Sunday, November 8, 2009

George Weller at Concordia in Seward

Below, after some introductory remarks, is the fourth group of excerpts of Clara Alvina Koenig's manuscript An Afterglow of Yesterday. The manuscript was described in this earlier blog article.

The first group of excerpts, about J. George Weller's mother, was in this blog article.

The second group of excerpts, about the Weller family's move from Louisiana to Indiana, was in this blog article.

The third group of excerpts, about the migration of German Lutherans from the area of Fort Wayne, Indiana, to Staplehust, Nebraska, was in this blog article.

The fourth group of excerpts, about the Weller family's move from Fort Wayne to Staplehurst, is in this blog article.

See also this blog article about the Wellers who lived at Concordia and this blog article about some descendents of George Weller.

In 1882, J. George Weller graduated from the Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri, married Louise Katharina Clara Eirich in New Minden, Illinois, and then moved to Marysville (now part of Staplehurst), Nebraska, where he began serving as a Lutheran pastor at Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church.

The Reverend J. George Weller (Johann George Weller), who from 1894 until his death in 1924 served as the first director of  the Evangelical Lutheran School Teachers Seminary in Seward, Nebraska. This school eventually became Concordia Teachers College and now has become Concordia University.

(Flickr page)

In 1894 he moved to Seward to become the first director of the The Evangelical Lutheran School Teachers Seminary, which now has become Concordia University. He served in that position until he died in 1924.

The following passages are excerpted from Ms. Koenig's manuscript:

Now let us consider various factors which led to the founding of Concordia Teachers College at Seward. Here is a passage from the book The Story of Concordia, by Professor H. O. A. Keinath:

“At the back of these events there lay years of planning by which the dream of the pioneers of Lutheranism in Nebraska had at last come true. At that time the number of Missouri Synod congregations in Nebraska was growing by leaps and bounds. The liberal land policy of the United States Government in the preceding decades had attracted many settlers, especially of German descent. The homesteading privileges offered an opportunity to many poor immigrants for acquiring a sizable tract of land. Thus a promising field beckoned the Missouri Synod to send laborers into the harvest. Congregations sprang up everywhere.

Led by that pioneer of Nebraska Lutheranism, President J. Hilgendorf, an energetic group of pastors was active in organizing the scattered Lutherans into congregations. By 1894 the Nebraska District numbered one hundred pastors and twenty-one teachers who together served one hundred fifty congregations and eighty preaching stations. This represented a three hundred percent increase within the previous twelve years.

Due to this remarkable expansion, the thought of having a synodical institution within the boundaries of Nebraska seemed entirely justified. The initial steps in this direction were taken by the Nebraska District. At its session in 1889 this district seriously considered the question of founding a new institution. ...

After further discussion by the Nebraska District, the project was placed before the meeting of Missouri Synod in 1893, and this body decided that a new teachers seminary be founded ‘somewhere in Nebraska.’

Several towns of Nebraska were eager to harbor the new school in their midst. Blue Hill offered $100,000; Lincoln was ready with an offer of a 160-acre tract of land; Norfolk made several attempts to get the new institution. From Seward came a unique offer which was finally considered the best and was accepted. Four members of the Seward congregation had developed a plan by which the new school was not only to have a plot of ground but also sufficient funds to erect the first building. The names of these energetic planners deserve to be mentioned here: Messrs. O.E. Bernbecker, H. Diers, J.F. Goehner, and P. Goehner. These men bought a plot of undeveloped land on the outskirts of Seward, laid it out in lots, provided for some improvements, and then offered them for sale. From the profits of the sale the institution received a twenty-acre tract of land and $8,000 for the erection of a building. The lots were sold rather quickly and thus the land and the first building were acquired without any cost to Synod.”

Small wonder that Synod accepted the offer from Seward when we consider the economic disturbances of the “Nineties,” especially in our own state; due to a shortage of rainfall from 1880 to 1894, crops failed and many people left their farms in western Nebraska to return to the East while others had to depend on charity. The Nebraska legislature and sympathetic citizens in all parts of the country came to the rescue. In 1891, nearly 8,000 families in thirty-seven counties were in need of help. The panic of 1893 caused a scarcity of money, unemployment, low wages, strikes, and low-priced farm products. All of these tended to make conditions worse in an agricultural state. In 1895, about 30,000 families in two out of every three Nebraska counties would have suffered starvation and exposure if they had not been assisted by the State and by county boards. Food and clothing for the people, seed to plant crops, and feed for the livestock were distributed in sixty-one counties that year.

