The history of St. John’s congregation, like most histories, goes back even before our beginnings, but it is not our task to trace history back to the beginnings of the Christian Church in Europe. Let us begin then with the earliest beginnings of the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod in America. Our forefathers, because of a variety of reasons, some religious, some political, and some economic, streamed to America in the mid-19th century by the thousands. These devout Christians of vigorous German stock settled in a variety of places but were especially attracted to the rich farmlands of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri during this period.
The settlement of the Lutheran community in the mid 1830’s in Cook County, Illinois signaled the beginnings, then, of our history. In a period of less than 50 years, the community and the church were flourishing to the point where there was already beginning to be a shortage of land and work for the numerous young men of the large German families. According to old German custom, the eldest son of the family would receive the largest inheritance and most of the land. Other sons and daughters were left to either marry into land or find other means of livelihood.
This set the stage for a disastrous drop in prices commonly known as the Panic of 1873. and many farmers lost land and in some cases all that they had. It was at this time that the Iowa Falls and Sioux City Land Company, began advertising the excellent land for sale in the north and west part of Iowa. The price was cheap enough, between 3 1/2 and 5 dollars per acre depending on whether you bought it from the government or the land company. So was organized the “Kundschafter” a hearty group of men sent to Iowa to find out whether the Land Company really had the kind of land they were advertising. The group of men, probably four or so in number arrived in Marcus in 1876 and were directed by a land agent for the land company to the open prairies north of Marcus which was Caledonia Township of O’Brien County, Iowa. They were sent to buy land and buy they did. It is probable that several quarter sections of land were purchased at this time for the going price of $5.00 per acre or $800 for the quarter section.
The men returned joyfully to Cook County, Illinois, but the Lord had yet another test in store for our fathers. As they prepared to journey westward the following year, ominous news of a plague of grasshoppers in Dakota Territory and Western Iowa reached their ears. Friends and relatives of the hearty band of pioneers implored them to wait another year to meet the rigorous test of the prairies. ‘Disappointed but sensible, the anxious group waited another year hoping, planning, and preparing.
In early February of 1878, two men of the group, Henry Hoermann and Carl Neckels arrived in Marcus by rail, contracted services of a carpenter and traveled to the Hoermann land located one mile west and one and one- half miles south of the present site of Germantown. It was here that ,the construction of the first home of the Lutheran settlement was begun. The hardships of the ordeal were evident, however, as it is recorded that the men had to leave very early in the morning from Marcus, travel the ten or so miles to the farmsite, toil in the variable February and March weather of the Iowa prairie and then return to Marcus at night for rest. April of 1878 finally brought the finishing touches on the house project and the Hoermann family celebrated Easter in Coopers Grove, made final plans for the move to Iowa, and then traveled by rail to Marcus and overland to the farm during the early days of May. Other families arrived and homes were built on the prairie so that by the autumn of 1878 several families had settled on the prairie, harvested their first small crop, and prepared for the rigors of a pioneer Iowa winter.
During the spring and summer of 1878, Christoph Hoermann usually conducted services in his home for the early group of settlers. This staunch Christian gentleman of 62 years would read the sermon from the “Haus-Postille” and to these services would come the faithful from as far away as six miles southwest of Marcus. All the while Mr. Hoermann was trying to secure the services of a pastor who was ordained by God to proclaim God’s word and administer the Sacraments.
In the autumn of 1878 the services of Rev. F.W. Grumm, the pastor at Aurelia, were secured and Rev. Grumm would ride by train to Marcus and then be transported overland to the new congregation two or three times per month to minister to the settlers. He would, on occasion, ride overland by horseback for the same purpose. At times, the home of Mr. Hans Rohlfsen would also be used for these services
On October 1, 1878 the official organization of St. John congregation took place with the signing of the constitution by 12 early settlers namely: Christoph Hoermann, Daniel Meyer, Fred Voss, Henry Hoermann, Carl Neckels, John Warnke, Fred Warnke, Louis Wegner, Hans Rohlfsen, William Steinberg, John Dorr and John Stamer. During the autumn and winter, services were conducted occasionally at the Nelson Implement building in Marcus to serve those Lutheran families around Marcus that did not have a church home. These services were conducted alternately by Pastor Grumm and Pastor F.S. Buenger of Le Mars.
