Bethany Presbyterian Church

Bethany Presbyterian Church Was Incorporated Here In 1901

The history of the Bethany Presbyterian Church of Grundy Center, Iowa, goes back as far as 1894, when the Rev. J. E. Drake, then Superintendent of Home Missions, was invited to visit the families of German extraction living in Grundy Center, with a view to starting a preaching point. Accepting the invitation, he made several visits, preaching in the First Presbyterian Church. However, nothing permanent materialized until Rev. Drake accepted a call in 1900 to the Presbyterian church in Colfax township. By that time, several more interested families had moved to town, including a number of retired farmers.

During mid-summer of the year 1901, the wooden church building which had served the Baptist congregation in Grundy Center was offered for sale. The small young Presbyterian group, realizing the need of their own house of worship, decided to buy the building and move it to a lot which they had purchased on East Main Street. The price paid for the building which served the congregation for 24 years was $700. This church building was bought and moved to the site of the present church before the congregation had any formal organization.

Articles of incorporation were adopted by the Grundy Center group on August 13, 1901, and recorded on August 21, 1901. These articles included the signatures of Konrad Kruse, Heye Schaa, B. Vander Las, H. W. Engelkes, J. A. Yelderks and Henry Frerichs. Sunday afternoon worship services were held regularly from 1901 until the arrival of the church's first full-time pastor, the Rev. Oltman B. Oltmans, in 1905. These services were conducted by the Rev. J. E. Drake, the Rev. B. VanderLas, a Rev. Schultz of the Lincoln Center Christian Reformed Church, Mr. A. E. Boell, who was then a student at the Dubuque Theological Seminary in Dubuque, as well as other students from the Dubuque seminary.

The congregation affiliated with the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. on November 11, 1904, with 14 persons being received at that time as charter members. The Rev. J. E. Drake assisted in that organization. The charter members were (spelled as they are entered in the Church's Register): Conrad Kruse, Mrs. C. Kruse, Hayo Schaa, Mrs. H. Schaa, Casper Niehaus, Mrs. C. Niehaus, Karl Rabenberg, Mrs. K. Rabenberg, Walter Bakker, Mrs. W. Bakker, Mrs. Jacob Abels, Henry Frerichs, Susie Vander Las and Hattie Vander Las.

This church has its first choir during the pastorate of the Rev. Mr. Oltmans. They rehearsed at the homes of the members of the choir, and sang at Christmas time and at special services of the church. A member of that first choir who is still associated with the church is Mrs. Fannie Dirks.

When the Rev. Mr. Oltmans and his family first arrived in Grundy Center there was no manse, but through the kindness of Mr. Menne Bakker, the pastor and his family occupied his bungalow on North Bridge Street until the Bakker family moved to town. In time the members bought a house east of the present church for $1400. This manse was used until the early forties.

The Rev. Mr. Oltmans served this congregation until 1910. His successor was the Rev. C. H. Gravenstein of Rock Rapids, Iowa, who served this church as pastor during the years 1910 to 1915.

It was during the ministry of the Rev. Henry F. Sinning, who served as pastor from 1915 to 1927, that the original white frame church building was destroyed by fire on a Sunday morning, March 15, 1925. The building and all its contents were a total loss. Within ten days after the loss of the church property, a congregational meeting was called and it was decided to rebuild as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made. Serving on that Building Committee were G. D. Harberts, chairman, H. W. Engelkes, J. R. Pabst, H. K. Kruger, treasurer, and the Rev. H. F. Sinning, secretary.

The task of raising the amount of money needed for the new church was a difficult one. The congregation was small in numbers, and 1925 was not a good year from a financial standpoint; the recession and resultant falling prices following the World War I inflation were being felt rather acutely. It would have been much easier for the congregation to simply dissolve and have its members unite with other existing churches in the community. However, this they chose not to do, believing firmly that God called this particular congregation into existence, and therefore, it was their responsibility not only to rebuild for themselves, but to provide adequately for the next generation.

A contract for the erection of a brick church building was let in May, 1925, to Olson & Son of Waterloo. Contract price for the building was $16,200. In as much as the new building was larger than the old one and more space was needed, Albert Saathoff gave a tract of ground which adjoined the church property on the east. Laying of the cornerstone took place on Sunday, June 28, 1925. Formal dedication of the new church building took place on Sunday, November 15, 1925, just six months to the day after the disastrous fire which destroyed the original white frame church building. Elders of the church at the time of dedication included H. Sparenborg, John Kuhlman, E. E. Knock, John Graves and G. D. Harberts. The Trustees were Walter M. Bakker, E. E. Groote, John R. Pabst, Henry P. Petersen and Chris Sparenborg.

The twenty-fifth anniversary of the congregation's affiliation with the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. was observed at a special service in November, 1929.

During its early years this congregation adopted the name "German Presbyterian Church." At the time a cornerstone was being considered for the new church building in 1925, there were many members who considered this name as having been outgrown and thus were opposed to having the old designation cut in the stone. Complete agreement on the matter was impossible to attain in the time available, so it was decided to leave a blank space at the upper portion of the cornerstone for a further inscription if and when a new name was formally chosen. Consequently, for a number of years the church was simply referred to as "new Presbyterian," and that name appeared on the official printed program used at the dedication of the new building. During the pastorate of Dr. Klaas J. Stratemeier, who served from 1928 to 1940, the name "Bethany Presbyterian Church" was officially adopted at a congregational meeting on March 24, 1938.

It was also at this same meeting that the congregation voted to have the main worship service conducted in the English language rather than the German language. Some special services continued in German until April, 1942. Although the church was always a part of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A., it was for many years affiliated with the Synod of the West, a special synod for German-speaking congregations. This synod continued until 1958.

