The History of Estherville Lutheran Church

The history of the Estherville Lutheran Church began with the arrival of seven families from Wisconsin in June 1860, as recorded in earlier histories written by B.O. Wolden. One of the settlers, Lars Paulson, had invited Reverend C.L. Clausen of St. Ansgar, Iowa, to visit the new settlement. He held the first Lutheran service in Emmet County in a schoolhouse in Estherville on September 30, 1861.

According to the first constitution written in 1867, Estherville Lutheran dates its beginning from that service in 1861. There were very few visits by ordained ministers in those early years. Reverend Clausen did not return until September 1863. The early Estherville Lutheran families would gather in homes for devotions and Sunday School. It is interesting to note that the congregation, which covered a large area, voted in 1870 to call a pastor from Norway. The annual salary was to be four hundred dollars, one hundred bushels of wheat and two hundred bushels of oats.


Pastors include:

(s) supply, (0 interim, (v) visitation, and (a) assistant and associate

C. L. Clausen 1861-63 (s)
Thomas Johnson 1864 (s)
T. A. Torgerson 1865-67 (s)
T. H. Dahl 1868-72
H. Hande 1872-74
M. C. Holseth 1874-83
C. Stoltz 1880-81 (s)
R. R. Bull 1883-85
J. M. Dahl 1885-87 (i)
H. Engh 1887-1900
S. Strand 1899-1900 (s)
T. C. Thompson 1900-08
K. O. Eidahl 1908 (i)
J. J. Akre 1908-18
S. A. Berge 1918-25
E.T. Lundy 1925 (i)
L. A. Mathre 1925-45
Axel Shefveland 1945 (i)
C. M. Hanson 1945-48
Axel Shefveland 1948 (i)
L. G. Hinderaaker 1948-55
S. Gjerde 1955-56 (i)
T. W. Maakestad 1956-60
P. C. Haaland 1958-62(v)
E. I. Ulseth 1960-61 (i)
R. M. Hendrickson 1961-68
L. A. Mathre 1961-64 (v)
C. Notsund 1964-73 (v)
W. Planz 1968 (i)
S. L. Englestad 1968-72
O. E. Engebretson 1970-73 (a)
S. E. Eyberg 1973-85
O. A. Rust 1975-80 (a)
N. G. Omodt 1980-87 (a)
Kermit Rye 1986-96
Michael Kroona 1988-91 (a)
Arlyn Norris 1991-2002 (a)
Jane Johnson 1996-98 (a)
Jack Peterson 1999-2000 (i)
Ray Miller 2000-05 (v)
Susan Stone 2004-08
Peter Soli 2008-09 (i)
Ed Ward 2009-10 (i)
Don Rehner 2010-11
David Christenson 2011-2012
David Bergstrom 2012-2015
Tim Johnson 2015-present

The congregation covered a large area and was divided into three districts in 1873; Estherville District; Bruhjeld District (later Immanuel); and West Prairie District (dissolved by 1887). Wallingford Lutheran, Immanuel Lutheran south of Gruver, Palestine Lutheran (dissolved in 1988, its church building is now located at the fairgrounds in Estherville), Union State Line Lutheran at Petersburg, Minnesota and Estherville Lutheran all came from these beginnings.

When crops were destroyed by grasshoppers in 1873, 1874 and 1876 the congregation appealed to the Norwegian Synod for help in paying the pastor’s salary. On May 13, 1877, they observed a day of penitence and prayer, to “implore God that He may for His mercy’s sake deliver us from the plague which has been over us and which we have, on account of our sins so well deserved.” Not much damage was done by grasshoppers that year. The three districts became independent congregations in 1879. The Estherville congregation built a white frame structure on South Tenth Street in 1888 and dedicated it in 189l. The Ladies Aid, organized in 1887, presented the bell in 1894 on which is cast the message “Aere vaere Gud det Hoie”, which translates “Glory to God in the Highest”. The young people initiated building a basement to the church in 1914. In 1919 Estherville and Union State Line congregations jointly built a parsonage on East Howard Street. Minutes of the annual meetings were first recorded in English in 1930. The name of the congregation changed from Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Congregational Church to Estherville Norwegian Lutheran Church in 1920 and to Estherville
Lutheran Church in 1952, the year that women were first allowed to vote.

