Wargelin History of Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church (1904 – 1962)
The village of South Range became the economic focus of the cluster of mining communities adjacent to M-26 immediately South of Houghton. In addition to South Range, the cluster included Atlantic Mine, Baltic, Trimountain, and Painesdale. This focusing was apparent because the main street of South Range developed imposing business and public buildings such as the stone buildings of the Knights and Ladies of Kaleva, the Kivi and Uitti department store and the South Range Bank. Other buildings, such as the Saima Hall of the Auran Kukka Temperance society and the local Finnish Socialist Society, made Main Street a lively place. The eight room brick school building, standing in a grove of maple and oak trees at the West end of Main Street served to give the broad business street a balanced appearance.
The Copper Range Company, with headquarters in Boston, MA, spent a vast amount of money to launch its mining operations. Its railroad system connected its mines, refining plants and communities to one another and with South Range and Houghton. Furthermore, high school students of the entire South Range area were able to commute to the area high school in Painesdale by the Copper Range Railroad.
Evangelical Lutheranism was introduced to the Baltic location as early as 1897. South Range developed a bit later. The Finnish Lutherans of Baltic and South Range were served by pastors of the Finnish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Atlantic Mine (now Our Savior’s Lutheran). The Atlantic community had developed somewhat earlier. Eventually as the Evangelical Lutheran Finns of Baltic-South Range increased in number, they withdrew from Our Savior’s congregation and established their own, the Baltic-South Range Finnish Evangelical Lutheran congregation. The founding date was Feb. 25, 1906.
The new congregation joined the Suomi synod at once. The petition for membership was signed by John Jarvenpa, Jacob Keisala, L.L. Jansson, Kaspar Kyllonen, Henry Kurunsaari, William Hendrickson, Matt Johnson, John Ojala, and Vilho Saastamoinen. Worship services were initially held in the Saima Hall of the Auran Kukka Temperance society.
The Saima Hall was occupied by many activities, even on Sunday mornings! Consequently, the young congregation began very soon to make plans for its own sanctuary. Divine services were soon to be held in peace and dignity! The decision to build was made on March 7, 1909. Though the question of location provoked extended discussion, the site offered by the Copper Range Company at the border of Baltic-South Range was chosen in a spirit of unity. The contract for the building was awarded to Matt Ruonala and John Bahti for $5,150. Dedication took place on December 5, 1909 with Dr. J.K. Nikander officiating assisted by Pastors J. Back and Otto Stadius. A parsonage was purchased by the congregation in 1917. In 1924 the member congregations of the parish assumed financial shares in the purchase price and maintenance.
Sunday school was conducted in homes in Baltic as well as South Range before the church was built. Sunday school leaders during the first twenty five years of the congregation’s history were: Pastor J. Back, Miss Linda Paavola (both she and Pastor Matt Luttinen were members of the first class to graduate from Suomi College), John Hakala, John Sippi, Matt Kivi, Henry Kokko, Lauri Waisanen, Selma Luttinen, Kalle Tuomela, Daniel Kuona, Mikko Halonen and Selma Niemitalo. (Luttinen, M., 1932 Kirkolinen Kallenteri).
Summer schools in the earliest years were conducted for two full months! The Finnish language and Christianity were the subject matter. In the 1930s the length of the school was still one month! Teachers in the early years were secured from Suomi College.
Youth work in the Baltic-south Range Parish (which eventually included Atlantic, Trimountain and Painesdale) experienced some special high points from time to time. One of these periods was during the ministry of Pastor Mauno Kuusi (1910 –1918). In order to countermand the severe proselytizing done by area apostolic Lutherans among the youth of Kuusi’s parish, Kuusi hired senior seminarian John Saarinen from the Synod’s Seminary for a period of eight months. (Kuusi’s letter to J.J. Hoika, Feb. 10, 1912) During this time both Kuusi and Saarinen held youth evangelistic meetings in the western portion of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The response of youth to these meetings was widespread and lasting in terms of awakened faith and congregational life. (Wargelin, R.W., Suomi Synod Ministerium, John Saarinen’s curriculum vitae, p. 138). In later years the South Range Parish has done exemplary youth work in the form of the Luther League.
