Fredsville Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church

Whenever you meet an American abroad, he is never ashamed of his nationality and no matter how many languages he speaks besides his mother tongue, you will find him using the American in his own house, in speaking to wife, children or to American friends.

The American banner "Stars and Stripes," is dear to him also and among all the American families I happened to associate with in Europe, I never found one where the children, if there were any, did not speak the American language fluently.

In this respect Danes and Americans are united in spirit. Wherever we go in the world, we bring with us our religion, the love of our home and the country and its language, and try to keep in our heart the best we knew at home, of those possessions that enlighten our spirit and help us to happiness and usefulness in every day life.

The first Danish Settlement arrived here around Fredsville in 1866, they coming from Waushara County, Wisconsin.

One of these, Jens Andersen, made one or more trips to Denmark and brought back some of his countrymen; others came from Pine River, Wisconsin. It seems that after the Danish-German War in 1864, when Germany got possession of Schleswig, it became very disagreeable for those living in that southern part of the Danish peninsular Jylland, (Jutland) and several emigrated from there to America, "The Land of Liberty." Also from other places in Denmark, several were anxious to seek adventures or a home in foreign parts of the world and some of those located in Grundy County, Iowa.

As to the first Christian worship, we will mention that it is customary in Danish homes, that the mother or sometimes the head of the household begins teaching their children religion by way of their own good example in saying "The Lord's Prayer" for the small ones every day until they become big enough to join their parents in praying, and this is the first form of religious worship I know of among the Danes in this county. Later on, Ole Johnson, father of J. O. Johnson, from Pine River, Wisconsin, read a sermon and parts from the New Testament in his home and after a while also in the school house on Sundays. It is remembered until this day, how beautiful and strong those sturdy people, far from their fatherland, found those Danish hymns with tunes quite different from those we use for hymns in this country.

The first Danish minister who preached the gospel for the Danes in Grundy County was Reverend C. L. Clausen from a Norwegian church at St. Ansgar, Iowa. He came here only some few times in 1870.

Fairfield Scandanavian Lutheran church was established March 12th, 1871, in Jeppe T. Slifsgaard's home east of Fredsville. The statutes and by-laws were sanctioned and signed that date as we have them yet in full in the congregation book of record from 1871. They are signed by the following names: Ole Johnson, president; J. T. Slifsgaard, secretary; Niels Christiansen, treasurer, Svend Lindkvist, trustee; Jens Andersen, trustee, Niels Olsen, Jars J. Petersen, Niels Petersen. Two leaves are missing in this old record and from 1871 or the next year, there are only the names of five members left in addition to the above, namely, Jens Madsen, Frederik C. A. Jacobsen, Rasmus Larsen, Hans Christiansen, Hans Jeppesen.

The beginning of the Danish Lutheran church in America came about in this way.

Lars Nielsen, lately arrived from Denmark, wrote home about the founding of a congregation here and wanted to know if it were possible to get a minister from Denmark. It happened that a body or a committee had just organized in Denmark for the purpose of missionary work among countrymen in America and Missionary A. S. Nielsen was sent immediately. He arrived in New York the 13th day of June 1871, and was ordained in St. Ansgar, Iowa, Nov. 17th, 1871. He was minister of the congregation at Fairfield, but had formed another congregation in July among the Danes in Cedar Falls, so he came to live there, but was minister for both congregations until 1879.

This letter mentioned above was the beginning of "The Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America," as A. S. Nielsen ordained other ministers and they organized under the name above and had their first annual conference in 1877. The 33d annual conference was held in Ludington, Michigan, in June, 1910. This church is incorporated in Iowa and has its college and the theological seminary in Des Moines, Iowa, named "Grand View College."

There are now in this country about two hundred Danish Evangelical Lutheran ministers and over twice that number of congregations.

Rev. A. S. Nielsen held services in the school houses until a church was built and dedicated in 1874. This church Svend Lindkvist built on contract for $425.00; it was 32x20 with twelve foot studdings and had a steeple. There were four windows and he had to furnish all inside fixings (pews, altar, pulpit, etc.) An entrance was built to that church and that entrance can be seen yet in the yard of the parsonage, where it now serves as a coal bin.

Mr. Iver Raven donated one and one-half acres of land for church and cemetery, but the congregation would accept only one acre as they supposed that to be enough. This action of the congregation may appear strange to some people. This is only another evidence of the fairmindedness of the Danish people.

In 1890, the same congregation paid to a new proprietor $400 for one acre and got a deed and clear title to the two acres. The church and cemetery are located at the southeast corner of the west half of the southeast quarter of Section 26, Fairfield township, Grundy County, Iowa, which is about four and one-half miles northeast of Dike and nine miles southwest of Cedar Falls.

