First Lutheran Church and School History
“O Lord you have been with us through the generations”
We hope you enjoy your trip down memory lane through the highlights of what the Lord has been doing at FLCS over the last 90 years. What’s next? We at First Lutheran Church and School believe firmly that while we don’t know what’s up the road and around the bend, we do know WHO is there. Jesus is already there, lovingly holding out his arms to welcome us. And, as an extra bonus, Jesus is also right here with us as we walk courageously into that unknown future. Because of Jesus, we can confidently say that “the best days for FLCS are straight ahead of us!”
The Pastors and the People
Christians from every part of the country were among the first settlers in the new Oklahoma Territory. In the course of time, those of like faith found each other and arranged for services in their homes or school houses. For most German speaking Lutherans, that meant finding others who spoke German and wanted to worship in the German language. By 1924 the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod decided that a resident pastor should be placed in Ponca City, who was to conduct services in the English language. The Rev. W. Brackensick was requested by the Mission Board, via telegram, to form a church. His first task was to find a suitable place of worship. An announcement was placed in the local paper and the first service was held on May 11, 1924, in the Assembly Hall of the Civic Center. Seventeen people attended the first service, and thirty-four the next Sunday. On February 5, 1925, the congregation was incorporated as “First Lutheran Church of Ponca City, Oklahoma” effective February 20, 1925. Worship services were held in the Civic Center for the next ten years. It was not until December 16, 1934, that the members of this small, young congregation could worship in their own church building.
The Rev. W. Brackensick, first resident pastor, could not remain long with his beloved flock. Ill health necessitated his leaving for our Lutheran Sanitarium in Wheatridge, Colorado. During the absence of the Rev. W. Brackensick, the Rev. H. Hartmann served as vacancy pastor, preaching regularly, and baptizing seventeen persons, and confirming a class of six on August 19, 1925.
God indeed answered the prayer of Pastor Brackensick---“for a good, conscientious pastor,” for in September of 1925, the Rev. Virtus Gloe was called and accepted the call extended by this congregation. He labored faithfully under pioneer conditions in organizing the people. Despite the serious handicap of having no church building, the congregation grew both inwardly and outwardly. A Sunday School was started November 1, 1925, with an attendance of fifteen. The first offering was $2.06. A Ladies’ Aid Society was organized on November 12, 1925. The records show that Pastor Gloe, under the blessed Hand of God, was privileged to baptize thirty-four souls, confirm twenty-nine persons, and broadcast a regular Sunday morning service once a month during the last fourteen months of his pastorate at Ponca City, thus building up considerable good will in the community. After five and one-half years of devoted service to the Lord in this congregation the Rev. Virtus Gloe was granted a peaceful dismissal on April 12, 1931, to follow a call extended to him by the Lutheran Mission Association of Greater Kansas City, to become City Missionary at that place.
With the prospects so bright, the congregation and the Mission Board of the Oklahoma District, suggested and considered only one candidate as the next pastor of First Lutheran Church of Ponca City. A letter addressed to the next pastor reports – “The Lutheran congregation here numbers about 150 souls, having eighty-five communicants, twenty-eight voting members, and a very fine Sunday School with an enrollment of 40 young men and women…”. The divine call was extended to the Rev. C. H. Bensene, whom God moved to accept the call to this important field. His pastorate from 1931 to October, 1940, was to be the longest in the first twenty-five year history of this church. Through his consecrated and effective leadership, the congregation enjoyed steady growth and development. On March 27, 1932, the congregation became self-supporting by resolution of the congregation. In the District Synodical meeting of 1933 the congregation was accepted into membership with the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. In February of 1934, the General Church Extension Board of Synod granted the local congregation a loan of $10,000 for the purpose of erecting a church building. Before the end of the year, the building was completed and officially dedicated on Sunday, December 16, 1934. The building commanded a view of the entire city and this functional, beautiful edifice, built to the glory of God served the congregation for forty-three years as its main worship center.