Because of the merger in 1958 of two nationwide denominations--the Presbyterian church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church--the Bethany congregation is now part of the United Presbyterian Church in the United States of America. It is also a part of the North Central Iowa Presbytery and the Synod of Lakes and Prairies.

In the early '40s it became evident that a better manse was needed for the pastor and his family. In February, 1942, the house at 302 G Avenue was purchased for this purpose for $3300 plus trade-in of the old manse and property. This house served as the Bethany manse from 1942 until 1969.

From 1940 to 1951 the Bethany Presbyterian Church experienced a phenomenal growth. Membership increased from 133 to 420. It soon became evident that additional space was needed to accommodate the Bethany church family. A building committee was appointed which consisted of A. V. Dieken, chairman, C. P. Dudden, Harold Engelkes, Sed Cogswell and Herman J. Moeller. Ground-breaking services for the 30-foot addition to the north side of the original structure, which provided an enlarged sanctuary and additional classrooms, were held on October 5, 1952. The $53,000 project was debt-free on the day of the formal dedication service on February 28, 1954.

Thirty feet of ground on the north end of the church was given to the congregation by John S. Dirks in 1945, and a lot on the east side of the church was bought for a parking area. In time more space was acquired thru the purchase of lots from Mrs. Will Engelkes, Henry DeBerg and Kenneth Bowers. In 1971 the major parking area was black-topped. In 1976 another area was blacktopped to accommodate 24 more cars.

At the annual congregational meeting on January 14, 1969, the congregation voted to purchase lots at the corner of F Avenue and Third Street, at the cost of $2750 for the purpose of building a new manse. Appointed to serve on the Manse Building Committee was Jack Bienfang, chairman, Mrs. A. V. Dieken, Jerry Neith, Mrs. Roger Stachour, Conrad Flater, Mrs. Leonard Ralston, and Henry J. Meester. The Rev. and Mrs. Calvin W. Vanderwerf and family moved into the new manse on December 1, 1969. A formal dedication service for the new $42,500 structure was held July 19, 1970.

In August of 1976, the Bethany Church observed its 75th anniversary with fitting services and activities. An anniversary dinner for all Bethany families, including children, was held at the Grundy Center High School Commons on Saturday evening, August 28. The Rev. Dr. Wayne M. Hoffman, who served the church from 1959 to 1962, was the principal speaker. On Sunday, August 29, two special services were held, with Dr. A. J. Straatmeyer, Ph.D., who served as pastor from 1962 to 1968, speaking at the morning worship service. Dr. Fred J. Langenberg, who served the congregation as its pastor from 1940 to 1959, was the guest speaker at the afternoon service. Following the afternoon service the United Presbyterian Women's Association hosted an Open House/Fellowship Hour in the Fellowship Room of the church.

At a special congregational meeting on Sunday, September 12, 1976, the congregation voted to proceed with a major remodeling and renovating program. The following are serving on the building committee: T. J. Heronimus and Jack Bienfang, co-chairmen, Leonard Ralston, treasurer, Mrs. Virgil Eberline, Conrad Flater, Mrs. Roger Hook, Mrs. Samuel Rust, Arnold Schipper and Calvin Wiltfang. At the present time plans for the major remodeling and renovating program are being finalized. The architect is Robert C. DeVoe, Architects, Inc., Cedar Falls.

A new two-manual pipe organ was installed and dedicated on June 21, 1936, and has been in constant use since that date. It has served the needs of the congregation admirably. However, in 1977 a new Wicks 15-rank pipe organ was purchased, and will be installed later this year. Serving on the Organ Advisory Committee are Mrs. T. J. Heronimmus, Mrs. Roger Stachour and Mrs. Raymond Appel. In 1977 the Bethany Presbyterian Church became the recipient of a set of 25 Schulmerich Handbells with two carrying cases given by the Rev. and Mrs. Glenn Dieken of Traer, as a living memorial to her mother, Mrs. Martha Engelkes, and in loving memory of her father, Omke J. Engelkes.

Present officers of the Bethany Presbyterian Church are: Session--Harold Abels, Max Appel, William Aswegan, Jake Bergman, Elky DeVries, Edward Flater, T. J. Heronimus, Clerk of Session, Edward Marks and Ted Meinert; Board of Deacons--David Abels, LeRoy Claassen, Arlan Schaap, Mrs. Paul Rewerts and Mrs. Samuel Rust; Board of Trustees--Richard Conrad, Kenneth DeBerg, Eldon DeVries, Delmar Flater, Ivan Flater, Greg Harms, Eugene Meester, Mike Niehaus, Kenneth Walters and Charles Ware.

The Rev. Calvin W. Vanderwerf is the present pastor of the Bethany Presbyterian Church. He was installed on March 2, 1969.

The Bethany Presbyterian Church has come this far by faith in three-quarters of a century. There are 526 individual communicant members and 125 baptized children; which accounts for approximately 260 families. The oldest living members in order of age are Mr. Henry P. Petersen (age 95), Mrs. Kathryn Meester (age 93) and Mr. George Reil (age 90). Mrs. Ida Purvis and Mrs. Elka Henricks hold the longest continuous membership, that of 68 years.

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 7 July 1977

List of Ministers

NameYears Served
Rev. Oltman B. Oltmans1905-1910
Rev. C. H. Gravenstein1910-1915
Rev. Henry F. Sinning1915-1927
Dr. Klaas J. Stratemeier1928-1940
Dr. Fred J. Langenberg1940-1959
Rev. Dr. Wayne M. Hoffman1959-1962
Dr. A. J. Straatmeyer, Ph.D.1962-1968
Rev. Calvin W. Vanderwerf1969-