Wednesday, December 23, 2009

St John Church's Christmas Eve Service

Every year, St John Church put on a huge Christmas Eve service in Seward High School's gymnasium. The entire congregation (and, I think, a lot of Seward citizens who did not usually attend our church) attended the one Christmas Eve service.

At one end of this gymnasium was a stage, on which the Christmas story was enacted. The students who sang badly were assigned to play the roles of Joseph and Mary, the angels, the shepherds, and so forth. (This would have been my own fate if I had not received individual, remedial singing lessons from Ms. Bartels in fourth grade.)

At the foot of the stage, there was a brass band, and some of the singing was accompanied by students playing trumpets, trombones, etc. (In the picture below, I am the trombonist on the right.)

Brass band playing during Christmas Eve program of St John Church in Seward, Nebraska, in about 1966. The image was scanned from the 1966 school yearbook.

The entire gymnasium floor was covered by canvas, and folding chairs were set up. The St John School students sat on the bleachers on one side of the gymnasium (on the right side, as you looked at the stage), and the congregation sat on the folding chairs on the gymnasium floor and on the bleachers on the other side of the gymnasium. I would guess that total number of people participating in the service in the gymnasium was more than a thousand.

The students on the bleachers were arrayed by class. The lowest classes were closest to the stage, and the older classes were progressively farther from the stage. All the students were dressed in choir robes. The younger classes wore white robes with big, red bow ties ...

... and the oldest classes wore black and white robes. (The above picture of the brass band shows those robes.)

During my years at St John (1960-1966), the student body numbered about 350. The Seward kids who did not attend St John School but who were enrolled in confirmation classes also participated in the service, so the total number of students participating in the service approached 400. Practically all of these students sat on the bleachers and sang in the choirs; only a few played roles on the stage.

The service lasted for about an hour, probably from about 8 to 9 o'clock. The largest portion of that time was spent on choir singing. The Christmas story was read aloud from the Bible, and songs were sung between portions of the story. The pastor's sermon was quite short, and the service did not include communion.

The songs were sung by groups of classes. I don't remember exactly, but some songs were sung by grades 1-3, some by grades 4-6 and some by grades 7-8. A few of the songs were accompanied by the brass band.

St John School provided an excellent music education -- especially in choral singing -- and the students rehearsed the program's Christmas songs during the four Advent weeks that preceeded Christmas Eve. Basically the same songs were sung every year, so the students knew and sang all the songs very well. The program included a couple dozen songs.

One song that I remember in particular was The Drummer Boy, which was sung by the seventh and eighth grades. The boys whose voice had deepened were grouped to sing the pa-rumpa-pa-pa part at lower tones, so essentially the boys were grouped by their puberty progress -- and that was embarrassing for me.

The costumes were issued to the students several days before Christmas eve. I think this was done on in the St John School gymnasium on a school day. Each student was given a costume that fit his size, and the student took the costume home and then wore it to the program. We never rehearsed in the Seward High School gymnasium; we went to that gymnasium only for the Christmas Eve program itself.

After the service ended and as we were exiting the gymnasium, every student received a paper bag full of peanuts, popcorn balls, candy and an orange. Then our parents would torment their children by driving all around Seward looking at Christmas lights and displays instead of rushing home to open their Christmas presents as soon as possible.

I always enjoyed participating in this Christmas Eve program, and I remember it as an impressive performance. All the Christmas Eve programs that I have attended since I left Seward have been far below that performance standard. I also imagine that the Christmas Eve programs that are performed now are below the performance standard that we experienced in the 1960s.

During the first three decades that followed my departure from Seward, I had recurring dreams about those Christmas Eve services in the Seward High School gymnasium. The common element of these dreams was I was standing on the canvas-covered gymnasium floor during the program, and then suddenly the building turned upside down, so that I was suspended upside-down from the floor that had become the ceiling. Somehow my feet stuck to this ceiling, and so I did not fall down, but I was terrified of falling down onto my head. At this point in my dream, I would wake up, and so I would remember the dream clearly.

