TRIUMPHANT KING –THE BEGINNING
by Ward Zimmerman, August 1994
As I remember, there was a rumor in the fall of 1959 about the NW Mission board starting a congregation in Oswego. Our family were members at Good Shepherd which was the last Missouri Church to be built on the Southwest part of Portland. About eight families would ultimately transfer from Good Shepherd to TKLC. At that time, there was a gentlemen’s agreement among the various Synods that no one would build close to another existing Lutheran church, and as Our Saviors was already in existence that would put the opportunity somewhere at the West end of the lake. As I had grownup in Lake Grove, I was somewhat more than passively interested.
The confirmation of this rumor was the receipt of a letter from the NW District office by several families, at that time members of Good Shepherd, Zion Portland, and Oregon City, notifying them of the establishment of a new mission congregation in Oswego and asking each family to try to see their way clear to transfer to the mission and assist in the startup. At this same time, in the spring of 1960, the District Mission Board called Francis Smidt, a member of the seminary graduating class, who was married and with a small baby, placed him and his family in an apartment in downtown Oswego, gave him a long list of names from previous area canvases, plus the names of the letter recipients, and asked him to build a congregation. Smidt may best be described as having a boundless enthusiasm for the Lord’s work. I never saw the list but I am sure that everyone there got at least one call. He was frequently at our home that summer, and the first “official” church service was in the Lake Grove School gymnasium on September 18, 1960. The present church building was dedicated just two years later on September 23, 1962.
As I remember, the formal organization took place later that fall with the adopting of a constitution. There was never a thought about not going ahead with building a church. Art Raasch and his wife had received one of the District letters as members of Zion, Portland, and they both became very involved in the new congregation, and as Art was in the real estate business, he took the lead in the search for allocation. One of the prime concerns was that the property be large enough not only for the initial building, but also for expansion in the future. Both Art and I had had bad experiences with growing churches on small lots and the difficulty and cost involved trying to expand. Also, the fact of being a good neighbor required space around our church building.
At that time in 1960, the NW Mission Board church extension was fully invested and they had approached the Synodical Mission Board for additional funds to start several congregations all over the district. Synod came back with the offer to provide a maximum of $60,000 for each building construction only, at any location for a five-year term. All costs for property acquisition, furnishings, etc. were to be born locally. As I remember, TKLC was one of about 15 congregations started during that time.
The search for property was on. There was a two-acre parcel on Carman Drive – we approached the owner of the property now occupied by the Olson Clinic on Boones Ferry. There was a 1 ½ acre piece on Boones Ferry just East of Kruse Way, but all of them were priced out of our reach. Lake Grove was growing and property value was only going up. We finally purchased four separate parcels from three different owners in order to get enough in one continuous piece. This was the only property large enough and available in our price range in the Lake Grove area. Lamont Street in front of the church at that time, was tall trees and brush. Only a portion of Lamont on the East end had gravel to serve two houses. The original four-parcel plot gave us an L shaped piece with access only to Bryant. The property was somewhat on two levels, the upper where the church now stands, and the lower, now occupied with houses, east of the present eastern boundary.
The Architectural firm of Mockford and Rudd was chosen to submit a plan for a church building and it was repeatedly emphasized that the limit was sixty thousand dollars and not one penny more. They came up with a preliminary drawing very modernistic, diamond shaped with a hyperbolic roof, and sort of hanging over the existing property shelf. The drawing was met with mixed emotions but after much discussion we all knew that it would be a landmark in the future, so the go ahead was given, again with a reminder of the $60,000 limit. The contractors bid came in at $135,000 due to unforeseen engineering requirements. A serious attempt was made to maintain the design and reduce the cost but was not successful and the whole project had to be scrapped.
During that first, year while the original drawings were being prepared, a fellow Lutheran with a D8 bulldozer came over and cleared the property for free. He also dug the basement for the church that was on the drawing board. With this activity, the city of Oswego graded out Lamont way and put down a layer of gravel. We now had access to the back of the property whereas the original plan was access from Bryant, a heavily traveled, two-lane street.
