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First Lutheran Church - Volga, SD


Congregational History (1879–1954)
As recorded in the 125th Anniversary Book

The First Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Volga had its beginning in the Norwegian Lutheran Church of Medary, which was organized at the John Thompson home in Verdure Twp. Minnehaha County, June 13, 1870. The church used by the members of the first congregation was located on what is known as the H. C. Hellekson farm.

In 1879 a group of pioneer Scandinavians in and around Volga met at the Peter Belgard home in Volga. There were fourteen charter members: Nicolai Evenson, O. Anderson, P. Belgard, Claus Jermstad, A. O. Dahl, Jacob Jermstad, Jens Frandsen Dahl, Hans Gulicksen, Martin Stumley, Andreas Stumley, August Wold, Magnus Olson, Pat Lee and Albert Hardy.

The first officers of the church were as follows: J. L. Alseth, sec’y.; Ole Bekkmellon, treas.; Nicolai Evenson, deacon; Thomas Dahl, Ole L. Anderson and Ole Bekkmellon, trustees; Jacob Jermstad, assistant. From the time of its establishment until 1885 the church was a member of the Norwegian Synod.

The first minister was Rev. E. O. Ruste, who lived near Lake Campbell and who served Brookings and Medary, besides his Volga charge. In 1884 Rev. Ruste resigned, and he was followed by Rev. M. O. Borge, who served the same congregations. Services were held in the homes and later in the schoolhouse standing on what is now the site of the Volga Hospital. It was Rev. Borge who started the first Lutheran choir in Volga. At a regular meeting of the congregation held in Volga, March 15, 1886, a constitution was adopted. In 1888, at the close of Rev. Borge’s ministry here, the First Norwegian Evangelical Church of Volga became affiliated with the Anti-Missouri Synod, being a member of that organization until 1890.

Rev. S. O. Rondestvedt accepted a call in 1889, and he was pastor of the church until 1891, serving the 

same congregations as the two preceding ministers. In 1890 the local congregation joined the United Norwegian Lutheran Church of America and remained a member of this body until 1917. The first church of the congregation was built in 1889. The charge consisting of Volga, Sinai and Lake Campbell congregations was next served by Rev. L. K. Aaberg, who came to Volga as a young man, being installed at the farm home of Mrs. Oliana Alseth until his marriage to Augusta Amundson of Wise, in September 1892. They then made their home in the newly built parsonage. They had five sons born to them here, Casper Gerhard, Walter, Herman, Lindeman and Hartman, one son dying in infancy. Their second son, Walter, is at present, County Judge of Brookings County.

The Norwegian language was used exclusively at services during Rev. Aaberg’s ministry. He drove a team of horses to his three charges, getting through to his congregations in spite of snow, and no roads, such as we are accustomed to at present. The aid which was active at this early period in the history of our congregation, served many public suppers and socials at the parsonage. The Aabergs endeared themselves to the congregation by their hospitality and sympathetic help given to all who had need of help, either spiritual or physical.

Rev. Aaberg resigned his charge in 1908, preaching his farewell sermon in Feb. 1908, leaving for a pastorate in Wisc. The high esteem in which he was held was manifested at a surprise party given in his honor on one of his visits back to this congregation.

Rev. Hendrick Voldal succeeded Rev. Aaberg and served in the same charge until 1917. Rev. and Mrs. Voldal had six children, namely: Kristi, Gertrude, Nels, Estrid and the twins, Erling and Johannes. Rev. Voldal was the first pastor to use a car as means of transportation to his congregations.

During Rev. Voldal’s pastorate, thechurch was remodeled as the congregation had now outgrown the first structure. A full basement was made and a furnace installed, and a gallery built in the back part of the church. New stained glass windows were installed, a cork linoleum covering was laid over the old floor, new pews were put in, and the building was wired and electric lights were installed, also a new choir room was built.

The congregation now consisted of 325 members. Rev. Voldal resigned in 1917 to accept a call in North Dakota.

Rev. Green of Brookings acted as interim pastor, confirming the class which Rev. Voldal had instructed.

The Immanuel Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church was organized in 1899, with the following charter members: A. J. Stromme, John C. Hammer, A. Nyman, Andrew E. Lee, John C. Lee, P. J, Peterson, Julius Stockstad, N. K. Leite, Carl J. Johnson, O. A. Stumley, A. W. Hardy, O. H. Temte, N. C. Nelson, M. P. Thompson, Julius Johnson, Julius Martinson and W. A. Stromme

The first Board of Trustees consisted of A. Nyman, John C. Lee and O.H. Temte., J.C. Hammer was the first secretary and Jens Frandsen was the first treasurer of this congregation.

In 1899, Rev. Svaren accepted the call, and he served the congregation until 1911. He was also pastor of the Prairie Queen, Bloom and Medary congregations. 

He was succeeded by Rev. O. J. Opstad, who had charge of the same congregation until 1917. In 1914 the congregation had 80 members.

Volga Bethania Congregation

This congregation was organized in the year 1882 or 1883 as near as can be ascertained. Being affiliated with the Hauge Norwegian Evangelical Synod, they called as their first pastor Rev. O. O. Bergh in the summer of 1884. Rev. Bergh finished his schooling at the Red Wing Seminary in the spring of that year and on the 30th of May was married to Minnie Halvorson of Red Wing, Minn.

The pioneers who organized this congregation were few in number and many of them in rather poor financial circumstances and thus were unable to build a church for many years.

Services were held in homes and schoolhouses until about 1902 or 1903 when a small church was built on the same plot of ground which had previously been donated by Rev. Bergh for cemetery purposes.

      Pastor Bergh continued to serve this congregation until the year 1919 when he retired and moved to St. Paul, Minn.

Rev. O. F. Johnson of Sinai was then called and served the congregation until he resigned in 1920. After the resignation of Pastor Johnson, no more services were held, and the congregation disbanded and the members were left to join neighboring congregations. However, most of the families joined First Lutheran of Volga.

From the very first, Rev. Bergh realized that his three small congregations would not be able to pay him a large enough salary to support him and his growing family, so the first year he was here he purchased a good quarter section of land, and a few years later another good quarter was added to the farm. It could be well said of him that he farmed for a living, and preached because he loved the Lord.

