As God’s church at Mt. Olive steps into the future today with the ordaining and installing of the fourteenth pastor in its eighty seven year history of active ministry, it is fitting to take a look back at the footsteps of the faithful who with the help of God contributed to the endearing and ongoing mission of the church to seek and save lost souls. I’m calling this historical series, “Footprints from the Past—Footsteps to the Future” because it is in the footprints of the past that I now plant my footsteps in the present and ask for your prayers of support as together we make footsteps toward the future and for the glory of God.
--Rev. David Brockhouse
Mt. Olive Evangelical Lutheran church began in 1925 under the direction of the Mission Board of the Texas District. The Rev. C. Stadler was called to start the mission congregation. Rev. Stadler rented a house at 3201 W. Houston Street. The pastor and his family lived on the second floor and the first floor of the house was used as the mission. The mission was formally opened in the afternoon of November 22, 1925. At the same time, the missionary opened a parish school. Soon, about twelve families began to regularly attend services.
During the spring of 1926, the District Church Extension Board loaned the little mission necessary funds to erect a chapel and school on property acquired at 3103 Buena Vista street. The chapel was dedicated on the morning of August 29, 1926. The school was dedicated during the evening service of August 29th. Mr. G.G. Estill, a talented member of the congregation, offered to fashion a painting for the altar and also carve a relief representing the “foot-washing of the Disciples.”
Since Pastor Stadler had been called as missionary-at-large for the territory, a regular pastor was called for the newly established mission. A call was extended to Candidate O.A. Borchelt, a graduate of Concordia Seminary at Springfield, Illinois. The mission was developed as Pastor Borchelt conducted services every Sunday and opened the school.
On October 31, 1926, a meeting of the membership was called to formally organize the congregation. This date makes the actual birthday of Mt. Olive Lutheran Church. Prior to October 31, it was considered to be merely a preaching station. The following officers were chosen to temporarily lead the congregation: Mr. B.F. Schmidt, President; Mr. E. Goeglein, Treasurer; Mr. G. Estill, Secretary; Mr. B.F. Schmidt, Mr. M. Voigt, and Mr. R.H. Fisher were elected to the Board of Elders. The officers were duly elected during the congregation meeting in January of 1927.
Due to ill health, The Rev. Borchelt was compelled to resign as minister during the summer of 1927. Attempts to secure a successor were unsuccessful. Therefore, the Rev. Stadler, who was conducting missions in various sections of the city, began to conduct services at Mt. Olive on Sunday mornings.
During the spring of 1928, severe difficulties beset the small mission. The Rev. Stadler resigned from both the mission and The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod (LCMS) due to friction. The pastors of Mount Calvary and St. Paul conducted services as best they could until such time as a successor could be found. It was not until Candidate H.H. Hellbusch from Concordia Seminary, Sty. Louis, Missouri, accepted the call to become pastor of Mt. Olive, in 1928, that the church was served by its own pastor.
For a long time it seemed as though Mt. Olive would not recover from the difficult times. In addition, to add to the difficulty, the Rev. Hellbusch accepted a call to Oklahoma during the spring of 1929. He had lead the congregation and the school to the best of his abilities. His ministry was plagued by absences he was compelled to make from his field due to illness in his immediate family. Following Pastor Hellbusch’s move, the San Antonio pastors once again took charge of the preaching. Miss Alice Voigt, -who was the charter member of Mt. Olive, having become a member in 1925 at the age of 12 and remaining a member until her death in 2009 at the age of 95, administrated the school until the end of the school year.
Mt. Olive’s future seemed destined to be very gloomy. It had been a without a pastor for one-third of its short three year history. The Texas District Mission Board once more called in behalf of the congregation and the call was extended to Candidate Arthur C. Repp, a graduate of Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, Missouri. Rev. Repp was installed on September 1, 1929. Prospects looked dull for the new pastor. Statistics showed that the mission had dwindled to three voters, thirteen communicants, and twenty-five souls. There were seven children in Sunday school and the elementary school had closed for the summer with six pupils.
Members remained optimistic in spite of the dark and troubled days, very supportive of the pastor and assisting him in every way possible. The following fall, the school opened with fifteen children. The number soon grew to nineteen. In an effort to encourage members, the congregation voted on some external improvements for the chapel. A ceiling was installed where none had been before. Ornamental lights were purchased to replace the drop lights. A rug and runner were purchased by the newly organized “WILLING WORKERS” group. Mr. R. H. Fischer presented the congregation with an altar back for which Mr. G. G. Estill painted the picture titled, “Found.” The picture depicts Jesus as the Good Shepherd, finding lost sheep. Today, 2012, that pictures hangs on the wall of the sanctuary at Mt. Olive in its newest location.
