The First 50 Years

The history of Trinity Lutheran Church is an account of the work of the Holy Spirit through the efforts of its members as they gather to worship and serve God and to extend His kingdom in the community. It is the story of pastors, professional church workers, teachers, committees, boards, voters and laymen of the congregation who joined together to fulfill the mission of the congregation.

Although Trinity Lutheran Church began worship services in September, 1941, the need for a second Lutheran congregation in Pekin was discussed for several years before that time, leading to an emotion-packed meeting on September 8, 1941, when 160 members of St. John's Lutheran Church decided to withdraw from membership and start a new congregation.

Within days, the auditorium of Jefferson School was rented, and the 1st worship service was conducted on Sunday, September 14, 1941. The first Sunday School classes were held on that same day, with Aaron Meints serving as superintendent and seven teachers conducting classes. Jefferson School was the temporary home of the new congregation for over three months, served by pastors from other churches in the Peoria area.

Our name, TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH, was selected at the first congregational meeting three days later, September 17, 1941, and about two weeks later officers were elected and boards appointed. Mr. Leon Towne became president; Howard Rohrs, secretary; and Elmer Harms, treasurer. A building committee chaired by Fred Hild was organized.

Early in October, 1941, two available sites for a new church were found in Pekin's near-south side, and a decision was quickly made to purchase two parcels of property in the 700 block of South Fourth Street - known as the Mulvey property (where our parsonage was built) and the Velde Mansion (where our church buildings stand). Total cost was $11,000. Funds were quickly contributed or borrowed.

An architect was hired to plan and supervise the remodeling of the Velde house into a parish hall on the first floor and a parsonage in the second story. A simple frame church building was planned for the north side of the property. Ground was broken on October 25, foundation poured on November 6, and over half the adult members helped construction workers - through Thanksgiving, Pearl Harbor Day, and Advent. In less than two months, a building was ready for the Christmas Eve service, attended by 275 persons. Lorman Petersen from Peoria, a young minister just graduated, conducted the service.

A call was issued to Rev. Petersen on January 12, 1942, and he was installed as Trinity's first pastor on February 15 by the Rev. John C. Schuelke, president of the Central Illinois District.

There was no let up in activity. Many organizations were started: Ladies Aid, Concordia Society, Laymen's League, Walther Leagues, and Boy Scouts. Although services were being held, there were many building details to be finished during the congregation's first Lenten season. Easter was a day of joy for many reasons.

More rejoicing occurred on Dedication Day, June 21, 1942, when 254 souls gathered to praise and thank God for the congregation's new home. Soon thereafter, Pastor Petersen was married, and organized Trinity's first choir.

Of course, every event was a "first"during that amazing twelve months, which ended with a mission festival to celebrate the first anniversary on Sunday, September 13, 1942.

Under Pastor Petersen's leadership, the congregation began to grow, even during those dark days of World War II, when some of its members were called to duty in Europe and the Pacific. During this time, the building debt was paid off (in only two years), and a $75,000 building fund goal was established to build a new church, already needed.

Shortly after VE and VJ Days in 1945, Pastor Petersen accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church in Peoria and preached a farewell sermon to his first congregation, saddened by his departure. Theodore WEiss of Peoria served as vacancy pastor, assisting the congregation in the calling process. On December 9, 1945, the Rev. O. J. Klinkermann of Carlinville, IL, accepted Trinity's call and was installed on December 16, 1945.

Trinity's communicant membership passed 300 in June 1946, requiring additional chairs to be squeezed into the chapel on Sunday morning. Sunday School classes were conducted wherever bits of space could be found in the parish hall and church. A new electronic organ was purchased in late 1948 which helped organist Al Beckman lead our hymns of worships.

After three years as Trinity's pastor, Rev. Klinkermann accepted a call to Jacksonville, IL. He preached his final sermon on January 23, 1949. Pastor Lester Kuker of St. John's, Green Valley, served as vacancy pastor.

It was a short vacancy period, and on March 20, 1949, the Rev. Walter E. Bussert of Harvel, IL, accepted our call, and was installed on May 1. He was joined by his wife Luella and three children, Ruth, Joel, and Loren. His immediate task was to give leadership to the urgent need to plan for a new church building.

Architect (and Trinity member) George Wearda was employed to commence the drawing of plans for the new sanctuary. A very busy Building Planning Committee (John Hoerr, Peter Guengerich and Lloyd Kreiling, assisted earlier by Fred Hild, Edward Meints and Henry Weyhrich) met countless hours discussing plans. In the meantime, a Building Finance Committee set out to raise the needed funds.

Ground was broken on September 30, 1951, two weeks after the congregation's tenth anniversary was celebrated by a large attendance in the Pekin High School auditorium. The general contractor was Mehlenbeck Brothers of Peoria and the year of construction was begun. Cornerstone laying took place on January 27 1952.

In the meantime, Pastor Bussert and his family were still living in the limited space on the 2nd floor of the parish hall, soon to be torn down. The new parsonage at the corner of South Fourth and Winter Streets was dedicated August 3, 1952, as plans were underway for the grand dedication of the new church next door.

It was a proud moment for Trinity when Dedication Day came on Oct. 26, 1952, with a total attendance of over 1,400. Former pastors Petersen and Klinkermann joined in the service.