Rev. Bergh had a burning zeal for the salvation of souls and had a large group of loyal friends among the pioneers whom he befriended in so many ways. Two men have gone into full-time ministry of the church from the congregation, Norman Nelson in the Lutheran Free Church and S. C. Theo. Ramsey in the Evangelical Free Church.

1917 Church Merger

In 1917 the two church synods, the United Norwegian Lutheran Church and the Norwegian Synod joined to form the Norwegian Lutheran Church of this city. The Volga parish, consisting of Volga and Lake Campbell congregations be-came a member of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. Several years later different families joined this Volga Church who had been members of the Bethany Congregation, which was often called the Bergh Church. 

After the merger of the two Lutheran congregations in Volga, the first Board of Trustees of the congregation consisted of Ole Oines, John Gruseth, John C. Lee, A. G. Nelson and J. C. Hammer. M. A. Slumley, O. C. Westrum, O. A. Lien and Andrew Warnes were members of the first Board of Deacons. The first treasurer of the new congregation was A. H. Norvold, and the first secretary was Gust Leite.

The parsonage was remodeled and modernized at this time, in readiness for a new pastor. The cost of remodeling was $2000.00.

Rev. A. M. Mannes accepted the call to serve the combined congregations of Volga and Lake Campbell and arrived in Volga August 4, 1918, with their four daughters, namely: Priscilla, Miriam, Ruth and Marie. A reception was held at the church to extend them a welcome.

It was in the fall of 1918, shortly after Rev. Mannes and family had gotten settled in the parsonage that the “Flu” in-vaded the parsonage, the church and thecommunity. Many of the members of the church passed away during this period. It was customary at this time that the church bell should toll for the departed; if the people listened to the tolling, they would know the age of the departed and could almost know who had passed away, if they knew of the illness of any person. The caretaker, Mr. Sneve, was nearly exhausted at times, as there were so many deaths—sometimes several in a week. The epidemic lasted until after Christmas, so we were not able to have the Christmas Sunday School program that year. The order from the Board of Health was that no public meetings were to be held until the ban was lifted, which was about the middle of January.

The English language was used more and more frequently at services. The congregation grew rapidly. In 1928 an addition was built lo the north of the church to give added room for the Sunday school. On the 13th of November, 1927, a dedication festival was again held, and the entire congregation was served a dinner in the church basement.

Lutheran Brotherhood and the Birthday Mission Aid were organized during Rev. Mannes’ pastorate. Also, adult confirmations were held. A junior choir was also organized under the leadership of Alfred Martinson, who also led an active senior choir.

Rev. and Mrs. Mannes celebrated their silver wedding in June, 1928, and also the 25th Anniversary of Rev. Mannes’ entry into the ministry shortly before leaving for his new pastorate at Jackson, Minn. The congregation had planned a surprise reception for them, but as the pastor was busy packing for moving, he had to be told in order to have the groom present at the celebration. A program was rendered with music, speeches and testimonials.

Rev. Karl Kildahl of Clifford, North Dakota, accepted the call to serve as pastor of the Volga and Lake Campbell congregations and was formally installed by the District President, Rev. Bergsaker of Sioux Falls, Sunday, October 21, 1928. A reception of welcome was given Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl the previous Friday evening, October 19. A short program preceded the light refreshments served by the Ladies’ Aid in the church parlors. Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl had one son, Karl Jr., and one daughter, Esther.

On December 20, 1930, the Volga Lutheran Church was completely destroyed by fire. The alarm was turned in at 9:20 and in exactly one hour from that time, the building was burned to the ground. The local fire company was on the grounds ready for action within a few minutes after the alarm was given, but the fire had made such headway that it was impossible to save anything. The Arlington and Brookings fire departments responded to Volga’s SOS call, but by the time they arrived the building was completely ablaze, and it was useless for them to attempt to check it.

The cause of the fire was unknown. The building had been warmed up during the day when the Sunday school children met for rehearsal of their Christmas program. It was believed that the fire originated somewhere near one of the furnaces, but what caused it to break out is unknown. Some advanced the theory that it was spontaneous combustion, as the door of the furnace had been literally blown out, but the positive cause will never be known and no blame or responsibility was placed upon any individual. By the time the firemen arrived on the scene, the building was so full of smoke that it was dangerous to enter. The smoke was so dense that it hid the flame, and the firemen for a time were at a loss to know just where to operate.

At 9:40 the heat from the inside blew out a window on the south side of the building. This gave the flame air, and from that time on the building was a roaring furnace. Within a few minutes all the windows on the south side were gone, and the flames shot out almost thirty feet. The wind was from the northwest, and the flames were quickly carried from the rear of the building towards the front. Within a few minutes the fire started creeping up the church tower, and the burning tower was seen as far as Lake Benton, Minnesota. People came here from miles around to behold the awful spectacle.

The heat was so intense that half of the bell melted before the supports were burned, and the remainder of the bell fell to the basement. The grass from the church to the road burned to a powder, and the many fine evergreen and ash trees around the building were killed from the intense heat.

During the time we were without a church, services were conducted in the High School Auditorium. The Christmas program, put on by the Sunday school, was also held at the auditorium.

Steps were immediately taken to build a new church. The board of trustees which at that time consisted of O. A. Oines, A. G. Nelson, Gust Leite, Severt Olson and Chas. E. Lee, was authorized to act as the building committee and to choose such men as they saw fit to work in conjunction with them. The following were chosen to constitute the other members of the building committee: A. H. Norvold, John Jorenby, Tom Elverud, John Hammer, Oscar Dahl, and John Gruseth, Jr. Edward Lee was elected treasurer of the building fund. This committee chose Mr. Ray R. Gauger of St. Paul, Minn., as the architect, and the firm of Carlson and Hasslen of Ortonville, Minn., as the contractors. The members of the congregation of which there were 470 souls, felt the loss of their church very keenly, and responded very liberally to the building fund.

For a congregation to lose its house of worship by fire is always a heavy blow; it was especially so coming, as it did on the very eve of the Christmas festivities.

However, there are often blessings concealed under seemingly disasters, and so it proved in this case, also. No sooner were the Christmas holidays past than the congregation laid its plans for a new church. Nor did they make the mistake which has been all too common: that of making a little insurance money stretch as far as possible, adding a bit to it and erecting a building as cheaply as possible.