This historical sketch would be incomplete without a tribute to the members in the erection of this church. Wisely and with poetic insight our Lord Jesus Christ said, “A city that is set upon a hill cannot be hid; neither do men light a candle and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.” This ideal location at the corner of 4th Street and Liberty, consisting of six lots, was deeded to the congregation on March 26, 1934, by Mr. Eugene Wetzel and Miss Frieda Wetzel. The Wetzels, whose liberality played such an important part in the life of the congregation, were so greatly interested in the founding and growth of First Lutheran Church and will never be forgotten by those who knew them. Others will ever have occasion to learn of their love for their church.
When the spirit of God takes hold of people it always moves them to do great things. Despite the Great Depression, nineteen property owners signed the notes to secure a loan of $10,000 from the General Church Extension Fund, and re-paid this amount in four years. Being depression years, this record remains unsurpassed. The following signed the notes:
Paul Schmid Anton Nelsen
George Hinrichs B. F. Hansen
Eugene Wetzel H. P. Nelsen
Frazier Gutzman Henry J. Gelmers
Mrs. John Niemann John Krieg
George Brunhoeber Fritz Buerger, Jr.
William Wolf Fred Robbins
Michael Miller Alvin Schwanke
M. J. Blinde R. A. Capshaw
Pastor Bensene served the Lord at First Lutheran for almost ten years, during which 98 souls were baptized and 86 confirmed, and many others were received into membership by transfer. Pastor Bensene left to accept a call to Seattle, Washington in 1940.
During the Forties, World War II affected all of America, including her churches. By July of 1945, 12% of the communicant membership of Oklahoma had changed their civilian status to military service.
Pastor Paul Barth assumed the pastoral duties at First Lutheran in January 1941 and began a tradition of conducting an annual fall sermon series known as “Lutheran Lectures.” Many non-Lutherans attended and later became members. During the 7 1/2 years of Pastor Barth’s ministry there were 150 baptisms and 144 confirmations, of which 102 were adults. Financial support to the work of the church here at home and for outreach more than tripled. Records show that our members did not allow the trying years of the war with its coupons, ration cards, shortages of goods and services, and other restrictions to interfere with the work of the Lord. Thoughts of a parochial school were more than just a dream. A gift of 12 lots west of the church had been given for that purpose. The grounds, while waiting for building funds, were beautified and made into a park with trees and shrubbery. The Forties saw the chartering of both the Lutheran Laymen’s League in 1941 and the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League in 1949. The Senior Choir was organized in 1949 with L. H. McQuaid as director. With Pastor Barth’s acceptance of a call to Detroit, Michigan, the church was without a pastor for five months.
In 1949, A. E. Behrend accepted God’s call to serve at First Lutheran and was installed as our pastor. Under the guidance of the Pastor Behrend from 1949 to 1976 our congregation grew from 346 to 749 baptized members. Growth of the Sunday school, increased church and communion attendance, along with the spirit of unity and cooperation were all evident signs that a good and gracious Lord continued to shower His blessings upon First Lutheran. The regular broadcast of our Sunday morning services over radio station WBBZ began on November 12, 1950 and continues to this day. To the present over 3400 broadcasts have been heard by the radio audience in the Ponca City area.
Other evidences of God’s blessings were the buildings erected during those years to expand the ministry of First Lutheran: 1950 – a new parsonage, 1953 – the north unit of the school; 1958 – the south unit of the school, 1961 – the auditorium/gym, 1977 – a new sanctuary for worship. In 1960 the congregation purchased the entire block of land south of the church for the future purpose of building a new sanctuary at a cost of $60,000.
The fiftieth anniversary of the church was observed with a festival service on April 20, 1975, with the president of the LCMS, Dr. J. A. O. Preus, as the proclaimer. Other honored guests were Pastor Paul Barth, Pastor Carl Bensene, Pastor Virtus Gloe, and Mrs. Minnie Brackensick, widow of Pastor Walter Brackensick. During 1975 the practice of celebrating communion on the first and third Sundays was instituted. In November, Bill Weinrich was ordained into the ministry at our altar. The congregation presented Bill with a set of liturgical stoles. In December the congregation approved plans to build a new sanctuary.