I don't know the cause or meaning of this dream. I suppose that as an elementary-school student I had felt some anxiety about going to that unfamiliar gymnasium to participate in that service. I had felt that something might go wrong and that the unfamilar surroundings would compound the problem. Then this dream became symbolic for other anxieties that I felt in later situations, and so the dream recurred for many years. I suppose the last time I remember the dream happening was about 15 years ago.

Steve Sylwester added:

Mike has forgotten about the Christmas Eve morning rehearsal at the Seward Public School gym, and he has failed to mention the unison recitations of Bible verse passages done by the different St. John's Lutheran School grades at times throughout the program.

Also, Koe and I remember that the school choirs were in the bleachers on both sides of the gym, not just one side. Lastly, I think Mike exaggerates in his imagination of how the stage actors were selected.

Jody (Schwich) Marquardt added:

I remember kids throwing up down in those “tunnels” (hallways, I guess) while we waited in our white robes (it was hot and stuffy!). That was probably 4th or 5th grade in the old Seward High gym —- 1959 or 1960.

I think Steven is right that students sat almost to the top on both sides.

I also remember the paper bags of candy, peanuts, and an apple or orange.

Gene Meyer added:

Watching the 7th/8th grade rehearsing in the St John gym, singing “Carol of the Bells” or “Drummer Boy”, in harmony. Mr Peter was the director. I liked it. Every other choir sang only in unison.

Grades combined were 1st/2nd, 3rd/4th, 5th/6th and 7th/8th.

Eating red/green jello with whipped cream at home on Christmas Eve before hand ... nothing to throw up.

Putting gowns on in the Seward public school and looking at how different their classrooms were.

Teachers constantly “susshing” everybody.

The brown/grey powder the janitor would spread on top of the vomit in the hallway.

Marching in to “O Come All Ye Faithful”, marching out to “Joy to the World”

Miss Maehr singing “Jesus loves me” or “Away in the Manger” as loud as most of the kintergarteners.

Little kids (kindergarten) wearing wings made out of wood and feathers

Teachers “directing” the recitation of key Bible verses

How dark the gym was when the lights went down.

People picked for the stage were the right size, not necessarily bad singers.

Jody, Steve and Mike are right ... some years all on one side, other years split. I don’t remember Sat morning rehearsal at the Seward Gym ... maybe I skipped them?

Bags of peanuts and hard candy. Men smoking in the hallways afterwards.

Getting out of the gown quickly, waiting by the car to go home, talking to Stan Procnow about how many presents were waiting at home. We compared numbers.

David Heinicke added:

You are right about kids on both sides of the bleachers. We played from heaven above to earth...on our recorders in 4th grade (1965).

One thing that I remember was dressing in the public school classrooms and seeing this strange other world; a parallel universe that was the same, but different. This is the kind of thing that occupied my mind when I was a kid, wondering what went on in this other world.

Thanks for helping me remember on this cold blizzarding day with no church service due to the weather.

Don Sylwester added:

You may be interested to know that the St John Children's Christmas Eve Service is no more. This year it was moved to Sunday evening, December 20. There are several services at St John this afternoon and evening (today is December 24) but they are regular services, one with communion liturgy, with no special music or decorations or other special components. The theme today was "Missionaries".

Times change. Sometimes sadly.

Ronda (Kirch) Konst added:

I don't recall any morning rehearsals either. And grades were paired just like we were for church 1-2, 3-4, 5-6, 7-8. I only remember being on both sides -- but I don't recall those early years.

Actually, some of the Christmas programs I attended as an adult were pretty impressive. I will always remember the big birthday cake made for Jesus out of cupcakes and all of us getting one. I know I liked this because the Kirches always celebrated Christmas as Jesus' birthday party. And there was also the year with the live nativity scene.

Merry Christmas all! Memory lane is fun.

Jody (Schwich) Marquardt added:

One small addendum to Gene’s remembrances: When I was in 5th grade (1960-61), Mr. Schmieding directed the 5th & 6th grade choir, which also sang in three-part harmony, probably not as beautifully as Mr. Peter’s 7th and 8th graders, though. To this day, I remember both lower parts to “Stand Up, Stand Up for Jesus” (learned in 5th grade choir) and still alternate singing them when that hymn is sung in church. I don’t remember any 3-part Christmas songs, however.