Keeping in mind “the hard times of the Nineties,” let us continue with The Story of Concordia by H.O.A. Keinath:

On August 29, 1894, a number of men who had attended the session of the Nebraska District at Hampton stepped off the Burlington train at Seward and trudged their way to the northeastern outskirts of the city where preparations had been made to lay the cornerstone of the new teachers seminary. A foundation wall of 44 by 44 feet placed in the middle of a cornfield may not have been a very inspiring sight, but the pioneer vision which characterized the inhabitant of the Middle West of those days could easily picture the growth of a stately plant from such a small beginning.

A little less than three months later, November 18, 1894, a large number of Nebraska people braved the cold and blustery wind and assembled again at Seward to dedicate the completed building to the service of the Lord. Since the first gathering, a three-story structure, now the southern half of the ‘Old Dormitory,’ had risen and proudly lifted its head above the prairie.

President J. Hilgendorf, remembered by all Nebraska Lutherans as the pioneer worker for the church in this territory, delivered the main sermon at this dedication, and, basing his words on the text of that Sunday, preached on this theme: ‘How the Lord Jesus on the last day will say also concerning this institution: ‘Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”

Pastor H. Frincke of Lincoln preached an English sermon, and Judge Holland of Seward gave a secular address and in polished English spoke of the cultural benefits of this institution of learning.

One of the first students remembered that: “The day of the dedication was a dark, gloomy day, but the hearts of the participants were full of light and joy. The Arlington, Nebraska Band under the direction of Teacher Bernthal, furnished the music at the dedication.

The following is from an article that Professor Keinath wrote for the June 1934 issue of Concordia's magazine The Broadcaster.

The beginnings were small; thirteen students were willing to cast their lot with the new venture. The one building served as dormitory, administration building, music hall, dining hall, gymnasium, director’s residence, faculty residence, housekeeper’s residence, etc. etc., for there was only one building and the whole administrative personnel was composed of Professor G. Weller and his faithful wife, although the teacher of the local congregation, Mr. Herman Martin, gave some assistance in music.

How that undaunted spirit of so many of our synodical pioneers again and again steps before us in the records of their undertakings! When they needed a school, they started one; when they needed a Lehrerseminar [teachers seminary], they started one.

Were times economically auspicious in 1894? In the same issue of the Lutheraner in which the coming dedication of the new institution is announced, there is an appeal for the drought-stricken brethren of Nebraska. And a new Lehrerseminar in such times! One feels like hanging his head in shame when we, forty years later, incline to yield to defeatism that wails: ‘We can’t."

One of those first students wrote an article about his experiences during the first year at the seminary. The following are a few paragraphs of that article, which was published in the 40th Anniversary Edition of The Broadcaster:

The year 1894 was an important year for me. It was the year in which the seminary at Seward was built and dedicated. Rev. George Weller, from the Zion Congregation at Marysville, Nebraska, was elected as professor of the new institution. I came from the same congregation and Prof. Weller had been my teacher and minister.

Both, Prof. Weller and I, entered college on the same day; he as my professor and I as his pupil...

After dinner Prof. Weller entered and said to me: ‘Ed, du bist Seminar Aeldester!’ [Ed, you are the Seminar Elder.] What this meant I did not know, but soon found out, and kept on finding out for the next three years for every night Prof. Weller would give me an order to get the bread and meat for the following day. So every night I would trudge to town with a cart and get the necessary supplies...

We never had to go hungry. Prof. Weller would often come in at mealtime and ask; ‘Boys, what would you like for tomorrow?’ and if a young student would voice his wish he would say” ‘Ed, get that for tomorrow.’ ...

Did we have pillow fights? I should say yes! The next morning Prof. Weller (he and his family lived on part of the first floor) would buttonhole me and say: ‘Did you have a good time last night? Ed it is all right once in a while, but do not overdo it! See to that!’...

One more word about Prof. Weller. He was a real sport and enjoyed a humorous act. One of our boys found a dried up biscuit in the basement and threw it out the door, hitting Prof. Weller in the head. We all expected a reprimand but Prof. Weller just said, ‘That is all right’, and had a good laugh with us. Prof. Weller was a prince.

E.W. Gradoske

Excerpts from an interview with Mrs. George Weller (by Prof. Keinath) enlarge our picture of “campus” life during the first years:

Yes, we did live a rather unusual life that first year. We lived right with the boys; our rooms were on the first and second floors of the building, and the boys occupied the remaining rooms. In the basement we had a kitchen and dining room; classrooms were right among the other rooms.