In 1930, a pleasant surprise was in store for the congregation, which helped boost the morale of its small flock. A former Sunday School teacher of Mr. Repp, Mrs. Arthur Muhlker and her husband, members of one of the new York Lutheran congregations, presented the congregation with a six-hundred pound bell. The Muhlker’s paid for the erection of a tower suitable to accommodate so heavy a bell. The inscription on the bell reads, “Come, for all things are now ready.” (Luke 14: 17) This same bell still call members, visitors, and neighbors to worship from its makeshift perch on the back porch of a growing Mt. Olive Lutheran church. Praise God
This is the third installment of a look back at the long and active history of God’s Church at Mt. Olive, begun in typically humble fashion in a two room house while a larger building was being built near downtown on Buena Vista Street. In its eighty-seven year history, there have been (as of now) 14 pastors at the helm of God’s church here. I am so blessed to be even a line item on that list. We often forget the past or see it through lenses that have become skewed or bitter or distant over time. I wanted to share the joys, struggles, uncertainties, problems, and special points in the history of Mt. Olive because we are experiencing much the same today—87 years later as we too are growing and continuing the wonderful task that God has us doing in His mission field - seeking and saving the lost souls with the Great News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
By 1930, it was decided that the mission opportunities of the field could best explored if assistance was give the pastor by relieving him of school responsibilities. The Texas District Mission Board, at the request of the congregation, called student William Reddell as the new student teacher. The new school term of 1930 began with 32 students. That same year, a children’s confirmation class was held for the first time in several years. The following Palm Sunday, a class of seven children was confirmed.
The school became more and more the chief mission agency of the congregation and in the summer of 1931, Mr. Walter Voth was called as teacher. Mr. Voth was a graduate of Concordia Teacher’s College, Seward, Nebraska. The school opened the fall semester of 1931 with 32 students. On September 25, 1931, A Walther League was organized with the following officers: Mr. Walter Voth, President, Mrs. A.C Repp, Vice-President, Ms Margaret Johnson, Secretary; Ms Mary Griesenbecvk, Walther League Secretary; Miss Alice Voight, Treasurer.
Mr. Schmidt made a generous offer to purchase the material to seal the entire walls of the church with celotex if the members of the congregation would furnish the labor. The offer was readily accepted. The work was completed during the spring and summer of 1932. The first parsonage was purchased by the congregation in July, 1932, with the assistance of a loan from Mr. Schmidt. The pastor and his family moved into the parsonage the same month.
A memorial baptismal font was unveiled and dedicated on November 6, 1932. It was commissioned in honor of Charles F. Repp, who was killed in action during World War I. The donor of the font was Mrs. Barbara Repp, mother of Charles and the pastor. The font was carved of solid walnut by Mr. G. G. Estill and fashioned in the likeness of Charles Ross who was also the first child to be baptized in the church at the Buena Vista Street location. The Font was put into immediate use in the baptism of Frank Wittlif. The baptismal font was later (and is still to this day) enclosed and put on display in the sanctuary.
In order to extend the mission outreach of the school, a school bus was purchased and paid for by the Willing Workers of Mt. Olive. This organization made the school one of their chief projects and soon afterwards purchased the lot to the west of the parsonage for the site of the future school.
When Mr. Voth had been called as teacher, a seventh grade had been added to the school. Mt. Olive was the only Lutheran church in San Antonio with a seventh grade at the time. Now another step forward was made when an eighth grade was added. Mt. Olive now had a complete Junior High School!
The Lord abundantly blessed the growth of the school The enrollment increased to 44. The school could only accommodate 32 children with any degree of comfort and efficiency. Yet, the church could not afford to turn back mission prospects for the Kingdom of the Lord. The children were accepted and the back porch of the parsonage was used for the second room of the school.
The fledgling new school at Mt. Olive was overcrowded, underfunded, and children were sitting in classes on the back porch of the only available building. With winter coming and no heat for the “porch classroom,” The Texas District Extension Board was asked for a loan of $1000 to build an addition to the school. And the congregation voted to commit to building the school without any cost for labor. The school was moved from the rear of the sanctuary to the newly purchased lot. An addition larger than the original was constructed. On December 31, 1932, the new school was dedicated.
A school cafeteria program and facility was launched in February 1933, by the Willing Workers. Mrs. Repp, mother of Pastor Repp, was placed in charge of the cafeteria and served as cook without any salary! Through the years, the cafeteria was staffed by a number of members, including: Mrs. Elsie Baumgartner, (to whom our current kitchen at Mt. Olive is dedicated), Mrs. Eleanor Dalbosco, and Mrs. Bertie Sedgwick.
The Rev. A.C. Repp accepted a call to Concordia Seminary, St. Louis, in 1943. The Reverend M. L. Koehneke was extended the call to serve Mount Olive. The Christian day school flourished greatly during the years that pastor Koehneke served the congregation. During his tenure, the school reached an enrollment of over 250 students. Nine teachers served as instructors in the school.
Pastor Koehneke accepted a call in 1950 to become the first Texas District Chairman of Christian Education, and the family moved to Austin. Later, Pastor Koehneke served as president of Concordia University, River Forest, Illinois.
The Reverend Edwin Wolf was extended a call and served the congregation ably and well for three years before accepting a call to Plainview, Texas. The new school building and parish hall were dedicated September 30, 1951.
The 25th anniversary of Mount Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church was celebrated at two festival services on December 2, 1951. The Rev. Martin L. Koehneke was the speaker.
The Reverend Walter Ruehrdanz followed Pastor Wolf as shepherd of the congregation. Pastor Ruehrdanz served Mount Olive until 1957, when he accepted a call to Chicago, Illinois.
The Reverend Eldor Mickan was extended and accepted the call to serve Mt. Olive and was installed as its pastor on September 22, 1957.
The properties on Buena Vista Street were sold to Trinidad Lutheran Church in 1961, when the Texas District Mission Board advised Mt. Olive to relocate. Mt. Olive then worshiped in Westwood Terrace Elementary School at Lackland Terrace from September 1961 until the parish hall/educational building at the church’s new location at 8138 Westshire was dedicated on July 15, 1962.