The processional -- O, Come, All Ye Faithful: I always thought the rest of the world didn’t sing the right words to that one (they sang “joyful and triumphant”). It turns out that the 1941 LCMS hymnal, whose version we marched into, is the one that had the different words. In subsequent LCMS hymnals, we now sing the words everyone else does (no more “triumphantly sing” and “to Bethlehem hasten, with joyful accord”).

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Shopping

During the mid-1960s, Seward did not have any large stores (maybe it still doesn't have any, for all I know), so it was not possible for a family to do much Christmas shopping in Seward.

I remember that I did buy some presents in the Kolterman family's "dime store", which also was called "Ben Franklin's". There, I remember, I bought some house decorations as presents for my Mom, and I bought model kits (model cars, model airplanes, etc.) for some of my brothers.

There was also the House of Davidson's, where I bought record albums. And there was the college bookstore, which was managed by Steve Roettjer's dad. The bookstore did not have much selection, but it was possible to special-order items from some catalogues that Mr. Roettjer had.

I remember also that I bought some Christmas presents through mail-order. I ordered comic books from Mad Magazine and gave them as presents. There were various other magazines that kids read (Boy's Life comes immediately to mind, but there were others too), and they had lots of advertisements for stuff you could order by mail.

Paperboys always could win prizes for selling subscriptions. There was a catalogue that illustrated and described the various prizes. If you sold two subscriptions, you could get such and such prizes, if you sold three subscriptions, you could get such and such prizes, etc. Anyway, I think there was an occasion when I got some such prize and gave it to someone else as a Christmas present.

In Seward in those days, people bought quite a lot of stuff by mail from companies like Sears and Montgomery Ward. Our family always had several big catalogues from such companies, and as Christmas approached we would look through those catalogues for present ideas and then often actually ordered the presents by mail.

A couple of times every Christmas-shopping season, our family also drove to Lincoln and spent an evening shopping. Lincoln had two big department stores. One was Gold's

and the other was Miller and Paine.

Besides these department stores, Lincoln had a variety of specialty stores that sold books, records, musical instruments, toys, sports equipment, and so forth. There were no such stores in Seward.

Our family had nine members -- the two parents and seven kids. We drew names for giving presents, so each kid bought presents only for one or two siblings. Our parents gave each of us some money to buy presents, and we older siblings who had paper routes also added some of our own earned money to buying presents. (I liked to buy presents and was glad to use some of my own money for that purpose.) Dad would give us some money to buy presents for Mom, and Mom would give us some money to buy presents for Dad.

We all would get into our station wagon and drive to Lincoln and park in the center of town. Each family member had a little bit of money. We would split up, with instructions to meet back at the car at a certain time. As I remember, it was OK for me (I was the oldest) and Steve (the second oldest) to walk around by ourselves. The younger siblings had to stay in groups -- some of the kids with Dad and some with Mom. We would spend two or three hours shopping in an area that was about three square blocks in the town center. Eventually we would meet, loaded with shopping bags, back at our car.

Many of our trips to Lincoln included a dinner at King's Restaurant. In this restaurant, the customers sat in booths, and each both had a telephone. The customers sitting in a booth would read their menu, decide what they wanted to eat, and then use the telephone to call their order to the kitchen. I thought that was a great way to run a restaurant, but I never saw another restaurant that was run that way.

Below is an interesting remembrance of the stores in downtown Lincoln during that period.
There was real shopping in downtown [Lincoln]. 
The State Theater was a popular movie place on the south side between 15th and 14th street. Dick’s Hobby was right across the street and carried models, trains, crafts and archery supplies. 
Hested’s department store was on the SW corner of 14th and O, the building later had an Ardan’s Jewelry store before a record store. 
Between 14th and 13th on the south side was the Toy Castle, a drug store, Lincoln’s first Little King sandwich shop and a jewelry store plus the ever-present Walgreens. On the north side was JC Penny’s (NE corner of 13th and O) and Hardy Furniture (mid block). 
On the SW corner of 13th and O was Miller & Paine Department Store. Magee’s clothing was at the SE corner of 12th and O. Across the street were the National Bank of Commerce (now Wells Fargo) and Hovland-Swanson ladies’ clothing. 
On the SW corner of 12th and O was an old SS Kresge’s dime store with FW Woolworth further down the block near 11th Street. Dietze Music was/is at 12th and O and Latsch’s Office Supply was between 11th and 12th. For many years there was a Lawlor’s Sporting Goods between 11th and 12th on the north side of O street. 
The classic dinosaur of a department store – Gold’s (later Brandeis, then back to Golds), with WT Grant store (later St. George and the Dragon restaurant) and the 1st National Bank was at 10th and O. To the north across O Street was Kuhl’s restaurant. 
On the SW corner of 10th and O in the Terminal Building which was home to both the Selective Service System offices and KFMQ radio.