Two lots with a dwelling at North Eighth Street and Second Avenue North were purchased in 1932 for a new church to take care of a growing congregation. The depression years delayed building plans, but in 1939 ground was broken and the basement dug. The cornerstone was laid in 1940 and the church was rushed to completion after the old church was destroyed by fire in January 1941. The bell was saved and placed in the tower of the new building. Services were held first in the basement and later in the sanctuary in 1941, but it was 1944 before most of the work was done and dedication services could be held. Union State Line and Estherville sold their parsonage in 1944. Estherville had a fulltime pastor and bought a residence at 114 North Eighth Street as a parsonage. In 1960 the Lee property north of the church was purchased for future expansion. The parsonage was sold and moved with a new parsonage built and dedicated in 1962. In 1965 the education and church offices unit started construction and was dedicated on March 13, 1966. Several lots were purchased in 1963 by members of the congregation and given to the church for a parking lot for the remaining indebtedness.

Parish workers were employed beginning in 1949 to do the secretarial work, instruct confirmation classes and work with youth groups. These workers included Mary Jane Swiggum (1949-52), Lois Otterholt (1953-57), Joanne Hanson (1958-60), Alma Haaland (1960-62), Barb Zell (1962-66), Kay Doyle (1966-2012), Becky Varcoe (2012-2018), Tracy Olson (2018-2022), Tina Jensen (2022-present).

Beginning in December 1952 the growing congregation led to two services every Sunday morning, with pastoral help using student interns from the seminary. The interns included: Edward Swenson (1953-54), James Olson (1954-55), and Robert Evenson (1955-57). Many members transferred to Redeemer Lutheran, which began as a home mission church in Estherville in 1955. Radio broadcasting of services started in 1956. Since 1958 pastoral help has been from visitation (1958-2005) and assistant and associate (1970-98) pastors.

The congregation voted for two full-time pastors in 1975. In 1995 the congregation voted to go from two associate pastors, to a pastor, a visitation pastor, and youth workers. These included: Cheryl Mammen (1995-98), Steve and Carol Meier (2000-02), Krisie Housky (2003), Brenda Yeager (2004), and Susan Barnard (2005-06). On September 16, 2008, the Parish Planning Council voted to ask the Western Iowa Synod for an Intentional Interim pastor. On July 26, 2009, the congregation voted to begin a Mission Redevelopment Program. 

Vernon Tweedt of the Palestine Lutheran Congregation was ordained at Estherville Lutheran in 1951. Joseph Shaw became a professor of religion at St. Olaf College in 1957. Mrs. Thelma Savereide Sieglaff and husband Harold (1943), Constance Twedt (1945), Marion Bringle (1953), Kenneth and Joyce Hatland (1953), and Charlotte Sunde (1973) were commissioned missionaries. Bernice Wolden was commissioned a parish worker in 1953.

The women of the congregation through the Ladies Aid and Mission Society, later the Women’s Missionary Federation, and since 1961 the Estherville Lutheran Church Women, have given support to several missionaries: Constance Twedt (1946-49), Helen Rowberg (1949-52), Marion Bringle (1952-54), Kenneth and Joyce Hatland (1953-57), Mrs. Alida Trygstad (1954-65), Lorna Hoversten (1966-71), Connie Nelson (1971-76), Charlotte Sunde (1973-75), Corinne Johnson (1976-91), and Dr. Mark and Linda Jacobson (1993-present).

Estherville Lutheran Church has celebrated many anniversaries:
75th in 1936, 85th in 1946, Centennial in 1961, 110th in 1971 and 150th in 2011.

A history was written in 1936 and updated in 1961 by B. O. Wolden, in 1971 by Mrs. Wolden and again in 2011 by Harvey Lundy and Ione Johnson. A Centennial plate was made in 1961 and a cookbook in 1971. In 1986, other anniversary items included plates and cups, stationery and a swinging picture poster board for confirmation pictures (located in the back of the church). Pictorial directories were produced in 1960,1974,1982, 1986, 1989, 1995, 2001,2005 and 2013.

Members of our congregation that have gone into the ministry and year ordained include:

O. Sando 1873
Cyrus Savereide 1936
Stanley Olson 1940
Lawrence G. Mathre 1952
Lyle Shaw 1953
G. Vorland 1953
Richard Query 1961
Richard Peterson 1962
Kenneth Hatland 1963
Alan Solmonson 1963
Robert Moritz 1963
Rueben Evenson 1967
Calvin Thoreson 1968
Carleton Shaw 1968
Dale Chesley 1978
Ardis Thoreson Wright 1985