Strasburg Native is Doing her Part to Restore the Blessed
From the outside, it
is easy to see the church needs shingles and some paint, but
inside everything is intact. The pews are in perfect shape,
and the floors need little more than to be swept.
Ohanneson, Elizabeth. "Strasburg Native is Doing her Part to Restore the Blessed Trinity Church." Prairie Pioneer, 25 November
1993, sec. B.
Elizabeth Ohanneson of San Francisco, California along with her
nephew, Michael Hayes of Vernon, Connecticut are doing their part
to preserve a bit of history.
The daughter of Ignatz and Christine Reinbold of Strasburg, Ohanneson
was recently in town to assess the damage to the church she owns,
Blessed Trinity, which is located eight miles west of Strasburg.
Hayes and Ohanneson at the front of the
Blessed Trinity Church west of Strasburg. The two are trying
to raise money to restore the church, or it will have to be
destroyed. For those who donate money, a brick-paver will
be made with their name on it, and the brick-pavers will be
used as a walkway to the church.
Buying a church
After learning the Catholic church she attended as a child was going
to be destroyed, Ohanneson bought it in 1972. "I couldn't stand
the thought of them tearing down this beautiful church," she
said. "My family has received all of their sacraments here,
and many of my relatives are buried in the cemetery." Ohanneson
contacted the bishop and asked if she could buy it.
The church, which cost $6,000 to build in the early 1900's, was
sold to Ohanneson for $2,500. She estimates she has spent $7,000
for some minor repairs and three paint jobs. "But now it needs
some major repairs to the roof and walls," she said.
Built almost 80 years ago, the church has withstood the elements
of North Dakota. Since she has owned it, the church has been in
two tornadoes, and struck by lightning several times.
During one storm, lightning struck a cross on the bell tower, causing
the cross to fall through the roof, leaving a big hole. "And
the first tornado to come through tore off part of the chimney,
and it went through the roof and landed in the sacristy," explained
Ohanneson's father, who was seven years old when they began building
the church in 1914.
He recalls going to his first year of catechism classes the same
year the church rafters were being built. "I climbed up to
the top of the scaffolding," said Reinbold. "When the
priest came back from dinner and saw me up there, he just waved
me down," recalled Reinbold. "But did he ever give it
to me when I got back to class," he laughed.
Reinbold has served on the church board of directors, and his grandfather,
also named Ignatz Reinbold, was one of the founders of the Blessed
Church records indicate the last Blessed Trinity pastor left in 1962,
as more and more families began attending Sts. Peter and Paul Church
in Strasburg. Reinbold recalls a time when there were 45 families
in the area where he grew up, but the number has since dwindled to
Elizabeth Ohanneson of San Francisco
poses with her parents, Ignatz and Christine Reinbold of Strasburg.
Standing left to right are Christine, Ohanneson's nephew, Michael
Hayes of Vernon, Connecticut, Ohanneson and Ignatz.
An obvious reason for restoring the church is the family history
and memories in it, but Ohanneson recently found out a famous German
painter is responsible for the 15 beautiful paintings that grace
the ceiling and walls of Blessed Trinity.
In 1892, Berthold Imhoff of Karlsruhe Germany, immigrated to the
United States. He traveled this country and Canada painting murals
in churches and other buildings.
Born in 1868, Imhoff began painting at the young age of seven.
He was placed in the best art schools in Karlsruhe, and later in
Halla and Dusseldorf. At the age of 16, Imhoff won a Berlin Art
Academy Award for his painting, "Glory of Emperor Frederick."
Offered $3,000 for the painting, Imhoff turned it down.
Imhoff never sold any of his paintings. He lived off the commissions
he earned from the murals he painted in churches, banks and private
homes. Most of the church commission money was usually donated back
to the church.
The high altar in the Blessed Trinity
Church resembles many of the altars in other Catholic churches.
The statues, other than needing some paint, are still in excellent
For his generosity and excellent work in churches in North America,
Pope Pius XI made Imhoff a Knight of the Order of St. Gregory the
Great in 1937. But Imhoff's generosity didn't stop at churches.
He also gave paintings to charities for raffle and donated several
works to the Red Cross.
Imhoff is said to have produced his paintings by copying pictures
from magazines or famous paintings, and has even painted a copy
of the "Mona Lisa." But one thing Imhoff did that was
uniquely his own was to start every painting with three coats of
paint, regardless if it was a chapel wall or a canvas for a detailed
In his paintings, Imhoff's mastery is very evident. He is known
for the eyes in his portraits, which seem to follow the viewer.
