1872 - 2022
Stop in the Wildgrube Fellowship Room and see the history timeline on the walls
In this section, we will celebrate our history from our founding in 1872, up to our current year of 2022....150 years later.
Through its 150-year history, Zion’s members have shared many joys and weathered many sorrows.
God has blessed Zion, allowing the congregation to expand and prosper since its formal beginning as Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church on March 17, 1872.
On March 24,1872, the constitution of the church was signed by 61 men and 38 women. In May, the church purchased a building on Jay Street.
Zion’s first years there was a quick succession of ministers and interim pastors. In fact, those first years were somewhat filled with drama. Pastor C.H. Brandau was the first pastor, only serving until his resignation in 1875. He was replaced by the Reverend M. Wolf, who left within a year due to ill health. Mr. Emil Schneider’s tenure was short-lived because he was charged with the misappropriation of proceeds from a “fair” sponsored by the church, and so was removed from office on May 4, 1878. Oddly, he continued to come to Schenectady over the next several years, hoping to resume his post as Zion’s pastor. Candidate Albert Homrighaus succeeded Mr. Schneider on July 14,1878. However, he requested that one evening service each month be preached in English, and the congregation deemed his leadership inappropriate, summarily dismissing him on October 15, 1879.
With nearly 450 members by 1875, the congregation outgrew the Jay Street building. They ultimately purchased the property at 153 Nott Terrace from Union College, and later built a two-story combination church and school which is the rear structure of the present church.
Zion called the Reverend Ernst Carl Ludwig Schulze, and he was installed on February 15, 1880. He served Zion for nearly forty years and was the first of the long-serving pastors at Zion who included Pastor Schulze, Pastor O.C. Busse, Pastor Robert C. Albohm, Pastor Paul Wildgrube, and Pastor Shawn Dugan.
Despite the instability of leadership. the church membership grew rapidly.
Within two months of coming to Zion, Pastor Schulze led the church to withdraw from the General Synod of the Lutheran Church in April 1880 and soon joined the Missouri Synod.
Pastor Schulze, firmly convinced that the best ministry for the children of Zion was through a Christian school, petitioned the church council to allow him to begin a parochial school. This started with a weekly Saturday morning school in 1880, which expanded to a full-time day school. The school’s highest enrollment was 185 pupils in grades 1-8. The school was an integral part of Zion’s ministry until its close in 1931 due to declining enrollment.
There were many church organizations including The Ladies’ Aid Society, Zion Young People’s Society, the care group Zionsgesellschaft, and The Zion Sewing Circle.
Zion’s congregation grew quickly due to the rapid expansion of the General Electric Company and the American Locomotive Company. They founded daughter congregations Immanuel Lutheran Church and Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church. Still, larger facilities were needed.
In February 1887, Zion purchased property at 153 Nott Terrace for $3000, built the parsonage, and then built a building that housed the school on the first floor and the sanctuary on the second floor.
On March 13, 1892, Zion decided to erect a stately brick church with the tall steeple. The new building was dedicated on January 21, 1893.
Pastor Schulze had seemingly boundless energy. In addition to ministering the Zion congregation and founding Zion’s church school, he wrote many treatises for the Synod on a variety of theological and Christian living topics. He was President of the Atlantic District of the Missouri Synod for many years. It was widely believed that Pastor Schulze’s boundless activity weakened his health so that when the worldwide influenza epidemic of 1918 hit, he died shortly after becoming ill. The memorial service was postponed for some time due to the prohibition of funeral services in order to slow the spread of the influenza.
After Pastor Schulze’s death, the Reverend Otto C. Busse was called to serve Zion’s congregation in 1919. He was graduated from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis. In 1918, he had temporarily left church ministry to join the United States Army and serve as a chaplain at Camp Sherman, Ohio. Pastor Busse came to Zion in 1919 after the end of World War I.
The fiftieth anniversary of Zion was highlighted in 1922 with a week-long celebration where Sunday services in both German and English were conducted. Contributions in honor of the anniversary were used for redecoration, including the refurbishing of the oil paintings on the walls in the front of the sanctuary. The Jubilation Committee published The History of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, in German and English, to commemorate the event.
Throughout the 1920’s, Zion continually struggled with the language issue. Following the end of World War I, there was a substantial influx of immigrants from Germany. This provided strong support for the continued use of German as the principal language of worship at Zion. But with growing sentiment for English services on Sunday mornings, by 1929 the church had both an English and a German service conducted every Sunday morning.
Zion provided additional support to Trinity Lutheran Church in 1927 by holding a mortgage on Trinity’s Furman Street chapel, so that they could build a new church.
Zion advanced the Lutheran Sunday School in Scotia the funds to build a small church. Our Redeemer Lutheran Church of Scotia was formed.
