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Old bell returns home to Slayton church

Dedication took place Sunday at Trinity Lutheran Church

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A new tower that includes an old bell and another acquired by the Trinity Lutheran Church congregation when the Slayton church was started more than 70 years ago was dedicated and consecrated on Sunday, May 30, 2021 during special services at Trinity. (Scott Mansch/The Globe)

SLAYTON — When Dennis Brech and his bride, Jan, were married in the summer of 1968 the bell at her home church, Zion Lutheran in Iona, rang in celebration.

When Zion was closed months later as the church merged with Trinity Lutheran in Slayton, the bell was taken to the farm of longtime Zion member Keith Oldewurtel, where it spent years of silence stored in a corn crib and machine shed.

When the old bell re-emerged in Slayton a few weeks ago and was erected in a new tower on King Avenue at Trinity Lutheran Church, the memory of departed faithful believers such as young Doreen Ann Priebe were honored.

And that comforts Doreen’s father, Ray.

“It makes me very happy,” says Ray. “Tell you what, I’m very glad that tower has finally been built.”

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The new tower, which includes the old Zion bell and another that was acquired by the Trinity congregation when the Slayton church was started more than 70 years ago, was dedicated and consecrated on Sunday during special services at Trinity, located at 2105 King Ave.

The Rev. Curtis Peters, who was baptized at Zion and confirmed at Trinity, graduated from Slayton High in 1960 and later from Valparaiso University and Concordia Seminary-Fort Wayne. He and his wife, Pam, currently live in Indiana.

Rev. Peters returned to his hometown of Slayton and delivered the sermon on what the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod has designated as “Trinity Sunday.” He is the only son of the Zion-Trinity congregation, which for decades has been associated with LCMS, to enter the ministry.

The service, led by Trinity’s current pastor, Jeff Williams, followed the dedication of the new tower at 9 a.m. After the short dedication ceremony outside, members and visitors entered the church to the ringing of the bells. After the church service, Trinity hosted a reception.

Brech, who served LCMS parishes in various Midwest communities before retiring in Slayton and joining Trinity Lutheran close to where his wife Jan grew up near Iona, has been the driving force to finish the bell tower project. Dozens of other Trinity members have been heavily involved.

“The project took some time but was enjoyable to do,” Brech says. “The excitement that was expressed in the last two to three months was very thrilling. The cooperation that I had was very supportive. Thank you to all who had anything to do with this project.”

Gratitude is also on the mind of Lois Oldewurtel, whose late husband Keith wouldn’t think of discarding the bell way back when.

“Nobody knew what to do with it when Zion closed so Keith brought it home,” says Lois.

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Perhaps to sell?

“No,” says Lois. “Keith wanted that bell tower so badly. I remember we spent many, many miles on the road looking at church bell towers in other towns.

“He would be so happy that it’s finally up.”

That joy extends to many current Trinity members, including Bob and Ruth Koehler. The Koehlers purchased the Oldewurtel farm place east of Slayton and safeguarded the bell for the last several decades.

The new tower structure was developed by the Chandler Machine Shop. It is electrically wired and will be rung before church services and at special functions. Two other Slayton-area churches — St. Ann’s and Christ Lutheran — currently have bells that ring regularly.

Trinity Lutheran will now join the chorus, in resounding praise to God. And to recall the memory of the faithful who have gone before.

When Doreen Priebe was killed in a summer car accident just north of Slayton, Ray and his wife LaVonne gave memorial money to the newly started bell tower fund. Church records indicate it was the first donation to the project. Dozens of memorials have been donated in the nearly 50 years since.

Ray wants no credit for kick-starting the project. He and LaVonne have two other daughters, Deb and Denise, and have never forgotten Doreen Ann.

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“She was like my Mom (Esther Priebe), always wanting to help people,” says Ray. “A very kind-hearted little girl.”

Doreen was 12 in the summer of 1973. She was headed to a 4-H function with her sisters and friends when a driver headed the other way drifted into the wrong lane and slammed into the Priebe vehicle.

“I have always missed her so much,” Ray says, eyes glistening. “Every time I pass the church now and see the bell tower, I will think of her.”

According to Trinity’s historical documents, Zion Lutheran in Iona and Trinity Lutheran in Slayton were merged into one congregation on Jan. 1, 1969.

Zion was started with an initial organizational meeting on June 29, 1890. Services were held at homes of members until 1920, following the purchase of a church building in Iona in 1919.

Trinity Lutheran’s history dates back to 1941 when services were at the Free Evangelical Church in Slayton. Trinity members purchased a small Episcopal Church on Linden Ave. in Slayton in 1948, two years after lots were bought on King Ave. for the construction of a new church.

The parsonage at 2030 Broadway was acquired in 1949. Dedication services at the current Trinity Lutheran site on King Ave. were on May 23, 1954.

Relatives and friends of many current Trinity Lutheran members were part of Zion’s past. Among them were the father, mother, grandparents and extended family of Rev. Peters. He was ordained at his home church in Slayton. An older sister, Phyllis Mansch, is a longtime Trinity member who attended Zion as a youth.

The upcoming bell tower dedication marked one of the very few times Rev. Peters has preached at Trinity Lutheran since his ordination.

Related Topics: FAITH
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