It all began in 1874. First American Lutheran Church has a rich history in and around the community of Oconto, Wisconsin. We continue to grow and learn in God’s love and look forward to an enriching future.
In the fall of 1873, Pastor Charles Lieb (1874-1875), a traveling missionary, came to Oconto for the first time. He discovered that the evangelical Lutherans in the community were worshipping with a Methodist congregation served by a pastor from Green Bay. When Pastor Leib offered to establish a Lutheran congregation here, the Lutherans gratefully accepted his offer and called him to be their pastor.
The Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel’s congregation was formally organized on January 1, 1874. A parsonage was purchased for the pastor’s residence, and also for a place of worship. On November 22, 1874 the first church building was dedicated – a modest frame structure, thirty feet by forty feet.
Pastor Lieb stayed with the congregation until 1875. Pastor W. Buehring (1875-1879) followed. During his tenure, the Evangelical Lutheran Christus congregation of Pensaukee was organized, which he also served.
Pastor C. W. Allbrecht (1879-1881) was followed by Pastor H. Burnmann (1881-1884), who was followed by Pastor G. F. Keller (1884-1886). Pastor Keller organized Evangelical Lutheran Zion congregation in Stiles.
After Pastor Keller’s death, Pastor C. M. Weltner (1886-1891) agreed to serve the congregation. In 1889, the first church building was partially destroyed by fire. The present brick structure, which still serves, was erected.
After Pastor Weltner accepted a call to Ohio, he was succeeded by Pastor John Luepke (1891-1892). Pastor Luepke’s health forced him to resign within the year. A call was then extended to Pastor Herman Eisenbach (1892-1933) of Van Dyne, Wisconsin.
Rev. Herman Eisenbach
Up until this point, the worship services were in German. In July of 1913, it was voted to hold one English service per month. In April of 1919, it was voted to have two English services and three German services a month.
Other changes appeared, as well. In 1921 the segregation of the sexes to opposite sides of the sanctuary was discontinued. In 1935, women were given the right to vote on all church matters, though they were not eligible to hold church office. A woman would not serve on the church council until 1973.
In July of 1930, the church was badly damaged by a roof fire. Worship was held at Trinity Lutheran Church until repairs could be completed.
After Pastor Eisenbach’s retirement, Pastor E. T. Reiff (1933-1941) of Wausau was called. On January 7, 1943, the congregation voted to use English at every 10:15 a.m. service, and German at every other 9:00 a.m. service.
Rev E. T. Reiff
On April 7, 1935, the congregation voted to change the name of the church from the Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel’s congregation to “First American Lutheran Church”.
Pastor Reiff was succeeded by Pastor Herman Cronrath (1941-1945) of Nekimi,Wisconsin. Pastor Cronrath’s ministry covered turbulent years of World War II. After Pastor Cronrath left, there followed a frustrating period when several calls were extended and returned.
Rev. Herman Cronrath
In the interim, Pastor Frank Zaiser (1945) of Marinette served the needs of the congregation.
Pastor Rudolph Huget (1945-1955) of Calgary, Canada became the twelfth pastor of the congregation. After Pastor Huget accepted another call, Pastor Frank Zaiser (1956) again served briefly as the interim pastor.
Rev. Rudolph Huget
Pastor Ralph Hanusa (1956-1959) was followed by Pastor Wayne Keotz (1960-1961), who was followed by Pastor Leonard Domke (1942-1966) under whose leadership, plans were laid to build a new educational unit and parsonage. The old parsonage was sold in July of 1969 and moved off-site. The present parsonage was built at a cost of $25,000 and dedicated on April 9, 1967.
When Pastor Fredrick Mai (1967-1975) arrived, the congregation was poised for the most extensive building project to date – a new educational unit with classrooms, offices, kitchen, lounge, nursery, and fellowship hall with gym facilities. An ambitious stewardship campaign was launched and, with a timely bequest from the Hattie Steer estate, the dream became a reality. The new educational wing was dedicated on August 30, 1970.
Rev. Fredrick Mai
Pastor Harold Aasland (1976-1987) Under Pastor Aasland’s guidance, the Bethel Series was started in 1980. This was an intense study of the Bible. Also, Lutheran Lay Renewal was introduced to our congregation. In June 1983, Trinity Lutheran Church members formed a procession from their church a block away and joined with First American Lutheran. In 1984 an addition was added to the front of the church to allow for a narthex and an elevator.
Rev. Harold Aasland
Pastor Merle Ries (1988-1996). Pastor Jerry Kuehn (1997) served on an interim basis until Pastor DeBenedetto accepted the call.
Rev. Merle Ries
Rev. Jerry Kuehn
Under Pastor Richard DeBenedetto, our church became a teaching congregation. The Intern Program was started soon after his arrival and, to date, eight interns have each left their mark on our church. Pastor Rick was the supervisor and mentor to each of them. A contemporary weeknight chapel service was started and is still going strong today. Traditional Sunday School was moved to Wednesday nights, with the new name of High 5 and a family meal being served before classes start.
Rev. Rick DeBennedetto
Pastor Ken Schlueter served as the interim pastor after the departure of Pastor Rick.
Pastor Mary Zupansic (2009-present)
Rev. Mary Zupansic