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Immigrants built oldest church

Written by Mike Siroky. Posted in Featured, Uncategorized

Published on January 24, 2012 with No Comments

The church family of Augustana Lutheran Church will honor the 150th anniversary of the founding of the oldest church and oldest church building in Hobart on Sunday, Jan. 29.

In 1862, the Civil war was gaining momentum.

Abraham Lincoln was a president under siege, determined to re-knit the fabric of America into one whole union, once again indivisible.

And a group of Swedish immigrants built what remains the oldest church building in Hobart, starting the oldest continuous church group as well. Rev. Andreas Andreen was the first to lead the worship service of 18 charter members and two children.

It is no surprise a legendary family of hard-working businessmen, the Isaksons, were among the founders and their descendants still worship there today.

By 1864, the log cabin home of the church was ready to be replaced. A Hobart man, George Earle, would sell land to any church group for one dollar.

By 1868, Augustana began building its first church building, on the corner of Lillian Street and Indiana 51. It remains the oldest church building still in use in Hobart. The original deed from Earle is part of the church’s collection. The building of that church sparked the argument about whether to build in Hobart or Lake Station and the subsequent split led to another congregation in Lake Station.

The parsonage followed in 1892. In 1913, the membership voted to use English as the principal worship language at least four times each year as members were marrying folks who didn’t speak Swedish and the congregation needed to keep growing.

The fifth pastor, Rev. Edward Stark in 1918, was the first American-born minister. He increased the number of services in English and pushed for women to be allowed to make decisions as equal church partners.

Through constant growth and church improvements, and many ministers, the church grew. In 1974, a bell tower was erected in memory of Cpl. Ralf Saunders, who gave his life in Vietnam. The original 1874 bell was used and still rings out to this day.

On Oct. 20, 2004, a fire devastated the church.

The community at large rallied. Liberty School was used for a service the following Sunday, appropriate because it had been the site of services while the building was being erected.

The altar cross had been warped by the heat and many important religious artifacts destroyed, but the cross remains on display. The imposing stained-glass window exploded inwards as the heat of the fire melted the lead linings, all the way across the altar to the third row.

Non-members began sending in donations, some who could only afford a dollar. Hobart First United Methodist offered to print the Sunday bulletins. St. Mary Medical Center offered use of the new auditorium for services, which led to the attendance of traditional Catholic nuns in full uniform in the front row of a Lutheran service.

It took until Jan. 15, 2006, for the restoration to be completed – the stained glass copied from pictures – and the many community offerings began anew.

At the 150th anniversary, expect to see Norma Berg, the last descendant of an original church family, having been baptized into the church on June 28, 1917. Also invited is 107-year-old Bertina Carlson, the matriarch of a five-generation church family.

Through the 150 years since the first hymn was sung, Augustana Lutheran Church has worked with its hometown community as a service church. In fact, part of the church broke off to establish another in Lake Station.

There were eight Augustana Synod churches started locally. Only Hobart remains.

It has survived a tornado, which cracked off the original steeple at the original Lillian Street building and a fire which ravaged the now-rebuilt church at 207 N. Kelly Street.

It sent young men off to that Civil War and many made it back. One of the diaries of that conflict, written by a Hobart soldier, will be part of the sesquicentennial display.

Augustana Lutheran Chusrch has sent soldiers off to every war since.

Paula Isolampi is the leader of the sesquicentennial movement, having contacted family members worldwide she has gotten pictures from all generations.

“The information is flooding in now,” she said, as the celebration Sunday nears.

“Our community involvement has kept us going,” Isolampi said. “The diversity will show in the potluck, anyone can come, but bring something to share. We’ll have all sorts of ethnic foods represented.”

Augustana is part of the Interfaith Federation, sponsoring, among other events, Relay for Life and Rebuilding Together.

“Lots of outside groups use our building,” Isolampi said.

Among those are the Hobart Boy Scouts and many local social groups.

The celebration will kick-off a yearlong party on Sunday, Jan. 29, following the second service, which starts at 10 a.m.:

•The Swedish Counsel is invited from Chicago.

•There will be an ethnic potluck to be shared by all.

•The service will use the Augustana Hymnal (known to celebrants as the Old Black Book).

•The 1862 church budget will be on display, along with items from five- and six-generation church family members and a display about the Swedish influence.

Other Sundays of interest:

On Wednesday, Feb. 1: Mayor Brian Snedecor with have the annual Community Prayer Breakfast, at 7:30 a.m.

On Thursday, Feb. 2: The Congregation will celebrate in the original building, at 7 p.m., using the translated Swedish Hymnal.

On Sunday, Feb. 12, following the 11 a.m. service: All church ensembles celebrate. There will be special music performances. There will be a Duneland Early Music concert.

On Sunday, March 4:  Rev. Ronald deck will present “My Days at Augustana” with service from the Lutheran Book of Worship (known to celebrants as the Old Green Book).

On Sunday, May 6: Mark Kloess will present “My Days at Augustana” with service from the Service Book and Hymnal (known to celebrants as the Old Red Book).

On Sunday, June 17: Rev. Keith Kreisel, former intern will preside. Confirmation anniversary for all classes, with friends invited, as are families of former pastors. There will be a Reunion Potluck. Sign-ups begin for the annual Christmas Ornament for Hobart featuring the Augustana 150th.

On Sunday, July 15: Rev. Ted Steege, former intern, will preside. The Role of the Church in the World will be presented. It will be Partners Sunday, as community partners join the party, including the Church Barbecue.

On Sunday, Aug. 12: Rev. Adrianne Meyer, former intern, will preside. The official Anniversary Tree will be planted. A potluck will be shared.

On Sunday, Sept. 16, Rally Sunday: Church worship and picnic at Lakefront Park, centered in the Revelli Bandshell. A gift to the city and dedication of park equipment will be presented.

On Sunday, Oct. 28: Bishop William Gafkjen presides.

On Sunday, Nov. 11: Rev. Scott Mauch, Son of the Congregation, presides. The time capsule will be opened and items for the 150th capsule will be presented. There will be a catered Congregational Dinner.

On Sunday, Dec. 16: Santa Lucia Service, at 7 p.m.

On Tuesday, Dec. 25: Jurlotta (Christmas Service) at 6:30 a.m.

For more information on Augustana Lutheran Church, call 219-942-3574 or visit www.aughobart.com

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About Mike Siroky

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All opinions, conclusions or recommendations expressed in the above excellent column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Chronicle. Mike Siroky is a writer and editor. He is a native of Northwest Indiana. He has worked in media from coast to coast. To contact Mike, email mikel@the chronicleNWI.com

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