In February of 1976 Pastor Behrend died of a sudden heart attack. Pastor E. Mueller from Enid came to fill the pulpit on Sunday and guide the congregation in the call process. Pastor Marvin Henschel accepted our call and was installed on December 5, 1976.
Many members stepped in to continue the ministries of the church and in July groundbreaking ceremonies for the new sanctuary were held. Under Pastor Henschel’s leadership and with the aid of R. A. Capshaw, who served as First Lutheran’s president for 25 years, the construction proceeded on schedule. The first service was held in the new sanctuary on July 31, 1977, but the dedication did not take place until September 25.
Pastor Paul Johnson was installed in 1980 as the congregation’s first assistant pastor. He served until 1983 when he resigned from his duties. Pastor George Earhart followed and became assistant pastor in 1984. He served First Lutheran until 1988 when he received a call to become senior pastor in Lake Charles, LA.
Since the old sanctuary had received little use for eight years, it was decided in 1985 to renovate the entire building. The altar, pulpit, lectern, baptismal font, pews, and other furnishings were formally donated to the Trinity mission congregation at McAlester. The renovated space was dedicated on April 13, 1986 and now provides a large fellowship hall, kitchen, workroom, library/board room, music room, and nursery.
When Pastor Earhart left, it was decided that we should ask Bill Doering to become Parish Assistant rather than call an assistant pastor. Mr. Doering accepted that invitation and served until 1992 when he chose to be fully retired. Pastor David Kuchta was called to become assistant pastor.
The year 1995 brought changes to the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod which spilled over into Ponca City. In July Rev. Kuchta suddenly resigned and began a new church in Ponca City. Pastor Henschel accepted a call in October to become the interim pastor at Messiah in Oklahoma City. It was not until March of 1996 that Dr. Paul Volz arrived to become our interim pastor.
Under Dr. Volz’ wise guidance the congregation conducted an intensive self-study during 1997 to give direction to the call committee as to the qualifications to seek in a pastor, and to the new pastor called. As a result of this process Pastor Tom Ramsey was called and installed in January of 1998. His wife, Peggy Ramsey, taught math in First Lutheran’s middle school. Their combined leadership left an indelible mark on First Lutheran Church and School. Pastor Ramsey’s style was informal and beloved; he liked to identify himself as a “wrinkle” rather than a “crease”. Peggy, in addition to teaching, formed and led the Praise Team musicians at the 11:00 am services and served on the Building Committee for the three new school buildings dedicated in November 2006. Pastor Ramsey retired in July 2011. When Peggy retired from teaching in 2012 they moved to Florida to be nearer to family. Tom still ministers in his retirement to his community in Florida.
During Pastor’s Ramsey’s tenure, four remarkable blessings flowing from the grace of God were evident: Pastor Ramsey initiated First Lutheran’s Care Ministries programs in 2001 under the leadership of Beverly Roedel to faithfully serve the needs of members and non-members alike; he advocated for stronger Youth ministry programs and the hiring of youth ministers; he also led formation of the Celebration Ministries program which selected Chris Schelp to coordinate direction of the worship services; And under his guidance, the congregation voted in 2004 to construct three new education buildings: a new elementary classroom, school office/library and a cafeteria building.
Heidi Gillum, Drew Achong, and Renee Young were youth ministers during this time and in her or his own way, each ‘kicked FLCS’ youth ministry “up a notch.” Through their ministry and the ministry of many lay people, the youth of FLCS deepened their relationship with Jesus, did service projects, went on trips and just generally had a blast in the presence of Jesus and of each other.
