Church History

A Brief History of St. John’s Congregation 

About 1875, faithful Lutheran families of the Sparta area were traveling to Ridgeville to attend services and to receive the sacraments at St. John’s Ev. Lutheran Church located there.  Pastor A. F. Siegler of Ridgeville explored the possibility of starting a congregation in Sparta and held services for several years in private homes in Sparta .  Area pastors served this group of Lutherans until the congregation organized on January 17, 1880, under the leadership of Pastor Junker of Burr Oak.  A small frame church was built on E. Main Sparta , and the congregation, which worshipped there was served by pastors from Burr Oak or from Tomah for the next 20 years.  A pastor would come to Sparta about once a month.  On other Sundays a layman would read the services from a book of Bible texts and sermons. 
          Pastor J. Glaeser of Tomah urged the congregation to call its own pastor and on July 7, 1901, Rev. Henry Schmeling, a graduate of the Lutheran Seminary at Wauwatosa, WI was ordained and installed as St. John’s resident pastor. 
            With the arrival of a resident pastor, the congregation began to grow and the need for a new church with facilities for a Christian Day School became apparent.  Plans were made and construction of a new church with a full basement for a school was begun.  This church, built on the corner of L St.and Jefferson Ave., was dedicated on November 9, 1902.  This church served the congregation until it was torn down in 1974-75.  The cost of the church building with its basement serving as a school which began in 1903, was

$7,300.  At the time of the congregation’s 25th anniversary in 1905, a 1,302 pound bell was installed in the bell tower at a cost of $377.  This bell, installed in the present church tower, still calls believers to worship.  The first parsonage was purchased in 1907. In July of 1921, Pastor Schmeling was called to serve as a professor at Northwestern College at Watertown, WI.  Pastor Schmeling and his wife are buried in St. John’s Cemetery in Sparta, awaiting resurrection day in the Lord Jesus. 
            Pastor Arthur Berg accepted the call to Sparta after Pastor Schmeling left and was installed on September 8, 1921.  He served faithfully until he obeyed his Savior’s call to join the Church Triumphant in heaven on September 29, 1954.  He and his wife also await the Lord in St. John’s Cemetery.  Under his leadership the parsonage at 501 Jefferson Ave.
was built in 1923 at a cost of $9,000.  This home was completely renovated in 1998-99 at a cost of over $40,000. 
          In 1927, a pipe organ was installed in the 1902 church at a cost of $4,500.  This organ was installed in the 1974 church after re-leathering the wind chests.  In 1996, the congregation voted to completely renovate the organ and add electronic voices. The renovation work was done by the Wickes Organ Company of Highland, Illinois
, and the work was completed in June, 1997, at a cost of about $47,000. The former organ was composed of 7 ranks of pipes and with the addition of one new set of pipes and electronic voices including trumpet, oboe, and chimes, the organ is about 15 ranks.  Re-dedication of the newly renovated organ was held June 29, 1997, with special song services, Professor Edward Meyer as guest organist, a recital, and a noon meal.  
          In 1949, the church was redecorated and in 1951, two services per Sunday were introduced.  The official records of the congregation were written in German until 1936.  A home at the corner of W. Main and Myrtle Streets was purchased in 1951 as a teacherage.  This home was later sold by the congregation.  A home at 315 S. Myrtle St. was purchased about 1982.  This home was used as a teacherage, a parsonage for the associate pastor, and administrative center until the new facility was completed in 2003.  

          St. John’s has conducted a Christian school since 1903.  For many years, the school was conducted in the basement of the 1902 church.  In 1949, a two-room school was built and dedicated in September of that year.  The second floor was added into the present school in 1959, adding 2 classrooms and office space.  A number of teachers served the congregation until Mr. Herb Kuehn, still a member of the congregation, was called in 1928.  He and his wife, Florence, served as teachers until 1936.  Mr. Kuehn had over 90 students in one room!  A number of ladies served the congregation as teachers during the war years, and in 1946, Mr. Robert Moldenhauer assumed the principalship, and served until 1959. Silas Born served from 1959 to 1971; Michael Peper until 1981; Arnold Nommensen until 1998; Mark Leitzke until 2002; James Carlovsky until 2006; and Timothy Mueller currently serves as teacher of grades 7-8 and principal.  St. John’s has been a part of the Luther High School   Association for many years. 
          After Pastor Berg’s death in 1954, H. W. Winkel was called to serve St. John’s, and was installed on January 16, 1955.  He served until his resignation in October of 1982.  During his pastorate, plans were made for the construction of a new church and combination fellowship hall and gymnasium.  This complex, including a worship area seating about 350, and a kitchen, was built at a cost of $450,000, at the corner of
Jefferson Ave. and Myrtle St., and was dedicated on September 1, 1974. 
          Following the resignation of Pastor Winkel, Mark Braun was called and installed on April 10, 1983.  He served until July, 1987, when he accepted a call to Wisconsin Lutheran College in Milwaukee
.  Pastor Scott Dummann was installed in October of 1987.  In the early 90’s, the congregation voted to call a second pastor.  Pastor Del Begalka was installed as associate pastor on August 1, 1993.  Pastor Dummann resigned in March, 1994, and Pastor Begalka continued to serve the congregation until he announced his retirement in the spring of 2003.  Pastor Mark Wessel was called, and serves the congregation at the present time. 
          After the needs of the congregation were again assessed, a decision was made to ask for a staff minister from Martin Luther College , New Ulm, MN.  In May of 1998, Daniel Hanke was assigned to the congregation and was installed as Family Ministry Director in July, 1998.  He continues in that position at the present time.  In July, 2002, Mr. Warren Timm, a teacher in the school, was reassigned to serve as Assistant Family Minister, a position he held until 2006, when, due to increased enrollment, he was called back to the classroom to teach grades 5-6. 
          In August of 1999, the congregation determined to carry out a significant building program, which included a new school, new gymnasium, and administrative space.  The anticipated cost of construction was $1.2 million.  Renovation of the fellowship hall began in the fall of 2002 and construction of the new gym and school began in spring of 2003.  Classes were held in the remodeled part of the fellowship hall, the new offices, and board rooms from Christmas until the end of the school year in 2003.  The old school building was demolished prior to the start of construction of the new one.  The home at 315 S. Myrtle St.housed the offices of pastor, family minister, and secretary, until the new facilities in the church became available.  This home was later moved to a jot on Jefferson Ave., and the playground was expanded into this area. 
          God’s Word continues to flourish at St. John’s.  The sacraments continue to be administered and the congregation numbers around 815, with about 640 communicant members.  To God be all glory and praise!