“THE PAST IS PROLOGUE”
The title words, which may be found engraved in the stonework above the entrance to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., apply to the life and growth of Bethel Lutheran Church as well as to our country. Without the visions and dreams, the aspirations and faith of our forefathers, neither our country nor Bethel would be what they are today. God has richly blessed both.
It all began in 1911 with a handful of women. They met and shared their views that something was lacking in their community; the area roughly bounded by South Avenue, South Detroit Avenue, Spencer and the canal (now used as Anthony Wayne Trail). They felt a need for a concrete beginning to house spiritual guidance and the Word of God. They started by calling themselves the Dorcas Society.
With the help of the Rev. C. E. Clessler of Peace Lutheran Church, a mission Sunday School was started that same year, meeting on the second floor of a building located at the corner of Arlington and National Avenues. Sunday School classes were held here until a chapel was dedicated in May 1918. The building of this chapel, at the corner of Toronto and Nelson, was made possible by a loan of $6000 from the Mission Board of the former Joint Synod of Ohio and gifts from other congregations.
The first two pastors were the Rev. R. E. Salzwedel and Rev. H. G. F. Kopanko, succeeding pastors at Peace Church. Worship services were held in the afternoons, following Sunday School classes in the morning.
Not many months later, those attending these services expressed a desire to organize a congregation. On March 16, 1919, a group of charter members, which included 10 families released from Peace Church, adopted a constitution and elected officers.
The Rev. Max Schultz, who was installed October 26, 1919, was the first full time pastor. Following was the Rev. H. G. F. Kopanko, who became active on January 30, 1921.
Two additional lots were purchased on Toronto in 1922, and about $2000 refunded to the Mission Board.
The handful of women had become an ambitious and hardworking group who, following the leading of the Biblical Dorcas, found no job too large or too small as long as they were working for the Lord. The subsequent debt of $25,000 was assumed by a membership of 220. In December of that same year, the congregation voted to become self-sustaining.
During several years of prosperity and growth, a two-manual pipe organ was installed, the gift of members and organizations of the church.
Trying years followed. The depression and the loss of the Rev. Kopanko to another church made the years from 1932 to 1934 most difficult.
Then, in January 19 1935, with the call to the Rev. Theodore Buntz, things began looking up. During his pastorate, the parsonage was acclaimed debt-free, the church building was remodeled and redecorated. Numerical growth and spiritual progress was evident.
During the pastorates of the Rev. Lewis Nicol, who came to Bethel on October 22, 1939, and later Rev. Ralph Piper, it was deemed to be an opportune time to launch a program to increase the membership and decrease the indebtedness of the congregation.
On our 25th anniversary, March 12, 1944, Bethel was debt-free. The confirmed membership was 400 and the Sunday School had an enrollment of over 240. In the spring of 1946, the establishment of two Sunday worship services was set, and the efforts to build a new and bigger church were increased.
Two months after Pastor J. Wm. Althaus was installed on December 7, 1947, a portable building was erected for the overflowing Sunday School classes. After hours of looking, debating and deliberation, the search for a new church site ended. Nine acres, and at a later date, one more acre, were purchased on South Avenue for $8,000.00. The New Church Fund was started in earnest.
In ensuing years, the Fund grew at a steady but slow pace. After congregational approval, the services of professional fund raisers, Martz and Lundy, were utilized in expediting our drive. More than 100 Bethel men and women were involved in the program, and when the drive ended in December 1952, more than $100,000 had been pledged.
In a church pamphlet entitled “Bethel’s Vision,” it was optimistically believed that the new church would cost not less than $125,000.
Plans were accelerated after the excellent response of the church members. The date, May 11, 1953, figured prominently in these plans. On that day, Old Bethel Church was sold to the Hebron United Brethren Congregation and the general contract for $252,000 for the new Bethel was awarded to Denver Duffey and Son, Inc.
Groundbreaking ceremonies were conducted May 24, 1953, with Pastor Althaus and Mr. Garrett Emch, president of the church, turning the first spadeful of dirt. The construction of the new Bethel was of interest to the entire community. The willingness of the members and friends of Bethel to contribute additional money for special projects and memorial gifts and their time and labor to complete projects necessary for the building were gratifying.
The history of Bethel thus far was sealed in the cornerstone of the new building later that year.
Our beautiful House of God was dedicated October 17 to November 14, 1954. The church did not suffer stagnation. During the 15 years Pastor Althaus led Bethel’s spiritual growth, two interns were called to aid in the increased work load; Theodore Wendt served in 1955 and J. P. Burnett served in 1956.
