Grace Lutheran Pastors

Pastor Johannes Back, born in Finland in 1865 was the first pastor to serve the South Range communities of Atlantic Mine, South Range, Painesdale, Trimountain and Toivola in the years 1898 to 1903. Graduated from the U. of Helsinki in 1894, he came to the U.S. in 1895, ordained by J.K. Nikander in 1895 in Hancock. He was called to be the pastor in Hancock in 1897 and served there until 1911. He also served the Range communities while pastor in Hancock. He was present when the first worship services occurred and when building plans for churches on the Range were first discussed. He organized Our Savior’s Lutheran Church in Atlantic Mine. He also served on the faculty of Suomi College and returned to Finland in 1913.

Pastor Karl Alfred Groning, born in Finland in 1871, graduated from the University of Helsinki in 1896. He was ordained minister in the Church of Finland on Dec. 30, 1896. He came to the U.S. in 1899, and was the second pastor to serve the Range community churches in the years 1903 – 1906. It was during Pastor Groning’s time that the first congregational meeting occurred of the Baltic-South Range church in 1903. The Baltic-South Range congregation was formally organized on March 11, 1906. In addition Pastor Groning was present when the Painesdale congregation was formally organized in 1905. Pastor Groning returned to Finland.

Pastor Iisakki Katajama, born in Finland in 1865, graduated from U. of Helsinki in theological studies in 1904. He was ordained in Finland in 1905. He came to the U.S. in 1906. He served the Range communities for three months in 1906. He died of tuberculosis in 1911.

Pastor Adolph Riippa was born in Finland in 1855, graduated from the Oulu Lycee in 1878. He came to the U.S. in 1890 and called to be an Itinerant Mission Pastor in the Finnish speaking communities. He lived in and served the Kaleva congregation in the time span 1907 – 1910, while simultaneously serving the Range communities in the time 1907 – 1908. He died in 1910 from complications of diabetes and pneumonia.

Pastor Otto Stadius was born in Finland, received his theological education in Finland, supported by the Finnish Mission Society (FIMS) in Helsinki. He wanted to be sent to China as a missionary sponsored by the FIMS. Instead he came to the U.S. and was ordained by J.K. Nikander in 1901. He was the fifth pastor to serve the Range communities. He was present when the Baltic-South Range building was constructed at a cost of $5,150, and dedicated in 1909. Present at the dedication also were J.K. Nikander and J. Back. Pastor Stadius served the congregations from 1908 to 1910. He married the daughter of Jaffel Lukkarila, a Synod lay leader in 1911. In 1913 he transferred his ministerial services to the Apostolic Lutherans. After this he supported himself as a chiropractor in British Columbia and Portland, Oregon. He was the father of pastor Arnold Stadius who also served the Suomi Synod in the copper country.

Pastor Mauno Kuusi, born in Helsinki, Finland in 1882, graduated from the Helsinki U. Dept. of Theology in 1906, and was ordained a minister of the Church of Finland in Porvoo in 1906. He came to the U.S in 1907. He served for a short time as pastor at the Finnish Lutheran church in Astoria, OR in 1907. He then served in the years 1907 – 1910 at Worcester and Gardner, MA. He was the sixth pastor to serve the Range communities in the years 1910 – 1918. He was present during the years that the Painesdale building was moved, and during the time that the Toivola congregation was organized. He was a member of the faculty at Suomi College in 1917. After leaving the Range he was the pastor in Conneaut, OH in 1919. He returned to Finland in 1919, and spent two years with the Seaman’s Mission Society. He was still working in Finland in 1951.

Pastor Otto Kaarto was born in Finland in1890, received his education at Suomi College and Suomi Theological Seminary, graduating and ordained in 1912. He was very gifted musically, composing music and organizing choral festivals in the Michigan Conference. He served The Finnish Lutheran Churches in Fort Bragg, CA in 1912, in Portland , OR in 1917. Pastor Kaarto was the seventh pastor to serve the Range communities from 1918 – 1919. He was instrumental in church building in Negaunee (Immanuel), where he served from 1920 – 1939 and in Seattle (Bethel) where he served from 1939 into the late 1950s. He married Lillian Anderson of Negaunee in 1920. Bethel, Seattle, was one Suomi Synod congregation that refused to merge with the LCA in 1958. Pastor Kaarto died in the 1960s.

Pastor Urho Walteri, born in1894 in Helsinki, Finland, graduated from the U of Helsinki Theology Dept in 1917, ordained a minister in Porvoo in 1917. He served in the military in Finland’s war of independence in the years 1918 – 1919. He came to the U.S. in 1921, his first parish being the Range communities. He was the eighth pastor to serve the Range communities in the years 1921 – 1922. He was present when the basement of the building in Toivola was dedicated in 1922. He married Maria Kuusisto in 1922. He then served congregations in Astoria, OR (1923 – 1924) and in Conneaut, OH (1925 – 1928). He and his family returned to Finland in 1928.

