One Church,
One Faith, One Lord

150th Anniversary – held September 8th, 2019

Our 150 year history is outlined below…


Pastors who served us:
Rev. J. E. Bergh (1869-1871), Rev. S. L. Floren (1872-1874), Rev. A. Anderson (1874-1887), and Rev. A. M. Frose (1889-1896)

In the early 1860s families started settling into the area: Christian Olson, Tolliff Hendrickson, Captain Hans Aslakson, Lars Halvorson, Johannes Hanson, Christian Sorensons, Jacob Jacobson, Lars Sorenson, Lorgen Anderson, Svend Swenson, and Ole Jensen. By 1869 they organized a congregation with eleven voting members. The original name of the congregation was “Den Skandinavisk Evangelisk Lutherske Menighet Og Cedar Creek” (The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Cedar Creek).

Stories handed down through the generations tell how the families would gather for devotions and fellowship at the various homes. When the Ingleheart School was built the congregation moved its worship there, then, alternately, the Olson and Ryerson Schools were also used as a meeting place for Sunday worship.

The congregation was organized in 1869 with eleven voting members with the Rev. Johannes E. Bergh as their pastor. Pastor Bergh traveled by foot from Muskegon to serve these pioneers. In 1881, the name of the congregation was changed to “Den Skandinavisk Evangelisk Lutherske Menighet Og Holton” (The Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church of Holton).

Also in 1881, the first church building was completed by a donation from the Christian Olson family. The total cost was $500.00. Much of the materials and labor were donated by other members of the congregation, with the dedication on August 30, 1882.

Land was donated by Ole C. Olson in 1882 for the parsonage, next to the church and cemetery grounds. It was built by a member of the congregation, Severt Swenson. This building was used until 1938.

Pastors who served us:
Rev. A. M. Frose (1889-1896), Rev. J. Hendricks (1896-1902), and Rev. N. E. Halvorson (1902-1921) [Rev. I. J. Nelson (1908, interim) and Rev. M. P. Ruh (1909, interim)].

Rev. J. Hendricks was instrumental in organizing a Young People’s Society on January 21, 1897. There were 21 members at its inception. Meetings were held in various homes once a month and following a short devotion and Scripture reading, an entertaining program was presented consisting of readings, recitations, songs, essays, and speeches. Often, the essays and speeches presented were on such topics as “The Early History of Norway.”

By 1903 membership had increased to 43, and a constitution was adopted on May 31, 1903. Also that year, a special service was held in Tom Olson woods, and a collection was taken to help pay for a new organ.

A very active group in this congregation was the “Kvindeforening” or Ladies Aid, which also met once a month. These women helped support the congregation through free will offering lunches hosted at various women’s homes. Often, the money they raised helped to support the pastor’s salary.

In 1908-1909, the called pastor, Rev. N. E. Halvorson, was granted a sabbatical leave. During his absence, the congregation was served by the Rev. I. J. Nelson and Rev. M. P. Ruh.

The Golden Anniversary was held on October 5, 1919. At that time, the records show that in the first fifty years there were 1,060 worship services, 254 children baptized and 131 were confirmed. There were 40 weddings and 86 funerals. At the present we have family members that are direct descendants in the 6th generation of the first Norwegian and Danish members.

Pastors who served us:
Rev. N. E. Halvorson (1902-1921), Rev. J. A. Moldstad (1921-1922, interim),  Rev. K. L. Guttebo (1922-1925),  Rev. I. M. Blakkan (1925-1930), Rev. G. Guldberg (1930-1936),  and Rev. E. G. Unseth (1937-1945)

As we look at the third 25 year segment of our congregation’s history, we see the constitution being revised in 1920. The Holton community had changed from a lumbering economy to agriculture and dairy farming economy. A memory from Elsie Aslakson was that “Only the Norwegian language was used at the services. The heating system was a round pot-bellied stove in the northwest corner of the building.” In the late 1920’s the language began to change from Norwegian to English.

Rev. N. E. Halvorson was the pastor from 1902-1921 and was the chairman. In a meeting, on Decmeber 6, 1920 the voters took the very important step of resolving to notify the president of the Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (NELCA) that the congregation was withdrawing its membership from the synod, because of false doctrine being tolerated in the synod.