A new church was built in 1885, 48x28, and with a steeple. As to its appearance, we can refer to the picture. At that time, Rev. J. Jensen Mylund was minister for the congregation. He also lived at Cedar Falls, but like Rev. Nielsen, he preached every Sunday at Fredsville, that is, in those days the congregation was not known under any special name but was generally called "the congregation on the prairie," or "Fairfield congregation," but under the congregation's business meeting January 26th, 1888, Mr. Soren Hansen made a motion to name the congregation Fredsville and this was carried with great majority, so the proper name is now "Fredsville Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church."

In 1889, the congregation had grown so much that the people wanted their minister to live among them. A parsonage was built opposite the church on an acre of T. Slifsgaard's farm in Section 36. The cost of the parsonage was $1,000. The picture shows this same parsonage enlarged with several additions.

The first minister located in Fredsville was Rev. R. Thomsen. He came from Schleswig and in America he and his family suffered in a railroad accident, so while recuperating he lived for some time in the home of M. Holst, now editor of "Dannevirke" in Cedar Falls. Later he was brought to J. J. Thuesen's in Fredsville and one of his small children died there. R. Thomsen was minister here for five years and from this dates the great annual harvest festival known to all Danes in Grundy County.

Rev. C. H. Fechtenburg succeeded R. Thomsen in 1895 and the year after he left the congregation in charge of Rev. A. Dan, who remained until 1900.

The work was in progress those years, a young women's society was formed by Miss Thyra Dan and this society donated the church bell, appreciated for its rich and beautiful tone. The Sunday school became of great benefit to the church also; the parsonage and church made more accommodating and a barn or shed was built for teams.

In 1900, Rev. S. D. Rodholm became pastor of the church. He established the ladies' society and the young people's society, the parochial school gained much in popularity and in 1903 the auditorium was built at a cost of $2,500. There is a big gymnasium hall also used for lecturing and besides a smaller committee hall beneath a gallery.

While Rev. P. Gotke was pastor, 1905 to 1907, good work was helped along, the inside of the church was beautified by several kinds of donations; the old barn at the parsonage happened to take fire in 1906 and a new one was erected.

Rev. S. D. Rodholm came back in 1907 and stayed until September, 1910, when he was chosen professor at Grand View College, Des Moines, Iowa, where he now teaches.

In 1909, the young people donated a new organ for the church, and a gallery was erected in there in order to make room. New pews were donated by the ladies' aid society, the church was ornamented otherwise also as the congregation had invited the "Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church of America" to hold its 32d annual conference here.

This annual conference was held in the month of June, 1909, and every problem in connection with such a large gathering was dealt with diligently and with success. In the fall of 1909, a hot air plant was put in for heating the church and lightning rods were put on all buildings.

Rev. Rasmus Jensen came here in November, 1910, from his ministry in Looking Glass, Platte County, Nebraska. The parsonage had been fixed up in good shape and from January, 1911, we began preparations for the congregation's Forty Years Memorial Festival to be held the 12th and 13th of March, 1911. The history of the church, a volume of about 10,000 words, was printed in Danish with pictures. All the ministers of the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, who had been residing pastors in our congregation, were invited and, in kind remembrance of former days, donations were sent to the widows of the pastors, A. S. Nielson, J. Jensen Mylund and R. Thomsen, besides all friends of the congregation and especially former members of our church now residing at other places were invited to those festival days.

At the festival were present, besides other ministers, all the residing pastors in Fredsville since 1896; A. Dan, P. Gotke, S. D. Rodholm and R. Jensen. Many visitors had come, especially from Cedar Falls, Newell and Latimer, Iowa. There was a banquet Sunday and again Monday noon and Sunday there were about five hundred, who attended the church services. Sunday afternoon the history of the church was read in Danish by Rev. R. Jensen, a choir of twenty members sang several hymns and other memorial songs, written for the festival.

Monday, this American edition of the church history was placed in the auditorium for general inspection and Monday evening after the young people's meeting, there was a social gathering, where everybody rejoiced over the successful forty years festival now ended.

Such occasions are especially helpful in uplifting of the Spirit, causing good will toward one another and bring the remembrance of former days to throw light on the present and make people give praise unto the Lord for His grace.

Fredsville is mostly in the summer time a place of considerable beauty. Besides the views given in pictures there is a creamery, a blacksmith shop and about ten houses in the vicinity of the church and all the people living around are Danish Americans and all this change from 1866 was caused by God's sweet will that those sturdy Northerners from far over the sea were called upon to make beautiful homes out of the rich but desolated prairie as it was found here more than forty years ago.