The new air-conditioned brick structure was made possible through a loan from Lutheran Mutual. Total cost of the structure was $69,700. That fall, a school comprising kindergarten and first grade was reopened with 36 pupils enrolled. Our very own Mrs. Margaret Klinkerman was one of two teachers—along with Mrs. Jessie DeVries—who taught classes. The new two-story parsonage adjacent to the original 5.3 acre property was built in 1963.
As we continue our look back down memory lane at the over eighty-seven years of history that is God’s church at Mt. Olive, we arrived at the second three locations that have been the home of Mt. Olive down through the years. 8138 Westshire - alternately referred to by the locals as “across from Super K-Mart,” or “Right next door to Lucy’s Cake shop” was the home of a growing Mt. Olive for 44 of its 87 year history.
When a two-story parsonage was built next to the 5.3 acres of land that front what was then the “outer loop” -Loop 410—, an additional two room school was added in 1963 and given the name “St. Mark’s. The school building had four classrooms. As the church moved in 1961 from Buena Vista to Westshire, the communicant membership stood at 189 souls. All but a few stayed with the church after the move. And the church began to immediately expand and grow. Within a period of 8 years, between 1961 and 1969, the 189 members grew to 421 and a total of 760 souls in all attending the church.
The day school, from the time of reopening in the Temporary facilities at Westwood Terrace, grew to an enrollment of 315 students by 1968.
The Building-Planning Committee worked long and diligently to arrive at a suitable building program. The design and floor plan for a new sanctuary and adjacent buildings was not accepted by the congregation and a new direction had to be sought out.
The sanctuary that exists today and that still serves a Lutheran Hispanic ministry within its walls, was built and dedicated in 1977. In 1971 the smaller sanctuary underwent an expansion to add an additional seating for 100 more members. A teacher’s lounge, principal’s office and large storeroom were also added, all at a cost of $27.000.
A new organ was purchased in 1971 to replace the small one purchased while the church was worshipping at Westwood Terrace School. Funding of a three-stage building program was adopted in 1972. This involved plans for a youth building in 1972, an additional story on the school building in 1973 (a part of the plan that was later abandoned), and a new sanctuary in 1976.
In 1977 the new sanctuary on the corner of Westshire and Loop 410 was built under a contract of $125,000. The contract did not include pews and altar furniture. The new sanctuary was dedicated on January 29, 1978. The parsonage was sold to Pastor and Mrs. Mickan, and the parking lot was enlarged. The first faceted side glass windows were installed during 1979. In 1981, the congregation was blessed by the ministry of its first Vicar, Ray Greenseth. The “Eternal Light” sanctuary lamp was dedicated by the LWML as a memorial to Mr. William Hemmer, faithful chairman of the Board of Elders for many years.
Christ Bottoroff took up vicarage at Mt. Olive during 1982 and the congregation of confirmed membership grew to 440. (to be continued)
The Year was 1983. Confirmed membership stood at 440 souls. Mr. and Mrs. Tham Nguyen, a Vietnamese family that was adopted by the church, was baptized and confirmed in the Christian faith.
The Reverend Eldor Mickan’s 25th anniversary as pastor of Mt. Olive was celebrated in 1983. Dan Rowe completed his vicarage at Mt. Olive and Mr. Jay Minge was the congregational chairman.
Mrs. Kathleen White became church secretary in 1984. In this year, Dave Simonson completed his year of vicarage. He was followed in 1985 by Jeff Baxter. Ms. Shirley Frerichs (Mrs. James Zanta) continued as organist. Mrs. Lois McDaniel continued to serve as the day school secretary.
Plans were laid to embark on a building program facilitating the expansion of the day care center, day school, and possibly including a gymnasium. Mr. Vernon Clausen accepted the call as principal of Mount Olive School. The Reverend Eldor Mickan accepted a call to St. John Lutheran Church, Corpus Christi, Texas, after more than 28 years of service as pastor of Mt. Olive.
As a new decade began for Mt. Olive’s Congregation, the Reverend Vernon Bahr served as vacancy pastor after departure of Pastor Mikan. Pastor Bahr had retired from 20 years of service in the United States Air force as chaplain. He was extended a call to serve Mt. Olive as full-time pastor. Pastor Bahr accepted the call and was installed as pastor on December 7, 1986. During his tenure of nearly seven years at Mt. Olive, the outreach to the military was expanded. While serving at Mt. Olive, Pastor Bahr celebrated his 40th years in the ministry. A special service of thanksgiving and reception were held in honor of the occasion. Pastor Bahr retire from Mt. Olive and the ministry on June 1, 1993. Mrs. Virginia Fullen (now Mrs. Robert Axtell) took up the duties as church secretary following the retirement of Kathleen White.
A major fundraising effort was undertaken for the purchase of a new instrument of praise for the sanctuary. The new organ was dedicated at a special service on January 10, 1995.
Mrs. Axtell left the secretary’s position in 1990 to return to school. The position of church secretary was assumed by Mrs. Vernon Clausen (Ellie, a 1949 graduate of Mt. Olive Lutheran School).