The boys came to me with all kinds of troubles. When they cut their fingers they came to me just like to mother. I mended their clothes, cooked and baked for them, and did many other things. Of course, I had some help. Miss Bertram and Miss Fuerniss helped me during those early times. As the boys became more, there was surely a lot of work. But those girls were good workers. Why they baked as high as seventy-five loaves of bread a day. It seemed that during the first year we had such terrible dust storms; we sometimes could not put the dishes on the table until the boys were ready to eat, because the dust would settle so.

We had to get along as best we could. There were some plank sidewalks and many a time I walked around on them with one of my youngsters in my arms. There were no electric lights and no steam heat.

You know in those days every room had its own stove for heating and my husband would worry so about fires. He often stayed up very late just to make sure that all the fires had burned out before he retired. In the morning he often got up to build fires rather than have the boys do it. He was more or less of a janitor around the place, too.

One boy came to the institution with a hat that simply was impossible; we just could not let him be seen in that way. So Director Weller bought him a hat before he went to church the first time.

In the first year we had one real tall fellow who came in a suit that was too small from the start; and when he just kept growing and growing during the year he at last was just a sight. At one time the ladies aid had bought a suit for a very poor boy and the first time he wore it he fell over something and a long rip was the result. What was I to do? For the ladies wanted to see their new suit on the boy. So I patched it up as carefully as I could and presented him.

I remember that in one of the early years we had a baseball team, and they beat Germantown in a game. It made me feel so proud of them that I treated them to bananas for supper.

Things happened in those days. I got a great scare one day when one boy was rushed to me with blood spurting from three badly mutilated fingers. He with some others had found one of those torpedoes which the railroads use, took it to his desk, played with it, and it exploded in his hands. I immediately tried to stop the flow of blood and ordered some boys to hitch up the buggy. My husband was not at home and we had no telephones in those days. But we got the boy to the doctor, and everything turned out all right.

In closing, Prof. Heinath says:

It was time to leave. When the door had closed behind us we thought of Tabitha of The Book of Acts. She had plied her needle and thread in the interest of the kingdom of God. Here we had met another Tabitha who had done things that are small in the eyes of the world, but great in the building of God’s Kingdom.

And the words of the poet came to mind:

The healing of the world is in its nameless saints.

Each separate star seems nothing; but a myriad scattered stars

Break up the night and make it beautiful.

During the first years, the college students at Seward paid forty eight dollars a year for board and two dollars for fuel and oil. Each desk was equipped with an oil lamp to supply light for the evening study-periods. There was no hired janitor, but Prof. Weller and his students cleaned the various rooms. They also beautified the grounds, removing the debris left by the builders, leveling the ground wherever necessary, and planting trees. Each student planted one tree and watered it faithfully until it grew.

Shortly after the first building was completed, a barn was built “on the campus” to provide shelter for several cows and the professor’s horses and buggy. Some of the early students tied ribbons and flowers on the horns of the collegiate cows. One day, some of the students secretly interchanged the front and rear wheels of Prof. Weller’s buggy. Evidently Prof. Weller had more important things on his mind when he hitched his horses to the buggy. Although he thought it strange that he always seemed to be going uphill, the professor did not discover the joke until he had driven several miles.

When thirty students enrolled for the second year, a professorial house became a necessity. The Nebraska District furnished $2,300 for which a house was built in the fall of 1895. A second class was organized that year and Teacher F. Hackstedde of Omaha was engaged as assistant professor. The next year, Synod made him a regular professor.

As time went on, the institution was enlarged by a class being added every year until the classes numbered three. After completing three years of work at Seward, the students were expected to migrate to Addison for the remaining two years of study. In those days the teacher’s course in the Missouri Synod extended over five years, an arrangement which was terminated in 1908 when both Addison and Seward were enlarged to six-year schools./p>

But the plan of having Seward function only as a preparatory institution for Addison proved a failure. In its report to Synod the Board of Control found reasons to complain about the fact that too many students who finished the courses at Seward refused to go to Addison and discontinued their studies. It became evident that the only solution would be an enlargement of the institution so that the graduates might go directly into office...

By 1903 another professor was needed and Prof. G. Ritzmann was called. Thus there was a three-man faculty until the expansion of 1905 when the institution was elevated to the rank of a full teachers seminary.

A man who was to give almost twenty-five years of his life to the institution was then called in the person of Professor E. Strieter. He had been one of the candidates for the professorship to which Professor Weller was elected, and now was called from Cleveland to fill the vacancy created by the fact that Professor Hackstedde had resigned on account of ill health. Professor Strieter will be remembered by all who came into contact with him. His cheerful disposition, democracy of manners in his association with the students, his unfailing willingness to assume the manifold duties which the position of a professor of those pioneer days brought with it are traditions that will long remain alive...

