accepted and was installed as the pastor by Pastor Horst of Minneapolis in March. The coming of Rev. Grupe to Hart marks the beginning of St. Johnís congregation. The first elders were F. Kasch and H. Ronnenberg.
In 1862 a log church was built near the cemetery to the northeast of the present church. This also served as living quarters for the newly arrived pastor when he arrived in March. In May he brought a bride to this home having married Lina Hellbach of Chicago. Their furniture in the one-room parsonage consisted of half a dozen common chairs, a kitchen stove, a table, and a bed - the melodeon doing duty as a writing desk. Rev. Grupe confirmed a class in the spring of 1863. After a year, he moved to Silo to serve that congregation alone.
During the vacancy a number of lay readers took care of the spiritual needs of the people. Among them were Herman Luedtke and John Kiekbusch. Pastor Grupe also came a few times to serve his former congregation.
In 1865 the Rev. G.F. Reitz was sent here. A second log church was built on the present church site in 1865. One acre was donated by George Shumann and one acre later by John Brand. The Rev. Philip Von Rohr, who had come to St. Martinís in Winona in 1866, held services at a school house north of Hart.
Rev. Ernst M. Buerger came in 1869, and the frame church was built. It was 48 by 30 feet with a 50 foot tower. The log church served as the parsonage. His salary was $400 a year. The congregation joined the Missouri Synod during his pastorate. During his tenure the congregation grew to some over 200 communicants and about 300 souls.
He was followed by Rev. Francis Johl, Rev. A. Baebenroth, Rev. Paul Rupprecht, and Pastor John Brauer.
The brick parsonage was built in 1902 and in 1906 the brick church was built. It was not covered with brick at the time it was built. It was 70 by 30 feet and was built for $6,000. Mr. F. Kasch had willed $500 to the church for a new building. It was paid for at the time of dedication. In 1908 a cyclone did some damage to the trees and house. In 1910 a pipe organ was purchased. Two acres of land were purchased in 1912 to add to the west side of the church property to be used for pasture. The 50th anniversary of the congregation was observed in 1912.
Pastor H. Meissner came to Hart in 1913. He was followed by Rev. Paul F.M. Koehneke. The congregation on January 1, 1922, consisted of 400 baptized members, 254 communicants, and 87 voting members.
Rev. Otto C. Schultz came in 1923, and the Ladies Aid was organized in 1924. In 1926 electricity was brought in.
In 1931 Rev. Ernst Sprengeler became pastor at St. Johnís, followed by the Rev. Julius E. Buelow. The 75th anniversary was observed June 11-13, during which Millard Wolfram, a student at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, preached his first sermon.
The brick church burned June 15, 1944, after it had been struck by lightning. The pews, baptismal font and the pulpit were saved and are still being used. Following the loss of the church the school house was used for regular church purposes and special services were often held at the Wilson Church.
The cornerstone was laid for the new church on June 23, 1946. The church was completed at a cost of about $50,000. The church was equipped with a new marble altar and a two-manual Wangerin pipe organ with chimes. It was also equipped with an amplifying system to carry services to the basement and outside. A well-equipped kitchen is located in the basement.
The new church was not furnished with a bell so the custom of ringing the bell when someone in the congregation had died and ringing it to announce the beginning of services was no longer possible. Soon the voters resolved that a prelude of church hymns be played through the church tower before each service.
Another change which came when the move was made into the new church was the custom of having men seated to the right of the center aisle and women on the left. This custom was changing all over the country so the change was quite natural.
Rev. Herman Brauer came to Hart in 1949. He was the son of Rev. and Mrs. John Brauer and had been born at Hart. Rev. Edwin Friedrich came to Hart in 1953. Candidate Philip Hanson became pastor of St. Johnís in July of 1966. In 1967 major work was done on the pipe organ by Lou Jappe.
In June of 1970 Candidate Keith Bender became pastor. He was followed by Candidate Arthur Yunker in 1973, Candidate Jon Ahoyt in 1979.
It was with much joy and gratitude to God that St. Johnís dedicated their beautiful new parsonage on March 8, 1981. The cost of the parsonage was $75,000. The old parsonage and the teacherage were taken down in 1981.
Rev. Edmund Bentrup became pastor in 1981, and was the first pastor to live in the new parsonage. Pastors Armin Deye, William Flesch, and Chaplain Theodore Schoewe served during vacancies.
Rev. Reuben F. Meissner became pastor in October of 1983. In 1987 the congregation observed its 125th anniversary. A chicken supper was held at this time and annually thereafter the congregation prepares and serves a supper in September. Voters resolved at the annual meeting in 1990 to accept women as voting members.
Early in 1992 Pastor Roger James came to St. Johnís. Rev. William Mueller then served.
On May 28, 2000, Rev. Frederick Buth was installed. When St. Markís Little Lambs Preschool opened in September of 2002, Mrs. Pat Buth was the first teacher. He was followed by Rev. Dr. David Preuss.
Harold R. Hintzman Jr. was installed as pastor in 2007. Pastor Hintzman is serving as pastor at the time of the 150th anniversary.
St. Johnís Lutheran Church, Hart, Minn., will celebrate its 150th Anniversary with the following activities on June 16-17.
Saturday, June 16 - 1 p.m. Cemetery Walk with light lunch afterwards; 6 p.m. Social hour at the Rushford Auditorium; 7 p.m. Program with Rev. Dr. Raymond Hartwig as speaker
Sunday, June 17 - 8:30 a.m. Worship service with Rev. Dr. Hartwig preaching; 9:30 a.m. Coffee and rolls; 10:30 a.m. Worship service with Rev. Dr. Hartwig preaching; 12 p.m. Catered noon meal
Please contact Delaine Kjos at 864-2293 or Myrna Jordahl at 689-0903 to register your participation in these activities.