The spring of 1879 brought student John Hoyer to preach and teach school and in the late autumn of 1879 Mr. Hoyer was succeeded by student J.D. Hesse. During their brief ministries these men not only served St. John but also the newly organized Trinity of Marcus and also the Mill Creek Lutherans as well as mission areas in Sioux County.
St. John officially became a member of synod on August 20, 1879 at the organization of the Iowa District of the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod and was a charter member of the District along with Trinity congregation of Marcus. These two congregations now united to call their first pastor, the Rev. Ernst Zuerrer. At this time services were being held in a public school one mile west of the present site of Germantown. This building was much too small and it was decided in January of 1881 to construct the congregation’s first building on ten acres of land donated by Mr. Henry Richter. In those days the building served as church, school and parsonage but today it serves as the congregation’s teacherage, the home of Mr. and Mrs. James Duitsman. The north end of the donated property became our cemetery and serves as such to the present day.
The education of the congregation’s youth began almost simultaneously with the organization of the congregation. Pastor Zuerrer, himself, served as teacher along with several other young men but the first called teacher to our congregation was Teacher F.H. Wilde, a graduate of our synod’s school at Addison, 111., who was installed on August 19, 1883. St. John is thankful to the Lord that He has provided us with capable and willing teachers throughout our history.
The years 1885 to 1903 witnessed an explosion of growth in St. John congregation both in number of members and building. The congregation built its first parsonage in 1885 at a cost of less than $900.00. By October of 1887 the congregation resolved that the church-school then in use was not adequate to serve the congregation’s needs. On October 2, 1887 the congregation resolved to build an adequate church and the elected building committee was H.F. Meier, Henry Claussen, John Kruse, Henry Hoermann, John Puhrmann, Ed Beermann, Joseph Awe, Conrad Richter, Christ Struebing, Christ Kuester, C.F. Meyer and John Wollenberg. The cornerstone was laid on July 8, 1888 and the church was dedicated on December 16,1888. By this time the congregation numbered 472 souls, 316 communicants and 61 voting members. The cost of the church was $6000.00 which was paid when the church was dedicated still leaving a surplus of funds in the Treasury!
The congregation’s original building being used then only as a school, was fast becoming too small under the great burden of 75-80 students. In special meeting of July 9, 1893 the congregation elected the building committee of Ed Beermann, Fred Stoeckmann, William Strampe, H.F. Meyer, Hartwig Meyer and Fred Kluender to begin planning the construction of a new school. In late August of 1894 the congregation’s dreams of a new school were materialized in the dedication of a new school building at a cost of $1,678.00 The teaching staff for the new two room school consisted of Mr. H.G. Nuoffer and Miss Lucy Horn. The building served as school for the congregation until 1951.
The congregation bade farewell to their beloved Pastor Zuerrer on November 27,1892 when he preached his farewell sermon at St. John and was summoned by the divine call to St. Paul congregation at Fort Dodge, Iowa. He was succeeded by the Rev. Jacob Horn who was installed as pastor of St. John congregation in late January of 1893. His call stipulated that he receive a salary of $600.00 per year plus garden space and pasture for two cows. Tragedy struck the congregation on June 25, 1899 when Pastor Horn suffered an apparent heart attack while preaching the sermon at the regular Sunday morning service. Pastor Horn was able to, with great difficulty, finish the service and then was helped to the Parsonage where he passed away that same day. God, in His great providence, had called a faithful servant home but in his His great benevolence provided the congregation with another servant in the person of Pastor Oscar Horn of St. Louis County, Missouri, the son of the sainted Pastor Jacob Horn.
It was during the tenure of Pastor Oscar Horn that the congregation reached its high-water mark. In 1903 there were 854 baptized members, 458 communicants, and 100 voting members. In 1978 the congregation numbered 451 baptized members, 366 communicant members and 60 voting members.
Thus ended our beginnings. To phrase the words of the poet, “Our youth is spent, our life has just begun.” God’s mercy and grace among the membership of St. John congregation had only to assert itself. The next 75 years were to be an abundant display of His mercy and love.