Floyd Hagedorn has been the unofficial historian of First St. John Lutheran Church for about half of his 81 years, and he’s been a member of First St. John his entire life.
He has painstakingly assembled a detailed account of the church’s history, beginning in 1861. Abraham Lincoln had just been elected to the presidency in 1860, and the church was organized with eight charter members just after the start of the Civil War.
“I’ve been at it for about 40 years,” Hagedorn said of researching First St. John’s history. “It was a joint effort in a lot of cases. I got serious looking at these things in 1969-70, researching the books, which in the early years were in German. That was a challenge. I knew just enough German to get into trouble. Some people in the genealogical area did some work with me.”
The Rev. Carl Beckel, a former pastor at First St. John, is Hagedorn’s great-grandfather.
“The great thing for me doing this was (learning about) my great-grandfather,” Hagedorn said. “He came here from Germany as a very young man.”
First St. John Lutheran Church, located at 2471 Seaman St. in East Toledo, is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year. Some of the church’s celebration activities over the next few months will include an Oregon Fest Float with the Youth in May; a Curtice Kidz Days Float with the Youth and a church dedication in June; an old-time baseball game/picnic, a church tour and a golf outing in July; a Rally Day/picnic in September; and an appearance by the Toledo Symphony Orchestra in December.
Jim Fox, a lifelong member of First St. John and a member of the church’s anniversary committee, said the committee started planning celebration events on Mother’s Day.
“We (wanted) a year of celebration to reflect on the past, the present and the future,” Fox said. “Up to now we’ve documented the past and we’re about to cross over into the present, and we’d like to concentrate on what we’d like to do in the future.”
Fox, 71, said his great-great-grandparents were among the eight charter members of First St. John. His descendents came to America from Germany in 1857.
“I’m the last member of the Fox family that’s still a member,” he said. “Everybody else is either deceased or they relocated.”
Some of the activities church members participate in include:
• Donation of money and supplies to local charities such as the Cherry Street Mission and Toledo Gospel Rescue Mission, and worldwide organizations such as Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Relief and Compassion International.
• Collection and donation of supplies such as quilts, baby care kits and personal care kits to Lutheran World Relief.
• Food donations made to the local Feed Your Neighbor program.
• Local families are “adopted” at Christmas and provided with food and gifts.
• Hats, gloves and mittens are collected to clothe preschool and elementary children in the Toledo area each fall.
• Shoe boxes are filled for Operation Christmas Child, a Samaritan’s Purse program that delivers Christmas gifts to needy children throughout the world.
• Blood drives.
• Members participate in Relay for Life to fight breast cancer.
A rich history
In the late 1850s the Rev. Johannes Doerfler, pastor of Salem Lutheran Church on Huron Street in Toledo, began mission work among the few scattered Lutherans settled in Oregon Township.
No roads existed east of the Maumee River beyond Front and Main streets, so to reach these Lutherans Pastor Doerfler followed trails through woods and marshes. Services first were held in a log cabin on the corner of Consaul and Otter Creek roads. Later, when more space was needed, the pastor conducted services on Jerusalem Road (now State Route 2) in a barn belonging to Frederick Clausing.
During this time, Pastor Doerfler conceived the idea to establish an Orphans Home in East Toledo. This idea became reality when he established the Orphans Home Society on Aug. 6, 1860 on 10 acres (purchased for $350) on Seaman Street.
A year later in 1861, Pastor Doerfler established First St. John Lutheran Church. The congregation was organized with eight charter members, who built a 21 x 31 church just east of the Orphans Home on Seaman Street.
Under the direction of Rev. Beckel, the congregation was incorporated under the laws of the State of Ohio on June 22, 1863. The church grew, and by 1868 another 12 feet had to be added to the building. By 1876, the church had grown so much that a new 40 x 60 church was built for $3,500.
While the German language predominated among Lutheran settlers in this vicinity, it was also the official language of the congregation. English Sunday School and church services were first introduced in 1910. Regular weekly English services in addition to German were held in 1915, but the English language did not dominate until America’s participation in World War I.
By 1917 English services held more prominence in the church’s schedule. The German language was dropped entirely from the Sunday School in 1919 and then from the church services in 1934.
By early 1928 the second church was 60 years old and was again becoming too small, so the parish decided to build a new church. In the spring of 1928 construction of the new church began, and on June 10 they laid the cornerstone of the new church. On Nov. 4, 1928 the new (existing) church was consecrated and it continues to serve its members today. The church and organ cost approximately $84,000 to build - an amazing achievement for its members who were about to face the Great Depression in 1929 and World War II in 1939.
Today, First St John Lutheran Church continues to serve its members and the community. Pastor Robert Blohm leads Sunday services at 7:45 and 10:15 a.m. During Lent, services are offered on Wednesdays at noon and 7 p.m. Sunday School classes for children and adults are held at 9 a.m. on Sunday.
A thriving Dayschool, run by director Barb Shellhammer, has more than 220 students who attend daily classes. Daycare, preschool, kindergarten and summer classes are offered.