From The Start: 1879 – 2019
The Founding Fathers of St. John's were a dedicated, courageous and a foresighted group. They worshipping in the rural, so-called Prange schoolhouse for four years, ministered by a neighboring pastor. Then on Nov. 29, 1879, Rev. Heinrich Schutz of Pleasant Valley and 24 men founded the German Evangelical Lutheran St. Johannes Congregation of West Point and Goldwater Townships. The founders were recorded as: William Coleman, Willam Martzahn, Henry Maas, Heinrich Vahlsing, Heinrich Voigts, Frederich Busch, Gerd Harms, Johann Schroeder, Ludwig Twachtman, Malter Paplow, Herman Schroeder, Friederich Kramer, Heinrich Busse, William Heuer, Conrad Wiegmann, Frederich Niehaus, Adolf Winters, Johann Buschheister, Frederich Debner, Johann Buerkle, and Otto Bochmann. The church was built on land given by a member, Conrad Wiegmann, from his farm and by Henry Wiegmann from Grundy County. They built the church (the back portion of the present building) and a parsonage with an addition for confirmation school.
By fall of that year the building program had been completed. The church measured 30x48x16 and the parsonage 16x24x10. Now the young congregation was ready to call a resident pastor. Rev. Schlutz, who had been serving them so faithfully, was extended a call, which he declined. However, Rev. Conrad Welter of Myrtle, MN did accept the call. He was installed on Dec. 14, 1883. Rev. Weltner served the congregation for 45 years.
The congregation grew and by 1902 they enlarged and built the church as it is today. The one man Hinners Pipe Organ was purchased. It is still used every worship service, however it was rebuilt in 1987.
At the annual congregational meeting in January of 1928, Rev. Waltner tendered his resignation. After 45 years of faithful service he deserved a rest from the responsibilities of guiding a congregation. Furthermore, Mrs. Waltner's health was failing and so they retired in Waverly.
As St. John's neared its half century mark, Rev. H.A. Diers of Northwood was called as Conrad Waltner's successor. He was installed on June 10, 1928. He continued leading the flock firm in the faith and he was bold in reforms necessary for growth. He served the congregation for nine years. During this time the congregation moved from German to English language church services. The confirmation instruction changed from three-year, five-days a week in the German language to English for a one year, five-days a week period instruction. A Sunday School program was also organized.
On Aug. 15, 1937 Rev. Diers was granted his release in order to accept a call to Salem Lutheran Church in Andrew. Rev. John Willms of Monticello, was called in 1937, but circumstances did not permit him to enter his new field of work immediately. He arrived in the spring of 1938 and was finally installed that fall.
That year the old parsonage was torn down and replaced. The next project was replacing the three-sectioned pews and two aisles with new pews and a center aisle in the church. With a growing Sunday School and two-year confirmation instruction on Saturdays, as well as a need for a social area, the congregation undertook an ambitious project of raising the church and bell tower and excavating for a basement. This met important needs for teaching, chicken supper, wedding receptions, Ladies Aid meetings, Brotherhood dart-ball games and social gatherings. Consequently, the one-room schoolhouse, almost 50-years-old, was no longer needed. It was moved into Allison and remodeled into a house.
Rev. Willms was reaching retirement age and was anxious to be relieved of the full time responsibilities of shepherding a congregation. In 1956, he asked for an honorable release, but he was willing to serve the congregation until a successor would be named. Thus in May of 1957, he completed 19 years of able leadership and dedication to St. John's.
On May 12, 1957, Pastor Robert Floy from Elma, was installed. He answered the next call and in three years he led the congregation in catching up with many "firsts." With Pastor Floy's keen interest in Parish Education, he was extended a call in April of 1960 to St. John's Lutheran, Le Mars, Iowa to be their 'Minister of Education'. He was given an honorable release and left Vilmar in May.
Again the congregation was without a shepherd. Several calls were extended in 1960, but all were declined. The congregation was most fortunate to have Professor August Baetke from Wartburg College serve it the majority of the time during the interim. Pastor Neiderwimmer of Allison also assisted, teaching the confirmation classes. On Feb. 5, 1961, Pastor Emmett Busch from Yellow Grass, Canada was installed. During his pastorate, the educational unit with 10 rooms and a church office was built. A new well was dug in 1965, and two gas furnaces replaced the oil furnace in the church in 1966.
In April of 1967, Pastor Busch was granted a release to accept a call to St. John's Lutheran of Bellevue. He and his family moved May 30 after more than six years of service at Vilmar. No church is happy to be without a servant of God leading it, so while wishing Pastor Busch God's blessings in his new field of labor, the congregation called another shepherd. Pastor Lowell Hohensee of Primghar, accepted the call in the summer of 1967 and was installed on Sept. 3. He encouraged much lay-participation in the program of the church. Many members found opportunities for service that previously had been left for the pastor to do. Church attendance also increased. The front entrance to the church was the last major building project in 1971 during Pastor Hohensee's pastorate.
In February, 1976, Pastor Hohensee accepted a call to Calamus. He confirmed the class of confirmands he had instructed on March 14 and preached his farewell sermon the following week.
With prayerful guidance the congregation sought a new pastor. Pastor Douglas Gronewold of rural Jasper, Minn., accepted his call and was installed at St. John's on July 18, 1976. He become one of congregation in a caring, perceptive manner. He led the congregation during the centennial year in 1979 beginning with a 24-hour prayer vigil at the altar and celebrations every month. After Pastor Doug's death in 1991, Pastor Randy Baldwin served for four years followed by Pastor Nancy Vieker who was the first woman pastor at Vilmar. Her unexpected, tragic death allowed her to serve God in Vilmar's midst for only one year in the capacity of leading her first congregation.
For 17 years, St. John’s was blessed to be shepherded by Pastor Mark Walker. Pastor Mark accepted his first call at Vilmar in 1999. Over the past decade, more improvements have been made at the church. An elevator was added to the church in 1995, making the building handicap accessible. The parsonage roof was replaced with steel and the kitchen was remodeled. Most recently the church roof was replaced with steel and new educational unit windows were installed.
The church continues to value education of the young and old alike with Sunday school and confirmation during the school year. Vilmar continues their bible studies and devotions within the many different organizations at St. John’s. They also diligently donate to missions–most lately to GoServ Global's villages in Les Cayes, Haiti, and the missionaries traveling to them.
Following the retirement of Pastor Mark in October, 2016, the congregation underwent the process of voting to leave the ELCA. In August 2017, the congregation held its final vote to officially leave. After a few months of research and preparation, the congregation voted to join, and was officially accepted, into the North American Lutheran Church (NALC).
On June 17, 2018, the congregation called Rev. Christopher Martin to Vilmar, who accepted. Pastor Martin officially started his ministries at Vilmar on Aug. 1, 2018. A much-needed remodeling and repair of the bathrooms in the parsonage was completed, along with other minor repairs and improvements throughout the house. As St. John's continues on in their ministries, they pray that God will continue to bless them as they move forward.