On February 3, 1921, Rev. Halvorson announced his resignation. He had previously joined the NELCA and accepted a call to Alpena, MI.

 On February 2, 1921 the congregation resolved to request membership in the Norwegian Synod of the American Evangelical Lutheran Church which later became the Evangelical Lutheran Synod in 1957. It was also decided to ask the Rev. J. A. Moldstad to hold services as the interim pastor.

In 1922 a call was accepted by Rev. K. L. Gettebo and he served as our pastor until 1925. That year a joint call from us and the Big Rapids Scandinavian Lutheran Church was made with the assistance of Rev. G. A. Gullixson to Rev. I. M. Blakkan. Pastor Blakken served as the Poet Lauriat (official poet) for the synod.

The congregation called Rev. G. Guldberg from our sister congregation, First Lutheran Church, in Suttons Bay, MI. He accepted this call while maintaining his current call in Suttons Bay. Service were held in Holton every other Sunday.

On May, 21, 1934 the church building was struck by lightning that destroyed everything except a hymnbook, two chairs, and a table. Services were held at the township hall. A building committee was formed and in 1935 it was decided to build the new church on the southwest corner of the cemetery.

In 1936 Pastor Gulberg accepted a call to another congregation and Rev. E. G. Unseth accepted the call to Holton. At a special meeting in 1937 Rev. J. A. Moldstad of Chicago advised the congregation to build in town. There was disagreement in the congregation. Some felt that a location in town would help grow the congregation. Some felt that the building should be located near the original site. This disagreement lead to a division of the congregation.

Some of the members continued with the building project at the cemetery site, and on September 4, 1938, the first service was held in the new church building. The other group of members who thought it better to move into town continued holding services in the Town Hall. They organized as a separate congregation, taking the name Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church. Both congregations were served by Pastor Unseth until 1945.

Pastors who served us:
Rev. E. G. Unseth (1937-1945),  Rev. R. Branstad (1945-1947), Rev. C. Hanson (1947-1952), Rev. M. O. Dale (1952-1961), Rev. D. Halbeck (1961-1964), Rev. H. Hempel (1964, interim), and Rev. J. Olsen (1964-1970)

In 1945 Pastor Unseth, who was serving both Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran Church (SELC) and Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church (IELC), accepted a call to St. Paul’s Lutheran in Chicago, IL. During the two year interim, Pastor Branstad from Suttons Bay served on a part time basis along with the help of Vicar Levine Hagen (summer of 1947). This was a difficult time for both congregations, but the Word of God continued to be taught in its truth and purity and the sacraments were rightly administered. By God’s grace, the congregations received an acceptance letter from Pastor Hanson and he was installed in September 1947.

The parsonage at the time was not in livable condition, IELC began construction on a new parsonage (the current parsonage), and completed the work in the fall of 1948. The old parsonage was sold in 1950 for $500.00.

In 1950, joint worship services began to be held between the two congregations and this was the first step in reuniting them.

During the summer of 1951, Pastor Hanson was given a leave of absence, and Vicar George Orvick served the two congregations.

In 1952, after Pastor Hanson asked to be relieved of his call due to his health and the health of his family, Pastor Dale accepted the call and began serving in the early fall.

On December 14, 1958, a joint meeting was held to resolve the matter of reuniting the two congregations. It was resolved to dissolve the Scandinavian Evangelical Lutheran and the Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran congregations and join them together to form Holton Evangelical Lutheran Church. All glory be to God for His gracious guidance in the reuniting of these two congregations.

February 21, 1961, Pastor Dale died at the age of 58. For three years, the church was without a pastor. However, two WELS pastors, Rev. Daniel Habeck (from Grace in Muskegon, March 1961-March 1964) and Rev. Harold Hempel (from Holy Trinity in Wyoming, March-August 1964) served as vacancy pastors.

On August 16, 1964, James Olsen was ordained and installed as our pastor. Pastor Olsen was instrumental in the formation of Camp Lor-Ray in 1966, a youth camp established by members of the ELS and WELS of the area.

On three consecutive Sundays, August 17, 24, and 31, 1969, the church celebrated its 100th Anniversary with a morning service, dinner, and afternoon program. The theme was, “One Hundred Years of Grace.”