Although congregational life settled down for a while, the need for more Sunday School classrooms and fellowship space became very evident as the congregation continued to grow. A new building committee was appointed in late 1954 it developed plans to add an educational wing. Such space need suddenly became very acute when, on Saturday morning, Oct. 19, 1957, fire gutted the parish hall. The frame church building was saved, as were most of the records and equipment.

Plans for the new wing were already in the final stages and were approved by the Voters within weeks after the fire. Contracts were let, with Becker Bros. of Peoria as general contractor, and foundations were laid by December 1957. Eight months later, on August 3, 1958, our present building complex was finished and dedicated. Pastor Lester Kuker delivered the sermon.

Growth continued, and it was necessary to provide some additional help for Pastor Bussert. Our fist vicar was Dan Brockopp, who served weekends as organist and vicar in early 1959. Gerald Quiram joined us as weekend vicar and organist during the last half of 1959.

Trinity's first full-time vicar was Melbourne Helling, a student from Concordia Seminary in Springfield. He served one year, until July 1961, when David Steuernagel was assigned to Trinity from Concordia Seminary. Our third full-time vicar was Wolfgang Webern, who came from Concordia Springfield in September 1962, for one year.

In the meantime, Trinity celebrated its 20th anniversary on Sunday, September 17, 1961, with over 600 communicant members. We were again without a pastor in late 1962 when Rev. Bussert accepted a call to serve St. John's Lutheran Church in Champaign, IL. Pastor Paul Schedler of St. John's, Pekin, served us as vacancy pastor.

Early in May 1963, Trinity extended a call to the Rev. Duane Imig of Slater, Missouri, a 1961 graduate of Concordia Seminary, Springfield. He moved with his wife and two children to Pekin, and his installation as Trinity's fourth pastor occurred on July 14, 1963.

In May 1964, our first deaconess joined the Trinity staff when Miss Ona Klema was assigned to us. She served in various areas of education and music until October 1665, when Miss Sally Brandt accepted our call from Albuquerque, New Mexico. She served as Deaconess until 1967.

In the fall of 1967, Pastor Imig received an accepted a call to serve two congregations at and near Charlevoix, Michigan. His last sermon was preached on November 19, 1967, and again, Pastor Paul Schedler of St. John's, Pekin, served as vacancy pastor.

It was almost a year later that the Rev. Darwood Kesselmayer accepted our call to come with his family to Pekin from O'Fallon, Missouri. He was installed as our fifth pastor on November 10, 1968. The congregation continued to grow as organizations and activities were renewed by the resumption of pastoral leadership.

The need for off-street parking was obvious and the congregation obtained all but one of the houses on Bacon Street by 1970, to be demolished or moved to create a large parking lot at the rear of the church.

The need for additional help for Pastor Kesselmayer was evident as the congregation continued to grow to a peak membership of over 800 communicant members. In 1971, Deaconess Mary-Anne Flohr came to us from Canada and served the congregation until 1979, becoming Mrs. Donald Jungst during that time.

Our small rear entrance to the Educational Building became our main entrance from the parking lot, and in 1973, Architect H. Ted Johnson was employed to design a large sheltered entrance on the east side of our building. Construction was completed in 1974. To add to our comfort, air conditioning was installed in the church sanctuary in time to enjoy cool air on a few hot Sundays at the end of the summer of 1974.

Steve Wiederkehr accepted a call to Trinity in1980 as Director of Christian Education and Youth Work, brining in with him his musically-talented wife, Pam, who ably led our adult choir to new accomplishments. Steve worked closely with the youth of the congregation, developing many new programs. The Wiederkehrs moved to Oklahoma in 1985.

During that period, there was a growing movement within the three Missouri Synod Lutheran congregations in the Pekin area to form an association to develop a parochial school. On October 9, 1980, the Voters Assembly approved the Interparish School Agreement with St. John's, Green Valley, and St. John's, Pekin. Many Trinity members were involved in the early development of Good Shepherd Lutheran School and many Trinity children have benefited from their attendance at Good Shepherd during the ten years of its operation. In 1987, Trinity and St. John's, Pekin, became associate members of the school association, leaving full management of the school to St. John's, Green Valley.

To broaden the scope of pastoral assistance, the Voters Assembly issued a call in 1986 to the Rev. Richard Foss of Kansas to be Assistant Pastor, with concentration in education and youth work. Pastor Foss served Trinity from September, 1986, until May, 1988, when he accepted a call to Zion Lutheran Church, Taylor Ridge, IL. In 1989, Pastor Kesselmayer decided to relinquish some of the burden and details of administering the congregation by accepting a new position of Associate Pastor upon the installation of an Administrative Pastor. In early 1990, the Voters Assembly issued a call to the Rev. Rodger Abatie of Coralville, Iowa, to fill that position. Pastor Abatie was installed April 29, 1990, bringing his wife, Robin, and two children to the parsonage soon thereafter.

In May, 1991, Pastor Kesselmayer generously offered to retire early to help relieve the congregation's growing financial deficit which resulted from the cost of supporting two full-time pastors. His retirement occurred July 1, 1991, following a farewell pot-luck dinner in his honor on Sunday, June 30.

1991 also brings us to the fiftieth anniversary of that momentous Sunday in 1941 when 160 Lutherans gathered at Jefferson School for their first worship service and Sunday School. The Fiftieth Anniversary Committee worked many days and evenings to make the start of our next half century as bold and forward looking in the service of our Lord as was the vision in 1941.