In the closing of these historical notes, I would like to mention that in Denmark every child ten years old knows how to read and write and about one out of every ten persons knows other languages besides Danish. This general education makes it easy to adapt ourselves to the American way of doing things. Also politically we try to do our duty as among other prominent men, State Senator Jacobsen of North Dakota, formerly recorder at Grundy Center, hails from here, his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Peter Jacobsen, living at the old home two miles south of Fredsville.

Several among us know what it is to possess a Fatherland, because we have lost one, and for those of us who remember the sorrow, longing and intense pain it cost us to lose our home country, even if we left it of our own free will, for us it is essential to become good citizens and true and loyal patriots to this, our adopted and beloved country, and this, in my opinion, is done best when the love begins at home, that is, when every man does a man's work in his own community, county and state.

by Rev. Rasmus Jensen

--Atlas of Grundy County, Iowa, 1911, pg 117


Immigrants From Denmark Organized Church At Fredsville 75 Years Ago

Founders Came To Fairfield Township 80 Yrs. Ago; Services For Five Years Were Held In Homes Of Pioneers

The people who organized the congregation at Fredsville came from Denmark and South Jutland. They sought to make a future for themselves in America--the country which in those times became a rich and free land for many a poor and underprivileged person.

In the year 1866, Danish people began to settle in Black Hawk, Grundy and Butler counties, Iowa.

Fredsville is located in Fairfield township, Grundy county, and everything is typically Danish. The people are Danish. The church is situated beautifully in the midst of the cemetery, and here there are gardens and cozy nooks just as in Denmark.

It was not long after the first newcomers had become settled in 1866 that more people came, and by the time the congregation was organized there were a large number of Danish people living near Fredsville and in the railroad town of Cedar Falls.

The first accounts of life in the Fredsville congregation are told by the children of the founders. "We recall," they tell, "that several people gathered in our home and father would read the gospel and a sermon and we would sing hymns." Another account is given by one of the young girls at the time (Mrs. Sine Schultz, nee Slifsgaard).

Some of the immigrants in these early years possibly felt that it was a relief not to have the work of the church under state control; but it was financially more difficult for them to undertake this work from their own incomes, in order that the gospel could be proclaimed and that their children could be instructed in the Christian faith.

The first Danish pastor who preached where Fredsville congregation is now located was C. L. Clausen, who was a pastor among the Norwegians and who came here from St. Ansgar, Iowa. It is not known for sure when he preached here the first time, but according to the oldest sources the congregation was organized March 12, 1871. The congregation was organized in the home of Jeppe Troelsen Slifsgaard and was named "Fairfield Scandinavian Lutheran Congregation." The name, together with references in the by-laws for the altar book of the Norwegian Lutheran Church, could indicate that Rev. Clausen had assisted with the organization of the congregation.

It was due to the efforts of Lars Nielsen of Fredsville that Missionary A. S. Nielsen came here, because Mr. Nielsen had mentioned in letters to Denmark that the congregation needed a pastor. A. S. Nielsen landed in New York June 13, 1871. It is told by several of the older members that the first time he preached in the Fredsville schoolhouse he concluded in his own delightful manner by saying, "Here I am, and if you want to have me, you can get me!" He didn't make any great demands upon the congregation either.

The church was completed and dedicated in 1874, and on Feb. 14, 1875, Rev. A. S. Nielsen dedicated the cemetery at the time of the first burial--a child, son of Jorgen Schmidt.

By this time the Nazareth congregation (Cedar Falls) had also secured its own church, thus it became necessary to have separate church councils. We, however, had a joint meeting in Cedar Falls on Dec. 26, 1874, and reached the following decision: That the Fredsville congregation should pay Rev. Nielsen $200 annually for services conducted every Sunday, and the two congregations shall be equal in respect to rights and services. In addition to the $200 Rev. Nielsen was also to be given feed for his horses.

Church Enlarged in 1885
In 1885 a new and larger church, 28x48 feet, was built. Since then the church has not been enlarged, although through the years it has been beautified. The new church was dedicated in 1885 with pastors A. S. Neilsen and A. Dan taking part in the dedication.

Today the congregation is called the Fredsville Congregation, but prior to 1888 it was known by the following names: "Fairfield Congregation," "the Congregation in Grundy Center," "the Congregation outside of Cedar Falls," and "the Congregation on the Prairie" but at the congregational meeting January 26, 1888, Soren Hansen suggested the "Fredsville," and this name won the majority vote above another suggestion which was "Fredshvile."

