OUR HISTORY OF THE BETHLEHEM LUTHERAN CHURCH IN WAKEENEY [This article taken from the 1973 Bethlhem Lutheran Church Pictorial Directory]
This is only the church history up to 1973.
Bethlehem Lutheran Church was organized on April 16, 1905, under the leadership of Pastor F. W. Mensing. At the beginning it formed a single parish with Zion Lutheran Church at Trego Center which was also organized in 1905. The first pastor to serve the congregation was the Rev. Gerhard M. Bunge. On August 6, 1905, a decision was made to build a church and it was dedicated on May 6, 1906. It served the congregation well until it was destroyed by fire on December 14, 1945. Although the German language was used at the outset there was a growing desire to use English and this was accomplished when the 1919 confirmation class was confirmed in English and in 1922 English Sunday School was begun until, finally, worship services were held in English in 1925. Another significant change was made when the congregation agreed, along with the Rev. J. Burkhart, to affiliate with the Kansas Synod of the United Lutheran Church in America. It remained a part of the U.L.C.A. until that body merged in 1962 into the Lutheran Church in America. Original Bethlehem Church
From 1923 until 1936 Bethlehem was without a pastor except for supply from Hays. Under the brief but vigorous leadership of Pastor Sherman Frederick and renewed interest by members of the congregation a new chapter of growth and activity was initiated. At that time the Luther League, Missionary Society, and the Ladies Aid were activated. The Model Constitution for congregations of the United Lutheran Church in America was adopted to replace the old Iowa Synod Constitution.
In 1939, Dr. G. C. Schaub was installed as Pastor with part of his salary being paid by the Synodical Home Missions Committee. This was an important arrangement since it made possible for the congregation to have a full time pastor from that year until the present. More than any predecessor he sought and won the lapsed and the unchurched. He revised the parish register and began a systematic record of members and pastoral acts. He began to promote discussion for the erection of a new church and a building fund was started. On October 21, 1945, Dr. Schaub resigned as pastor. On December 14, 1945, at 11:00 p.m. the Church was destroyed by fire.
Plans for the building of a new church were begun on Easter, April 28, 1946, and in November, 1947, Dr. Klass DeFreese was called to be the pastor. Under his leadership the cornerstone was laid on May 16, 1948, and the new church dedicated on June 19, 1949. Pastor DeFreese continued the good work begun by Dr. Schaub in increasing the membership, the Sunday School, and activating all organizations. He resigned in 1954, and to his credit was the building of the new church, completion of the indebtedness, and increasing the membership to make Bethlehem the largest Lutheran congregation in Trego County and one of the largest in western Kansas.
On August 22, 1954, the Rev. Edwin J. Hirsch was installed as pastor. The following year, 1955, the congregation celebrated its 50th Anniversary. Approximately 950 people attended the festive occasion on November 20th. On April 7, 1957, Bethlehem experienced another fire. However, the damage was not extensive but it did require re-decoration of the entire church. A building fund was established in that same year for the purpose of construction an educational building. The enrollment had now grown to 200 children so the facilities of the church and basment were far from adequate. In 1959 a memorial fund was begun to purchase a church organ and it was installed and dedicated on June 26, 1960. The Ladies' Aid and Bethlehem's Daughter's contributed generously to the organ project. Meanwhile, the building fund was growing at a rapid pace and the new educational wing was dedicated on January 28, 1962. In the fall of 1961 the council was fortunate in procuring the services of an excellent choir director, Mrs. Robert Stutterheim, and there followed an era of almost a decade of many excellent musical events. During these years there were a number of improvements to the church property culminating in the building of a new parsonage in 1969.
Prior to this, however, the church building caught fire for the third time. The date was January 25, 1968. Damage was heavy in the sanctuary where the blaze started and there was severe heat and smoke damage in the basement and educational wing. The congregation rallied with an unmatched enthusiasm to remodel their damaged facilities so that on December 1, 1968, the service of Re-Dedication was held. Pastor Hirsch was a capable leader as he guided the congregation through troublesome times and in the achievement of property improvements. He also was a devoted shepherd of the flock which is reflected in the fact that during his 15 years as pastor he performed nearly 300 baptisms, 250 confirmations, and 120 weddings. A memorial to him in the form of a wrought iron symbol on the tower of the church is planned for installation in 1973.
Pastor Hirsch terminated his ministry on January 11, 1970, and he was succeeded by pastor, Rev. Charles L. Hanson, on August 9, 1970. While the history of a congregation will highlight those things which it has achieved it must be remembered that the more important aspect of that history is what God has done in the lives of the hundreds of members through the Word and Sacraments. To God be the glory and praise for he has done all things well!