Leaders such as Pastor Kuusi, Otto Kaarto and Pastor Luttinen’s wife, Selma, did exemplary choral work. Pastor Kuusi organized a junior girl’s choir known as Vuokkoset. Pastor Otto Kaarto established a youth choir of more than 30 members. During Pastor Luttinen’s long ministry his wife Selma conducted a youth choir of over fifty members. The congregations’s church choir has existed through most of the congregation’s history.
During the congregation’s Suomi affiliation, it was governed by a board of deacons and a board of trustees. Chairmen of the congregation from its founding to 1933 have included J. Jarvenpaa, M. Halonen, M. Kivi, M. Wayrynen, K. Tuomela, and M. Kokko. Secretaries during the same period have been W. Hendrickson, H. Karppinen, E. Liimatainen, J. Hakala, M. Kivi, John Ojala, V. Merila, H. Kolehmainen, and L. Kangas. Treasurers during the same period have been H. Kurunsaari, S. Huotari, M. Mattson, O. Kauppi, E. Liimatainen, J.P. Nelson, M. Wayrynen, W. Hendrickson, D. Ruona, K. Tuomela, M. Halonen, John Ojala, and O. Tikkanen. Organists have been J. Holmlund, Miss Tyyne Kallio (Mrs. Edward J. Issac), Miss Saima Raappana, Mrs. Katri Montenati, and Mrs. Selma Niemitalo. At the congregation’s very beginnings, dues collectors (25 cents a month for men and 15 cents a month for women) were Henry Kurunsaari and Louis Kangas.
Officers of the congregation near the end of the Suomi Synod era were: John Saarela, chairman; Mrs. Nestor Soyring, secretary; Theodore Palonen, Asst. Secretary; Sunday School supt. Miss Jean Saarela & Wilhart Ollila; choir director Onni Malila; organist, Mrs. Martin Halinen; Synodical periodicals, Arthur Sampson.
Members of the congregation’s ladies aid were the strong supporters of the congregation both spiritually as well as financially. In 1957 when the congregation celebrated its 50th anniversary, the chair person of the ladies aid organization was Mr. E. Liimatainen. A brotherhood organization for men was begun in 1938. Matt Palonen was the first chairman. (Kangas, Louis, K.K. 1957).
Many changes had taken place in the South Range Parish by the time it celebrated its 70th anniversary in 1978. Redridge was no longer a part of the parish. Trimountain had formally dispersed in 1952 and part of its members had joined the South Range congregation. In 1965 when the Painesdale congregation disbanded and its members joined the South Range congregation, the name Grace Lutheran was adopted. A fourth congregation, namely Toivola, some 10 miles further south on M-26 also disbanded on January 5, 1969 and its members joined Grace Lutheran. The pastor in the midst of these changes was Dale Skogman. He led the congregation in the adventurous steps of merging and constructing the new church with a program in keeping with a new vision for outreach. Pastor Skogman became Bishop of the Northern Great Lakes Synod a few years later. The planning for the new church was done in cooperation with the Board of American Missions of the Lutheran Church in America. The architect was Richard Linde of Sheboygan, WI, who had done several construction projects with the BAM. Ted Palonen, church member, was the contractor. The dedication rites for the new building were conducted by the Wisconsin – Upper Michigan Synod president, Theodore Matson on June 1, 1969.
Raymond Wargelin – From His Obituary in 2003
Wargelin was born in Republic, Mich., in 1911 and was raised in Finnish-American communities there and in Illinois and Minnesota. He served as a minister in Finnish-American congregations in California and Ohio, taught in a seminary and held several administrative jobs, rising to become president of the Finnish Lutheran Church of America (Suomi Synod) from 1955 to 1963.