A Blog About Reinhold Marxhausen

Somebody (I don't know who) has started a blog entirely about Reinhold Marxhausen. Below are three pictures from that blog. The third is a Marxhausen drawing of Concordia University's first president George Weller.

Reinhold Marxhausen Riding a Unicycle. The image was taken from

I had forgotten about the unicycle. The odd vehicle I remember Mr. Marxhausen riding was a motor scooter.

Reinhold Marxhausen Wearing a Sound-Making Ear Sculpture. The image was taken from
A portrait of George Weller, first president of Concordia University. The image was taken from

Dorris Marxhausen

Karl Marxhausen, in his own blog, has an article about the humor that characterized his family and in particular about his mother Dorris and her sense of humor. Below is part of Karl's article, with a few of the pictures. Read the whole article.

Dorris Marxhausen as a young woman, laughing. Image taken from

Growing up under the Marxhausen roof has been a dance with literature. This was where I learned to love reading. My mother introduced me to Sam And The Firefly, an adventure about an owl and his friend, whose tail light filled the night sky with illuminated words. She read books to me when I was young.

She loved to read newspapers and worked in the library at St. John's Elementary School. She loved to compose her thoughts on her royal typewriter with its carbon papers. Letters came to me the summer I worked in Galena, Illinois, bringing me up to speed on all the family news. She wrote letters to the editor and tried her hand at politics as well. Simply put, my love words came from her. Much thanks to Dorris Marxhausen.

Dorris Marxhausen as a young woman, sitting on the floor. Image taken from
Dorris Marxhausen. Image taken from
Dorris Marxhausen. Image taken from

(This is Mike again.) I remember Dorris mostly as she looks in the third photograph.

I remember Dorris Marxhausen as someone who laughed a lot.

She was also a rather serious person, though. She was very interested and active in Nebraska politics, which was unusual for a woman in those years. She was a Republican, but in Nebraska in those years, the Republicans were the liberal party.

Here is a picture of the Marxhausen family now:

Family of Reinhold Marxhausen, including also Jerry Lodwig. Standing: Kim Marxhausen, Paul Marxhausen, Karl Marxhausen, Dorris Marxhhausen, and Marie Lodwig. Image taken from
Seated (left to right): Reinhold Marxhausen and Jerry Lodwig.
Standing: Kim Marxhausen, Paul Marxhausen, Karl Marxhausen, Dorris Marxhausen and Marie Lodwig.

Reinhold Marxhausen's Sound-Making Sculptures

Some guy named Ramon Galvan has a blog named Outer Tumbolia. I looked through the blog for a while, and I must say that I do not get the blog's theme or direction. Maybe he is writing articles about sound.

Anyway, the blog includes an interesting article about how Reinhold Marxhausen began to make sculptures that make sounds. Whenever I visited Marxhausen's studio, he would show me some sound-making sculpture he was developing.

The relevant part of the blog article follows:

A photograph of Reinhold Marxhausen listening to a sound-making sculpture. The image was taken from

Reinhold Marxhausen grew up in the 1920's and 1930's, the son of a pastor and one of eight children in Vergas Minnesota. He played the musical saw, he played water-tuned bottles, and he found piano lessons boring. He carried stardust in his pocket.

After military service, followed by degrees in art and biology, Marxhausen took a teaching position at Concordia College in Seward Nebraska, where he remained until his retirement in 1990.

It was in 1962 that he first began to work with sound objects. "It was a boring Saturday at the sculpture studio; no plans for the day," he recalls. "I found a door knob on the table and welded some wires on one end just for the fun of it. I placed the door knob to my ear and strummed the wire on the opposite end."


