Humble Beginnings: ILHS

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The following is taken from the Centennial Anniversary Book of Immanuel Ev. Lutheran Church, 1967. 

On the lone “prair-ee”, Judson Township
On the lone prairie, Judson Township

As full a history of Immanuel Lutheran High School has had in its few years of existance—hope, heartaches, happiness—the building in which it started has almost as fascinating a story.

The road has never been easy for the little school and struggle and endurance in God's Word had characterized its continued existence. In the complete absorption of that task, it would be easy for the memory to fade of the humble and colorful beginnings of the building in which the school is housed—another story of dedication and perseverance of a small group.

Once a one-room country school house, the building sat originally in the Welsh Carmel area near Judson. Few would have thought that the unimpressive little facility, some 10 miles southwest of Mankato, would some day become an important part of Immanuel Congregation's life. But a string of events brought it about.

Back in the unsettled days of 1953, as troubles within the Synodical Conference grew, the danger of loss of church property through a break with synod was considered a possibility. At the same time, Pastor G.W. Fischer had been conducting weekday Bible classes in homes of members living in the "Prairie" area of Mankato. Those families, not without a shyness at the thought of entering a regular church with the clothing limitations of poverty, expressed sentiments for a chapel of their own in their neighborhood for weekly meetings.

In consideration of those two factors, four members of Immanuel Lutheran Congregation—Al Affolter, Walter Affolter, William Klammer, and Erwin Neubert—purchased four lots at Harper Street and Third Avenue with the hope the land could be used to develop a mission congregation, possibly even a daughter congregation.

The owner, a woman not a member of Immanuel Congregation, made the land available to them at a fraction of what commercial interests had offered her because she wanted it put to church use instead. Organizing eventually as the North Chapel Trust Fund, the four new owners agreed that they would hold the property on their own for resale to Immanuel Congregation at cost any time it wanted it.

Then Pastor Fischer heard of the coming auction of the Carmel School which had been closed. Although they didn't know where the money would come from, the four lot owners told him to bid on it in their behalf. They would up as owners of the building for $700 and dug into savings to pay for it among the four of them.

They were also informed they had to have it moved in one month. This set in motion a period of exhausting physcial effort, determination and ingenuity to get the building to Harper and Third within limits of very meager financial resources. Every night after work, the owners and their families would go to the building and ready it for moving, dismantling the bulky old furnace, knocking down the old brick chimney, pulling out the toilets and septic tanks.

All looked promising for the move at a reasonable price—Bateman Moving Company was hired and most necessary permission obtained. Then came a blow. At a spot just one block from the traveling school's goal, where it would have to cross the Chicago North Western and Omaha Railroad tracks, the railroad company wanted a $2,000 bond. This was because two main telegraph cables, each carrying 1,000 wires, would have to be cut and extra length added to allow enough slack for the school's roof to pass underneath them. This splicing cost would have practically absorbed the entire $2,000.

Past and future meet as the high school-to-be passes old Immanuel Grade School Building now remodeled as a home on Third Avenue.

Past and future meet as the high school-to-be passes old Immanuel Grade School Building now remodeled as a home on Third Avenue.


Past and future meet as the high school-to-be passes old Immanuel Grade School Building now remodeled as a home on Third Avenue.








Finally, the moving company and the owners hit on an ingenious plan to burdle that financial obstacle. They devised a way to fold down the school roof by removing the north and south sides of the four-angle roof and then sawing through all the rafters and hinging them.

Roof folded down, school clears telegraph wires at railroad crossing one block from destination, a major problem in the moving.
Roof folded down, school clears telegraph wires at railroad crossing one block from destination, a major problem in the moving.

This brought the building's height down to where it would pass under the wire easily, and only a $65 bond, rather than the original $2,000, had to be paid the railroad company.

Arrival at destination at Third & Harper Street.
Arrival at destination at Third & Harper Street.

All these preparations on the roof were made while the school was still on the old country school property. Tarps were put over the two end roof openings to protect the desks and blackboards inside, to make the trip in tact.

In the meantime, Lundin Brothers had been hired to excavate the basement on the new site. When the building was ready to go, it was moved in 12 hours and placed over the excavation on cribbing. After it was in place, the roof was folded back up and the rafters and boards removed from the other two ends, all numbered for location, put back in their original positions.