The Reverend J. Louis Oetting, retired, served Mount Olive as vacancy pastor until August 1, 1993, when James E. Sturgis, a retired Air Force aviator was assigned to Mt. Olive from Concordia Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana, to serve a deferred vicarage. Upon completion of his vicarage year, Vicar Sturgis was extended a call through the placement process, accepting the call to become shepherd of the flock at Mt. Olive. The Reverend James Sturgis was ordained and installed as pastor on August 19, 1994 and served Mt. Olive until 2003.
From 1994 to 1997 the church experienced growth, including several renovations to the sanctuary . The portico at the front of the sanctuary was completed, a donation from Mrs. Nell Hudson in memory of her late Husband Col. Guy Hudson.
More renovations were completed in Martin Luther Hall, including American’s with Disabilities Acts—approved restrooms, new offices and a reception area, as well as a covered sidewalk between the sanctuary and Martin Luther Hall. The buildings of the campus received new roofs, the parking lot was resurfaced and most of the air conditioners were replaced during a four period between 1994 and 1998. In 1994, Mrs. Edna Bird established The William E. Bird and Edna L. Bird Scholarship Endowment Fund. The purpose of the fund is to provide assistance to members of the congregation that are being trained for professional church work. The Edna L. Bird Scholarship Fund proved to be a valuable resource during the years 2007 to 2012, as proceeds from the Fund help to finance tuition and books for the Deacon and then Vicar of Mt. Olive who would complete course work in 2012 and be ordained and installed as the church’s pastor on March 25, 2012.
In 1994, the ministry of Mt. Olive was expanded with the addition of Deaconess Bonnie Voss, who came to Mt. Olive in September and who faithfully served as Youth Director as well as maintaining ongoing, scheduled visitations to shut-ins and senior members and Youth Confirmation classes along with coordinating the Women’s ministry program. Deaconess Sharon Teague came to Mt. Olive in January, 1996, to serve as administrator of the Daycare and in assimilation ministry.
The Reverend Matthew A. Boarts was ordained and installed on August 5, 1995, and joined Pastor Sturgis in the care of the flock of Mt. Olive. Pastor Boarts came from Carbon Cliff, Illinois. His ministry included serving as vacancy pastor in Jacksonville, Texas, school administrator, and evangelism outreach. During the summer of 1995, Pastor Boarts, along with Head Elder Duane Dieterich, conducted a Vacation Bible School in Canada, and assisted sister churches in rural areas of Texas.
Beginning in 1995, sharing the Gospel at Mt. Olive was expanded to include services to be held at Air Force Village Retirement Home, a facility for military personnel and their dependents. Services on Sunday at AFV regularly brought 30 to 35 retirees into the facility chapel for worship. At the same time, regular Wednesday evening worship services were initiated at Mt. Olive with an average attendance of 30 people each week. Another program initiated during this period was an outreach to the local community, as Mt. Olive members began a relationship with the Rigsby Apartment Complex, a development of low-income housing units.
Average weekly attendance at Mt. Olive stood at 230 at the close of 1995, 518 baptized souls on the church roster. Challenges lay on the horizon for the church, school and daycare as the city continued to grow and move further out from the church—out toward a new “outer loop” 1604.
In the early 1990’s the cold war came to an end and that, among other changes in the landscape of the country, state, and city of San Antonio, gave birth to challenges and changes in and around the church life of Mt. Olive.
The U.S. Military presence, long the dominant feature of life in San Antonio, suffered large scale cutbacks after the end of the cold war. Mt. Olive felt the effects of those cutbacks as well. Nearby Kelly AFB closed its doors and the west side of town saw a significant shift in the demographics and growth of the city. The north side of San Antonio experienced a dramatic increase in home starts and large numbers of families that had lived in urban areas like the heavily populated near west side—where Mt. Olive had thrived since opening its doors—were pulling up stake and moving to the “outskirts” of town, beyond Bandera road and out and around a quickly growing “outer loop” known as 1604.
The West side felt the impact of the population shift as property values in the area declined as well as personal income and population. As a direct result of the shift to the North and the cutbacks in the military mission and presence, (Mt. Olive was home to many active duty military and their children attended Mt. Olive’s school and daycare centers), attendance in school, daycare and even in the church at large suffered.
Despite heroic efforts by church lay leaders, high operational costs of school relative to declining enrollment led to significantly increasing debts. Three years of deficit operating, and the loss of over $30,000 in unpaid tuition over that period, led to the difficult decision to close the doors of the school in May of 1998.
In an effort to continue to reach out to the changing dynamics of the “new” community in which Mt. Olive was ministering, the decision was made to keep the Daycare Center open. The Daycare continued for two more years but was closed in August of 2000, after it was unable sustain its enrollment after a period of probation levied by the Department of Human Services.
In the midst of these challenges, shortcomings, and uncertainties of life, God continued to provide many works of His wonder among the flock. In 1998, Mt. Olive was given an anonymous gift of 6 acres of land on Highway (now “Loop”) 1604 between Highway 90 and Marbach Road. As the closing date on the land came due, Mt. Olive received a bill for $35,000 in closing costs and realtor’s fees. In a miraculous, God inspired “coincidence”, Herman and Irma Joppich donated the funds and the news of that gift led members of Mt. Olive to give thanks and to turn their sights to growing again, look to build again in a new worship and fellowship center on that new property.
By the time of the 75th anniversary celebration of God’s church at Mt. Olive (1926-2001), average weekly attendance stood at 90. Communicant membership was 189 with 311 baptized souls. But more challenges lay ahead and the logo that graced the inside of the 75th anniversary Directory “Alive at Seventy-Five” would be sorely tested in the coming three years.