This time the congregation looked far into the future and built a church which, please God, will stand for many a generation. The cost of the new building was $40,000.00, a price far below the value the congregation received. It measured 96×40, and at that time was fully equipped and was one of the most beautiful and churchly edifices in the state.

The church bell which had passed through the fire and was a molten mass was sent in to be recast. Today it has the same beautiful tone which it had when it first called the people to worship in God’s house.

The cornerstone, presented by Ortonville Monumental Works of Ortonville, Minn., was laid with appropriate ceremonies on May 3, 1931. There were between 700 and 800 people from Volga and the surrounding country present that Sunday afternoon at the ceremonies. Eleven pastors, all from out of town except Rev. Karl Kildahl, were present, many of them assisting in the ceremonies. The Rev. A. J. Bergsaker, District President, gave the sermon in the afternoon. He complimented the Volga congregation highly upon the fine spirit which had overcome the obstacle of the serious loss by fire of their former building, and had permitted them to raise successfully by subscriptions taken from their own membership funds sufficient to erect the fine new house of worship. Mr. Bergsaker preached a very fine sermon in keeping with the spirit of the occasion.

Other pastors cooperated in the opening prayer, scripture reading, Psalm readings, and closing prayer. The Rev. N. N. Boe of Sinai gave a fine address, and the Rev. L. K. Aaberg, pastor of the local church starting in the year 1891, recalled past memories of his work in this community.

The Rev. Karl Kildahl, local pastor, read a paper on the history of the Volga congregation. This history, a Golden Jubilee edition of the Volga Tribune, a copy of the day’s program, items taken from the two former cornerstones of the church, and many others were placed in the cornerstone receptacle. The items in the former cornerstones were very well preserved; it was reported, with the exception of one or two pieces of paper.

It was indeed a memorable occasion when the beautiful new edifice was completed in late summer and dedication services could be held. The festivities began on Saturday, August 29, 1931, with discussions by visiting pastors on the eighty-fourth Psalm, all in the Norwegian language. A song composed by Alfred Martinson, “Hilsen til vor nye Kirke,” was sung by Alvin Martinson; other musical numbers were given by the Male Choir.

On Sunday morning a devotional service was held at the entrance of church, then the doors were opened, and the church was soon filled to overflowing. Rev. A. M. Mannes, a former pastor, delivered the sermon. Music was furnished by the junior and senior choirs under the direction of Alfred Martinson. At the morning service Kenneth Olson, infant son of Mr. and Mrs. Gerhard Olson, was baptized.

The dedication sermon was preached at 2:30 P.M. by Rev. Berserker, Dist. Pres., and all pastors in the Brookings Circuit assisted by reading passages of Scripture. At the closing session at 8. P.M., the junior choir and the girls octet sang, and the sermon was delivered by Rev. J. Ramseth, of Waseca, Minn. The Ladies’ Aid served meals both days, and visitors were entertained in the homes overnight and for breakfast.

Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl also observed their silver wedding anniversary while pastor of our congregation, on June 28, 1942. The congregation honored them with a reception, with a fine program of music, speeches and testimonials, after which refreshments were served.

Our local church congregation and Ladies’ Aid were especially grateful to God for the many blessings they had received when on September 17, 1944, our beautiful church became debt free, with the burning of the last note. Through special effort on the part of all the members and organizations who donated generously to the cause, this was made possible. The entire church basement had been painted and varnished for the occasion, and living lights on the altar were substituted for the electric ones that had been in use. Dr. L. A. Pierson was guest speaker [or the special event, and Rev. C. Hauge and Rev. A. Holm brought “greetings.” This happy event closed with a potluck lunch served by the members of the aid and congregation.

A Reception for the returned servicemen and women of the congregation was held on Sunday, August 25th, 1946. There were 91 honored on this occasion. A program was given in the church proper after which the servicemen and women and members of the congregation adjourned to the church parlors for the reception and another program. There were five men from the congregation who made the supreme sacrifice, namely: Lt. Leonard Lee and Lt. Walter Lee, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Charles E. Lee; Lt. Irwin Lee, son of Mr. and Mrs. John Lee; T-Sgt. Terrace Blair, son of Mrs. Tena Garrison; Pfc. Donald Young, son of Mr. and Mrs. Herb Young; Lt. Herbert Erickson, son of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Erickson;and S-Sgt. Fred Baker, son of Mr. and Mrs. Neal Baker.

In 1946 the Norwegian Lutheran Church in America, of which our congregation was a member, changed the name of their church body to the Evangelical Lutheran Church, known as ELC.

Rev. Kildahl resigned from the Volga and Lake Campbell congregations in August, 1947, to accept a call from Nevis, Minn. Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl came to Volga on August 27, 1928, and he was the ninth minister to occupy the pulpit in the Volga Lutheran Church.

The joys and sorrows of many families in this community were tenderly shared by Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl in their ex-tended tenure of service here. According to church records, his ministerial acts during his ministry at Volga include 411 baptisms, 379 confirmations, 234 funerals and 102 marriages. And here may we say, to the eternal credit of people of this community and to the church, that, so far as was known here, not one of these marriages had terminated in the divorce courts, at the time of Rev. Kildahl’s departure.

Outside of their church work, the Kildahls set an example of good living and happy homebuilding in the community. Their two children, Karl Jr. and Esther, attended grade school and graduated from the Volga High School, and later Esther was united in marriage to Rev. Stanley Olson while they were living in Volga. Rev. Kildahl’s hobby was horticulture, and his peony garden was one of the beauty spots in Volga. The upkeep and beautification of the church property and cemetery was a matter of concern and pride to him.

Rev. Kildahl directed the church choir for ten years. Mrs. Kildahl was especially active in the different organizations in the church, devoting herself untiringly to the work of the Ladies’ Aid and Missionary Society and young people’s organizations, including the LDR which she helped promote.

A farewell gathering was held for them by the congregation, and a generous gift of money given them in appreciation of their labor among us and to wish them Godspeed. In their nineteen years of residence in Volga, Rev. and Mrs. Kildahl made a host of friends who united in expressing regret at their departure and who wished them sincere wishes for their health and happiness in their new home in Nevis, Minn. His farewell services to the congregation in Volga and Lake Campbell were well attended. Rev. Simonson of Brookings was secured to fill the vacancy until a new pastor arrived.

