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Grace Lutheran Church was organized at the Runeberg Hall, Norrie Location, on Dec. 6, 1908, with the Rev. J. W. Johnson, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church, Ironwood, presiding. It was then named the Sion Lutheran Church.
According to living charter members, the church grew out of a definite need for ministry among the Swedish-speaking people of Finland in the community. When they emigrated from Finland to America and settled in Ironwood, these people had no church. A number of families had attended services conducted by itinerant evangelists in Norrie Location, but were dissatisfied with the type of spiritual nurture offered by this group and decided that they should become affiliated with a church body of their own taste and background.
Initial impetus for the organization of the church came from the Rev. Gustav Oberg, then pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church, Duluth, who met unofficially with interested persons while on mission trips to this area. His advice culminated in the organizational meeting of 1908. The Rev. J. W. Johnson graciously consented to lead the group in their deliberations, recognizing that it would be to the best interest of these families if they could organize a church of their own choice.
At the meeting of 1908, the constitution of the Augustana Lutheran Church was adopted, and the assembly voted to seek admission to the Illinois Conference at the next annual meeting.
The relationship of the new congregation to the Salem congregation, also of Ironwood, merits explanation at this point, since both parishes are affiliated with the Augustana Lutheran Church. According to an article in the Ironwood newspaper at the time of dedication, the new congregation was neither a part of nor the result of a split in the Salem congregation. The article states, "A misconception of the organization of this church (Sion) seems to have been quite general from the beginning, the prevailing idea being that Sion congregation is a part of Salem Church. Only six families that formerly belonged to Salem Church joined the new one at or after its organization."
The new congregation, then, was from the beginning a separate entity, although it later received similar synodical affiliation. It was organized for the expressed purpose of ministering to the people of Swedish background who had emigrated from Finland, the numbers of which had grown considerably by the time of organization. Necessity for the new church arose, also, as we have saen, because the shallow religions of traveling evangelists were seeking to draw these people away from the beloved tradition of their home church.
When these people met to organize in 1908, there were 35 families in attendance, with the adults all becoming charter members. The first congregational secretary was Victor Hendrickson, and the first deacons were Markus Mickelson, Emil Johnson, John Nylund and Alex Gustafson. Elected trustees were Gust Linquist, Axel Jacobson, Axel Wickman and August Erikson.
Living charter members at the present time are Mr. and Mrs. Anders Westin, Mrs. Hilma Nylund, Mr. and Mrs. William Anderson, Mrs. Mary Erikson, Mrs. Andrew West, Mrs. William Erikson, Mr. and Mrs. J. Victor Jacobson and Mrs. Irene Jensen and sister, Mrs. Signe Ingraham. Charter members who have passed on were the following:
Messrs. and Mesdames John Backlund, John E. Johnson, Axel Jacobson, Alexander Gustafson, Erik G. Johnson, John Sandstrom, Anders V. Anderson, Erik W. Renlund, John A. Wick, Mathias Granlund, Axel Wickman, Erik Nyman, Carl E. Johnson, Henrik A. Nylund, Erik Johnson, John Johnson, John A. Jacobson, Gustaf Linquist, Emil Eklund, Anders Mattson, Mathias Ahlstrom, Victor Hendrickson and Markus Mickelson; Mr. John Nylund, August Erikson, Andrew West, William Erikson, Peter Brannes, John Osterholm, Victor Ohman and Jacob Jacobson.
In discussing the financial future of the congregation, Pastor Johnson cautioned the group, "Don't forget that you must put more than a nickel in the collection; if you don't have money, pull a ring off your finger, or give your watch or something else of value." In order that the church might have some guarantee of security, a norm for dues to be paid quarterly during the year was established. The quarterly payments were for a family, $2.25; adult men, $1.50; adult women, 75 cents; confirmed boys, 50 cents, and confirmed girls, 25 cents.
Carl J. Silfversten, student at Augustana Seminary, served the congregation during the Christmas season of 1908. The congregation met in a building where the church now stands. Everyone sat on benches constructed out of planks nailed on boxes. A number of pastors and students served the congregation during the first two years, and on Sundays when none were available, Deacon Markus Mickelson preached.
Pastor Oberg conducted two services a month during the winter months of 1909-10, and Student Kastman served during the Christmas season of 1909. The sermon was delivered from a pulpit also constructed out of boxes. Chairs, with strips of wood nailed under them to hold them together, soon replaced the old benches. Later, the congregation moved to a building next to the fire hall, where services were conducted until the new church was built.
In April, 1909, the congregation voted to purchase the present lot for the church from Andrew Olson for $2,700. Student W. K. Magnuson served the church during the summer of 1910 and also held a three-week summer school. Student G. N. Anderson preached during the Christmas season of 1910.
The Rev. E. A. Peterson of Keokuk, Iowa, was called to be pastor in February, 1911, but the church records indicate that he stayed in Ironwood only eight days and left without giving any reason. On August 7, 1911, Pastor Silfversten was called. He accepted the call and served as pastor until May, 1915. The first organist of the church was Miss Anna Stromquist.
Two bids for the construction of a new church edifice were rejected at a congregational meeting on June 11, 1911, one from Olson and Bergquist for $6,853, and the other from Egan of Ashland for $9,400. Ten days later, the building committee met and voted to award the contract to Olson and Bergquist, with the understanding that the project should not exceed $7,000. The cost of the furnace and installation was $332. J. Victor Jacobson was active in soliciting funds, taking full responsibility for seeing that payments were made on the initial loan for construction of the church, many times collecting the necessary amount with only hours or minutes to spare.