Since his discovery, Marx has made a wide variety of sound sculptural forms, and he has developed the door-knob idea in two main directions. One form consists of objects with exposed, external spines. some of the most successful have been his manual walkmans, (below) made like a pair of headphones, with spines sticking out from the metal ear pieces and sometimes rising from the over-the-head connecting piece. They make a stereo concert of lovely sounds, on a minuscule one person scale.

The other form is a small, chunky, metal object, fully enclosed, with no hint of what is inside. Sound comes from within when you shake or rock it, audible only when you hold it close to your ear. What is in there? Marx is not telling.

The objects are just pocket-sized and, recalling the meteor of his childhood, Marxhausen has given them the name Stardust. He makes them as plain in appearance as can be; they look like worn and dirty stones. There's a Marxhausen message in his having put so lovely a sound in such a homely thing.

A photograph of Reinhold Marxhausen listening to a sound-making sculpture. The image was taken from

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Order of Concordia Presidents

J. George Weller Before becoming the director of the "Lutheran Seminary" in Seward in 1894, Weller was pastor of a congregation in Marysville, Nebraska. He relinquished the presidency in 1914 after two decades in that position but continued to serve as a professor at Concordia for ten more years.

F.W.C. Jesse President Jesse has just resigned the presidency of a Lutheran College in Clifton, Texas, when he received the call to suceed Weller in 1914. After almost ten years as Concordia's president, he accepted a call into parish ministry in Atchison, Kansas, in 1923.

C.F. Brommer President Brommer initially declined the call to be president of Concordia. He was sent the call a second time, whereupon he accepted. Before coming to Seward in 1924, he was pastor of Zion Lutheran Church in Hampton, Nebraska, and the Southern Nebraska District president. Following his retirement for the presidency in 1941, he continued to teach at Concordia until 1944. He spent his remaining years in San Diego, California.

A.O. Fuerbringer President Fuerbringer, having a broad background in Synod ministries, was serving as pastor to a small mission congregation in western Kansas before becoming president of the college in 1941. He left Concordia, Seward, in 1953 to become the president of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. He held that position until his retirement.

Paul A. Zimmermann President Zimmermann, though having had pastoral training, had been serving as a science professor on the Seward campus when he was called to the presidency in 1954. He left Concordia in 1961 to become president of the newly organized Concordia College at Ann Arbor, Michigan. He later became president of Concordia College, River Forest, Illinois.

W. Theophil Janzow Janzow had been a parish pastor and president of the Southern Illinios District. He then came to Seward to teach sociology before accepting the call to be Concordia's president in 1963. He presided over the school's largest enrollments before resigning in 1977. He then became president at Concordia Seminary Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

Michael J. Stelmachowicz After years of teaching and administration in Lutheran elementary and secondary schools in St. Louis, Stelmachowicz became Concordia's director of secondary education in 1961 and later dean of students. He left Seward in 1968 to become superintendent of Lutheran high schools in Detroit, Michigan. Next, he became president of St. John's College, Winfield, Kansas. He was called back to Seward in 1978 to become president. He left Seward in 1984 to become the executive secretary of the Synod's Board for Higher Education Services until his retirement.

Ralph L. Reinke President Reinke, Concordia's only non-pastor president, taught in Lutheran elementary schools and at Concordia College in River Forest, Illinois. Eventually he became president of Concordia Publishing House in St. Louis. After leaving that position, he was called to the presidency in Seward in 1986. He served until his retirement in 1990.

Orville C. Walz After teaching in Lutheran elementary schools, Walz served for a number of years as registrar and assistant academic dean at Concordia, Seward. After entering the pastoral ministry, he became president of Concordia College, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. He was called to become president of Seward in 1990.


Monday, December 7, 2009

An Old Article About Alfred Ottomar Fuerbringer

My brother Steve Sylwester found an article in an old Time magazine about Alfred Ottomar Fuerbringer, a former President of Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska. When the article was published (April 27, 1953), Fuerbringer had recently been promoted from that position to the position of President of Concordia Theological Seminary in Clayton, Missouri.

