In this 150th anniversary year here at Trinity I want to share with you another interesting story I unearthed from the Trinity archives (that is to say, random nooks and crannies around the church). It is a story told through letters I found in a file dating to 1958.
In 1958, it may be that the most well-known LCMS Lutheran was Rev. Oswald Hoffman. He had served as the director of the LCMS Department of Public Relations in New York City since 1948. In 1955 he added another responsibility as he became the speaker of the Lutheran Hour radio program. Many of you may still remember Pastor Hoffman’s years as the Lutheran Hour speaker, a position he held until 1988. I remember Dr. Hoffman at 90 years old preaching at the chapel at Concordia in St. Paul while I was a student.
On March 27, 1958, he received a peculiar phone call. The caller refused to tell him why he wanted this information, but assured Rev. Hoffman it was for a friendly purpose. The caller asked for church bulletins and newsletters from Trinity Lutheran church in Fergus Falls, as well as information about whether the church had any sort of in-progress building projects. Later that same day Rev. Hoffman sent off a letter to Pastor Knick explaining the cryptic call and asking for the requested information.
The letter must have made the journey from New York to Fergus Falls quite quickly. March 27 was a Thursday in 1958, and the following Monday, March 31, Pastor Knick sent a letter back to Rev. Hoffman expressing that he no more idea what the call was about than did the Lutheran Hour speaker. He sent several church bulletins. He also remarked about a couple of projects. The first he mentioned was that Trinity had purchased property in another part of town to be used for a daughter congregation (this must be referring to the founding of Faith Lutheran Church). He also mentioned plans for a new entrance to the church with another stairway from the basement. And finally, he mentioned the parsonage needing some repairs, though no specific plans were in place. Rev. Hoffman acknowledged receiving the materials on April 3.
The mystery was maintained until May 1, 1958, when a letter was received from the Manufacturer’s Trust Company of New York. Their letter explained that it was possible a sum of money could be made available to Trinity from an estate. This letter asked for detailed estimates of costs for the building projects Trinity was considering.
It seems that May saw a lot of progress on obtaining that information, as Pastor Knick did not reply until May 31, when he sent a letter that conveyed estimated costs for the church addition from Anderson Bros. Construction Co., Edling Electric Inc., and Wm. Galena & Son plumbing. Pastor Knick also expressed that the proposed gift was a surprise to the congregation. The files do not contain information on the specific amounts of those estimates, unfortunately.
Quickly they heard back from the Manufacturer’s Trust Company. There was a sum of $5,000 that would be conveyed to Trinity for uses outside the church’s administrative budget. There was a request that one particular part of the project would be identified as the way this donation was utilized.
Pastor Knick wrote back on June 9 that the congregation had the day before decided to proceed with the building project. He acknowledged that this gift would be very appreciated for the project. The church council identified two additional rooms that were created by the project as having a cost of about $5000, and suggested these would be an appropriate part of the project to identify as the way the gift was used.
On June 12, a check for $5000 came in the mail. This letter also managed to more fully unravel the mystery, as it identified whose estate these funds were coming from. Mr. Martin E. Goetzinger died on January 7, 1953 at the age of 84. The terms of his will directed that his estate be directed to various charitable, religious, and educational corporations. Mr. Goetzinger was born in Fergus Falls and spent his early years here. His mother apparently had attended services at Trinity, and so the trustees elected to direct funds to Trinity Lutheran Church. The mystery was solved!
On August 19, 1958, the church received an additional check for $1000 from the Martin E. Goetzinger estate. On September 4, Pastor Knick wrote a letter to acknowledge receipt of the additional gift. In this letter he expressed that construction of the stairway had begun, and they hoped to be using the stairway in a few weeks.
What an interesting account! I guess it goes to show, you never know what you might find when you open a drawer and look in a file. Do any of you remember this construction projects from 1958? From my informal “staring at the old church while I drive past” research, I suspect this project added an entrance and stairway on the northeast side of the church. If you know more, tell me about it sometime!
God bless your October, Trinity family!
Peace in Christ,