A call was sent to Rev. Oliver Bergeland of Larson, Wisconsin, which he accepted, and he preached his first sermon at First Lutheran in Volga on January 25, 1948. Rev. Bergeland’s installation service was held the same day, with Dr. Pierson, District President in charge. A reception was held in the evening to welcome Rev. and Mrs. Bergeland and their two sons, Daniel and John. A social hour followed with light refreshments served by the ladies in the church parlors.

A large number of the members of the Volga Parish accepted the invitation of Rev. and Mrs. Bergeland to an “open house” reception Sunday afternoon and evening, September 26th, 1948. Nearly all of the adult members of both congregations called at some time in the afternoon or evening and pronounced the event a delightful and fraternal affair. The hospitality and friendliness of Rev. and Mrs. Bergeland will long be remembered by all who came in contact with them and especially those who had occasion to call at the parsonage and heard Mrs. Bergeland’s familiar “come and have a cup of coffee with us.”

Congregational History (1955–1979)
As recorded in the 125th Anniversary Book

“Bells still are chiming and calling.”

Work in the parish was steadily increasing and the need for a parish worker began to be felt. Upon action of both First Lutheran of Volga and Lake Campbell Lutheran it was agreed to call Ruth Stadem of Bryant, S.D. She accepted the call and began her duties in January 1955. She was indeed a willing, spiritual co-worker but, due to poor health, she resigned her position in February 1956. Also, in January of 1955, First Lutheran extended to College Lutheran Church at San Diego, Calif., a credit loan of $25,000 to help in their building program.

The spring of 1955 found the church grounds being improved when trees were planted on the west and north edges of the grounds and landscaping done in the church cemetery.

A new constitution was adopted in March 1956 when the church name was changed from Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church to the First Lutheran Church. A big step forward was also felt that spring when on April 9, the congregation approved a basic plan for the building of an educational unit. (This included a new hot water heating system for the church.) Thorson, Thorson and Madson of Forest City, Iowa, were engaged as architects with Amert Construction of Madison and Butch’s Plumbing and Sand’s Electric of Brookings receiving the building, plumbing and electrical bids. An “Every Member Visit” was set up to raise funds, and groundbreaking services were held July 15. The building committee consisted of the following: Jess Alexander, chairman; Howard Lee, Oral Oines, August Schade, and Clifford Tisdel. Advisory members were Mrs. Edwin Hesby, Byno Weber and Pastor D.S. Halbakken.

In May 1956 the church council approved and set up the first Lutheran Educational Aid Fund (LEAF) Scholarship. In the summer of that same year, the council and Pastor Halbakken discussed and approved of the need for an assistant pastor. A call was sent to Pastor E.G. Ulring of Ottumwa, Iowa. Upon accepting the call, he and his wife moved to Volga in September.

An accident occurred within the church building early in 1957 when three men, Jess Alexander, Gene Olson and Alvin Ahnberg, were repairing the church bell. Some boards gave way, and Gene and Alvin fell several feet, causing severe injury to both. Their lives were spared, but much doctoring was required. The council immediately increased the church’s insurance policies to cover any future incidents.

March 10, 1957, was a day set aside for celebration and dedication of the completed 20-room educational unit. The Sunday morning message and rite of dedication were given by Dr. L.A. Pierson, South Dakota District President. Both junior and senior choirs presented music, and there was a 3–5 P.M. open house followed by refreshments with the public invited. The total contract for this unit was $62,054. The Sioux Valley Independent School District No. 120 rented our educational unit for kindergarten classes from the spring of 1957 through the spring of 1964.

The Volga-Lake Campbell parish again had a change of pastors in 1957. The Rev. D.S. Halbakken resigned in June to accept a position as instructor in the Christianity Department of Augustana College in Sioux Falls, SD.  A farewell gathering was held in September. Assistant Pastor E.G. Ulring served the parish during the interim.

On Nov. 29, 1957, the Rev. Luther C. Bergeland, his wife Lois and their three children arrived in Volga from Russell, Minn. He was installed Dec. 15. Rev. Bergeland is a nephew of a former pastor, Oliver Bergeland.

During 1958 the South Dakota District mourned the passing of their president, Dr. L.A. Pierson. Dr. E.G. Gilbertson of the Brookings parish was selected to succeed Dr. Pierson as president.

The congregation spent time and much money, memorial and otherwise, furnishing the educational unit. In 1958 sidewalks were poured, and landscaping was done.

In June 1958 Assistant Pastor Ulring resigned to accept a call to Windom, Minn. A farewell gathering was held for the family.

On Sunday morning, June 14, 1959, First Lutheran congregation and guests witnessed the ordination of Alvin J. Bergh, son of Mr. and Mrs. Alfred Bergh of our congregation. Pastor Luther Bergeland served as liturgist, and Rev. E.O. Gilbertson was ordinator. Other guest pastors were Rev. Peter Lerseth, Rev. W.C. Dahl, Rev. Oliver Bergeland, Rev. David Halbakken and Rev. Alden Hovda. Following ordination, a reception was held in the church parlors. Later, a potluck supper was served in honor of Alvin at the home of his parents.

Missionary John Mehl was home on leave from his mission work in Madagascar in August 1959. A Sunday afternoon of fellowship was enjoyed August 16 by a large crowd that attended from Volga and the surrounding area as Mehl showed slides and discussed his work. The church council decided to make the spring Lenten offering a special offering that year with all the money going to support Pastor Mehl and his family.

The South Dakota District celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1960. Also in 1960, the Volga congregation voted to use the new red service book and hymnal. Several of the new books were given in memory of loved ones.

The much-used kitchen of First Lutheran took on a new look in January 1961 when Anton Rud and son, Paul, did an extensive remodeling. Money, totaling $2,000, had been set aside and was used as partial payment by the church women. The balance was paid by regular church funds. Mrs. E.K. Shefte, Mrs. Ray Becker and Mrs. Oscar Dahl served as the remodeling committee. That same year it was decided to paint the entire interior of the church.