Prosperity following the end of World War I actually led to the end of the parochial school. The quality of the Schenectady City School District improved greatly so that enrollment in the parochial school dropped. In 1931, Zion closed the parochial school.
Zion’s members were hard-hit when the stock market collapsed on October 24, 1929. Many members lost their jobs during the Great Depression. Those who were fortunate enough to keep a job were forced to take salary cutbacks amounting to as much as half their pre-Depression income. In 1934, when the Depression had hit its deepest point, Pastor Busse, as well as the sexton and the organist, made “salary refunds’ to the amount of fifty percent of their respective earning. In September 1937, the refunds were ended. Spiritually, the congregation had not fully recovered. Members preoccupied with their personal economic and family affairs significantly reduced their hours spent on church work.
In spite of the Depression, Zion and her congregation still grew. Improvements were made at the church between 1925 and 1930 before the Depression hit. Most notable was the purchase of a new organ from Skinner Organ of Boston MA and dedicated on October 27, 1929.
Zion’s membership flourished under Pastor Busse’s guidance, growing by fifty to 600 confirmed members. Even more notable than the large increase in members was the 200 percent increase in contributions.
When World War II broke out, Pastor Busse knew that there would be a great need for ministry to Lutherans in the Armed Services, and he requested a leave of absence from Zion in January 1941. He resumed his duties as a chaplain in the United States Armed Forces, entering with the rank of Major. Seventy-five other members of Zion served in the military as well.
Pastor Busse served as a chaplain throughout World War II. In 1946 he received an Honorable Discharge from active service, with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He served a church in Indiana until his retirement in 1958. Pastor Busse became an honorary retired chaplain of the United States Army in 1950. He returned to be guest preacher for several of Zion’s anniversary services right up to the early 1980’s. Pastor Busse passed away on August 21, 1984.
Pastor John Sohn served as pastor from March 1941 until April 1945.
Zion then called Pastor Robert C. Albohm in 1945.
The History of Zion -- the Albohm Years
As World War II began in Europe in 1941, Pastor Busse told the board that he would be subject to call as chaplain most any time. The church board recommended that a leave of absence be given “during this interim”. Pastor John Sohn was appointed acting pastor. As the war continued, Pastor Busse was not able to return. So, in February 1943 Pastor Robert C. Albohm of Clifton, NJ was called. Pastor Busse was granted indefinite leave “for the duration”. Pastor Albohm was installed in May 1943. In November 1945, as WW II was ending, Pastor Busse notified Zion of his impending discharge but ultimately accepted a call to a church in Indiana.
On February 12, 1941, the name of Zion was officially changed from the “Evangelical Lutheran Zion Church” to “Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church”.
Pastor Albohm had been ordained in July 1941 and was then installed as pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Clifton, NJ. He came to Zion in 1943 with his wife Marjorie. The first of their children, Judy, had been born in 1941. Their son, Robert, Jr., was born in 1946, and daughter Marjorie was born in 1950.
Zion made many varied contributions to the nation’s war effort. Most directly, fifty of Zion’s members served in the Armed Forces in active duty. One member lost his life when Flight Officer David George Koch was killed as the war was ending. Zion supported the war effort by investing in war bonds and actively encouraging individual members of the church to do likewise. Less obvious were efforts such as making church rooms available to the City of Schenectady for a child care center for mothers working in the war effort. Later, Zion opened her doors as a polling place on Election Day. These efforts of community service were the beginning of a trend that continues now.
Even against the backdrop of fear and wartime stress, Schenectady flourished. Defense contracts awarded to the General Electric Company and the American Locomotive Company raised the number of employees to unprecedented levels, and salaries rose as well. Zion’s membership grew so that in 1944, with the war still raging, the congregation once more began plans for expansion. Zion acquired adjacent property. In 1948, a major redecoration project was completed. Also in 1948, a new parsonage on Wright Avenue was purchased. The old parsonage was used as the interim location for the nursery and primary Sunday School classes.
There was growth in activities and organizations targeting young people and young adults during the late 1940s. Cofounded by Pastor and Mrs. Albohm three years after the initial resolution was proposed by Zion’s board, the Young Married Couples Society was organized in 1945. Due to the extensive hiring of young employees, especially by General Electric, many Lutheran couples would be in the area for only a short time. The Young Married Couples Society provided a place where they could meet in Christian fellowship. The organization was instrumental in the staffing, supervision, and decoration of the nursery, assisting with family night activities and making home visitations to Zion’s members. The group held smorgasbords and potluck suppers. Programs included devotions, a business meeting, a religious program such as Bible discussions or mission films, and a social hour (or even trimming of the Christmas tree!). In just two years the society consisted of forty members. In 1946, the Boys’ Club was organized to meet weekly. Shortly, there were thirty-five members, age 9-15. The club provided programs of athletics and industrial arts, along with Christian fellowship.
During the postwar growth and development, Zion celebrated its 75th Anniversary. To commemorate the event, many celebrations were held, including German services conducted during the week of October 3, 1947, as a reminder of her heritage.
As Zion grew, the corresponding levels of responsibilities grew. In 1947, a resolution to obtain a Vicar was passed, and the program was instituted in the mid-1950s. Pastor Albohm defined a vicar as a theological student continuing his training by gathering practical experience in a parish under the supervision of the pastor. The vicar then returned to seminary for his final year of ministerial training. After serving as vicar for nearly one year, the student culminated his experience by conducting the Sunday Services during July.
Darrel Quigley was the first vicar to serve at Zion, arriving in 1955. He later became a missionary in Japan for several years but drowned in 1956 while attempting to rescue a student. Vicar Quigley was followed by Louis Launhardt, in the 1956-57 season. He had made a career change from mechanical engineering to the ministry. The vicar for the 1957-58 season was Galen Michael. In 1958, Kenneth Potratz came to serve the congregation. Pastor Ervin Gretz, a Lutheran minister previously ordained in a different synod, also served a vicarage during the 1958-59 school year. Like Darriel Quigley, Vicar James Weise, who served for the 1959-60 season, later went to Japan as a missionary. James Juergensen came for the 1960-61 school year, followed by Lowell Kramer in 1961. Henry Lubben served during 1962-63 and later became the pastor for the True Light Lutheran Church in Chinatown NYC., a church with which Zion shared fellowship for many years. John Groh came in 1963 for his one year of training. Vicar Groh later married Nancy Asher, a daughter of Zion’s congregation. He later followed Zion’s tradition of service in the Armed Forces by being commissioned Chaplain Candidate, Second Lieutenant in the Air Force Reserve, where he was the first Concordia seminarian to receive such a commission. Mervin Huras came to Zion in 1965, followed by Roger Beese. After a career change from science and engineering to the ministry, Herbert Grieves came to Zion for the 1966-67 term. He was succeeded by Randall Grauer during 1967-68. The last vicar to serve Zion in the vicarage program was Philip Dorsey, who served during 1968-69.
There were also structural changes during the mid-1950s. in May 1956, the $140,000 project for the new education wing began with a ground-breaking ceremony and service. Completed in 1957, the new addition contained classrooms for the Nursery, Beginner I, Beginner Department, and Primary Department. The Junior Department, as well as other classes were conducted in the remodeled classrooms at the rear of the narthex. The complete project was celebrated in April 1957 with an outdoor dedication service. This addition was a major step forward in Zion’s continued commitment to Christian education for children. There were many investments in educational materials so that members who attended Sunday School in those years remembered the many flannelgraphs, filmstrips, religious slides, and 16mm movies that were used to enhance the children’s understanding of the Bible.
As the 1950s ended, activities at Zion were at a feverish pace. Optimism pervaded both the city of Schenectady and Zion. Families moved in and out of the city because of positive career changes, and Zion’s congregation reflected those changes. Two of the organizations active at that time were the Ladies Mission Society (affiliated with the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League) and the Ladies Aid Society. The Men’s Club was affiliated with the Lutheran Layman’s League, while Zion’s Young People’s Society maintained affiliation with the International Walther League. And still, the Married Couples Society, the Adult Lutheran League, and the Altar Guild thrived. Church attendance and participation rose each year. Activities such as the ever-popular annual picnic strengthened a sense of community among Zion’s members.
On September 18, 1962, the Ladies Aid and the Ladies Mission Societies merged to form the Women’s Guild. Originally, the organization consisted of eight circles, based on the geographic location of the members. Later the number of circles was consolidated to four. Some circles met during the daytime, while others met in the evening; some met in the church, and others in member’s homes. Circle meetings combined devotions with project work for local agencies such as the Glendale Home and the Children’s Center. The entire Guild met once a month for a group meeting and fellowship hour. The Guild sponsored annual Mother-Daughter banquets, organized church meetings, and dinners, and provided financial support for a variety of civic organizations.
The educational programs also changed during the 1960s. In 1963, Zion installed her first Youth Director. Patsy Ann Smith was responsible for Zion’s activities for teenagers and the training of adult counselors. She was followed by Arthur P. Klausmeier who was installed as Director of Youth Programs in 1965. He was followed by Thaddeus M. Raushi who served in 1968.
The Vacation Bible School program provided education for the children during the summer. The program held three-hour sessions daily over a two-week period. Over 100 students, ranging from nursery school through junior high level, were taught by over thirty instructors. Bible study, music, and arts and crafts were combined to provide a fun-filled environment to learn of God’s love.
Zion’s Weekday School was reestablished in 1956. The Weekday School met after school or on Saturdays and was designed to provide thorough Christian training for youngsters. The school aided the children in understanding life situations through God’s word, while learning through work and play in a Christian environment. The school included Bible study, music, indoor and outdoor play, arts and crafts, and social studies. The school served as a mission agency for the congregation, providing community outreach and service. By 1966, there were seventy-five students enrolled.
Economic stability and growth continued to bless Schenectady and Zion. In the mid-1960s, the congregation started the most ambitious construction project in its history. In 1961, additional land was acquired north of the church’s property next to the Sunday School. The new construction project included a two-story addition, the enlargement of the narthex and balcony, and the complete resurfacing of the building. The program theme was “To the Glory of God and the Beautification of Downtown Schenectady”. The traditional entrances facing Nott Terrace were removed and the front wall was lined with windows. A modern entrance, through a courtyard featuring a central planning area was constructed with a second entrance was added on the south side. The new entrances blended Gothic arches with a modern limestone façade. The Friendship Room was constructed. The second-story addition provided a multi-purpose room for the music department. The balcony was enlarged, the altar was remodeled and the organ was rebuilt. The interior of the church was completely redecorated. New pews were installed and the stained glass windows on the north side of the sanctuary were back-lighted. The rededication ceremony took place in May 1966. The City Manager noted the tremendous improvement brought to the neighborhood by the renovation, saying that it was an example of what could be accomplished by modernizing downtown buildings.
Music has always been very important to Zion, as shown by her commitment to a strong music program. Zion has been served by very talented organists, including Dr. Frederick White, a musician and nuclear physicist who served Zion for several years during the 1950s and 1960s. Allen Mills then came to Zion as an organist, choir director, and head of the music program and music school. The position of Music Director was created for him. When Paul Anderson served in this capacity during the early 1970s, there were two children’s choirs, a youth choir, an adult choir, and the school of music. Scott Trexler was installed as Minister of Music in 1974.
During the mid-1960s, the Viet Nam conflict intensified. Several of Zion’s members went into service. Unlike the Korean conflict in the early 1950s in which many served but none were lost, Zion lost two members. Marine Corporal Douglas P. Hallock, son of Mr. and Mrs. James Hallock was killed in action in April 1967. First Lieutenant Robert Cragin, Jr. of the United States Army, a son of Zion’s congregation, lost his life in February 1968.
Zion changed from the vicarage program to the calling of an Assistant Pastor who worked under the supervision of the Senior Pastor. Assistant Pastor Daniel P. Aho was installed in 1969. He focused on parish education and youth work. He left Zion in 1971 to be installed as minister at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Riverhead, Long Island. Pastor and Mrs. Aho lost their lives in November 1976 in a private plane crash as the pilot attempted to land at Suffolk County Airport. Pastor Raymond Sheehan served briefly in early 1972. He was followed by Pastor L. Richard Bradley who was installed in 1972.
By the early 1970s, Schenectady was beginning to experience the problems of a city in decline. American Locomotive Company had closed all Schenectady operations in the 1960s, resulting in job loss for a number of Zion’s members. The energy crisis of the early 1970s brought further unemployment as the General Electric Company began a series of layoffs. At the same time, downtown Schenectady department stores and specialty shops closed, one after the other. Zion was considered a “downtown” church; it had prospered as ‘downtown” had prospered. Schenectady, however, was no longer flourishing by the early 1970s.
Zion joyously celebrated its 100th anniversary in 1972 with a year-long series of events. Congratulatory messages were received from the mayor and the city manager. On May 15, 1972, a special Sunday afternoon service was conducted with the Reverend Jacob A. O. Preus, president of the Missouri Synod, featured as guest speaker. Over 700 people attended, including members of the congregation, clergy from neighboring churches, and pastors and members of sister Lutheran congregations in the tri-city area. The centennial banquet was held on November 18 at the Edison Club and featured the Reverend Oswald C.J. Hoffman of the Lutheran Hour radio program as guest speaker. Pastor Otto C. Busse was the guest of honor.
In 1975, Zion was concerned at the implications of proposed zoning changes for many of Schenectady’s neighborhoods which would have allowed businesses engaged in a vice to enter a residential district. Pastor Albohm spoke out against the change at the August 19, 1975, City Council Meeting. Following his address, he left the podium and immediately had a fatal heart attack. He is buried in Zion’s cemetery near Pastor Schulze. Once again, Zion experienced the loss of a beloved pastor. Pastor Albohm had served thirty-two years at Zion, holding many significant posts in the Synod, in the Atlantic District, and in the community. The Wright Avenue parsonage was gifted to his widow.