In the same year it was decided to build a folk high school at Fredsville with Carl Hansen as the president, and there was subscribed a large sum of money for this purpose, but then Carl Hansen moved to Tyler, Minnesota, and that ended the plans.

First Resident Pastor
In the course of 18 years there can be a lot of progress in a congregation. When Rev. Jensen moved in the spring of 1889, the congregation thought there was work enough at Fredsville to require the entire time of a pastor. The congregation also thought that it was economically strong enough to build a parsonage and to support their own pastor; at any rate the congregation would make a strong effort to do so. An old proverb states that "luck is with the progressive," and when the congregation had acquired an acre of ground from Slifsgaard across the road from the church, it was decided at a congregational meeting on April 7, 1889, to build a parsonage. It was built and paid for, even though the cost was a thousand dollars. The congregation sent R. Thomsen a letter of call, and he came from South Jutland in July.

Protest Language Proclamation
The United States was drawn into World War I and many of the Fredsville young men answered the call to service in the army. Feelings ran high in that critical period, evidenced by some unwise governmental policy. Governor Harding of the State of Iowa issued a proclamation stating that God can not hear prayer spoken in a foreign language; therefore, he decreed that the English language must be used in church and school. This interfered greatly in the work at Fredsville, and many thought is very unsound policy on the part of the Governor. Consequently, a committee from the church together with Rev. Holst sent a protest to the Governor. All foreign-language-speaking pastors in Grundy county were called to Grundy Center. None could prove them disloyal to their country even though they could use a foreign language, thus the unsound policy on the part of the Governor was defeated.

The language question at Fredsville has been settled quietly. At first services were held exclusively in the Danish language; then an English service was conducted one Sunday a month and later two Sundays a month with all holiday services in Danish. Today we still have one Sunday service in Danish and all holiday services in English.

Church Choir
The choir is organized with Mrs. Axel Andersen as president; Hilmar Schmidt, vice president, and Eva Nygaard, treasurer.

Up until January, 1946, Mrs. Harry Thuesen was organist. Since then she has been succeeded by Mrs. Harold N. Petersen.

In January of 1945 a new Ladies' Aid Society was organized, known as the Junior Ladies' Aid of the Fredsville Church. Young women of the congregation who are 40 years or under are eligible to join as members. The society has regular meetings on the last Thursday of each month. Officers are: Mrs. Ed. Sherwood, president; Mrs. Ed Andersen, vice pres.; Mrs. Erhart Andersen, secretary; Mrs. Ernest Bruhn, treas.

Officers of the Senior Ladies' Aid are: Mrs. Sigfred Stage, pres.; Mrs. T. J. Thuesen, vice pres.; Mrs. Ernest Jepsen, secy.; Mrs. Clarence Johnson, asst. secy., and Mrs. George Krog, treasurer.

In Two Wars
In the 75 years since the congregation was organized, the United States has been involved in two great wars. Several of our young people entered the service of their country each time.

During World War I, 1917-18, 42 young men joined the armed forces. Two of these young men are listed among the casualties in the service of our country.

During World War II, 1941-46, 54 young men and six young woemn entered the military service. Of these, two young men are numbered among the casualties of war.

Former pastors now living are: S. D. Rodholm, 1901-05 and 1907-10; J. A. Holst, 1916-21; P. C. Stockholm, 1922-33; Holger O. Nielsen, 1933-37; Svend Kjaer, 1937-43. All of them have been invited together with Rev. Alfred Jensen, synodical president, and Harald Ibsen, district president, to help celebrate the 75th anniversary.

The members of the present church council are Harry Thuesen, president; Axel Andersen, v. pres.; Louis Oleson, Secy; George Krog, treasurer; and Mrs. Henry Struntze and Edward Andersen, trustees.

14 Ministers At Fredsville
Fourteen ministers have served the congregation at Fredsville since its organization 75 years ago. They were:
A. S. Nielsen 1871-1879
J. Jensen (Mylund) 1879-1889
R. Thomsen 1889-1894
C. H. Fechtenburg 1895-1896
Adam Dan 1896-1900
S. D. Rodholm 1900-1905
P. Gotke 1905-1907
S. D. Rodholm 1907-1910
Rasmus Jensen 1910-1916
Jens A. Holst 1916-1921
P. C. Stockholm 1922-1933
H. O. Nielsen 1933-1937
S. Kjaer 1937-1943
M. E. Nygaard 1943-

--The Grundy Register (Grundy Center, Iowa), 9 May 1946, pg 1


Additional information can be found on the church's website: Fredsville Lutheran Church