The Evangelical Lutheran Church, of which First Lutheran congregation was a member, had committed itself to unite with the American Lutheran Church and the United Evangelical Lutheran Church. This merger became effective Jan. 1, 1961, and the three former church bodies became known as The American Lutheran Church. The first elected officers of the South Dakota District of the ALC were Dr. E.O. Gilbertson, president; Rev. T.F. Doyer, vice president; Rev. Robert Anderson, secretary; and Walter Person, treasurer. In July of 1961, Orville Berkland, a former member of Lake Campbell Lutheran, was named as an assistant to Dr. Gilbertson.

A much-needed speaker system was installed in our church proper in 1962. It was purchased from and installed by the Brookings Music Store.

The annual meeting was held the third Wednesday in January of 1963. Previous meetings had been held in December. In late summer of 1963, a remodeling took place in the church basement when an unused area was made into a council room, also to be used for meetings of other small groups.

From September 15–18, 1963, our congregation was privileged to take part in the Faith-ln-Life Institute. The opening rally consisted of a crowd of 8,000 people gathered at South Dakota State University stadium to hear Bishop Hans Lilje of Germany speak. The HonorableLuther Youngdahl of Washington, D.C., spoke at our church. The project was designed to reach Christians and others through vocations and work groups. Rev. Luther Bergeland was named to the worship committee.

On Oct. 20, 1963, Pastor Luther C. Bergeland announced that he had accepted a call to serve Atonement Lutheran in Boulder, Colo. He left in December, and the Rev. Arne Markland of Brookings served the parish as interim pastor until March 1964.

Parish realignment was the major discussion at the annual meeting in 1964. Previous discussions and meetings had been held with the sister church, Lake Campbell Lutheran, and it was felt by majorities of both groups to call separate pastors. In April of 1964, the Rev. Arthur Schmitt and family of Java, S.D., arrived to serve First Lutheran of Volga.

During the year 1965, several new proposals were adopted at First Lutheran. A new constitution was adopted; a three-year confirmation course began; two worship services were held each Sunday morning during the months of September through May and communion was part of the service the first Sunday of every month. New fluorescent lights were hung in the church basement. The congregation also took part in special emphasis to support missionary John Mehl in 1965.

March 14, 1965, was an important and special day at First Lutheran when the congregation observed the burning of the parish unit mortgage. When a growing church becomes debt-free, it’s time to move forward; this was started in February 1966 when the Albert Hanson property, north of the old parsonage, was purchased to make room for the much-discussed building project, a new parsonage.

It was in January 1967 that the congregation actually voted to build a new parsonage. Building began May 15 by contractor George Rud. The building committee consisted of Arne Nelson, chairman; Oscar Dahl, Jess Alexander, Arne Knutson, Jerry Rindels, Wilbur Houtman and John Anundson. Upon completion, a dedication service was held October 1 with an open house at the parsonage and special church services with Dr. E.O. Gilbertson as speaker. The total cost of the project was $24,279.25. The old parsonage (built in 1891) was sold to Ivan Mullett of Volga for $677.11 and was moved a block south of the church. The council also voted to have the outside bricks of the church sandblasted that summer to add to the appearance of church property.

The 450th anniversary of the Reformation was observed Oct. 29, 1967, at the Sunday morning service with a recorded message by ALC President Dr. Schiotz. First Lutheran participated in a Community Reformation Rally sponsored by the Volga Ministerial Association on Nov. 2, 1967, at the high school gymnasium.

Volga Lutheran became a part of a conference change in 1967 when the name was changed from the Brookings Conference to the East Central Conference. This formerly included thirteen congregations and now would include seven.

First Lutheran at Volga approved of taking part in the Lutheran Ingathering for Education (LIFE) program. A drive for pledges was set up in the fall of 1967. Churches in the Volga community were organized in 1968 to take turns having Sunday morning services at the Parkview Rest Home. First Lutheran was to take the first Sunday of the month.

In November of 1968, Rev. Schmitt, having resigned earlier, left his pastoral duties at Volga to accept a similar position at Eureka, S.D. The Rev. David Hernes from Sinai Lutheran served as interim pastor until February 1969. The confirmation youth at First Lutheran were allowed to discontinue oral catechization in 1968.

Blizzard conditions plagued South Dakota the entire winter of 1968-69. Schools were closed periodically, and church services were often attended by only townspeople.

In November of 1968, First Lutheran congregation sent a call to Rev. James Hulberg of Adrian, Minn. The congregation indeed felt blessed when he accepted the call and arrived in Volga in January with his new bride of January 5, the former Esther “Konnie” Konsterlie of Willmar, Minn. Pastor Hulberg was installed February 9, 1969.

Mrs. Edwin Hesby, who had faithfully served as Sunday School Superintendent for many years, resigned her position in August 1969 because of poor health. She was replaced by Mrs. Eugene Oines, who assumed the superintendent duties in January 1970.

On October 26, 1969, the 90th anniversary of the church was celebrated. Former pastor Alden Hovda gave the Sunday morning message, and Rev. Oliver Bergeland spoke in the afternoon. A congregational potluck dinner was held, and both junior and senior choirs sang. Recognition was given to Mrs. Hesby for her twenty years of service to the Sunday school. A special offering went to the debt retirement on the parsonage. At the time of the 90th anniversary, 1,165 people had been confirmed at First Lutheran.

First Lutheran congregation rejoiced with Rev. and Mrs. Hulberg on the birth of their first son, Paul Jayson, on Nov. 20, 1969.

Pastor Hulberg began a weekly radio ministry over KBRK, Brookings, in April 1970. This was carried out through “A Pastor’s Visit” heard Saturday mornings at 9:20 A.M. This ministry was seen as a tool for visiting the sick and shut-ins as well as a tool for evangelism and counseling.

A building to house mowers and other equipment was built and placed on the west side of the church property in 1970.

The first pictorial church directory was published in 1971 and a second one in 1976. A confirmation picture bulletin board was also purchased in 1971 with memorial money. It now stands in the council room. Mrs. Byno Weber and Mrs. Ray Becker are credited with organizing the confirmation class pictures for this bulletin board. Val Olson Salter did the art work on the cover.

The ALCW improved the interior of the church proper in 1971 by providing money to carpet the aisles, stairways and narthex. A beautiful green carpet was chosen. The ladies also set up the practice of having greeters at both morning services and appointed a four-member banner committee to make banners for the church proper.