A painting he did of the Last Supper in floor tiles appears to change
direction as one walks by. "The Fall of New Amsterdam 1664"
is one of Imhoff's works and features a cannon which seems to change
Imhoff died in 1939 at the age of 72. His collection is currently
on display at the Barr Colony Museum in Lloydminster. After learning
of the history behind the paintings in the Blessed Trinity Church,
Ohanneson said she is even more determined to preserve it.
As a child growing up, Ohanneson remembers attending the church
that wasn't too far from the family farm. "But what I remember
most was the German priest, Monseigneur John Selder, who was a great
speaker," she said. "He spoke very loudly and would walk
back and forth during his sermons. He believed in giving you the
word on purgatory and hell," she laughed.
Ohanneson was born and raised on a farm in Krassna County, (now western
Emmons County.) She attended a one room farm school, which is still
standing not too far from the church. "But it's now a granary,"
she said. "It seems like all old buildings around here are now
used for granaries," she laughed.
The inside of the Blessed Trinity Church
features beautiful statues and paintings by famous German artist
Berthold Imhoff. Considering the church has not been used for
regular services in over 30 years and has had no regular maintenance,
it is in great shape.
In 1948 Ohanneson entered the eighth grade at St. Benedict's Grade
School in Strasburg. She graduated from high school in 1953.
Ohanneson is currently president of Ohanneson Worldwide, an export
freight forwarding company in San Francisco that she started in
Looking at the church from the outside, with the tall grass and
thistles around it, one can easily see the work that needs to be
done. The roof is in dire need of shingles, and a couple of coats
of paint would surely help. But one is not prepared to walk inside
and find this wonderful church, that appears to only need some sweeping
The beautiful hardwood maple floors and doors are in excellent
shape. The pews could be set in any church today with as little
work as running a cloth across them.
The statues, other than needing some paint, are still incredible.
The Stations of the Cross are detailed and exquisite. And of course
Imhoff's paintings are amazing in themselves, appearing almost life-like.
One of the two holy water
fountains that grace the doorway of the Blessed Trinity Church
west of Strasburg.
There are some areas in the church where it is evident the ceiling
or wall needs repairs, but with some new shingles and work to fix
the leaks, the church could easily be used again. In fact, Ohanneson
married Vinay Kumar in Blessed Trinity just five years ago. "My
mother and sister, Polly, along with family friends, helped clean
the church for the wedding," explained Ohanneson. "It
was amazing how wonderful it looked." The wedding ribbons are
now faded but still hang from the church pews, just as they did
on Ohanneson and Kumar's wedding day in 1988.
While Ohanneson is in California, Reinbold tries to check on the
church occasionally. He recalled the time some visitors stopped
at the church, and after discovering the door was locked, they peeked
through the window. "They looked in and saw a bunch of raccoons
running around," said Reinbold.
After hearing about the critters invasion on the church, Reinbold
went to check it out. He discovered a raccoon had crawled up a tree
and came down the chimney hole. She eventually gave birth in the church,
and her young ones did cause some trouble. "One of them even
got up on the altar and knocked a statue off and broke it," said
One of the side altars
at the front of the Blessed Trinity Church. The painting above
the altar was done by famous painter, Berthold Imhoff of Germany.
In this picture, it is obvious that the wall and ceiling are
in need of repair. Ohanneson and her nephew, Michael Hayes,
are hoping to raise enough money to restore the church.
Cost of repairs
Ohanneson and Hayes have checked into the cost of repairing
the church, and have been disappointed by the figures, with estimates
as high as $25,000. But Hayes said he will continue to seek other
Ohanneson, like many of her family
members, received her first sacrament in the baptismal fountain
of the Blessed Trinity Church.
A "Blessed Trinity Restoration Fund" was established
at the Strasburg State Bank approximately six years ago. "But
there's not that much in there, and it wouldn't come close to what
is needed to repair the church," said Ohanneson.
Though it will be difficult to get the funds, Ohanneson said she
is not giving up on the
church. "Blessed Trinity is a beautiful church, and it would
be a shame to see it destroyed," she said. "And hopefully
we'll come up with the money."
As a fund-raiser, Hayes is planning to have brick-pavers made with
the names of those who contribute a certain dollar amount. The brick-pavers
will be used as a walkway and steps into the church. Anyone interested
in helping with the restoration of Blessed Trinity can contact Ohanneson
at P.O. Box 2112, San Francisco, California 94126 or Hayes at P.O.
Box 26, Ellington, Connecticut 06029. Local residents, Ignatz and
Christine Reinbold, can also assist anyone wanting more information
on the project. Their address is P.O. Box 284, Strasburg, North
Dakota 58573, and their phone number is 701-336-7514.
Reprinted with permission of the Prairie Pioneer.