Reading, Writing and ’Rithmetic
A small Lutheran church in rural Juniata, Nebraska celebrated its 125th anniversary on May 17 and five generations of five different families have had family members attend the school.
Christ Lutheran School, located about fifteen miles northwest of Hastings, Neb., has been in existence since 1890, eight years after the church was founded.
The church was begun by a group of German families who moved from Illinois and Minnesota to settle in the northwestern corner of Adams Co., Neb.
In 1882, the congregation organized, ground was purchased, and the first church was built. Services were held in homes, in a public school, then three different buildings before the current church was built in 1962.
Christ Lutheran School began in the church building, then moved to the second church building after a new church was built. A brick building with two classrooms was built in 1926 with a lower level for the younger students and an upper level for the older. The present day school was built in 1979, and added on to last year.
And five families can trace their lineage back to that original school, started in 1890.
The Augustins, Katzbergs, Meyers, Ruhters, and Udens have been on the roll call for the past century and a quarter, and as daughters married, new names were brought into the fold: the most longstanding being Bockstadters, Burrs, Jacobitzes, and Reiners.
Intermarriage between neighbors and families was common back in that day, when people didn’t travel far and farms were smaller acres and more concentrated.
Kristen Katzberg Anderson is the fourth generation of five in her family to have been a student at Christ Lutheran School, and she thinks it’s shaped the family. “I am blessed by the generational ties and I love that my kids get to experience that, too,” she said. Her paternal great-grandfather, Adolph Augustin attended the school. His daughter and Kristen’s grandmother, Vera Augustin Katzberg attended, as did Vera’s son, and Kirsten’s dad, Darrel Katzberg. Now Kristen’s children Nathan (13), Elizabeth (11) and Emily (7) are all students at Christ Lutheran School.
Vera Katzberg, who is 95, is the only second generation student of the school still living. Her six children attended the school, and three of them: Darrel, Neal and Beverly, had children who attended and now have grandchildren at Christ Lutheran School. Beverly Katzberg Kral’s grandson, Barrett Kral, can trace his family line back through both his dad’s side (Jason Kral) and his mom’s side, Brandie Ruhter Kral.
The school has weathered hard times but made it through. The pastor often taught classes or served as principal (or both), and in 1919, when the state mandated that a pastor could not teach classes, there was serious discussion about closing the school. A vicar was found to teach the remainder of the year until a teacher could be hired. When hard times hit during the Great Depression, the pastor and teachers served the congregation with no pay for two years, until 1931, when the congregation was able to pay their back salaries. The pastor and teachers made ends meet by having their own cattle, chickens, and a big garden.
The small school setting (the school has sixty students, preschool through eighth grade) is an ideal learning situation, Kristen said. With the small school size, students can’t hide; they’re called on by the teacher more frequently and held accountable for their learning. “I think the individual attention and the foundation of God’s word are pivotal,” she said. The same goes with the sports programs. Christ Lutheran School has boys and girls basketball program and girls volleyball. “We have a small number of kids so the kids have more playing time.”
It’s the farming occupation that’s been the glue to keep so many families tied to the school. Kristen and her husband Mike Anderson farm, as did each generation on her side of the family going back. “It’s ag that’s held us there,” she said. “Even with me. I suspect I wouldn’t be at the church and school anymore if I hadn’t married Mike.”
As was typical a century ago, all of the five-generation school attendees were farmers, and many of them still are.
But as farming has changed and fewer farmers are needed to cover the acres, occupations have diversified.
The Bockstadter family, who can track their lineage to the beginnings of the school through the Burrs, Katzbergs and Ruhters, has farmed in the area since the 1890s. Joan Burr Bockstadter’s grandson, Brandon, farms near Kenesaw, Neb., but his brother, Brent, and his wife, Sara, are not involved in farming. It’s sometimes a sacrifice for those with eight to five jobs to be able to transport their children to parochial school. Brent and Sara are sending their son, Levi, to preschool at Christ Lutheran School, and they juggle the duties of taking him to school and picking him up every day.
People move now more than they used to, which also makes it unique that so many families have stayed in one place. “It’s due to this being a farming community,” said Joan Bockstadter, Levi’s great-grandmother. “The people are settled, and there’s not that change of jobs. The kids grow up, want to farm, and stay in the community.”
Joan’s husband Delmar was the second generation of his family to attend the school, and even though Joan’s siblings attended, she did not. Delmar passed away in 2014.
The school principal, Doug Eisele, who was a Lutheran school principal in Bremerton Wash. before coming to Nebraska, is amazed by the commitment of parents and the congregation for its school. “It was an influencing factor for me (in taking the job),” he said. “I was very impressed with the commitment of the congregation in having a school.” Tuition that could easily exceed $6000 per student costs $1300 per child. “When you really look at it, the congregation is heavily subsidizing every child that attends.” In Washington State, it was different. “The churches there are saying, ‘you need to raise the money to run yourself because the church isn’t going to subsidize you.’”
He tells a cute story about how the families are inter-related. As he taught a social studies class to third graders, he asked students what they thought the most common last name in the world was. One student innocently answered, “Uden?” referring to one of the common surnames in the school.
And he’s impressed with the quality of teaching. “We have people who know how to teach it, and teach secular subjects from a Christian perspective, without dissing on the public schools.”
In addition to five families with five generations of Christ Lutheran School attendees, there are many fourth generation families, and Kristen estimates that about 33 students have ties to first and second generation families.
It was a good education for herself, Kristen said, and she loves it for her kids. “It is a small nurturing environment. I have great memories of it, and I was never tempted to say we should send our kids somewhere else.”
“It’s a commitment but it’s worth it.”