2002—the start of the seventy-sixth year of Mt. Olive’s active ministry to the San Antonio community—dawned with renewed hope amidst the difficult and challenging trials of the first two years of the new century.
In the still fresh and fragile memories of the closing of both the school and daycare, two vital arms of the mission of the church since its humble beginning in 1926, and the increasing exodus of families of and around Mt. Olive, membership and attendance continued its troubling downward spiral.
With the loss of operating revenue from school, daycare, and church operations, much needed repairs to campus buildings (many now forty years old) including the sanctuary, had to be deferred. Adding to the burdensome reality of the church’s daily challenges was the ongoing requirement that taxes be paid on the six acres of land at 1604 and Marbach Road, which had been donated to the church in 1998.
Many customary operational services of the church were discontinued to reduce expenses, and by 2003 the two worship services, 8:00am and 10:30, were combined into one 9:15 worship. The steady movement away from the inner loop 410 to the outskirts of town at 1604 - a physical distance of only three miles - and the shift of members to other Lutheran Churches, left the church body with difficult choices to pray about….and there was much prayer for guidance and strength being lifted up to the Lord on behalf of Mt. Olive as dark clouds were gathering, threatening to blot out the light of the Gospel that had been shining for over three quarters of a century.
In 2002, Pastor Sturgis accepted a call to serve two parishes in Rockport, Tx. The Reverend Dan Williams, a native of San Antonio, served as interim pastor at Mt. Olive for a year, accepting the call of pastor in October 2003. Pastor Dan had previously served as lay minister in the Northwest District of LCMS from 1990 to 1994, was ordained in September 1994, and accepted a call to Cristo Del Valle, Toppenish, Washington, in Sept 1994. Upon his return to San Antonio, Pastor Williams served three years as interim pastor at San Esteban Lutheran Church San Antonio
In September 1987, Pastor Dan had become one of the first to enroll in TEE, Theological Education by Extension, a program that offered men an opportunity for a “second career” which would lead toward ordination. That “second career” program would be the genesis of another “second career” opportunity for a member of Mt. Olive, which would eventually lead toward ordination and installation as pastor.
Evidence of God’s hand guiding and leading His people through troubled waters was clear even in the tumult and trauma of change that was surrounding the church on all fronts. Then Church Secretary, Kathleen White, performed her duties without pay and other loving members stepped up to provide valuable services to keep the church going. Still the disturbing decline continued. With the light of the church flickering, members met to discuss the unthinkable—after seventy-seven years of being a beacon of the Gospel—was it time to turn off the lights? In the confines of an aging Martin Luther Hall, a small group of disciples met to address the realities and to pray for divine help. Their prayers and their decision that night would affect the future, if any, of the mission of Mt. Olive.
In the dim light of Martin Luther Hall in early 2003, a small, but determined band of Mount Olive members prayed for discernment and guidance as they made a bold decision to not only keep the ministry going beyond its seventy-sixth consecutive year of active service, but to step far outside the comfort of the facility in which so many people had made their footprints and had called their spiritual home for so many years.
The remaining members voted to keep alive the mission of Mt. Olive and to create a building committee that would begin work immediately on the necessary plans, financing, construction, and opening of a new multi-use facility on the site of the land donated to the church in 1998.
The Building Committee, under the leadership of Charles Torkelson, Irene Pendelton, David Marg, and others, worked diligently and faithfully to secure approval and financing through the Church Extension Fund. The committee also worked to enlist critical construction support of a wonderful Lutheran ministry “Laborers for Christ” - made up of endearing retirees whose love for the Lord leads them to crisscross the country lending their considerable expertise and talents to building new churches to the glory of God.
In November 2003, the committee presented a final proposal for the building project to the members of the congregation. Up for vote was a plan that included a $400,000 loan from Church Extension Fund, final architectural plans, labor and construction needs, and a projected date for groundbreaking.
The congregation approved the Building Committee’s plans and a ground breaking ceremony was held in the cold and blustery winter weather of January 2004. Work began immediately as materials began to pour in, electricity was fired up at the location, Laborers for Christ descended upon the location with campers and trailers, and a hearty band of volunteers from the church—armed with hammers and nails, paint and brushes, and a sincere and abiding desire to extend God’s mission field and His church at Mt. Olive to a new and growing community.
As work progressed at the new location, worship continued in the facility at Westshire. In early 2004, Pastor Dan became ill and was unable to perform his regular pastoral duties. Pastor enlisted the support of the Council President, David Marg, and elder David Brockhouse, to alternate in performing pastoral duties including regular worship services during Pastor Dan’s period of recovery and convalescence.
As the shell of the new building went up, a meeting was held at the site and it was agreed that Reverend Louis Oetting, retired, be called as interim pastor to perform on a part-time basis at the new facility and, at the request of Pastor Dan, that David Brockhouse be commissioned by the church to provide pastoral care, homebound ministry, other regular duties of the pastoral office, and worship services at the new site for those weeks of the year where Pastors Oetting and Williams were not conducting worship. The rest of 2004 moved swiftly as did construction of the new facility - God directing His church to a new light that would shine brightly as it opened its doors to a new mission field on November 11, 2004.
On a cold and windy day in early January 2004, cameras, shovels and smiles converged on a small plot of earth near the front of the six acres of mission field on 1604 and Buffalo Pass, to officially “break ground” and start construction of the Multi-use facility that would be the new home of Mt. Olive for the coming years.