Pastor Matti Luttinen, born in 1874 in the province of Oulu, Finland. He was a member of the first graduating class of the Suomi Theological Seminary and was ordained in Hancock in 1906. Pastor Luttinen married Selma J. Paananen in Calumet in 1906. (She had been born in Finland.) He was the ninth and longest serving pastor to the Range communities. His tenure spanned the time from 1923 – 1944, including the great depression and most of World War II. He retired to a home on Chassell Bay and died in 1957. According to Ray Wargelin, “He was a gentle and humble man, who served his parishes very faithfully.” His home was always open to the people of the community.

Pastor Edwin Kyllonen, born in1901 in Viipuri, Finland, came to the U.S. in 1920, graduated from the Union Theological College in Chicago in 1926. He married Kerttu M. Laine on Oct. 9, 1926. (She was born in Finland.) He was ordained by the Congregational Church in Quincy MA for mission work among Finnish people in Brooklyn, CN, and in Detroit, MI. In 1928 he became mission pastor for the United Church of Canada for work among Canadian Finns (1928 – 1933). He was instrumental in organizing “Isien Usko”, the monthly paper of the Canadian (Free) Finnish Conference, ULCA. In his work in Canada he was called a “fearless man. During his ministry the radicals began to get used to the idea that a Finnish Lutheran Congregation was a reality.” He was the tenth pastor to serve the Range communities from 1944- 1947. He served the First Lutheran church in Barnstable, MA from 1947 – 1951. He died in November of 1969.

Pastor Emil Paananen, born in 1889 in Viitasaari, Finland, came to the U.S. as a boy in the early 1900s, graduated from the Suomi Theological Seminary in 1918 and ordained on May 18 in Hancock in the same year. He became an itinerant minister in the western states in the summer of 1918. He married Tyyne Kuivala of Worcester, MA on July 1, 1921. He served the majority of his ministry at St. Johns Lutheran in Detroit from 1926 – 1947. He took a two year Extension course in the law from the American Extension University in Los Angeles. He was the eleventh pastor to serve the Range communities from 1947 – 1950. He was pastor during completion of the building and dedication of St. Marks in Toivola.He retired in 1955 and passed away in 1961. He was a writer and published often. He has been described as stern, charismatic, encouraging faith healing and prayer vigils.

Pastor Albert Hautamaki, born in Eben Junction in 1921, served three years in the U.S. Army, graduated from Suomi Theological Seminary in 1952 and ordained the same year. Pastor Hautamaki was the twelfth pastor to serve the Range communities. He served in the time when Trimountain congregation was dissolved and when the Toivola congregation became St. Marks in 1956. He served in the years 1951 – 1957. He earned a BA from Northern Michigan University in 1957. Pastor Hautamaki left the Range communities to serve at Bethel in Ishpeming in the years 1958 – 1963. He transferred to the Free Lutheran Church in 1963. He had a strong influence from the Lutheran Evangelistic Movement based in Minneapolis.

Pastor Martin Halinen, born in Finland in 1904, received his early and secondary education there, served in the Finnish army as a medic, came to the U.S. in 1927, and studied at the Union Theological College in Chicago, graduating in 1933. He ministered to congregations in Canada in the years 1933 – 1939. He graduated from Suomi Theological Seminary in 1940. He served congregations in Newberry,MI, Quincy, MA, and Crystal Falls, MI before he came to be the thirteenth pastor to serve the Range communities from 1957 – 1965. In his tenure, many improvements were made to the Baltic-South Range building. He then served as Finnish Chaplain to churches in the copper country area as well as to the Range community for the next 14 years, retiring in 1978. His ministry in the copper country included many years in which he prepared a weekly Finnish language service for broadcast on Hancock radio station.

Pastor Dale Skogman, born in Iron Mountain, MI on 10-29-39, graduated from Augustana (BA, 1961) and from The Lutheran School of Theology Seminary on Chicago’s Rock Island campus (MDiv, 1965). He was ordained in Metropolitan, MI on 5-30-65. He married Josephine Larson on 12-19-64. Pastor Skogman was the fourteenth pastor to serve the Range communities. During his tenure the congregations of Painesdale and Toivola dissolved and merged with Baltic-South Range to become Grace Lutheran Church. At this point in history the churches in the Range community included Grace in South Range and Our Saviors in Atlantic Mine. Our Saviors remains an independent congregation. A new building was constructed in South Range at a cost of $150,163 and dedicated in 1969. He served in the years 1965 – 1971. He served three other congregations in the region and served as the second Bishop of the Northern Great Lakes Synod from 1991 – 1999. He is retired and lives with Jo in Gladstone.

