7870 US Hwy 2 Rapid River, MI 49878 (906) 249-1870

Church History

“The preaching of the Word of God by Lutheran pastors of the Wisconsin Synod in and near Rapid River dates back to about 1882, 17 years before the establishing of our congregation and nearly 20 years before the building of our church. Apparently Pastor Herman Monhardt was the first Wisconsin Synod Lutheran pastor to bring the gospel to the scattered Lutheran Christians in these parts. He at that time served the southern part of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan together with portions of northeastern Wisconsin and periodically from 1882-1885 conducted divine services near Rapid River.

“When we say Rapid River we mean: that he preached in or near the place, which today is known by that name. In 1882 there was no such place. The Soo line had not yet reached Rapid River. The country round about was just dense forest. Slowly settlers were arriving, among them the Wrucks, Schramms, and in May 1882 the sainted widow Vietzke settled with six children north from the place which today is known as Rapid River. Slowly but surely portions of the bush were disappearing, roads were being hewn in the forests, the railroad from Minneapolis reached Rapid River in 1887 and soon the village of Rapid River, near the mouth of the Rapid and the Whitefish Rivers, was born.

“Only very meager records of the work of Pastor Monhardt are to be found. Itinerant missionaries usually are not record-keepers! We last hear of him in 1885, when his position is taken over by Pastor Ziebell. He worked the same territory as his predecessor from 1885-1889. Also of this period detailed records are not available. Bits of information appear in the records of Salem’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Escanaba. These some years ago were collected and published by the sainted Pastor Christian Dochler.

“In 1889 Pastor W. L. Heidelberger, residing in Escanaba, took charge of the spiritual work in and near Escanaba, including Rapid River. Apparently he did not remain for a long time, since already in 1890 he was replaced by Pastor H. C. Zarwell, who likewise lived in Escanaba. In 1892 we find Pastor H. Rien serving this territory from Escanaba, until in 1895 he was succeeded by Pastor Paul Korn. First he lived in Florence, Wisconsin, then in Hyde, Michigan; still later we find him as the first resident Wisconsin Synod Lutheran pastor living in Rapid River. His son Rudolf, at present pastor in Lewiston, Minnesota gives us the following interesting bit of information: ‘I was only about 9 years of age when we moved to Florence, Wis., from where my sainted father served all his other preaching places at that time. It was while we lived in Florence that my father began work in Rapid River. I cannot recollect any names of members in the Rapid River congregations, only do I remember the August Schramms, they were our closest neighbors. Our house was the last one on the street leading out of town.’

“Pastor Korn served a vast territory with about 19 preaching stations. When we think of the mode of transportation in those days we can to a certain extent appreciate his hard labors in bringing the gospel to the scattered Lutherans in Northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. During his time a parsonage was bought in Rapid River for $800.00. A part of the money was loaned from the Church Extension Fund of the Wisconsin Synod. A large upper room in the parsonage served as a chapel, a dry-goods box.

“In August 1895, ‘a more or less loose organization of the scattered Lutherans in and near Rapid River’ was accomplished; this was the beginning of St. Martin congregation. This was not the first religious outreach among these scattered pioneers. The early settlers also benefited from the work of traveling Lutheran missionaries. Men such as Pastor Ziebell, H.L. Heidelberger, H.C. Zarwell, and H. Rein, though not listed among St. Martin’s pastors, laid the foundation for the group that gathered in 1895.

“The group was legally named on October 9, 1897, taking the name German Evangelical Lutheran Church of Rapid River, Michigan. The name would be changed to St. Martin Evangelical Lutheran Church on November 16, 1942. The congregation became a fixed organization on June 5, 1899 when a constitution, written in German, was adopted and signed by six members.

“The first building designed for St. Martin’s use was a parsonage purchased in Rapid River. ‘A large upper portion in the parsonage served as chapel, a dry goods box was the pulpit and another one the altar. Confirmation classes were instructed in the kitchen of the parsonage.’ This building was eventually demolished in 1927 for structural reasons.

Ground was broken for the present church building in June 1901. All the materials for this church, with the exception of some finishing lumber, were donated by the members. The work of erecting the church was also entirely done by the members under Pastor A.O. Dasler. This building was dedicated at Christmas 1901.

“Pastor Dasler did not restrict his labors to Rapid River, but served preaching stations as far east as the Canadian Soo and as far west as Hermannsville. In 1900 this mission-field was divided. Pastor Leonard Kaspar took charge of the field west of Gladstone, and Pastor Dasler retained the remainder. In 1901 the field was again divided with Pastor Fleischfresser taking charge of the eastern portion, i.e. the Canadian and American Soo. Pastor Dasler continued to serve Rapid River, Gladstone, Manistique, and Isabella.

“When Pastor Dasler left Rapid River in the last week of September, 1904, Pastor Leonard Kaspar, residing in Escanaba, served St. Martin’s until he in 1909 was succeeded by the Rev. L. Witte. In 1913 Pastor Otto Hohenstein became pastor in Escanaba and also of St. Martin’s until 1915, when theological candidate John Maasch on October 17, 1915 was ordained and installed as pastor of St. Martin’s by the Rev. Otto Hohenstein. Pastor Maasch was the third (and last) Wisconsin Synod pastor to reside in Rapid River. Regular services in the English language were introduced at this time (World War I).

“When Pastor Maasch was called away in 1918, Pastor Otto Hohenstein of Escanaba again took over, serving St. Martin’s until he was succeeded by the Rev. Christian Doehler on July 4, 1920. He ministered to the spiritual needs of St. Martin’s from Escanaba until 1926. When in 1926 Pastor Walter Gutzke was stationed in Manistique he served St. Martin’s from this place.”

Pastor Gutzke also served a preaching station in Gladstone. After he left Manistique, Pastor Doehler became the vacancy pastor of this area. Pastor Paul Oehlert, Kaukauna, Wisconsin, was at that time chairman of the Northern Wisconsin District Mission Board. As by accident, Pastor Oehlert and Pastor Theophil Hoffman met in Kaukauna in the summer of 1927, while the latter visited with his brother, Martin, a teacher at Trinity School in Kaukauna. In the course of the conversation, Pastor Oehlert suggested to Pastor Hoffman (who had resigned in Durango, Colorado in May 1927 because of ill health, and was living in Neenah) that he go up to Gladstone and “hold the field for our Synod until we can get someone permanently.”

Pastor Hoffmann established St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Gladstone in 1928 and served the Gladstone and Rapid River congregations until his retirement forty years later. Pastor Carl Klein served these two congregations from 1970 to 1975, leaving in June of 1975 to accept a call to St. John’s of Wrightstown, Wisconsin. He was followed by Pastor Luther Weindorf (1975 to 1978), who had previously taught at Apache Lutheran High School in Arizona for four years and served for six years as a missionary in Tsuchiura, Japan. From 1978 to 1991 James Hanson held the pulpit. Pastor David Wierschke succeeded him, serving until 1997. Pastor Phil Paustian currently serves the congregation.

In 2005 the two congregations merged into one, worshiping in Rapid River, and the church and parsonage in Gladstone were sold.

In 2021, Pastor Phil Paustian retired and Pastor John Ruege from St. Paul’s Marquette accepted the call to form a dual parish.