|First Congregational Church
Celebrates 100 Years: Laurel, Montana
Church Celebrates 100 Years: Laurel, Montana." Laurel Outlook, 16 January 2008.
Birthday The congregation at First Congregational
Church will celebrate its 100th birthday later
this month. The church, located at the south
end of Durland Avenue, is also getting a new
pastor this month, Rev. Bob Wittstruck. Outlook
photo by Larry Tanglen
Sunday, Jan. 27, Laurel's First Congregational Church
will celebrate its 100th birthday and it will be the
first Sunday at the church for its new pastor, Rev.
There will be a special service that Sunday at 10:30
am., followed by a potluck dinner to welcome the new
pastor and his wife, Pam. The Wittstrucks are moving
to Laurel from Kulm, ND, south of Jamestown, ND.
Another celebration of the church's centennial is
planned later this summer during the Laurel Centennial
Celebration in August.
The early German families arrived from the Volga
region of Russia with their faith and the clothes
on their backs. These hard-working families were recruited
by railroad and sugar beet companies to till the virgin
soil in the Yellowstone valley to produce sugar beets.
Their desire to have a church-home grew so strong
in the hearts of these believers that they summoned
the Rev. H. Seil of Fargo, ND and the Rev. John D.
Grosz of Loveland, CO to help them organize as a congregation.
At the church's first meeting on Jan. 28, 1908, the
charter roll was signed by 103 members and the name
of the newly organized church was chosen, The German
Evangelical Lutheran Reformed Congregational Church.
Such a name was due to the varied religious backgrounds,
and in order to have peace and harmony. Today, it
is known as the First Congregational Church.
The first church building was erected on lots donated
by George Weber on the corner of Third Street and
Durland. Each member contributed $5 to the building
fund effort. With faith in God and faith in tomorrow,
they erected their first sanctuary. It was 28 feet
by 16 feet in size, not much larger than a single-stall
The church's first minister was O.J. Tiede, a student
minister, who served the church for a short period
of time. His salary consisted of the offering each
week from the collection plate. The first marriage
in the church was between Jacob Koch and Katherine
Frank. The first child baptized was Marvin Marker.
Many hardships prevailed among the members according
to Elsie Johnston's book about Laurel history. One
of the greatest, the flu epidemic of 1918 which claimed
many lives, both young and old, including the life
of Pastor David Preikzas. Not only did they encounter
illness, but using their native language was forbidden
by the Sedition Act.
Membership grew and by 1938 the rolls increased to
546. The congregation built two additions to the church,
the first in 1924 and another in 1938.
The church purchased a Hammond electric organ in
1947. The congregation bought seven acres of land
off of Durland Avenue and Fifth Street in 1963, where
the current church building is located. The new church
was built in 1970 and dedicated May 16, 1971. In 1976
the old church bells were installed in the church
tower of the new church. The congregation has made
other improvements including paving the church parking
lot and further additions to the church building.
Last year, Laura Frank celebrated her 50 year anniversary
as church organist. She became church organist in
February 1957. Before Frank became church organist,
Rev. Ruben Maier's wife was organist at the church.
The church has been without a full-time pastor since
Rev. Doug Tofteland resigned nearly two years ago.
Ed Veldhuizen and Gary Bobo have filled the pulpit
at the church in the absence of a full-time pastor.
Congregation co-chairs during this centennial year
are Priscilla Fairlee and Carol Zundel.
Information for this story was taken from church
records and the Laurel history book, Laurel's Story:
A Montana Heritage, written by Elsie Johnston.
Reprinted with permission of the Laurel Outlook.