The present building plan was arrived at after much discussion primarily devoted to the cost per square foot ratio. Maximum seating was the most important issue, hence the shallow altar area. It was also decided to design the wall behind the altar to be removed easily by putting an arch in place during original construction. Expansion could provide a deeper altar area as well as additional seating. Preliminary expansion plans west and also educational wing plans south have been drawn.
The building contract with Barnard and Kinney was mostly a gentlemen’s agreement and part of that was that the congregation members could do some of the work to cut down on cost, and that when we thought that we could finish, they would stop. They were well aware of the $60,000 limit. Members put two coats of tar on the outside of the foundation, back primed and painted all the outside cedar boards before they went up, painted all of the inside of the church except the wall behind the altar (no one wanted to get that high) and laid all of the file floor. The NW District had a fund that would provide 100 folding metal chairs to get started but Walt Cochran said that he wasn’t about to attend church sitting on a folding metal chair and that he and his wife Pauline would donate the cost of the pews. Art Raasch and his wife insisted on a marble altar and bore that expense. The baptismal font to match the altar was from Bert and Martha James. The architect had provided for a large plain wooden cross on the backwall over the altar but money was so tight that it was delayed or more than a year. Finally, Pastor Smidt suggested that we contact Rev. Markshansen that he knew for a suggestion. To make a long story short, the cross that you see, arrived at the church in the middle of the week with a note that the cost was $350 and if it did not suit our needs, he would gladly take it back. Pastor Smidt assembled the cross and mounted it without saying a word to anyone. Sunday morning as we all came to church it was there. The remarks about the new cross went from ”it’s beautiful” to ”that things gotta go.” Three weeks later at a voter meeting the subject of the new cross was brought up for discussion. There was mostly silence, very little said. Then Ed Roth said “if you want it, I’ll pay for it,” and it was immediately moved, second, and passed. The artists description should be around somewhere in the church.
An inspection of the present plot will show two rectangular lots on Lamont and a triangular piece on the south side. The triangular piece originally went down to Bryant and was occupied by a very poor house and rented to a family on welfare. There were junk cars, etc., and not really a desirable situation next to a church. One Sunday morning one of the goats got loose and attacked Tod Nelson who was about 10 years old at the time. Because the original plan called for access off Bryant and now the access was off of Lamont it became desirable and agreed upon to sell that part of the original purchase facing Bryant as it was hardly accessible from the church, and then purchase the piece on the South side of the church, which was done. As soon as we had possession of the new addition, everyone turned out in a big working party to remove the house and clean up the lot which greatly improved our general appearance.
There was considerable discussion concerning the building of a driveway from Bryant, west through the newly acquired triangular piece and up to the church, which would then provide two quite separate entries to the church. Visibility and access are important but the proposed church driveway would then provide a public through route for traffic in front of the church door enabling west bound traffic around the lake to shortcut to Lower Drive via Lamont. To place a barricade would be making two small parking lots and was not deemed as desirable, and so when all the traffic options were considered it was decided to sell off the frontage on Bryant with only the minimum amount of property necessary to accommodate two houses, thereby retaining the maximum amount of square footage for church use. The area of the second purchase fronting on Bryant was a considerable distance from the church, would be a maintenance obligation as well. The sale of the two lots was used to reduce our debt to the Church Extension Fund.
At the time that pastor Smidt took his call to the US Army as a chaplain the Sunday services were full to the point that serious consideration was being given to going to two services, or to extend the church building west to add additional seating. My personal observation was that the majority of the people in the pews on Sunday morning were neighborhood residents and that the minority were “historical” Missouri Synod Lutherans. When Pastor Smidt left, the congregation experienced a small drop in attendance which I believe is to be expected. Being vacant, and with a different pastor each Sunday in the pulpit must be disconcerting to some people. Looking back, it is hard to believe that the church was filled to capacity every Sunday, in only 6 years, went off subsidy shortly after that and paid off the original debt of almost $100,000 in 14 years.