No opportunity was bypassed for holding down the cost of the project. When the Mahowald Hardware Store heard what the 24 hayloft hinges purchased from them were to be used for, it volunteered to take them back when the job was completed. After the hinges were removed and the cut rafters double spliced, Mrs. Al Affolter polished them up and the store gave 100 per cent refund on their return.

Setting the building over the excavation was not the end of the job. In fact, it was barely the beginning laborwise. A foundation was needed and the owners felt they could not afford to have it done professionally. None had laid blocks before, but they decided to learn in the doing.

There followed a long summer in which they and their families toiled evenings and Sundays on the job. Working like pioneers, the wives mixed the concrete with a hoe, the children carried it, and the men laid the blocks. Once the foundation was laid, the building was lowered onto it. Then the do-it-yourselfers poured a concrete floor, reassembled the furnace, put in a used gas converter, used blower, and all the cold and hot air ducts.

As the work progressed, other members of Immanuel Congregation volunteered help. All the time they were expending this effort on the building, the little group wasn't even quite clear what the eventual role of the completed product would be and simply worked on faith that it would find a God-pleasing use. Even at that, they never imagined it would some day be the home of a college and high school.

Anticipating it might be used some day for kindergarten, first or second graders, they poured the entrance steps with only six inch risers for the benefit of little legs.

Pastor Fischer started holding Bible classes there in the fall of 1953 at the building which then came to be known as the North Chapel. He continued the Bible classes there until his health began to fail in 1955. The Rev. Hilbert Schaller assisted there the following year. After their deaths, the North Chapel building stood vacant for a couple of years with the exception of summer Bible school conducted there.

However, in 1959 when Immanuel Congregation, now broken away from the Wisconsin Synod, decided it needed a high school, college and seminary of its own, the little building was put back into use for that purpose. The owners made it available to the congregation rent free. Members of the congregation pitched in that summer to partition, plaster, and get it ready, and it opened for the first 41 students in September of 1959.

Immanuel High School Today
Immanuel High School Today

Existence of the school was undoubtedly a major factor in bringing a new synod about as it provided the answer for others wondering where new teachers and ministers would be trained should they leave the Wisconsin Synod.

In 1961, Immanuel Congregation transferred operation of the school to the newly-organized Church of the Lutheran Confession and the owners continued to make the building available.

After one year of CLC use, the former country school house was no longer large enough for the growing enrollment, and the owners told the CLC that if it would develop it as a school, they would mortgage the property for funds to build an addition. That was agreed to and a $16,000 block addition went up that summer. The synod eventually bought the improved property on a contract for deed basis.

In 1963, the CLC decided to move its school to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, when larger desirable property became available there. The four original building owners took back the building and continued payment of the mortgage—originally at payments of $200 a month for 10 years but later refinanced at $80 a month for 17 years. A few other congregation members invested to help ease the burden on the original four.

Despite commercial offers to sell at a profit, they declined in order to keep the buildings available for Immanuel's use. Even today they continue to make the $80 monthly payments, 14 more years to go, as they continue to provide it rent-free to Immanuel.

Immanuel Congregation decided in the summer of 1963 to continue a local high school there after the synod school moved out. It did so and the school continues there today.

Two of those instrumental in bringing the building to Immanuel congregation's use, Mr. and Mrs. Al Affolter, still remain physically active in its welfare by contributing their services in custodial care of the school.

Now after only four years of local operation, the high school already has a tradition of endurance and determination for survival, much of it due to the untiring devotion of the faculty God provided it, parents concerned over the Chirstian upbringing of their young, and a congregation that has seen the value of Christian education.

The school might never have come into being if the little group of Immanuel members hadn't plunged ahead on blind faith to obtain a building as they did in 1953.

Immanuel Lutheran High School Class of 1967
Immanuel Lutheran High School Class of 1967

In the day-to-day operation of the school, it would be easy to forget those beginnings, but it is a story that should be remembered. Only as the congregational secretary pursued his assignment of preparing the congregation's centennial story did it come to light again.

Even Pastor Fischer, sensing the drama and future of the undertaking, expressed hope back in those early days that some day its history would be written.