With prayer and determination, the small group of members that remained at Mt. Olive rolled up their sleeves, took out their hammers and paint brushes and began what would end up being over 700 volunteer hours of work in addition to the wonderful and skilled work of the Laborers for Christ, to bring the construction project to its conclusion in time for the church to open its doors in September of 2004. As the exterior walls went up, work moved steadily from outside to inside as the sanctuary space was configured, rooms were completed, office furniture, sinks and toilets, and appliances for the new kitchen were acquired. Mindful of the long and cherished history of Mt. Olive - then seventy-eight years - some important historical items from the original Buena Vista site and the Westshire facility were carefully transferred to the 1604 site, where they would be made a permanent part of the new sanctuary.
Among the items transferred to the new facility was the 600 pound Bell Tower, a gift presented to Mt. Olive in 1930 by Arthur and Johanne Muhlker of New York, and which has inscribed on it, “Presented for the service of the Triune God to Mt. Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church of San Antonio, Texas. Then Council President, David Marg, and his son, Kyle, removed the massive bell from the 30 plus foot perch it had occupied in the tower at Westshire for over forty years, to the back porch of the new facility, where they placed it in a specially constructed bell structure where to this day it rings out into the new mission field, announcing the call to worship.
Other important pieces of history that were saved and transferred to the new facility include the 1930 G.G. Estill (member) painting “Found” which depicts the Good Shepherd caring for His lost sheep. This painting had been the centerpiece of the original altar at the Buena Vista location. The painting now rests in the sanctuary in full view of all who worship in God’s house.
The original Baptismal font, dedicated in November 1932, in honor of member Charles F. Repp, who was killed in action during World War 1, was a donation of Charles’ mother, Mrs. Barbara Repp and the Rev. A.C. Repp. The Font was carved from solid walnut by Mr. G.G. Estill and fashioned in the likeness of Charles Ross, the first child to be baptized in the church at the Buena Vista location in 1930. The altar, pulpit, lectern, and baptismal font of the Westshire location was brought to the new facility as well. All these priceless pieces of Mt. Olive’s treasured past have created their own “footprints from the past” even as their service to God in the current sanctuary lend to the church’s “footsteps to the future.” As old footprints found a new home in the sanctuary, a new “treasure” was taking shape that would soon make its footprint on the wall behind the chancel and altar; a wall behind which willing workers had placed their own special messages of love, hope, and prayer as the finishing touches were being added and the dedication loomed on the horizon.
The year 2004 moved swiftly as did the work of the Laborers for Christ and the volunteer force of very mature members of Mt. Olive. As the paint was going on interior walls, furniture, fixtures, files, banners, paraments, and other items from the Westshire location were finding homes in the new facility.
While the altar was brought over from Westshire, it needed a foundation upon which to rest in the Sanctuary. Congregational President David Marg built the chancel and kneeling platform, Elder Brent Piel constructed new communion rails, and cushioning and green carpet were added by Bob Conant. With the chancel complete, the altar was put into place. The largest room of the new facility was beginning to look like a sanctuary.
The chancel and altar were situated against the East wall of the sanctuary, centered between two rows of windows on either side. But one important fixture still remained to make the chancel area complete, and it would not come from the Westshire location. Its roots reached all the way to Lake City, Florida.
On a farm hundreds of miles from San Antonio, a cherry tree stood on the property of Doyal Ottinger, brother of long time Mt. Olive member Robert (Bob) Ottinger and wife, Elayne. Thanks to Doyal’s generosity, wood from the cherry tree was donated to the church, where the Laborers for Christ cut, carved, sanded, shaped, and varnished it with tender loving care into a beautiful cross. The cross was donated to the church in 2004, and placed above the chancel, between the windows (which would soon have a story of their own to tell in the new Mt. Olive). The cross rests on the wall behind which Mt. Olive members lovingly left messages of hope, prayers, and Scripture passages during the initial construction phase. The fall season had arrived. Cooler temperatures led the rush to complete work on the facility and signaled the much anticipated date of a glorious dedication to the Lord.
On September 19, 2004, in the seventy-eighth consecutive year of active ministry to God’s people, at precisely at 4pm, the 600lb bell on the back porch of the new multi-use facility on 1604, rang to life for the first time at the new location; its thunderous sounds bouncing off the concrete floor and outer walls of the church, raising wonderful notes of the special event about to take place.
The dedication of the new facility welcomed members (new and old) and visitors from around the city. The Dedicatory Address was given by then Mission and Ministry Executive of the Texas District, The Reverend Ken Hennings, (now President of the Texas District, LCMS). Circuit Counselor, Reverend Del King, gave the invocation. Congregational President, David Marg, gave welcoming remarks. Reverend Donald Fraker led the church in Scripture readings. The Choir performed under the direction of Director Jim Machetta and Pianist Cathy O’Neill. Elder David Brockhouse handled the dedication rites. Reverend David Schroeder, Vice-President, Texas District LCMS, gave the Prayer of Dedication. Reverend Julio Flamenco, Pastor of Mission Evangelical Lutherana (which would soon begin services in Spanish at the Westshire location) gave the benediction.
With the dedication complete, all hands were on deck to put finishing touches on the facility, with the plan to open the doors to regular worship in November.
