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Our History

First American Lutheran Church was established in 1874 and we have a rich history in our town and around the community of Oconto, Wisconsin. We continue to grow and learn in God's love and look forward to an enriching future.



Pastor Roald Harswick is serving as the Interim Pastor for First American. He started on September 1, 2023. The Executive Church Council has signed a one-year contract with Pr. Harswick, and they hope to extend it once the year is complete. 



After Pastor Mary Zupansic left, First American Lutheran was in a time of transition. Instead of having a full or part time call pastor or interim pastor, the church relied on substitute pastors and lay persons to lead worship service. During this time Pastors Nicole Behnke-Welke, Richard Druckrey, Wayne Garman, Lee Goodwin, Nick Johannes, Fredrick Mai, Craig Mansur, Kenneth Michaelis, Nancy Mussehl, Eric Nelson, and Ty Stoneburner assisted with worship service and serving communion. In addition to the pastors listed, Lay Persons Mary Heiser, Rebecca Henke, Sue Jacquart, Jon Viestenz, and Linda Welch filled in to lead services when a substitute pastor was not available. Pastors Craig Alwin, Nicole Behnke-Welke, Fred Mai, Richard Druckrey, and Sherwin Parmar helped to officiate at weddings and funerals.

Also during this time, First American Lutheran was remodeled. This is a project that started back in 2017, and during 2021 and 2022 the project came to life. Many areas were updated, including the worship space, narthex, sacristy, entryways, technology, balcony, and elevator. Some of the changes include new paint on the walls, flooring, some minor electrical work, updated lights, a new elevator, pews and chairs, updated technology, accent furniture, repurposing the old organ, and the altar furniture was refinished.


Pastor Mary Zupansic

Pastor Mary Zupansic was the first woman pastor at First American Lutheran. During her time here, Pastor Mary began a special yearly worship service to bless pets. Under her guidance, we worked to bring new excitement to our High Five program and moved the program from Sunday to Wednesday evenings after Chapel service, and completed the Little Free Pantry which is popular at our church to this day. Pastor Mary also implemented serving communion every Sunday.


pastor ken schlueter

Pastor Ken Schlueter served as the Interim Pastor after the departure of Pastor Richard DeBenedetto.


pastor richard debenedetto

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 DeBenedetto was the supervisor and mentor to each of them. Pastor DeBenedetto held contemporary weeknight Chapel services and our Sunday School program was renamed, High Five.


pastor merle ries & Pastor jerry kuehn

Pastor Merle Ries served as pastor from 1988-1996. Pastor Jerry Kuehn served on an Interim basis in 1997 until Pastor DeBenedetto accepted the call to First American Lutheran.


pastor harold aasland

Under Pastor Aasland's guidance, the Bethel Series was started in 1980. The Bethel Series was an intense study of the Bible. Also, Lutheran Lay Renewal was introduced to our congregation. In June 1983, Trinity Lutheran members formed a procession from their church a block away from First American Lutheran and joined with us. In 1986 an addition was added to the front of the church to allow for a narthex and an elevator.


pastor fredrick mai

When Pastor Mai arrived, the congregation was poised for the most extensive building project to date - a new educational unit with classrooms, offices, kitchen, lounge, nursery, and a 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. Occasionally, Pastor Mai leads worship at our church when a Substitute Pastor is needed.


pastor leonard domke

Under Pastor Domke's leadership, plans were laid to build a new educational unit and parsonage. The old parsonage was sold in July 1969 and moved offsite. The present parsonage was built at a cost of $25,000 and dedicated on April 9, 1967.


pastor Ralph hanusa & pastor wayne keotz

Pastor Hansua served as pastor from 1956-1959. Pastor Keotz served as pastor from 1960-1961.


Pastor frank zaiser & pastor rudolph huget

Pastor Zaiser of Marinette, Wisconsin served the needs of our congregation as our Interim Pastor. Pastor Huget accepted the call to First American Lutheran in 1945. Pastor Huget of Calgary, Canada became the twelfth pastor of our congregation. After Pastor Huget accepted another call in 1955, Pastor Zaiser again served briefly as our Interim Pastor.


pastor herman cronrath

Pastor Cronrath of Nekimi, Wisconsin served as pastor from 1941-1945. Pastor Cronrath's ministry covered turbulent years of World War II.


name change

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 e. t. reiff

Pastor Reiff of Wausau, Wisconsin accepted the call to Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel. On January 7, 1943, the congregation voted to use English at every 10:15 a.m. worship service, and German at every other 9:00 a.m. worship service.



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.



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.


German and English

Up until 1919, all worship services were in German. In July 1913, it was voted to hold one English worship service per month. In April 1919, it was voted to have two English worship services and three German worship services a month.


pastor john luepke & pastor herman eisenbach

Pastor Luepke served as pastor between 1891-1892. Pastor Luepke's health forced him to resign within the year. A call was then extended to Pastor Eisenbach of Van Dyne, Wisconsin. Pastor Eisenbach served as pastor from 1892-1933.


pastor g. f. keller & pastor c. m. weltner

Pastor Keller served as pastor from 1884-1886. Pastor Keller organized Evangelical Lutheran Zion congregation in stiles. After Pastor Keller's death, Pastor Weltner agreed to serve as pastor until 1891. In 1889, the first church building was partially destroyed by fire. The present brick structure, which still serves, was erected.


pastor c. w. allbrecht & pastor h. burnmann

Pastor Allbrecht served as pastor from 1879-1881. Pastor Burnmann served as pastor from 1881-1884.


pastor w. buehring

Pastor Buehring served as pastor from 1875-1879. During his tenure, the Evangelical Lutheran Christus Congregation of Pensaukee, Wisconsin was organized, which he also served.


evangelical lutheran immanuel

The Evangelical Lutheran Immanuel congregation was formally organized on January 1, 1874. A parsonage was purchased for the pastor's residence, and also a place for worship. On November 22, 1874 the first church building was dedicated - a modest frame structure, thirty feet by forty feet.


pastor charles lieb

In the fall of 1873, Pastor Lieb, 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, Wisconsin. When Pastor Lieb offered to establish a Lutheran congregation here, the Lutherans gratefully accepted his offer and called him to be their pastor.

In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God.

Ephesians 2:21-22

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