By Cara L. Dempski
BOYCEVILLE — There is a small white church nearly five miles due north of the Village of Boyceville celebrating an important milestone this summer.
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church nestles in the hilly, curving landscape of what is commonly called Slovak Valley after the area served as the main settlement for a sizable number of Slovakian immigrants in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
The congregation will be holding a 100th anniversary celebration with a special service, food, and activities.
While the group gathering each Sunday morning for services is not as large as it once was, the congregation is still close-knit and bears more than a few Slovakian surnames like Evan, Boda and Zavodny.
The people who regularly attend church at Holy Trinity seem proud of their building, their faith, and how their heritage is retained.
The first Slovakian immigrants arrived in the Boyceville area around 1890, but the first Lutheran minister to visit the settlement, Reverend John Svatopluk Micatek, did not find his way to the Slovak settlement until 1910.
Micatek traveled to the settlement on occasion from Minneapolis before Reverend Karol Hauser took over and made infrequent visits to administer the sacraments.
The settlers initially attempted organizing a church in January 1913, but were not successful.
A fortuitous visit from the Reverend John Pelikan of Pleasant City, Ohio, in August 1917 sparked the formation of today’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church. Pelikan was visiting friends in Haugen who were previously members of his Ohio church when he learned the Boyceville Slovakian settlement wanted to organize a church.
The Reverend Pelikan and his friend in Haugen, John Jurkovic, Sr., traveled by car to the Boyceville home of Joseph Yamriska one evening, and walked around the neighborhood the following day to invite the settlers to Yamriska’s home for an organizational meeting.
The men who attended the church’s first meeting August 1, 1917, were Joseph Shipka, Sr., John Jurkovic, Sr., John Kluclar, Daniel Listiak, John Stacho, John Kopas, Joseph Lipovsky, Jr., Andrew Dianish, Joseph Lipovsky, Sr., John Salat, Joseph Yamriska, George Lipovsky, George Evaska, Daniel Yurik and Paul Korbel.
Early church services were split between the Pleasant Hill School, Happy Valley School, the Slovak Hall and private homes. Student Pastor Michal Lucansky taught children in the school building during 1918 and 1919, while Reverend Karol Hauser continued to conduct funerals and weddings and administer communion.
Construction on the first church building started August 9, 1919, on top of a small hill. It was a two-story structure with a sanctuary and balcony on the first floor, and a school room and kitchen in the basement. The tower was built high, and topped with a seven-foot cross. The building’s height allowed the bell to be heard for many miles.
The year of 1920 saw some important milestones for Holy Trinity: the building cornerstone was laid, the new church was dedicated, and Reverend Michal Gotthardt was installed and ordained.
The church continued to grow, and went through several ministers in its first 20 years. The majority of services were held in the Slovak language during that time, with Slovak School taught every summer in the church basement. Things changed, though, when members of the Slovakian community began to marry people of other ethnic backgrounds.
The first English services were held in the church in August 1943.
Congregants were preparing for Holy Trinity’s 30th anniversary in June 1950 when the church was struck by lightning, burning it to the ground. The celebration, which was to be held September 17, 1950, was still held, but took place instead at the Tiffany Town Hall.
The church immediately began planning their new building, erected on the same spot as the old church, and celebrated by ringing their new bell September 21, 1950.
Holy Trinity has progressed through the years with only small changes to its heritage and traditions. One major change was joining the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1971 as a Synod of Evangelical Lutheran Churches (formerly known as Slovak Evangelical Lutheran Churches), and currently enjoys the services of pastor Curtis Brooks.
Marie Zavodny said one of her memories of the Holy Trinity church is the sound of the bell ringing through the nooks and crannies of the valleys around it.
“You really could hear it a few miles away,” Zavodny laughed. “It was so clear, and so pretty.”
John Evan said the same, and noted the church has always felt like home. Evan’s family has lived in Slovak Valley for much of its existence, and was confirmed at Holy Trinity in 1943.
The membership numbers and Sunday attendance have dwindled in recent years, but those who do attend regularly express pride in the little white church atop the hill on Dunn County Highway O. Marilyn and Rondell Hybben said they like the mix of people they see each week at church, but expressed sadness that there are no longer as many young people and families attending.
Rondell joked there was a smaller group than usual the day of the interview because Zavodny had previously informed people a reporter would be attending that day’s service to speak with people about the church.
“But they’re all good people, and they like to tell stories,” Rondell said of the assembled group.
The day of the interview, the people attending the service were not shy about introducing themselves or offering treats and coffee before church. The group would have been content to sit all morning chatting and laughing, but the arrival of Pastor Brooks from First Lutheran Church in Menomonie signaled a scurry toward church pews and the organ in the sanctuary.
One thing Zavodny noted in her discussion of the local culture in the church’s written history was the Slovakian community’s love of music and singing. The tradition of music has carried over into the current generations, as Zavodny played the organ while the congregants sang several hymns over the course of the service.
The church is hoping for a good turnout for its June 25 celebration, which will include more singing, plenty of treats, and some fond memories shared between congregants new and old.