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Holden Lutheran Church celebrates 150 years

By Marlys Kruger

COLFAX — Along with the Village of Colfax which was busy with their sesquicentennial celebration July 17-20, Holden Lutheran Church, a small country church located four miles north of Colfax was also celebrating 150 years of existence with a special service and dinner July 20.

In the beginning

Holden Lutheran Church began in 1864 when a large group of immigrants from Norway settled near the Twenty Two Mile Ford on the Red Cedar River and decided to establish a place of worship. A service was held at the home of Bersvend Sivertson and during a business meeting afterwards, a congregation was organized and the Rev. O.J.K. Hagestad was called as a pastor. The name used was The Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregation at Eighteen Mile Creek and was later changed to Holden. (There is no explanation as to how the name was chosen). Eight services were conducted by Hagestad in three school houses and he preached his farewell sermon August 11, 1865.

Holden combined with several churches early on including Elk Mound, Cranberry Creek, Little Elk Creek and Meridean as Rev. Knut Thorstenson accepted the call to pastor which ended in 1874. Rev. T.J.G. Krogh took over for one year, then Holden joined the Sand Creek-Bloomer parish with H.F. Haakonson as the pastor. At a special meeting held March 23, 1874, it was decided to erect a church and after many disagreements about where to build it, (imagine a group of Norwegians not agreeing on something), it was finally decided to build it on land owned by Hans Bratlie. The first service was held in it August 6, 1876 and the building was dedicated April 11, 1878. A tragic accident occurred during the building process when four men began uncovering and quarrying stone for the foundation of the church. They had not proceeded very far before they were buried under an avalanche of rock and dirt resulting in the death of Jorgen Torgerson and Knut Sivertson while Johan Gundset and Severin S. Sivertson were both seriously injured. A large monument was erected in front of the church in memory of the two who died as well as to all pioneers who helped in the establishment and building of the church.

Rev. D.J. Grove served the church from 1879-1883 then Rev. J. Waage took over until 1907, followed by Rev. T. Saetveit who served until 1919.

50 years of worship

Holden celebrated its 50th anniversary in 1914 and reported 503 members including 305 adults and 198 children. Holden became united with Colfax. Norton and North Running Valley with Rev. Chr. S. Thompson leading the four churches until 1938. Rev. Sigurd M. Moe followed and after he resigned in 1948, it was suggested at a joint council meeting that Holden, Norton and North Running Valley should join as one parish and Colfax be alone. All four churches agreed on the proposal and that’s how it stands today.

Up to the year 1930, all services at Holden were conducted in the Norwegian language but it was decided at the annual meeting in November to conduct every third service thereafter in English. The Town of Grant Y.P.S. purchased Lutheran Hymnaries to be used at these services.

A house occupied by Dr. G.I. Gregory was bought to serve as the parsonage in 1950, the same year the constitution was amended to allow the women to vote at all church meetings and the same year Rev. C.K. Malmin was installed as the new pastor. The Cemetery Association was started in 1951 and Rev. Malmin resigned in 1956 and Rev. W.W. Korsrud took over.

Since its 100-year anniversary in 1964, Holden has gone through many changes. An addition to the front entrance was completed in 1967 and the kitchen was remodeled and a new Sunday School room was built. After 16 years serving the congregation, Rev. Korsrud resigned in 1972 and Rev. Peter Dzick was called in January of 1973.

Troubled times

A fire caused by lightning in the steeple and bell tower in 1975 caused extensive damage to the building and a new steeple and bell tower along with a new front entrance was completed. Pastor Dzick resigned in 1977 after accepting a call to Elkhorn, and shortly after was diagnosed with spinal meningitis which took his life May 29, 1978. After being served for a time by Rev. Michael Carlson, the Chaplain at Luther Hospital in Eau Claire, Pastor Donald Brecke accepted the call to the parish and began his duties May 1, 1978. Also in that year, Berdie Bronken resigned as church organist after 54 years of making beautiful music for the congregation.

On the evening of June 30, 1978, a tornado that ripped through the area caused extensive damage to the church. A stained glass window was blown out, pews and carpet were damaged by the rain, the front wall was moved away from the foundation, a window in the sacristy was blown out and many large trees were uprooted in the cemetery. But once again, the men and women of Holden worked together to restore the church and make it a wonderful place for worship services.

More problems occurred in the church in January of 1991 as three men from Elk Mound and Menomonie went on a vandalism spree involving three churches, one of which was Holden. The damage amount came to several thousands of dollars as the large trophy case was smashed, light fixtures were torn from the ceilings, a fire extinguisher was sprayed all over the worship area and in the basement, cupboard doors were torn off, dishes were smashed and the water faucets and gas were turned on. And yet again, the spirit of the congregation was shown as they volunteered their talents and used their strong work ethic to get the church back to normal.

And moving on

Pastor Brecke resigned in 1982 and was replaced by Pastor Blake Grangaard for three years. In 1985, Pastor Gary Garnatz began his duties with the three churches and his wife Faith was the Sunday School music leader for Holden. The Garnatz’s stayed for 15 years before Gary took a call for a church in Superior. In 1995, it was decided to discontinue the annual lutefisk dinner that was so popular in the area for various reasons.

Pastor Jeanne Warner took over for Garnatz in 2000 and was with the parish for four years before moving to another church, and Pastor Paul Tobiason was called. Paul’s wife Jeannette was also a wonderful organ player and displayed her talents quite often at many services. After deciding to semi-retire, Pastor Tobiason and Jeannette left in 2008 and Pastor Bob Schoenknecht, a retired elementary school teacher from Eau Claire took the call and is serving as the current pastor.

Special service

Pastor Garnatz, Pastor Tobiason and Pastor Schoenknecht conducted a special service for a full house at Holden for the 150th celebration. Mary Ellen Ralph from rural Colfax recited the twenty third Psalm and the Lord’s Prayer in Norwegian while Pastor Tobiason sang the Lord’s Prayer in English. Mary Bjork and Christie Michels performed songs in both Norwegian and English and Jeannette Tobiason was the organist for the day. A group photo of all members attending the service was taken in front of the church afterwards and a somewhat Norwegian dinner was served which included meatballs made by the ladies of Holden and rommegrot porridge, a Norwegian soup.

Earlier in the week, a time capsule was removed from the cornerstone of the church from 25 years ago but it was discovered most of the documents placed in it had been damaged from water. Some of the 16 items in it included a Small Catechism book from 1937, a parish record book from 1940, 100 and 125th anniversary of the church booklets and two copies of The Colfax Messenger which contained writeups on the church from 1940 and 1978.

“It was a lot of planning but we felt like our church needed to continue celebrating milestones like this,” Pam Arntson, head of the planning committee said.”So many people from the church helped with this and hopefully someone from the younger generation will continue the tradition and plan another for the future.”

Present members of the church council include president Bruce Fransway, secretary Loretta Fransway, treasurer Rita Sundstrom and trustees Allan Kruger, Ernie Sundstrom, Craig Peterson and Stanley Knudson.The church is always looking for new members and in the words of our early worshippers “Alle Er Velkommen” (All Are Welcome)!