I assume that the Fuerbringer family lived on Faculty Lane in Seward. This article provides some interesting details about him and his ancestry and about campus life while Fuerbringer was CTC President. The article's complete text follows:

The largest Lutheran theological seminary in the U.S. (enrollment 778) is the Missouri Synod's Concordia Seminary—a well-planned scattering of college-gothic buildings and faculty homes on 71 green acres in Clayton, on the western edge of St. Louis. Last week the synod's board of electors announced that they had selected a new seminary president: the Rev. Alfred Ottomar Fuerbringer, 49. Big (6 ft. 3 in.), even-tempered Pastor Fuerbringer and Concordia will not have much trouble getting to know each other—his father headed the school and his grandfather helped found it.

Faith of the Fathers. Grandfather Ottomar Fuerbringer left his German homeland in 1838 with a group of some 700 Saxony Lutherans for whom German Lutheranism was getting too liberal and rationalistic, and too closely bound up with the state. He and three fellow ministers built the original Concordia—a log-cabin schoolhouse in Missouri's Perry County—and set out to train a New World breed of pastors in the strict, Bible-centered Lutheranism of their conviction.

Concordia and Missouri Synod Lutheranism grew and prospered with the times, but they never let go of the stern Reformation theology of their founding fathers. Under the leadership of Ottomar's theologian son, Dr. Ludwig Ernst Fuerbringer, who died in 1947, Concordia's serious-minded seminarians continued to master both Hebrew and Greek. Almost as intensively as their work in Bible, Concordia's students study The Book of Concord of 1580, in which their church's doctrines are explicitly set forth. Added to courses in history, philosophy and pastoral care, this kind of work leaves little time for wool gathering; classes begin at 7:40 a.m.

Lutheran System. President-elect Fuerbringer attended Concordia himself (his red hair, now vestigial, won him the nickname "Kelly"). After graduate studies in the late '20s, he went into pastoral work. In 1941 came his first summons to a Lutheran education post: the presidency of Concordia Teachers College in Seward, Nebraska.

Missouri Synod Lutherans maintain their own parochial school system of 1,400 schools (which has grown by 6,000 rooms in the last six years), and the training of teachers is therefore a major concern. Coeducational Concordia Teachers' College combines both college and high school; when Fuerbringer took over, it had 83 college students and some 50 in high school. Today these figures stand at 296 and 135.

"Discipline was quite rigid when I came," says Alfred Fuerbringer. From Monday through Thursday no one was permitted off the campus after supper, movies were forbidden except on weekends, and the college choir was permitted brief excursions within Nebraska, but no farther. Popular President Fuerbringer soon changed all that. His students now can get overnight leaves and go to the movies any time they want, and the choir is just back from a tour through Texas and Louisiana.

"Ninety-five per cent of our student body," says Fuerbringer, "are youngsters who intend to enter the church, and do. They know exactly why they're in school, and exactly where they're going. I should guess that in a nonsectarian college it's the other way around: 95% don't know why they're there, or where they're going."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Faculty of St John School in 1952

The photograph below is included in the booklet published in 1952 for the 75th anniversary (1877-1952) of St John Church. The booklet was described in a previous blog post.

This picture shows the faculty of St John School. From left to right are Herbert Kaiser (principal, grades 7-8), Martha Maehr (kindergarten), Lucinda Bartels (grades 3-4),Edna Grotelueschen (grades 1-2) and Herman Schmieding (grades 5-6).

Faculty of St John School in Seward, Nebraska, in 1952

The Flickr page shows the entire photo.

A Photo of the Construction of St John Church in 1877

The photograph below is included in the booklet published in 1952 for the 75th anniversary (1877-1952) of St John Church. The booklet was described in a previous blog post. The photograph shows the construction of the church in 1877.

Construction of St John Church in Seward, Nebraska, in 1877

Flickr page

A Photo of the Construction of St John School in 1929

This photo is included in the booklet published in 1952 for the 75th anniversary (1877-1952) of St John Church. The booklet was described in a previous blog post.

According to a previous blog article about the school's history, this school building was built in 1929, so this photo must be from that year.

Construction of St John School in Seward Nebraska in 1929

This Flickr page shows the photo in its full size.