The “new” Mt. Olive officially opened its doors in November 2004. While weekly attendance was small, there was an abiding sense of satisfaction that the light that only flickered a earlier was now brightly shining, announcing God’s new mission field for the faithful at Mt. Olive and for the surrounding community. Anticipation and hope resurfaced in the new facility adorned with fixtures that reminded folks of the long and illustrious life of the church (82 years at opening), and fresh, new items which signaled the beginning of another chapter of promise.
Average weekly attendance during the first full year was about 35 souls, with 75 on the church roster. Despite the small numbers, the church maintained the groups that had been so successful at the previous facility. Women in Ministry (WIM), under the leadership of Elayne Ottinger, provided a critical and comforting program of compassion for the numerous homebound in the congregation. The steady and superb chapter of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League (LWML) quickly got up to speed and was (and is still today) at the center of a number of activities throughout the year, under the leadership of Norma Zuehlsdorf, Lucille Carson, and Raye Black. Pastors Lou Oetting and Dan Williams conducted worship services twice a month while the Deacon handled worship the other two weeks, visited shut-ins, and conducted classes in the performance of regular duties of the church.
The church continued to experience slow but steady growth in 2006. Pastor Oetting went back into retirement at the end of 2006 and Pastor Dan retired in 2007. Then Deacon, David Brockhouse, assumed full time duties of Word and Sacrament ministry at Mt. Olive (under Pastor Dan’s guidance and mentoring) as he entered in the Distance Education Leading Toward Ordination (DELTO) program; a four year curriculum taught by Concordia Seminary, both online and on campus, that would lead, upon completion, to a full general ordination for the candidate.
By 2007, weekly attendance had increased to 55 and total membership stood at 95. The church was beginning to be “known” in the new community. Thanks to the loving kindness of families whose loved ones had gone to be with the Lord, the church saw new additions to the facility and campus during the period from 2007 to 2010.Carolyn Gailey planted a garden of Cana plants, Palm trees and other plants that surrounded the Sanctuary - and she diligently, lovingly tended the plants until her death in 2010. The family of former Elder and long time member, Jay Minge, donated a beautiful rock garden in memory of Jay, on the front porch of the church and around the light posts on the driveway. Robert Ottinger headed up a drive to secure new LSB hymnals for the church by selling “memory bricks,” the proceeds of which paid for over 130 new hymnals. The bricks were inlaid in the design of a cross among Jay and Ada’s bricks and Carolyn’s plants, blending together to present a warm, inviting façade for the church.
The beauty of God’s church was not only enhanced on the outside. Choir Director Jim Machetta used his talents not only in leading the choir, but in creating 12 stained glass windows which were mounted onto the windows that filled either side of the wall where the Cherry wood cross hung over the chancel and altar. Even as some members of the church took their leave from the trials of this life for the promised joy of a new life in heaven, God’s church at Mt. Olive continued to grow. In 2008, the church took a bold step to branch out its ministry to the community.
2010 - Present
A committee was formed to explore the opportunity to open a new daycare and learning center. Chaired by council Vice President, Charlie Torkelson, and consisting of members, David Justice, Lois Fisher, Kim O’Brien, Judy Yeary, and Barbara Freeman, a plan was presented to and approved by the congregation. In 2009, the Mount Olive Daycare and Learning Center opened its doors (well, opened the doors of the Sanctuary, Adult Bible Study room and Nursery Rooms of the Multi-use facility!) to students ages 3 to 5 years. As was the case with the growth of the church, enrollment was thin at the beginning (only about 6 students!). Nonetheless, by April of 2010 enrollment stood at 35 students and it was necessary to purchased dividers to section off 1/2 of the sanctuary for the 5 year olds during the week.
In 2010, a well-worn, heavily used portable building (27 years old) was purchased at auction for the price of only $1,300. The portable would undergo Mount Olive’s version of an “extreme makeover” over the ensuing 18 months as the “new” home for 18-month to 5 year old students was being readied. Just as loving and willing workers helped to make the multi-use facility a reality four years earlier, numerous volunteers from the congregation went to their collective garages, dusted off their tools, and began to transform an old school house into a beautiful “new” place for young children to learn about the life and love of Jesus—their Savior.
By the start of 2011, average weekly attendance had increased to 75 and total membership grew to over 150. God’s plan for Mount Olive was blossoming—the seed of the Gospel was bearing fruit.
The mission field of God's church at Mount Olive continues to shine the Light of the Gospel as it branches out into the second decade of the twenty-first century. In a 5 square mile radius around the church location on the outer loop of the city, a multitude of neighborhoods and over 30,000 homes have sprung up in the last 5 years, and the expansion of the community of San Antonio continues at a record pace outside the front doors of the church.
To the west, the once 10-mile stretch of farmland toward Castroville, is now laced with neighborhoods and rooftops, moving toward Castroville at a pace where in the third decade of the century, the Alsatian village will seem to be a suburb of San Antonio. Expansion of the city continues toward the North and South as well. Major new industries have made San Antonio home in the last five years, the largest of these being a Toyota truck Manufacturing plant on the city's south side.
All around the church’s prime location at 1604 and HWY 90, new neighborhoods, businesses and schools dot the landscape and present a burgeoning mission field for what was once just six acres of bushes and weeds. Until 2010, one of the most often heard comments about the “Mount Olive Campus,” by the casual visitor or passerby, or the “regulars” that use the driveway and parking lot to get onto 1604 or exit the freeway to get to their neighborhood more quickly, was, “That’s a church? I thought it was a restaurant.”