At the annual meeting in 1972, it was decided to purchase an FM radio transmitter. This would allow worship services and other programs to be broadcast up to ten miles from the church and would be a powerful tool in spreading the Gospel. Installation took place in October.

A second son, John Mark, was born to Rev. and Mrs. Hulberg on February 16, 1972.

In the spring of 1972, landscaping was done in front of the church. Several types of shrubs were planted. Also, a room in the parish unit was set aside to be used as a prayer chapel.

Early communion for children beginning with fifth graders was started in 1973. Pastor Hulberg met with the students and their parents for three sessions of instruction before they took part in communion. A parish paper and monthly calendar also began that year and was mailed to each family. The congregation was saddened at the news of the passing of the ALC President, Kent Knutson, in March 1973. Dr. David Preus then became the church president.

On Sunday, June 27, 1974, Miss Alma Brendsel was honored for fifty years of service as pianist and organist. A reception was held following services in the church basement.

On Sept. 29, 1974, a special service was held as the congregation observed the burning of the mortgage on the new parsonage. Rev. Arthur Schmitt from Highmore, SD., gave the Sunday morning message.

After several meetings and discussions, the congregation voted their approval in October 1974 to purchase a double-wide mobile home to be placed on the northwest side of the church property. The cost of this purchase was $11,650. The purpose of the trailer was to provide room for youth groups and adult Sunday school classes. Later on the Luther League adopted the name “KOINONIA,” a Greek word meaning fellowship. The JOY (Just Older Youth) group for those aged 60 and older also originated that year.

Pastor Raymond Mathre accepted a letter of call to serve as First Lutheran’s visitation pastor beginning January 1, 1975. He and Mrs. Mathre had been missionaries in Cameroon for forty years prior to coming to Volga. The congregation is most grateful for the kind and loving work they do in the congregation.

Early in 1975 the ALC began a fund drive for United Mission Appeal with all funds going directly to World and American Missions.

Pastor Hulberg served as group director over nine congregations. The total amount collected in the group was $102,000; $31,300 of this amount came from the Volga congregation. James Oines, a seminarian from our congregation, together with three of his friends, made a bicycle trip that year down into South America to help raise funds for UMA. They traveled 8,334 miles and called their project “Pedal for People.”

The first Lay Witness Mission was held in the church in April 1975. Approximately forty persons from surrounding areas came for a weekend of spiritual blessings; and, since that time, several small groups have met for study and Christian fellowship. In October 1978 a second Lay Witness Mission was held in the congregation.

On the evening of April 27, 1975, following a concert by the Brookings Bell Choir, Mrs. John Miller was honored for her 35 years of service as pianist and church organist. A reception followed in the church parlors.

Pastor Hulberg and the Board of Education decided to return to the two-year confirmation course in 1976. All other churches in our conference had returned to the two-year plan.

At 2 P.M. Sunday, July 25, 1976, First Lutheran congregation, relatives and friends witnessed the ordination of James A. Oines, son of Mr. and Mrs. Orvis Oines of our congregation. Rev. James Hulberg served as liturgist and the Rev. Henry E. Ericksen, Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., was ordinator. Rev. Mathre was lector. The sermon was given by Rev. Arthur Schmitt, Highmore, S.D. Both choirs furnished music. The stoles and alb, a gift from First Lutheran Sunday School, were presented by Mrs. Edwin Hesby and Mrs. Eugene Oines. Following ordination a reception was held in the church basement.

Volga and surrounding towns celebrated the 200-year history of our nation-our Bicentennial-in the summer of 1976, In June a celebration and parade was held in Volga. The JOY group and ALCW had floats, and First Lutheran had a booth in the City Auditorium.

On Jan. 14, 1977, Pastor Hulberg announced to First Lutheran congregation that the loan for the double-wide mobile home had been paid off. This was accomplished forty months ahead of the loan schedule.

Pastor Hulberg’s publication entitled “Windows” became available in 1977.

The summer of 1977 First Lutheran congregation at Volga received a gift from the Tilda and Emma Swenson Estate. They had willed a certain percentage of the money from the sale of their property to the church. The amount came to $57,925.96 and was to be used as the congregation decided. The principal was put in Certificates of Deposit, and the interest was used for special projects as decided by the council. Ten percent is to be used for projects other than at the local church. 

A new public address system was installed in the church in December 1977. This included a system for the church basement. It was purchased from and installed by Sioux Sound Company of Sioux Falls, S.D.

In December of 1978 the congregation purchased and began using a new hymnal, Lutheran Book of Worship. Also in December, a plate commemorating the 100th anniversary of Volga First Lutheran Church was designed and offered for sale.

Early in 1978 the church council began setting up committees to prepare for our church’s centennial celebration. Howard Lee was named general chairman, and three weekends for festivities were set up. They are as follows:

Saturday, May 5—Banquet; Rev. Arthur Schmitt, speaker; Rev. E.O. Ulring and Rev.   Oliver Bergeland, greetings.

Sunday, May 6—Worship service; Dr. David Preus, national president of the ALC, speaker.

Saturday, July 14—Confirmation banquet; Rev. Alvin Bergh, Rev. John Mehl, and Rev. James Oines, speakers.

Sunday, July 15—Worship service; Rev. Luther Bergeland, Rev. Alden Hovda, speakers.

Saturday, Oct. l3—Banquet; Rev. David Halbakken, speaker; Rev. James Hulberg, Rev. Raymond Mathre, greetings.

Sunday, Oct. 14—Worship service; Dr. E.O. Gilbertson, president of the South Dakota District of the ALC, speaker.

We pray that many former confirmands and members will be present to rejoice with us.

In our rejoicing may we be mindful that during the past 100 years the Holy Spirit has been at work through the Word and Sacraments moving the men and women to establish and maintain this congregation. Let us remember that we belong to a historical family with a rich heritage. Here we stand on an unmovable rock, worshipping God as our mothers and fathers before us—the God who is the same yesterday, today and forever.

1995 Building Addition
As recorded in the 125th Anniversary Book

In August of 1991, after years of discussion regarding the possibility of an addition to our church facility, a building committee was elected by the Church Planning Council.  Interviews with several architectural firms followed, and in Jan. of 1992, the firm of Yeatter, Hennings, Ruff, Shultz and Rokke of Fargo-Moorhead was hired to begin planning.  They followed a process that involved engaging all members of the congregation in discussion about our needs and dreams for the future of our church.  The first plan was rejected by a congregational vote in August 1992, primarily because of the cost of such an extensive project.  A waiting period followed.  In early 1994 new plans were drawn by the designing architects, David Shultz and Amanda Fall.  After a successful fundraising campaign, a congregational vote was held on Sept. 18, 1994.  The plan to build was carried by 81% of the members present and voting.

Bids were let in February, 1995, and awarded to Gray Construction of Watertown, general contractor, with a total project cost of $489,750.  A groundbreaking service was held on April 2, 1995.  The project added a new entrance, a ground level fellowship area, an elevator, a sprinkler system in the entire building, changed stairways and a better flow of traffic in the church.  The new construction spurred cleaning and redecorating efforts in other parts of the building.  The sanctuary was painted and carpeted, the choir loft was removed, restrooms were remodeled to provide handicap accessibility, new carpeting was installed in the basement, and Sunday school rooms were painted and decorated. 

A service of dedication was held on Sunday, October 15, 1995, with Bishop Andrea De Groot Nesdahl preaching.  This day of celebration was completed with a festive meal.  Countless members of the congregation helped with the fund drive, redecorating, and planning special events.  Our pastors at that time were Pastor Dennis Ellingsen and Pastor Michelle Miller.  Larry Janssen was the congregational president and Ron Utecht was chair of the Board of Properties.  The building committee members were Lori Bjorklund, Lynne Brod, Richard Negstad, Mark Norgaard, Robert Orcutt, Bill Riechers, Trish Sterud, Dale Tofte and Virginia Schlimmer, chair.

Parish Education and Sunday School History
As recorded in the 125th Anniversary Book

In this Centennial year, praises ascend to God that through the years provisions have been made for the Christian nurture of the children and youth. An expression of gratitude goes to the early members who provided for worship services, Sunday school, Vacation Bible School and release time classes; now many of them rest from their labors.

Thanks to the pastors, parents, students, teachers, officers, organists and congregation for the work which has been accomplished. To God be the glory! The slogan has been “every pupil in church and Sunday school every Sunday, unless ill.”

The early pioneers were vitally concerned that their children should have religious instruction. Many informal classes were held in the homes at first and later in rural schoolhouses. Parochial schools were usually held for several weeks or months during the summer.

Since no official records are available for the Sunday school prior to 1919, much information is from memory. Among those teaching in rural homes and later in schoolhouses were Pastor and Mrs. O.O. Bergh and Karinues Nelson, father of Mrs. Erwin Nelson. Severt Olson and Christopher Bergh taught in the Brendsel School. The old schoolhouse was located at that time where the Park Apartment building (formerly the hospital) now stands. It was the center for many parochial school classes in town.

As the need for supervised instruction developed, a Sunday school program was organized with classes in the Norwegian language. The text books were ABC Bog; Lasesgob; Forste Trin Og Andet Trin; Katekismus; Biblehistorie; Pontoppidan’s Forklaring and later Sverdrup’s Forklaring.

Some of the first leaders promoting Sunday school in the First Norwegian Lutheran congregation were Peter Hanson, Jacob Jermstad, John Alseth, Hannah Stockstad, Jens Terkelsen, H.P. Hanson and Alfred Martinson. Mr. Martinson began teaching in 1901 and was selected superintendent in 1907. He served in that position until 1933. Early leaders in the Immanuel Lutheran Sunday School were J.C. Hammer, Julius Martinson and A.H. Norvold.

Following the union of the First Norwegian Lutheran congregation and Immanuel Norwegian Lutheran congregation in 1917, classes was continued in the old church, the site of the present church. Alfred Martinson was named president of the reorganized Sunday school and served until 1933. He and Mrs. J.C. Hoff were the committee members who purchased new equipment for the Sunday school when the new church was built. Other superintendents were Mrs. Karl Kildahl, Conrad Lee, Howard Lee, Alvin Alseth and Mrs. Edwin Hesby, who served faithfully for twenty years. Mrs. Eugene Oines, present superintendent, began serving in January 1970.

In time the Sunday school was divided into departments. Mrs. John Bergh supervised the Primary Department for many years until Mrs. Florence Schade became Primary Worship Leader in the fall of 1954. Mrs. Schade served 16 years. Mrs. Edward Lee served for Mrs. Schade during the 1956-57 school term. Mrs. David Wosje and Mrs. Leland Schlimmer served consecutively until the present Primary Worship Leader,  Mrs. Robert Nelson, began in the fall of 1975. Mrs. Donald Peterson had charge of the high school music department from the fall of 1962 until 1966. Mrs. Wilmer Nelson served until the spring of 1974; in the fall David Laposky began leading and served through the spring of 1978. Mrs. David Brown is currently serving in this capacity.

The combined office of secretary-treasurer was served for many years by Mrs. H.M. Norvold, Emma Sneve Sween, Mrs. Edwin Dahl, Otelia Stumley Helgen, Olga Thompson, John Anundson, Harlan Karlstad, Walter Bjerke and Edward Lee. In 1955 the duties of treasurer and secretary were separated. Secretaries serving after Karlstad included Donald Petersbn, Edwin Hesby, Mrs. Robert Olson and Mrs. Homer Knutsen, who is now serving. Arne Knutson became treasurer in 1961, serving until he died in 1973. George Albright then became treasurer and is still serving in that position.

Mrs. Emma Alexander, who taught Sunday school for many years, became birthday card secretary in 1952 and served until her death in June 1972. Miss Hazel Lien served until 1977. It was decided at that time that only primary department students would receive cards, and the secretary would take care of sending them.

A multitude of faithful men and women have served as teachers and officers in the Sunday school down through the years. Among those known and recorded to have served ten or more years are Alfred Martinson, Mrs. John Lee, Mrs. Albert Nelson, J.C. Hammer, Mrs. Karl Kildahl, Theo Lien, John Bergh, Mrs. E.K. Shefte, John Anundson, Mrs. Eva Dahl, Mrs. Edward Lee, Harlan Karlstad, Mrs. John Pederson, Mrs. Wilmer Nelson, Mrs. Stanley Hesby, Mrs. Dale Tofte, Mrs. Arne Knutson, Harold Mehl, Mrs. Donald Peterson, Eugene Oines, Harold Christianson, Mrs. Arden Ahnberg, Miss Nona Mannered, Mrs. Oscar Dahl, Mrs. Emma Alexander, Howard Lee, Mrs. J.C. Hoff, Mrs. A.H. Norvold, Albert Nelson, Ole Oines, Mrs. Carrie Lee, Mrs. Harry Olson, Mrs. John Bergh, Mrs. Olga Thompson, Conrad Lee, Mrs. Oral Oines, Mrs. Thorvald Vostad, Mrs. Byno Weber, Mrs. Florence Schade, Mrs. Hans Swenson, Arden Ahnberg, Miss Hazel Lien, Mrs. Leland Schlimmer, Mrs. Jerry Rindels, Mrs. Roy Van Maanen, Mrs. Eugene Oines, Mrs. Harry Elverud, Arne Knutson, Mrs. Orvis Oines, Mrs. Edwin Hesby, and Mrs. Robert Olson.

Mrs. Robert Olson, Mrs. Richard Vostad and Mrs. Robert Krumm served faithfully as pianists in the primary, intermediate and high school departments of the Sunday school.

Instruction was gradually changed from the Norwegian to the English language during the pastorate of the Rev. Mannes. Sessions were held from September until midsummer and closed with a congregational picnic. From 1934 until the mid-1970s, the Sunday school year was closed in June with a program and a special offering followed by a picnic. Presently the closing day is the end of May with a program and awards presented at the Sunday morning worship services. The graded system has been used and new books adopted whenever recommended by the ALC Department of Parish Education. Bible classes were held for the young people, and in 1950 a complete four-year high school course was introduced. In the spring of 1951, the first senior high school class received graduation certificates. This has been continued, and the Centennial year recognizes the 28th class.

Adult classes have been held for many years. Teachers have included John Bergh, Clifford Tisdel, Richard Negstad, Mrs. Clarence Grebner and Mr. and Mrs. Clifton Thompson. Lutheran Bible Institute courses and the Lutheran Standard have been studied as well as books of the Bible.

The Sunday school has been mission-minded through the years, giving to missions and charities as well as local needs within the church. In 1924 the Birthday Mission Bank was started, and contents were used to support a native Chinese worker. Later the proceeds were given directly to the Board of Foreign Missions. In 1952 the birthday mission offering envelopes were introduced. Two projects supported by this fund were Bibles for Madagascar and the orphanage at Meiganga, Sudan. An Easter day program with a special offering taken was held in earlier years. For a number of years, Sunday school pupils have brought an Easter offering, using the Lenten coin containers.

In the past 25 years, many projects have been supported through the birthday, Lenten and Christmas offerings. They include Sunday School at Home by Mail and Radio, Children’s Chapel, Through the Porthole (TV), Pictures for Children Everywhere, Healing the Lepers, missions in Brazil and Ethiopia, Nigerian mission field, Malagasy seminary students native Malagasy pastors, district parish education, Bethesda Children’s Home, American Bible Society, Pedal for People (1975), World Hunger and Crippled Children’s Hospital. The annual Christmas offering has been given to Lutheran Social Services for many years. Recent money collected has been going to sponsor Indian children through the “Adopt an Indian Child” project and most recently to the Adjustment Training Center in Brookings.

In November 1960, 34 Bible (Revised Standard edition) were given to pupils in grades 2 and 3. Each fall since then, a Bible has been given to each first grader. The Children’s Living Bible is now being presented.

The course now used in Sunday school for three-year-olds through grade 8 is Good News, published by Augsburg. Grades 9 through 12 are using the course Christian Living, published by David Cook. The Concordia material for Vacation Bible School has been used.

In 1920 the “cross and crown system” for perfect attendance was started and used for several years. The pin attendance award was adopted in 1945, and in 1950 church certificates were started for perfect attendance at church. The present award system is as follows: students receive church and Sunday school certificates for not more than two absences, and a student receives a pin the first year his attendance meets these requirements. Sunday school papers have been available to pupils nearly all these past years.

An annual Christmas program is given. First the program was held Christmas Eve, then Christmas Day night, and now the last Sunday evening before Christmas. In addition, the high school gives an Advent program each year. Offerings have been received for special projects.

The gift of an old residence from Mr. and Mrs. Ole Oines in 1952, to be used as a parish house, eased the crowded class situation at that time. Miss Viletta Leite gave her piano to the parish house. Release time classes and some Sunday classes were held in this house for a while.

The educational unit was added to the church on March 10, 1957. This building provided twenty classrooms, a chapel, pastor and secretary offices and kitchenette. Following Emma Alexander’s death, her family furnished a classroom in her memory with carpet and fixtures, making it into a prayer chapel.

The educational unit has been used mainly for Sunday achool and Vacation Bible School, but many other activities take place there, such as small meetings, Bible study groups, conventions, and choir rehearsals.

Weekday classes for the school children were started under Pastor Mannes, held for several years, and then discontinued for a time. This program was revived under Pastor Hovda in 1952 and was continued until May 1971.

The Board of Education was set up under Pastor Hovda and the church council. In 1953 Alvin Ahnberg was elected official board member, and John Anundson was elected in 1954. The superintendent served as the third member. The board now consists of five members: the superintendent, three persons elected from the congregation and one member from the church council. They meet twice a year to call teachers for Sunday school and Vacation Bible School. Teachers are sent a letter of call and are formally installed each fall at a church service.

In 1976 the Sunday school presented stoles and an alb to Pastor James Oines, a son of the congregation, at his ordination into the ministry at First Lutheran Church.

What began as parochial school in the early years of the church is today known as Vacation Bible School. It is held for one week following school dismissal for summer vacation. There is time for group singing, crafts and fellowship, as well as classes in Bible truths and the Lutheran faith. Pastor Hulberg teaches confirmation material to the eighth grade students. The pastor assists in conducting Bible school in cooperation with the Sunday school superintendent and teachers.

Throughout the first 100 years of First Lutheran Church, God has used many to teach, inspire and guide the congregation in parish education. This has had far-reaching effects in the lives of many and the life of the congregation.

Event Calendar

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Church Office: 605-627-9418
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Pastor Dan Overbo
Pastor Laura Overbo