By 1905 the institution could boast of an enrollment of seventy-eight students.

Professor Keinath continues:

By 1905 the delegates at the meeting of the Missouri Synod were convinced that this synodical child at Seward would live and should be adorned in slightly more expensive clothes. Properly urged by the Nebraska District and the local Board of Control, Synod decided that the institution should become a volles Lehrerseminar [full teachers seminary].

That meant a building program and the calling of more professors. The sum of $20,000 was granted for the erection of a new administration building, (now called the ‘Old Ad’), and another $6,000 for a service building, (now serving as a hospital). We may smile at these figures as we think of the $150,000 that were needed to erect our beautiful administration building twenty years later, but in those times this represented a real outlay, and the new buildings were appreciated as much as the more elaborate structures which came later.

But this building program could not be carried out immediately, since Synod demanded that two-thirds of the appropriated sums must be collected before building operations can be undertaken. So Professor Weller found himself with ninety-five students on his hands, and space enough for about half that number. The old dormitory to which an addition had been built some years before was packed with students, pianos, organs, classrooms, bedrooms, and the many facilities necessary for student life, and the first art which the newcomer had to acquire was to study under such conditions...

A decided increase in the number of faculty was demanded by the fact that the institution became a five-year school in 1906. During this year three men were added to the staff. Professors Karl Haase, H.B. Fehner, August Schuelke. Prof. Haase was called to take charge of the instruction in music in the various branches, a capacity in which he serves to this day. Prof. Fehner became the critic in the training school for a number of years but taught also in the institution. Professor Schuelke was active in a number of fields but as time offered more opportunity he gave most of his time to the sciences, and continued in this field up to his sudden death in 1932.

From Prof. Fehner’s reminiscences in the same issue of the college paper we gather that the service building was completed in 1906:

Our Concordia Teachers College at Seward experienced its first scholastic year as volles Lehrerseminar from 1906 to 1907. The local congregation had kindly consented to have one of its school-buildings, a small one-room frame structure, transported to the College Campus, where it was somewhat altered and then dedicated as the New Training School of the Concordia Teachers College. The enrollment of pupils increased from 35 to 110. The staunch supporter of our institution, the Reverend C.H. Becker, for many years chairman of the local Board, was often seen with a yardstick, measuring and planning how more room might be obtained without causing Synod any burdensome outlay. Small additions were made to the original structure, which served as training school for more than twenty-three years, when in 1929 the present adequate and spacious building was erected.

Other institutional buildings were equally primitive in 1906. Such a luxury as an administration building was then unheard of. The old dormitory, the first building erected, and the old refectory, now serving as hospital, contained respectively three and two so-called classrooms, which were in reality so many of the larger living-rooms. They contained enough benches for a small class of students, and besides a table and a chair for the instructor. Blackboards, maps, charts, etc., were not in evidence. As the lack of such teaching aids was keenly felt, a few modest purchases were undertaken. It was not an uncommon sight in those early days to see an instructor carry under his arm a two by four hyloplate blackboard in passing from one room to another.

The music department was equally hampered. Due to lack of space, several pianos were placed in one large basement room of the old dormitory. Here various students would simultaneously practice their pieces, classical and modern. When it was discovered that this condition was not particularly conducive to the best type of ear-training, several partitions were installed.

Since these pioneer days some remarkable improvements have been made in the physical equipment of the CTC. Yet, in glancing over the field, one will find relatively many outstanding Lutheran educators that received their early training under these primitive conditions. This seems to be proof conclusive, that it is not primarily the physical equipment of a college, but rather the mental equipment, the Christian character and the proper attitude of the student that makes for success in later life. Our sainted Professor Weller often stated: Aus Nickels lassen sich keine Dimes machen [Dimes can't be made from nickels.]

Although the pioneer professor and director of Concordia Teachers College did not reach his sixty-fifth birthday, he spent thirty of those years on the campus. During that time he saw the original building enlarged and surrounded by three other buildings, a service building, an administration building, and a music hall; he experienced the visible protection of the merciful Father in Heaven when a tornado missed the college buildings by a narrow margin; he saw the institution develop to such an extent, during twenty-five years of existence, that it received legal power to issue certificates of the same scope and value as those issued by the State’s normal schools; he attended faculty meetings with the two men who succeeded him as director of the institution; and he thanked God for all of these benefits.

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