THE FOUNDING OF IMMANUEL – The First 25 Years
The history of Immanuel congregation dates back to 1867 when German Lutherans in Boone County began to congregate and hold worship services, served by various visiting pastors from the Chicago area. On November 21, 1869, they organized as the “deutsche evangelische lutherisch Immanuels Germeinde U.A.C.” under the leadership of their first resident pastor, the Rev. Philip Estel. Worship services were first held in the Boone County Courthouse, and later in the home of John Suhr. Pastor Estel remained less than a year before accepting a Call, and the young Belvidere congregation endured a pastoral vacancy which lasted nearly 3 years. The Rev. Louis Steinrauf of Huntley, Illinois , was installed as Immanuel’s second resident pastor in July of 1873. Two years later, the Belvidere Lutherans purchased the property and building of the Congregational Church, located at Main and Church Streets. After some renovation including a steeple addition, the building was dedicated as a Lutheran church in July of 1875.
Two years later Pastor Steinrauf left Belvidere to go to Missouri. He was succeeded by Candidate Carl Eissfeldt, a recent graduate of the St. Louis Seminary. He remained two years, then accepted a Call in 1879 to the south Chicago area.
During the next seven years the Rev. John Baumgaertner of Huntley preached here every other Sunday until 1886, when the Rev. Theodore Kohn of Dallas, Texas was installed as pastor. Under Kohn’s leadership, Immanuel’s first school was built. Twenty years later, this one-room school was sold for $150 and moved from Boone Street to its present location, where it is now part of a barn on Highway 20, west of town of Cohoon’s Curve. In the year 1892, Pastor Kohn accepted a Call to Chicago, having served Immanuel for six years.
The first 25 years can be described as the fledgling congregation struggling amid short pastoral stays and long vacancies. Under these conditions it was not easy getting established, yet the seed had been sown in good hope.
THE EXPANDING OF IMMANUEL – The Next Fifty years
From 1892 through 1943, expansion and steady growth marked the congregation. In October of 1892, the Rev. Ersnt Heinemann was installed as the fifth resident pastor of Immanuel. He came from Geneseo, Illinois. His lengthy pastorate and strong leadership were significant turning points in the history of the parish. During Heinemann’s first year, the congregation purchased three lots on West Boone Street for $1000. Plans were soon underway to erect a new house of worship on the newly acquired property. The old church on the south side was sold and services were held temporarily in the old Methodist church until the new building was completed. The large, stately, white frame German-Gothic church had a towering steeple visible for miles around. It was dedicated October 15, 1893 and completed at a cost of $5,970. It served the people of Immanuel for 103 years! In 1996 it was sold for $80,000 to the World of Life Tabernacle people.
At the turn of the century, Immanuel, known as “the German Lutherans” or “the Boone Street Germans,” was growing into a large congregation – and thriving, by the grace of God. In 1906 a new, two-story brick school building was build next to the church for a cost of $6,000. It served well until World War I, when enrollment dwindled. In 1920 the school closed for lack of students, and it wasn’t until 1953 that it reopened. The building, however, continued to be used as a church fellowship hall and for Sunday School and youth. In 1982 it was razed to make room for a parking lot. In 1909, extensive repairs and improvements were made on the church building.
New windows and a steel ceiling were installed. A large, beautiful new altar and pulpit were purchased for $700 by the Ladies Aid. The altar now stands majestically in the narthex of the present church. In 1912, after serving twenty years, Pastor Heinemann resigned, and was succeeded by the Rev. Emil Richter who served for three years. He was followed by the Rev. J.H. Rupprecht who served for two years. In 1917 the congregation recalled Pastor Heinemann who returned to serve another 9 years, until ill health again compelled him to resign in
1926 at age 66. Heinemann served a total of nearly twenty-nine years.
The Rev. Fredrick Gohlke of Merrill, Wisconsin was then called as the sixth pastor of the congregation. The next year, in 1927, a new two-story parsonage was built next to the church at a cost of $11,500, where the Gohlkes took up residence. The home was rented for two years and then purchased in November of 1990 by the Albrecht family, Immanuel’s Director of Music for $65,000.00. Pastor Gohlke served Immanuel during the later twenties, the Great Depression of the thirties, and into the World War II years of the early forties, until retiring in 1943.
He served seventeen years in Belvidere.
Thus the first half of the 20th century was marked by change and expansion. The people dared to go forward, and were signally blessed by the Lord of the Church. With the longer pastorates of Heinemann and Gohlke adding stability, Immanuel was on the grow.
THE GROWTH YEARS OF IMMANUEL – The Past 65 years
From the post-war years of the 1940’s to the present day at the turn of the century, Immanuel has experienced several periods of rapid growth. Following two short pastorates in the mid 1940’s by the Rev. Wilbert Theiss and the Rev. Herman Bauer, the Rev. Walter Rengstorf of North Dakota was installed as pastor in 1948 and served ten very important years.
The first big wave of new growth was underway in those post-war years. Under Pastor Rengstorf’s leadership, a church basement was dug in 1951, then our school re-opened in 1953. The “Baby Boom” was upon us! Adding two grades a year, they soon ran out of room. In 1955, a special committee was selected to plan for future expansion. Considering nine possible sites, they decided on the location on East Second Street for a new school. In 1956 twenty-six acres of property were purchased for $30,000 and in 1958 a new school was built at a cost of $210,000. It had five classrooms plus Kindergarten, gymnasium, kitchen and offices.