Beverly Roedel came aboard as Pastoral Assistant for Care Ministries in 2001 and challenged us to be involved in all manner of ministry opportunities. Under Beverly guidance the Care Ministry now includes the PB&J ministry, the Bereavement Fellowship, the food pantry, the aid-to-needy ministry, the Friendship Feast, the card ministry, birthday cakes for the elderly, ministry to shut-ins and visiting the hospitalized and working with DHS to minister to children in their care, and forming several support groups. See the weekly announcements for more info about how you can help and remember to thank Beverly whenever you see her. Her imagination and work ethic are inspirations to all who know her.
Stan Hoffmeyer finished his ministry of 45 years through music at FLCS – what a remarkable record of service that is! And then, when he retired and moved to Texas, Chris Schelp, a young man who had recently received his degree from Concordia, River Forest, accepted God’s Call to be Director of Celebration Ministries. During 1999 a project to refurbish the organ was undertaken. It was found that faulty wiring in the original construction of the balcony had completely destroyed the relay in the organ. Because of the generosity of members the organ received all new controls, a new relay, and was completely revoiced. The rededication recital was played by Dr. Charles Ore of Concordia University, Seward, NE, on January 6, 2000.
Another remarkable blessing of Jesus for FLCS happened when we celebrated our 75th anniversary in 2001. We challenged ourselves to give away 75 gifts to the Ponca City community free of charge, just like God’s grace is free of charge. The listing of what turned out to be 78 gifts appears later in this booklet. But, as to numbers: seventy eight gifts were given away at a total donated cost of $20,000, involving hundreds of FLCS’ finest working thousands of volunteer hours. It’s estimated that we reached between 13,000 and 15,000 people in Ponca City and the surrounding areas who were not members. What a blessing! At the conclusion of our year of giving, we held a worship service to give glory to God. That service happened on September 30, 2001 and Pastor Steve Wagner, then Senior Pastor at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Carrollton, Texas, now Executive Leader of Pastoral Leadership Institute, proclaimed God’s Word. (Pastor Wagner was the man God used to bring Pastor Ramsey and his wife, Peggy, “kicking and screaming” back to Jesus and back into the church.) Speaking of anniversary celebrations, our school celebrated its 50th in 2003.
And most challenging of all, Please! Hand ME Another Brick … was the title of a building effort the people of FLCS entered with much prayer and much “fear and trembling” in 2005. The Lord shepherded us to enter and complete a $2.7 million building project even in the midst of economic upsets and downturns. An initially $1.5 million addition to our school was proposed which included 6 new classrooms, a new administration building and library and a new cafeteria/multi-purpose room. Much to our chagrin, when the final building numbers came in, it was determined that it would cost $2.7 million. Bathed in prayer and with the hopeful expectation of God’s goodness and direction, God worked through Capital Funding Services to allow us to raise donations and pledges amounting to $1.8 million. Pastor Ramsey spent the entire year preaching a sermon series on Nehemiah – each one with a brick inscribed with a virtue and brought forward by one of the youth and dedicated. With the leadership of Laborers for Christ and hundreds of volunteers donating thousands of hours the dream became a reality. The new buildings were dedicated on November 12, 2006 and occupied during the winter of 2007. Wow! God is great and good. The new buildings were completely paid for by 2014.
Following Pastor Ramsey’s retirement, interim Pastor Michael Gallagher arrived in August 2011. He is remembered for leading our worship with his singing with both guitar and piano. Pastor Mike also led our Planning and Call Committees as they prepared the path forward for First Lutheran Church and School. Pastor Jeremy May accepted our call and was installed on Saturday, December 8, 2012, and served until May 2019.
Pastor Ned Moerbe stepped in to fill our vacancy in May of 2019, and continued to fill the role through the Covid-19 pandemic of 2020.
On November 23, 2014, the Carillon System was rededicated after restoration with donations from the Thelma L. Bley Memorial. The carillons were featured at the third annual “Christmas Markets Festival” on December 6, 2014. The family of Thelma Bley thanks all who contributed to this project.