Pastors who served us:
Rev. J. Olsen (1964-1970),  Rev. M. D. Christopherson (1970-1974), Rev. M. Ahlborn and Rev. W. Hein (1974-1975, interim), Rev. H. T. Behrens (1975-1977),  Rev. J. Olsen (1977-1982), Rev. J. Frey (1982-1983, interim), Rev. C. Ferkenstad (1983-1987), and Rev. M. Krentz (1988-2002)

In the Spring of 1970, Pastor Olsen, received and accepted a call to serve as an ELS foreign missionary to the people of Lima, Peru. There was a special service held at the Holton High School Gymnasium/Auditorium on April 12, 1970.

The next ten years were fruitful for the congregation. This decade saw five different pastors, 94 souls were baptized and 74 were confirmed. There were 27 marriages and 33 burials.  The membership was recorded at 238 souls with 151 communicant members. The Constitution and By Laws were reviewed and amended. The congregation was growing quickly!

A Sunday School, Family Bible Class, Teens Bible Class, and Youth Group provided regular activity and instruction for the youth. Bible Study, Ever Ready Circle, and various other boards and committees were available for adult education and fellowship. A Choir was started both for the youth and the adults who had musical gifts.

New furnishings were added to the church as well: a new organ, lectern, furnace, and communion ware. Other items were given as memorials: the altar cross, the altar candle holders, flags, vases, and offering plates. Extensive remodeling was done to the parsonage as well. A second floor bathroom was installed and a larger office in the basement for the pastor.

After his  return from the foreign mission field of Peru, Pastor Olsen accepted another call to Holton in 1977.

Due to all of God’s many blessings to the congregation, in 1979 a preliminary study of a church building program was started by a decision of the voters assembly. In December of that year it was decided that the new church would be built next to the parsonage in the town of Holton.

In the summer months of 1980, Pastor Olsen was visiting one of the members of the congregation and was heartily encouraged to start a mission in Hesperia, MI. This soon became a reality. A Bible Class was organized in the Village Hall of Hesperia on November 23, 1980. Subsequent meetings were held every Sunday evening. These meetings grew into services, and, on June 6, 1982, Hesperia Lutheran Church held its first worship service. Pastor Olsen served the congregation until moving to Vero Beach, Florida. The congregation rented a school building west of Hesperia for use as a church building.

In 1983, Rev. C. Ferkenstad was installed as the pastor of Holton and Hesperia. The Hesperia congregation joined the Evangelical Lutheran Synod (ELS) at the 1983 ELS convention in June. Their regular attendance was 35-40 souls. It was shortly after that the Holton congregation began addressing the issue of a building project. The voters authorized a self-study committee to re-examine the church building needs. Pastor Ferkenstad also assisted the Hesperia congregation in writing a constitution and making application for membership in the ELS.

In 1985, Holton formed a new and larger building committee. By God grace, ground-breaking ceremonies were held October 20, 1985 with a dedication service for its existing church occurring on October 19, 1986.

Pastor Ferkenstad accepted a call to Bloomer, Wisconsin in October 1987. In February, 1988, Pastor Michael Krentz took the call as the pastor of both congregations. He was instrumental in forming Little Lutherans, Lutheran Pioneers, and was a director at Camp Lor-Ray.

In June of 1989 Holton sent representatives to Hesperia to explain that due to the rapid growth of their church they would require  the full-time services of their pastor. Pastor Krentz continued to serve Hesperia until June 24, 1990. Members were invited to transfer membership to Holton. In August of 1990, Hesperia voted to postpone all church activities indefinitely, finally voting to formally dissolve on June 12, 1994.

Due to the rapid grow of the congregation, many physical improvements were made. The parsonage was greatly upgraded: A new gas furnace, front deck, garage re-shingled,  a new septic tank, kitchen flooring redone, and the construction of a mudroom. There were many gifts to the church as well: TV,  VCR, stackable children’s chairs, folding chair rack, several folding tables, playground equipment, soccer goals, a basketball court, a computer and printer, a piano, a new organ, a new copier, an office desk and filing cabinets, matching hymn number boards, coat racks, mailboxes, choir robes, storage shed, and lawn equipment. The cemetery was also enlarged.