Pastor Thomas Wickstrom, born in Marquette, MI on 11-22-46, graduated from Gustavus Adolphus (BA, 1968), graduated from LSTC (MDiv, 1971). He married Sue Weber in 1969. He was ordained in 1971 and was the fifteenth pastor to serve the Range communities. He served in the years 1971 – 1976. He is currently retired and lives with Sue either at his summer home at Helen Lake in Humboldt Township, Michigan or in Florida during the winter months.

Pastor Roy Tahtinen, born in Ontonagon, MI on 7-11-1939, graduated from Northwestern Theological Seminary (BD, 1969) and was ordained also in 1969. He married Lenora Hansen in 1963. Pastor Tahtinen was the sixteenth pastor to serve the Range communities. It was in his tenure that the current parsonage was constructed on the same piece of property as the church building. He served in the years 1976 – 1988. He passed away in 2003?.

Pastor E. Olaf Rankinen, born in Wainola, MI in 1923, raised in a non-church home, graduated from the Suomi Theological Seminary in 1948 and ordained in the same year. He received a BA degree from Jamestown College, ND in 1950. He married Helen S. Nikkila, also from Wainola on Nov. 18, 1950. He served in the U.S. Air Force in the years1951 – 1955 with the rank of staff sergeant. He earned an MS in Religious Education from Boston College in 1958. He was the chaplain at Suomi college from 1965 – 1972, was a pastor-pilot for LAMP in the years 1972 – 1975, was the public relations director for Suomi college (1975 – 1978). Pastor Rankinen was an active presence in the Finnish Ministry in the copper country area after the death of Martin Halinen and served Grace in that capacity. He guided the Senior American Coalition (SAC), a chaplaincy and social welfare program to senior citizens in the 4 western U.P. counties, from 1978 – 1983. He received and honorary doctorate from Finlandia University. He retired in South Range and passed away in 2003.

Pastor Joel Berthelsen, Pastor Joel Berthelsen, born in 1957, graduated from Luther Seminary in 1987, was the seventeenth pastor to serve the Range communities. His wife, Wendy, graduated with a Master of Pastoral Theology degree from Luther Seminary in 1988, was also supported part time as an Associate in Ministry at Grace. They served in the years 1988-1999.  Pastor Joel used his Shepherding gift in his ministry. Wendy’s ministry evolved from building on the legacy of Nora Tahtinen’s vibrant youth ministry to developing broader ministry such as Timothy Project Discipleship and Call-Driven Ministry (an approach that seeks to release the priesthood of all believers). She is very appreciative of the churches’ support of her to return to seminary, long distant, to get her M.Div.

Pastor Douglas Smythe, born in Wisconsin, graduated from Wartburg Seminary in 1999, was the eighteenth pastor to serve the Range communities. He served in the years 1999 – 2002.

Pastor James Gallagher, born in Illinois on July 15,19744, graduated from the University of Illinois, Chicago in 1996 and from Trinity Seminary in 2002, was the nineteenth pastor to serve Grace Lutheran church. He served in the years 2003 – 2006. Just prior to Pastor Gallagher’s call, Grace congregation voted to separate from Our Savior’s Lutheran in Atlantic Mine and call their own pastor.

Grace Lutheran was without a pastor from Jan. 1, 2007 until the fall of 2008, when the congregation called seminarian Nicholas Hopman to minister to Grace and First Lutheran of Dollar Bay in a yoked agreement between the two congregations.

Pastor Nicholas Hopman, born in Illinois, graduated from Luther Theological Seminary in 2008, was the twentieth pastor to serve Grace Lutheran church. He was called officially to be our pastor in the fall of 2008. His ministry concluded on November of 2011 to take a call to a German Lutheran congregation in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Grace Lutheran was without a pastor from November of 2011 until November of 2012, when the congregation called Pastor Sally Wilke to minister to Grace and First Lutheran of Dollar Bay in a yoked agreement between the two congregations.

Pastor Sally Wilke, born and raised in Wisconsin, received a BS in Social work from U W Oshkosh in1979, and an MS in Social Work/Administration from U W Milwaukee in 1989. She was married to David Wilke and has two children. She received her M Div from LSTC in 2012 with an emphasis in mission leadership. She was ordained on Nov. 3, 2012 at Lord of the Lakes Lutheran Church in Winneconne, WI, and was the twenty first pastor to serve Grace Lutheran Church. She served until November of 2015, when she retired from ministry.