During 2015, First Lutheran Church celebrated her 90th anniversary. On February 20, 2015, the celebration began at the City Hall Commissioners’ Chamber. February 20, 1925, was the day the Articles of Incorporation were signed, and where the congregation had held services for its first 10 years of existence. Vice Mayor Kyle Macy read a proclamation and church members read the history of the first 15 years of First Lutheran Church. That evening the celebration continued with a talent show at the Wetzel Memorial Auditorium. Then on Saturday February 21 there was a game night with punch and cake at the YMCA for both members and school families. Pastor Marvin Henschel returned to preach at both services and lead Adult Bible Class on February 22nd to commemorate the original incorporation of the congregation. A pot lunch dinner was held in the Multi-purpose Building.
First Lutheran School
First Lutheran School opened its doors in 1953 and has been providing Christian education to the children of First Lutheran and Ponca City since. The program now encompasses birth through eighth grade. The Parochial Education Board and the school staff have worked tirelessly to maintain our enrollment and expand the scope of the programs offered. It is important to note that the proportion of students who are children of non-members has grown steadily. In this way the impact of the school as an outreach ministry to Ponca City has never been greater.
On September 21, 1952, every man, woman, and child came with a shovel or a spade for the ground breaking ceremonies of the school’s first building. Charter members Eugene Wetzel and his sister Frida and Mr. and Mrs. Wm. Wolf were given the first honors. The very next morning A. J. Schwanke began excavating for the basement. Classes began a year later with 43 pupils enrolled in kindergarten and first grade. Miss Dorothea Feil served as principal and kindergarten teacher. Miss Margaret Kueffner taught first grade. One grade was added each year thereafter until 1959 when the sixth grade was added.
In 1957 the Adventist Church building located on the west half of the school block was purchased and converted into a classroom. That same year a teacherage at 1038 N. Third was purchased for the use of the principal.
The south wing of the school was dedicated on August 24, 1958. On December 10, 1961, the Wetzel Memorial Auditorium was dedicated. This addition was made possible by a gift from Frida and Eugene Wetzel.
The twenty-fifth anniversary of the school was celebrated in 1978. The following year the Child Care program was begun for students in our school. During this time several changes occurred at the school. The three and four year old preschool classes were begun in 1985; the pre-kindergarten had been included in the curriculum in 1971. Also in 1985 Mr. Doering became the first full-time principal. When Mr. Doering retired in 1988, Paul Schatte became the school’s sixth principal. Several remodeling projects provided a principal’s office, library, teachers’ lounge, and work area. In 1991 a new building was erected to house a sixth grade class, computer lab, and day care facilities.
In October of 1994 a new building was dedicated to be used for a Middle School. The building consists of four classrooms and rest rooms. The seventh grade was added that fall and eighth grade the next year. The sixth grade was moved into that building with the remaining room housing a new computer lab.
Paul Schatte resigned from teaching in 1999 to enter business endeavors. It was deemed wise to also have an interim principal for the school for at least one year. Mrs. Elizabeth Watson was chosen for that position. With many years of experience in administration in the public schools and certified as a superintendent, she was well qualified to provide guidance for the staff and to prepare for a new principal. After interviewing many candidates the congregation extended a call to Janet Goll, contingent on her completing course work to receive certification as a principal and superintendent. Since that would not be realized until 2001 Mrs. Watson was asked to stay another year.
After 12 years of service as our principal, Janet Goll stepped down after the 2012-2013 school year. She has continued to teach math at the middle school and is completing her 43rd year of service to First Lutheran Church and School. Our new principal, David Birnbaum, arrived on July 1st and was installed on August 18th, 2013.
On Jan 31, 2014, it was announced that the debt on the new school buildings was retired. The extra funds donated to this fund were allocated for work on the South Wing of the old school, known as the “Jericho Project.” By November 2014 the south wall had been stabilized and other work started to return the some of the space to be used as classrooms.
The Lord has continued to bless FLCS with gifted and dedicated professional and lay workers. God truly is “able to do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine.”
