Pine Bluffs Post - Serving all of Eastern Laramie County since 1908

A Light upon the Hill


August 24, 2017

Gary Collins/Pine Bluffs Post

Linda Schlegelmilch and Carol Roberts are looking through a scrapbook of the Zion Lutheran Church compiled by the Zion Lutheran Ladies Aid.

"And let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: Not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching."

Hebrews 10 24-25, King James Version.

"This is family. Church, family, it's part of who they are. It's their identity and most the people, I don't know how many people that I walked out and greeted said, 'I was baptized here 60 years ago'," said Rev. Daniel Praeuner

"I'm pastor to the people, the shepherd to these people. The title is reverend, like doctor. I've been here for almost two years. I was installed, it'll be two years in October," Praeuner said.

The pastor was speaking during the occasion of the 100 year celebration of the the Zion Lutheran Church, located about 10 miles east of Grover. He was in the company of Rev. Leslie Judge, who retired, finally, a year ago.

"I actually retired before that, but I took a call to a church. It was a divided congregation. so I got them back on their feet and got them ready for a regular pastor. And then I re-retired last year. I'm here from Meyersville, Texas." Leslie Judge said.

Dale and Pat Sandberg, of Burns, were present at the celebration to be with Dale's sister Sharon Hahn. Hahn is the widow of Eugene Hahn. Her husband's grandfather was Herman Hahn who helped in the construction of the original church in 1917.

"This October I'll have been here 50 years, in this area, yeah. My husband was raised just a mile from where we live presently. We're about two miles from the church and my husband grew up just a mile from there," Hahn said. "He was raised here, baptized here and was a member until he passed away in 2015."

Her husband, Eugene, was instrumental in getting the chair lift installed in the church and the building housing the unit was dedicated in his memory.

"We had a daughter that passed away in 1997. She was an organist at the church for a few years when she was growing up. With her memorial fund we bought the organ for the church," Hahn said. "My husband went to school at Grover and our children, girl and boy, Becky and Kevin, Kevin's here, went to school at Grover and graduated there. He [Kevin] lives on the home place where Eugene was raised."

Also present was Mrs. John "Nick" Hockersmith. She was accompanied by her son Jack and her daughter-in-law Jeannie. Jeannie's grandfather, Mortiz Hopka, was also a charter member of the church in 1917.

"I grew up here, two miles north and two miles west, just a half a mile from the Pine Bluffs road. But I went to school right down here," Nick Hockersmith said. "There was a little one room school house half a mile right down in this bottom here where the cows are now. That's where I graduated from eighth grade. Then I was baptized and confirmed in the old church. There aren't too many of us left around here anymore."

Rev. Brad Heineke served as pastor of the church from 1993 to 2000. He is now at St Paul's Lutheran Church in Sidney, Neb.

"I had the tri-point when I was here. I also started taking care of the Burns congregation and they formed a tri-point parish called, we affectionately called it GIZ. Grace, which is Pine Bluffs, Immanuel which is Burns and Zion which is here. I was pushing for ZIG, but I got over-ruled and they called it GIZ," Heineke said.

In 1954, three years after the new church was dedicated there were 150 members of the congregation, according to the history of the congregation compiled by the Zion Lutheran Ladies Aid.

"With what's happening out west in these old farming and ranching communities, is ranches and farms keep getting bigger and bigger and families are getting smaller and smaller. So, what's happening is where a church, once upon a time, was able to support a pastor all by themselves, they've become much smaller," Heineke said. "I have always felt, and many of my co-workers in the Lutheran Church, Missouri Synod feel that we wanna keep these places open as long as we can. A place to proclaim God's word, to take care of the sheep and lambs in each of these little locations."

"There's just nothing out here for most kids if they don't take over the farm. . .There used to be places all over here and now the buildings are gone, most of them are. A lot of them are. A couple of places I lived is torn down now. I don't think very many people are farming this ground the way they used to with horses and plows. They didn't used to farm very much. 80 acres and now its thousands of acres," Hockersmith said.

Pastor Praeuner, being the pastor at Zion, also conducts the Sunday services at Grace Lutheran in Pine Bluffs. This involves his leaving Zion after the early service and traveling to Pine Bluffs for the later one. On this Sunday, both services were conducted at Zion, with members of both churches in attendance. The church and basement, which was filled to overflowing with parishoners after the first service for lunch, had been cleaned specially for the ocaision.

"We cherish it. We've been cleaning walls and everything. It doesn't have to be modern, the latest, greatest thing. We are here to worship god and give him all the glory that he deserves," said the pastor's wife Patty.

Brad Weisbrook, whose father is still a member of the church, was one of those who helped spruce up the church for the ocaission even though he lives near Kimball and attends the church in that city. He grew up going to Zion and credits it with giving him a strong foundation for his Christian walk.

Also present were Linda Schlegelmilch and Carol Roberts. They spent some of their time perusing a scrapbook of the church and congregation compiled by the Zion Lutheran Ladies Aid.

"We live in Colorado Springs. We're sisters. My mom's Leora Roberts. Mom still comes out here to church. We were both confirmed and baptized here. Our farm is northeast of here. It's pretty close to the Nebraska line, Marvin Roberts lives on it. He's my brother," Schlegelmilch said.

When the original church was built in 1917, during WWI, the nation was embroiled in patriotic fervor against Germany and the Kaiser.

"In fact, I was talking to the gal who's the director of the museums in Greeley. The old church, that was the original, is at the Centennial Village," Praeuner said. "She has records of how they were German settlers, ranchers and they had this church going, they had a school at one time. During WWI the people from Grover threatened to burn this church down because these people out here were Germans."

In an act of Christian valor, the congregation turned the other cheek.

"What happened was the church council voted to put forward a letter, an official letter to the people of Grover that said, 'We are not in support of the Kaiser. We are Americans. We are in the United States and from now on we will speak and teach our kids English and the sermons will be done in English," Praeuner said. "And they didn't burn it down."


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