Soon after the school was finished, Rengstorf accepted a Call to Wisconsin. The Rev. Arnold Gierke came from Montana in 1958 to be the next pastor, and Mr. Albert Rogner also arrived that same year as the new Principal. Under the leadership of these two men, the church and school grew substantially in the 1960’s. The Rev. Eugene Wille, called from Louisiana, joined them in 1964 as a second pastor. He continues to serve at Immanuel as Pastor Emeritus. In 1978 after serving Immanuel for 20 years he retired. In 1985 the congregation began a three-year “In Christ We Grow” campaign to renovate and expand our facilities. In 1985 the interior of the church was decorated and adorned with new pews and the organ pipe room behind the balcony renovated. The following year, a new church office/administration area/music room complex was added to the school. Total cost of these projects was about $300,000.
In 1986, additional staff joined us in ministry. Pastor Barry Kolb came that year as did our new principal, Mr. Paul Baker. Five years later, in 1991, Kolb took a Call to Bloomington, Illinois. Meanwhile, the position of Family Life Ministries was inaugurated by Mrs. Jennifer Baker, as well as Family Counseling. Also, Mr. Darren Sombke became Immanuel’s full-time youth director in 1991. In 1992 the Rev. Robert Schaeffer from Minnesota accepted the Call to be Senior Pastor. During his tenure, Immanuel built a new church facility at the school location (see photo), a $3 million sanctuary and parish fellowship center, thereby ending 103 years of history on Boone Street. Pastor Schaeffer resigned in 1998.
A Bell Tower was also constructed at the time the new church was built and the bell from the Boone Street Church is now housed there.
During the years of the 90’s, the building boom in Boone County is bringing many new families to the area. Hundreds of new homes are being built in and around Belvidere, particularly on the east side near our church/school location. At the turn of the century and millennium, there is no clear indication yet that this growth is slowing down.
Mrs. Judy (Peterson) Schaefer is the Principal of the school. Three new teachers were added to the faculty in 1999 and another three in 2000. All this while another large building project has been started and completed. A two-story structure housing six more classrooms and a large gymnasium has been added to the east end of the school at a cost of over $900,000.
Pastor David Gaddini, a 2000 graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, accepted a Call to serve as Assistant Pastor at Immanuel and was installed on July 16, 2000. Pastor Gaddini served at Immanuel for 3 years until he accepted a Call to serve in McHenry, Illinois.
Pastor Allan Buss joined the staff of Immanuel on November 27, 2000 coming from St. Peter Lutheran Church in Gilberts, Illinois. Pastor Buss continues to serve as Senior Pastor of Immanuel.
For two years Immanuel added a vicar to their staff. Seminarian Joel Howard served as a Vicar from summer 2003 to summer 2004 and was followed by Seminarian Quentin Nuttmann who served from the summer of 2004 to summer 2005.
Following his graduation from the St. Louis Seminary, Joel Howard, returned to serve at Immanuel as Assistant Pastor of Youth and Confirmation. He was installed on March 20, 2005 and continued to serve until August of 2008 when he accepted a Call to serve at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.
Pastor Kurtis Bueltmann, a 2008 graduate of Concordia Seminary in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, accepted a Call to serve as Pastor of Outreach and Discipleship in August of 2008.
Pastor Philip Hanson has been serving at Immanuel as a Visitation Pastor since December 9, 2003.
Pastor Eugene Wille, who retired in February 2002, also continues to serve as Visitation Pastor.
In September of 2005 the first Director of Operations, Michael Buhl, was hired. With a complex the size of Immanuel, a much needed position was filled.
During the Summer of 2008 the church office was expanded to accommodate two more offices at a cost of $70,000 to accommodate additional staff.
Immanuel purchased “the Dashney property” in 1988 for $140,000.00. Years ago this property was a nursery and a building on the property was the office and garage for the business. This building is now used for church and school storage and also is used to store furniture donations that are collected by Helping Hands to give to people in need.
The home that sits at 925 Belvidere Road (now CrownPoint) was purchased in July of 1984 by Immanuel. It was rented out until 1988 at which time it was sold to the school principal, Paul Baker. The church purchased the home, from Paul Baker, again on April 22, 1997.
In 2005 it was extensively remodeled and is now called CrownPoint. This building houses the Rockford Area Pregnancy Care Center, Helping Hands, Boone County Chapter of Habitat for Humanity and Lutheran Child and Family Services. The basement has been renovated and is used by the youth of Immanuel. Other organizations such as Compassionate Friends, AA, Girl Scouts and Small groups use the meeting rooms.
The home at 983 Belvidere Road was purchased by the church in July of 2004. It was remodeled after the purchase and was rented by Pastor Joel Howard during his time at Immanuel. The home is currently rented out.
With the ownership of the Dashney Building, CrownPoint, and the home next door to CrownPoint, along with the church and school complex, the church now has 20 acres that border Second Street on the north, 6th Street on the south, and Belvidere/Genoa Road on the east.
KEEPING WITH THE TIMES
Motorized roller shades were placed in the Sanctuary in September of 2008 at a cost of $21,000.00 which will aide in the usage of our large screens and projectors which were placed in the Sanctuary in April of 2006.
Three plasma screens were placed around the complex in August of 2007.