One of the longest-running annual events is the Ladies’ Valentine Salad Luncheon, held since 1994 (22 years). Under the capable leadership of the Ladies Guild, a large number of our members contribute salads and their time to make this a huge success. Many non-member friends consider this a “can’t miss’ social event. The proceeds from this event have been used for enhancements to the Fellowship Hall and the Church interior. In the last two years the proceeds have been used to refurbish the front doors and the steps of the Fellowship Hall.
The Willing Workers meet every Thursday since 2007 to handle minor maintenance and small projects at both the school and church properties. They represent a wonderful tradition of service and fellowship. The group originated as volunteers who assisted with construction of the three new school buildings dedicated in November 2006. The buildings were built under the leadership and work of the “Laborers for Christ”, but also with many volunteer hours from congregants. In 2007 an especially faithful few of these volunteers were recognized by Janet Goll and the congregation for being “Willing Workers” on the recently completed project.
A new tradition, begun in 2008, is the “Lights at Lutheran” Christmas display at the school. For this we thank Brandon Holle and his father Earl Holle for their leadership, talent, and hours of work. We also thank McDonald’s Electric and many other students of the school who work on this project. This outreach brings the Christmas message to thousands in Ponca City and demonstrates the abilities of the students in our school. See www.lightsatlutheran.com for videos of the displays.
The newest “tradition” of the Christmas Markets Oklahoma began in 2012 and has become very popular in Ponca City. Proceeds from the festival go to the First Lutheran School scholarship fund. The concept was borrowed from the traditional European Christmas Markets held every year at the beginning of the Advent Season. All the organizations of First Lutheran Church and School were involved in a full year of planning, publicity, and work. The first “Christmas Markets Festival” at First Lutheran was held on December 1, 2012, and pronounced a complete success.
First Lutheran Pastors
W. Brackensick 1924—1925
Virtus Gloe 1925—1931
Carl Bensene 1931—1940
Paul Barth 1941—1948
A. E. Behrend 1948—1976
Marvin Henschel 1976—1995
Paul Volz 1996—1998
Tom Ramsey 1998—2011
Michael Gallager 2011—2012
Jeremy May 2012—2019
Ned Moerbe 2019 - present
Paul Johnson 1980—1983
George Earhart 1984—1988
David Kuchta 1992—1995
William Doering 1988—1992
Music Minister/Director of Celebration Ministries
Stan Hoffmeyer 1962—2007
Chris Schelp 2007—Present
Next Generation Coordinator
Jennifer Heitman 2019 - Present
Heidi Gillum 1999—2001
Drew Achong 2002—2006
Renee Young 2006—2009
Pastoral Assistant for Care Ministries
Beverly Roedel 2001—Present
First Lutheran School Principals
Dorothea Feil 1953—1957
Gary Meyer 1957—1961
Dalton Noack 1961—1962
Eugene Straub 1962—1969
William Doering 1969—1988
Paul Schatte 1988—1999
Elizabeth Watson 1999—2001
Janet Goll 2001—2013
David Birnbaum 2013—Present
First Lutheran Church and School
A Timeline of Our History
“Oh Lord, you have been with us through the generations.” Psalms 90:1
May 11, 1924 – First services held at Civic Center.
February 5, 1925 – Congregation organized.
February 20, 1925 –Incorporated as “First Lutheran Church of Ponca City, Oklahoma. “
November 1, 1925 – Sunday school organized
November 12, 1925 – Women’s Guild organized.
December 16, 1934 – First church building dedicated on that Sunday.
April 6, 1949 – Lutheran Women’s Missionary League organized.
1950 – New parsonage built.
November 12, 1950 – Regular radio broadcasts of worship services begins on WBBZ.
August 12, 1953 – North wing of school dedicated (beginning of FLS).
August 24, 1958 – South wing of school dedicated.
December 10, 1961 – School auditorium dedicated.
September 25, 1977 – New church building dedicated.
1986 – Original church building renovated.
September 1991 – Present day care building added.
1994 – Middle school building added.
2006 – New elementary classroom, school office/library and cafeteria buildings completed.
2014 – Southwest property acquired.