Steady increases in membership between 2007 and 2010, along with the opening of the new daycare and learning center in 2009, has helped put Mount Olive “on the map” in the surrounding community. But the most noticeable and memorable image that has heralded the campus and multi-use facility as a place of worship and a rest stop of comfort where the Gospel of Jesus Christ is proclaimed and God’s means of grace are freely shared, is not to be found in the plaster, green paint, or silver roof of the building. It is not even the distinctive “new” look of a tired, old worn-out portable building.
And it’s not the small street signs on either entrance that have served as the sole source of advertising for the past eight years. The signature image that pulls eyes away from the road, that tugs at the hearts of all who pass by - and those who stop to meditate before them– are three steel crosses, painted white, that jut up from a grassy hill that rises gently from the property. Surrounded by jagged rocks and South Texas vegetation, these crosses symbolize Christ’s victory over sin, death, and the devil. “The Hill of the Crosses,” as the area has come to be known, is a comforting oasis for all who seek a moment of peace in the hurried nature of the world that blows by them at 75mph.
Donated by member Judy Yeary in 2010 as a memorial to her late Husband James, the crosses were built by former Mount Olive Member, Adam Olson. Until early 2012, passersby and those who sought refuge in their silent shadows, had to stand around them, as there was no seating area. In early 2012, in memory of his wife, Helen, Elder Bob Conant donated two concrete benches which were placed on either side of the crosses.
Today, the crosses stand as a loving reminder of God’s presence and promise in the community, the world, and the hearts of all believers. And sign posts at either exit from the church and into the community, remind members of their call to serve the Lord, “You are now entering the mission field.” Thanks in part to the footprints of the past of all those who have passed through God’s church at Mount Olive through the years, old and new members alike are making footsteps to the future.
Over the last several editions of it has been my privilege to share with members, visitors, and those who just happen to get their hands on the church’s, long and cherished history of God’s church at Mount Olive.
Much of the information provided in the early segments of Footprints from the Past- Footsteps to the Future was the work of charter member of Mt. Olive, Miss Alice Voight,(a member since 1925,) and Ms. Lucy Soria, former Secretary at Mt. Olive, who put their heart and soul into the careful collection and reporting of the events that have helped to shaped the living history of our church.
Pastor James Sturgis was responsible for the production of the Seventy-Fifth Anniversary celebration, which occurred during his tenure as pastor. The church and its members are eternally grateful to these people for keeping alive the history of the church. During the transition from Westshire to 1604, some information was misplaced. In the period since 2001 and the 75th Anniversary Celebration, I have sought out information from long time members who still attend Mt. Olive, and have poured over countless documents which survived the move from Westshire, in an attempt to make as connective and seamless as possible the period of great change and challenge that was met by the determined members of the church in 2004 and that has led us to this point in 2012where the church is strong and growing in God’s mercy and by His amazing grace.
It is an impossible task to mention or acknowledge all the people who have played such a critical and loving role in the history of Mt. Olive, from a one room building in 1925 to the multi-use facility today, poised on the outskirts of town to grow beyond our greatest expectations.
The fact is that all who have made Mt. Olive their home down through the years have contributed to the continuing mission that God has blessed us with, and that is rapidly heading toward a CENTENNIAL celebration in 2025!The close of 2011 and the year 2012 to this date, has brought new promise, continued growth and attendance, a veritable plethora of young folks (something long hoped for but only recently realized) and the church’s first full time, ordained pastor, to the office of the public ministry since 2003. Not for personal recognition or glory, but for the sake of the connective history record of God’s church at Mt. Olive, I am humbled to add to the history that on March 25, 2012, The Reverend David Brockhouse accepted the call and was both ordained and installed as the pastor of the church by Texas District LCMS President, Reverend Ken Hennings.
The dual service marked the end of nearly eight years of study for the ministry and work as a lay leader of the church. As the church continues God’s call to spread the Gospel, the outward and inward signs of God’s blessings abound. The daycare/learning center is growing and expanding. The church has as a realistic 10 year vision a new K-5 Christian Day School (2017) and anew Sanctuary (2018). A planning committee is at work now to complete pre work for erecting and dedicating a new Bell Tower and peace garden on the property. The Bell Tower and Peace Garden project was made possible by loving donations in memory of long time members, Arnold Klinkerman and Nell Hudson. These two projects, joined together as one, add to the wondrous joy of God’s church at Mt. Olive, as it continues to work the soil, plant the seed of God’s Word and reap the abundant fruit of God’s caring and loving concern for all His children.
As we move forward in 2012, we are ever mindful of the footprints of those whose walks of faith brought them to the front door at a simple house on Buena Vista over eight decades ago, that led them and others to new doors and new “vistas” of God’s plan at the Westshire location, and that has brought with them new footprints as God’s church grows yet again, renewed and resurgent, confident and trusting in the direction that The Lord has called His people to walk in faith.
Next week we will receive new members—new footprints to add to the footsteps of the future—a future filled with promise, bound in love, and alive and well as a ninth decade of active service dawns just over the horizon. To God be all the glory—all the time—forever.
--Rev. David Brockhouse
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Mt. Olive Lutheran Church - LCMS 3200 W Loop 1604 S San Antonio, TX 78245
Mt. Olive is a congregation of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod