Immanuel Lutheran School Celebrates Sesquicentennial
COURTLAND–The Immanuel Lutheran School in Courtland is small, but in terms of history it is huge. The school was founded in 1864. This was a time of great turmoil. The Civil War was still ongoing and the Sioux Uprising occurred only a few years earlier. Despite these setbacks the congregation of the Immanuel Lutheran School found a way to educate their children. On June 1 the school will celebrate it’s 150th anniversary.
Former Immanuel Lutheran teacher, Kathy Blank, has been researching the school’s history in honor this milestone. For Blank one of the most impressive aspects of the school is the conditions in which the school was started. Blank commented that warfare aside the Immanuel Lutheran community struggled with the plague and grasshopper infested crops.
Naturally the school has a close tie to the Immanuel Lutheran Church. The Church was founded a few years before the school in 1859 and was originally named St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. Early Services were held in the home of church members. Based on Blank’s research it believed church members were attempting to provide their children with formal education from the being, but like the church there was no permanent building or full-time leaders to organize the endeavor. It was not until 1860 that the congregation managed to secure a building to hold Church services in 1860, but the formation of the school would be delayed for another four years.
The Immanuel Lutheran School began accepting tuition payment in 1863 for the 1864 school year. Pastor J. Rennicke, the Church’s first resident pastor was also the first school teacher. A few years later a Mr. E. Nitchke was assigned to teach at the school, which made the Immanuel Lutheran School in Courtland one of the first congregation of the Missouri Synod in Minnesota to call a synod trained teacher.
In the early days of the school, the majority of instructions was given in German and classes were held in the Church. It was not long before an addition were added to create a class room for students, but it was nine years before teachers began instructing in English.
By 1871, the Church alone would no longer suffice. The congregation had become very widespread for daily travel. In order to limit necessary travel the parish divided into three school districts, each with it’s own school house and teacher. The first district was located next to the church, the second district was next Swan Lake, and the third district was situated three miles east of the church.
The three district system would continue until 1928 when the third district close due to low attendance. The second district closed in 1942, by which transportation had improved enough to allow the three districts were converged into one. With all the students under one roof, a larger roof was needed. In January of 1950 a new school was built across from the Church. Over the last 64 years the building has seen several improvements and additions, but it has lost none of it’s charm.
Today the school houses six classrooms, six teachers, with a little over 60 students. Students range in age from pre-school to eight grade. Current School Administrator Dan Erdman describes it as typical school only smaller. Erdman commented that many people falsely assume that because Immanuel Lutheran is small, it is behind the times. The truth is the little school has access to same modern technology as the big schools. A recent grant allow the school to upgrade the computer lab with 26 flat screen computers. Smart-boards are replacing the black boards and wireless internet available allowing students access to the latest information.
While the student body is small compared to most schools this often preferred by many local families. The student/teacher ratio is very favorable at ten students for every teacher. Principal Erdman also serves as the Athletic Director for the school as well and is quit proud their sports programs. The school basketball team has only a handful of students, which means many kids start playing at a younger age than they would at larger schools. Erdman explains many students start playing basketball in the third grade. By the time these student reach middle school and high school they have already a great deal of playing experience.
“My goal is to get 100 students,” said Erdman. “I am confident we can make that happen some day.”
Erdman acknowledged that few people in the area were aware the school still existed, but word of mouth was spreading. This last school year marked the first time in Immanuel Lutheran’s history that non-church going students have attended.
The students and teachers have celebrating the School’s 150 anniversary all year. The celebration will come to a head on Sunday, June 1. A special service will be held at the Church further detailing the School’s history. The service will be followed by a pulled pork lunch at the School. The event will be attended by several current and former teachers. A few of the former teachers who are unable to attend have submitted letters detailing their memories at Immanuel Lutheran School. Former students are encourage to return as well to help celebrate the 150th anniversary of the school that continues to effect so many lives.