By May, 1913, the membership of the congregation totaled 138 adults and 182 children. Mrs. Carl Orling (Anna Gustafson) was elected organist the same year. The church building was completed in April, 1913, and the first services were held on May 18. It was dedicated in ceremonies on June 1, 1913, with the Rev. A. T. Fant of Iron Mountain, president of the Superior Conference, in charge, assisted by the Rev. G. A. Ekeberg of Bessemer, the Rev. S. L. Wilson of Ironwood and the Rev. C. J. Silfversten, pastor of the church.
President Fant delivered the dedicatory sermon. The Rev. Mr. Ekeberg congratulated both the pastor and people on behalf of the Ogema District. The Rev. Mr. Wilson gave an address in English and dwelt upon the fact that it was "the eternal fitness of things which made it necessary that this people should have their own church."
The Ironwood newspaper paid the following tribute to the church and its members in an issue following the dedication: "It is a, handsome building of excellent construction, and is an ornament to the city and a credit to the congregation that planned and erected it."
After the resignation of Pastor Silfversten in 1915, the Rev. Mr. Wilson of Salem Lutheran Church served as vice pastor, with Student Gustaf Henry conducting services during the vacancy. The Rev. F.E. Kastman was called from Augustana Seminary, and he became pastor in the latter part of the year. In 1918, Mrs. Kastman assumed duties as church organist.
Pastor Kastman presented his resignation at the annual meeting of 1922, and the Rev. Oscar Montan of Salem Lutheran Church served as vice pastor during the vacancy. After deliberation, the congregation and Sharon Lutheran Church of Bessemer voted to combine into one parish in seeking to call a pastor. The Rev. Carl A. Benander was called and he took the pastorate in July, 1922. The following year, Mrs. Miles Gingerich (Alfreda Loo) was elected church organist.
First English services were held in the church in March, 1924, and the schedule thereafter included such services on the last Sunday of every month. Mrs. Benander began duties as organist during the year.
After Pastor Benander presented his resignation on June 15, 1927, Pastor Kastman was recalled and took charge once more on Sept. 1, 1927, serving the church until June 16, 1951. The total ministry of Pastor Kastman in the congregation was thus 31 years.
A new pipe organ, a gift of the Luther League, was dedicated on the 20th anniversary of the congregation in 1928. Mrs. Roland Johnson (Alice Jacobson) became organist in 1934. The following year, membership totaled 180 adults and 55 children. During the year, the church steeple was taken down as a safety precaution. Mrs. Herbert Strand (Sigrid Johnson) was organist for many years, and Mrs. Hildur Blomquist also served in this capacity.
A change in the service schedule occurred in 1937, when worship was evenly divided between Swedish and English, the first two services of the month to be conducted in the Swedish tongue and the last two in the English language. It was in that year also that a new floor was laid in the church parlors.
Mr. Carl Nyman is remembered for his faithful work and leadership as financial secretary for many years. Many times, he made trips to the homes to pick up dues in order that the church might continue. In response to a synodical plea for funds in preparation for its forthcoming centennial observance, the church donated a total of $1,086 in 1943. A new furnace was installed at a cost of $300 the same year, and Miss Emily Mickelson was appointed organist. Mrs. John Blomquist became organist in February, 1954, and is serving in this capacity at the present time.
When Pastor Kastman resigned in June, 1951, the Rev. Mark W. Wickstrom was called and he took charge in December. The parish was divided in 1954, with Sharon Lutheran Church of Bessemer retaining the Rev. Mr. Wickstrom as its pastor and Grace Church launching out on its own to call a full-time pastor the following year. A canvass of the congregation revealed that there would be sufficient funds for such a venture and on March 27, 1955, the Rev. John S. Kendall was called from Augustana Seminary. He began his ministry in Ironwood Aug. 15, 1955. During latter years, Miss Linnea Eklund has served efficiently as part-time secretary, and John Morstad as custodian.
Many improvements are notable during the 50-year history of the church, with most of the major projects occurring since the 40th anniversary in 1948. For the most part, these improvements have been made possible by the industry and generous support of the various organizations, the Ladies Aid, Friendship Circle, Luther League and Churchmen. They are the result, too, of a deepening sense of stewardship among the members of the congregation. Some noteworthy accomplishments are the following:
A new roof over the church sanctuary; sanding and varnishing of the floors; remodeling of the church parlors and the purchase of a kitchen stove; new carpeting throughout the entire sanctuary and extensive repairs on the church itself; new wiring and fixtures; the installation of a new gas furnace; window repairs and insulation, and redecoration of the church sanctuary. A new parsonage was purchased by the congregation in April, 1957, and it was dedicated in October of last year. This purchase was a milestone in the history of the church since it had never owned a parsonage, because its pastor had resided in Bessemer near the other church of the dual parish. With the division of the parish, the need for a parsonage became apparent, and after renting for some time, the purchase of the present property on Lake Avenue became a reality.
The congregation has not experienced a rapid growth of members, but has maintained its own strength down through the years and has increased its membership considerably during the last decade. The current membership roster includes 261 adults and 90 children.
When Pastor Kendall resigned last year, the Rev. J. Dean Gevik was called from Augustana Seminary. He took charge July 18, 1957, and is currently serving as pastor of the church. The name of the church was changed officially from Sion to Grace Lutheran Church at a congregational meeting on March 25, 1956.
Pastors Who Have Served
Carl J. Silfversten
Published in 50th Anniversary. August 8-10, 1958. Grace Lutheran Church. Aurora and Norfolk, Ironwood, Michigan. 1958, p. 4.11.
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