Another special blessing enjoyed by the Holton congregation was the  establishment of Holton Evangelical Lutheran School in 1989, with four children enrolled in kindergarten. The following year grades 1-5 were added to meet the needs of the students who were scheduled to attend. By 1995 there were 20 students enrolled. Teachers during this time included: Ms. Becky Martin, Mrs. Cathy Krentz, Mrs. Sally Peterson, and Ms. Teresa Carson.

The years 1979-1994 had been fruitful ones for the work of the congregation. During this time 231 baptisms, 124 confirmations, 96 weddings, and 53 funerals were performed. The membership grew to 434 souls. This represented a net growth of 200 members.

Pastors who served us:
Rev. M. Krentz (1988-2002), Rev. P. Zager (2002-2015), and  Rev. E. Hoeft (2015-present)

 Faith life is, of course, the most important aspect of the members of any congregation. At Holton, it was felt that family life was also important. The congregation instituted father/son banquets as well as mother/daughter banquets which were a great success. Youth groups, school events, adult Bible classes, various dinners and picnics all added to the Faith/Family dynamic. A church pictorial directory was created in 1999.

The church’s commitment to Christian education led to the call of it’s first full time Principal and teacher in Mr. Timothy Ristow and Miss Julia Tweit, and the purchase of a four classroom school building to replace the two portable classrooms. The church refinanced it’s mortgage with a 20 year $362,000 loan.

After the 1999-2000 school year, Mr. Ristow took a call to Holy Cross Lutheran Church, Madison Wisconsin. Julia Tweit also left and new teachers Miss Kim Riley and Mrs. Kathy Pingel were called.

On June 16, 2002, Pastor Krentz said farewell to Holton as he journeyed on to Washington state, A call to Pastor Paul Zager was issued and accepted.

“Children Sermons” were introduced as a regular feature to the service to help children understand the main points of the sermon. This addition was well received. Also, with a membership of over 400 souls it was tentatively decided to add a second service.

The 2003-2004 school year at Holton Evangelical Lutheran School saw a new addition to the curriculum: foreign language instruction. Using books donated by Michigan Lutheran Seminary, Pastor Zager began instructing the eighth grade students in basic German vocabulary and language skills.

Going into 2004, because of increasing budget constraints, it was difficult to keep the school operating and still keep the congregation functioning at the same time, and sadly, the school closed its doors. Over the next four years, the closing of the school along with other disagreements, misunderstandings, and church discipline, caused division in the church once again and attendance started to decline. It was a low point in the congregation’s history.

While seven year’s worth of disharmony, the school closing, and financial  setbacks seemed like a very bleak period in the history of the congregation, it should be noted with thanks to God that during all of this, he was with his church. The sick and dying were comforted with His Word, adults were instructed, new members were added, souls were baptized, Vacation Bible Schools and Sunday School fed our youth and reached out to the children of the community. The congregation continued on.

In 2009, the congregation celebrated its 140th anniversary. Pastors in attendance were: Rev. Fred Theiste, Rev. Craig Ferkenstad, Rev. James Olsen, and Rev. Paul Zager. It was a joyous event, that helped the congregation to focus once again on its Faith/Family dynamic.

Through the next few years the congregation healed. A new sign was purchased and dedicated in September of 2012. Another pictorial directory was created in 2013. The constitution and by-laws were updated.

In 2015, Pastor Zager announced his acceptance of the call to First Lutheran Church in Suttons Bay. A call was issued to Rev. Erich Hoeft which was accepted and he arrived with his family in July.

Pastor Hoeft and family were warmly welcomed to Holton and moved into the parsonage. The parsonage which had been rented out was updated with new paint, flooring, duct cleaning and other updates.

From 2015 to 2019 our congregation has restarted the choir and the children singing in our services, increased bible study attendance, alternated the worship services between different rites in our hymnal, and included singing Psalms in our services.

The church has been able to accomplish many projects during this time. They include: an expansion committee that developed an updated plan for congregations building needs, an attached garage for the parsonage (debt free), central air was installed at the parsonage, internal loans were paid off, and as of August 15, we paid off our mortgage!!!

Surely God has and continues to bless Holton Evangelical Lutheran Church.