The Rev. P. Fred Houston was called as associate in 1957 and served until the Rev. Roland Troike came in 1958 and served until 1960. In 1961, The Rev. Dan Sander was called as full-time associate, serving during the remainder of Pastor Althaus’ term and the coming of Rev. Harry Boyer in 1962.
In response to our Lord’s command, “Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel,” Bethel founded the 300 Club, to raise the $3000 needed to support a missionary mainly in the Ethiopian Mission Field. Each year, July through June, a total of 300 memberships in the club of $10.00 each are given voluntarily by members and friends of Bethel. This amount has since been increased to $3,500 due to rising cost of living and the 300 Club is now called the “Missionary Fund.”
During this time the thoughts of the members and leaders of Bethel turned to a new and badly needed Educational Building. One more time the members came forward with what was needed and on March 14, 1965 the ground-breaking took place and on May 1, 1966 the Education Building was dedicated.
In July, 1966, Pastor Sander was installed as pastor and the Rev. Darrell Neves was installed as associate pastor, who later became Bethel’s Senior Pastor in 1973.
Bethel church grew as did her members. In looking to the future, the need for a special guidance counselor for the youth was evident. Therefore, in 1970, the congregation voted to employ David Ganss as part-time youth director. Due to his four year’s experience as Chaplain’s Assistant in the Air Force, Mr. Ganss made plans to keep the youth church-oriented in Christian fellowship and study.
The youth were doing so well under the new leadership that upon the leaving of Mr. Ganss, on September 24, 1971, a full-time parish worker, Mrs. Donna Jean Ganss nee Jacobson, was called to continue the work with them. Under her dedicated and loving leadership, the youth of Bethel were provided with opportunities to serve their church as well as enjoy her many benefits.
In 1973, Pastor Sander left in answer to a call from Butler, Pennsylvania. Pastor Neves and Donna Jean carried on the work-load with eighteen months’ help from associate pastor, Richard Ferne and eighteen months with Pastor Paul Schmidlin.
From 1978 until June of 1980, the members of Bethel enjoyed continued guidance from Pastor Neves and Donna Jean with only the help of interested lay people to ease the work.
On June 7, 1980, Pastor Ralph Mineo, a former Catholic priest, arrived at Bethel to serve as Intern. On August 30, 1981 he was installed as associate pastor. He taught the children through Puppet Ministry and, after Pastor Neves left in 1982 to answer a call to Faith Lutheran Church in Okemos, Michigan and Donna Jean left the staff to answer the call to “motherhood,” was the only pastor at Bethel until the arrival of Pastor Thomas Wilson on March 27, 1983. Pastor Mineo left in October of 1983 in answer to a call to St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Lakeside, Ohio.
The year, 1984, was a very special year since the church mortgage was paid! We celebrated the event with a Mortgage Burning on October 4, 1984 to the joy of everyone.
Pastor Wilson served alone until October 7, 1984 when Pastor Guilford “Hank” Flatt joined the staff as associate pastor and continued until a call to Michigan caused him to leave September 8, 1988.
Pastor Phil Clark came to Bethel on December 1, 1989, leaving in October 1992, joining the U.S. Navy as a chaplain.
In June of 1995, Bethel hired Andrea Kester to serve as Parish Worker with the majority of her time dedicated to the youth and children of the church. Our youth program again thrived under her direction and the congregation was sad to see her leave in March of the following year when her husband, Jeff, received a job promotion requiring them to move to Minneapolis. Pastor Wilson once again served alone, with help from devoted parishioners, until he retired after many years of faithful service in 1998.
Pastor Robert Hutchinson was installed as pastor in 1999 and faithfully served until health issues prevented him from continuing his ministry in 2005.
Pastor Jon Bell came to us in March of 2005 to guide us through this Interim period of Bethel’s ministry.
Our young people may think little of our past, however, without the past we would have no present and no hope for the future.
It may be taken for granted that without the benevolence of our God Almighty, the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit, we, as a church and as a people, would be nothing. It is only through the divine Trinity that we may look optimistically to the future, realizing that our human efforts are insufficient in themselves. Therefore, we pray for continued blessing from our Father in Heaven so that we may go forward in the work of His Kingdom, that “His ways may be known upon the earth and His saving health among all nations.”
Originally researched and written by Jean Ganss, a Bethel member for 56 years.