The First Roots
On March 8, 1959, seven families met at the John Gold residence in Ithaca to discuss mission possibilities in the Ithaca area. All were Missouri Synod Lutherans, and all but one family were members of the St. Paul Lutheran Church of Cortland, 23 miles away. As a result of this meeting, a committee (acting at the direction of the Voter's Assembly of St. Paul's) contacted the Eastern District Mission Board. After some months of discussions, the Ithaca Group decided to establish a preaching station of St. Paul's in Ithaca, independent of Mission Board participation. On October 22 at a meeting at the Arnold Baur home, a chairman and secretary were elected to give a formal structure to the new organization.
The first Sunday afternoon worship service and Sunday School commenced in January of 1960. Pastor Neebe of Cortland conducted the services. The First Congregational Church generously gave us the use of a room in their newly constructed building from January to June.
The Little Red Schoolhouse
During the summer of 1960 services were held in the Varna Community Center. Attendance dropped as time went on with a low of sixteen one Sunday in July. However, about this time, Professor L. L. Nangeroni gave us permission to use his "Little Red Schoolhouse" at 450 North Triphammer Road on a rent-free basis. The members of the Preaching Station joined enthusiastically in cleaning and painting the 100 year old structure, which had been vacant for some years. An altar and lectern were constructed by members, and chairs and hymnals were purchased. From August 28, 1960 until the present building was completed four years later, the schoolhouse served as the congregation's home. Professor Nangeroni's kindness in giving us a place of our own during these early years will always be remembered fondly. In the Schoolhouse-Church, first a piano and then a foot-pumped reed organ accompanied the singing.
The name Trinity Lutheran Church was adopted as the official name of the Preaching Station as formal congregational status drew near. A constitution was accepted in February 1961, and in May the group learned that the Rev. James Lareva, graduating from Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois had been commissioned Missionary-at-Large serving the Ithaca congregation and Christ Lutheran Church of Interlaken. Pastor Lareva served in this capacity from June 1961 until May 1963, when he was installed as the called Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church, now a congregation of the Eastern District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.
A New Home and New Organ
Our present building was dedicated on October 18, 1964. The architect was J. Victor Bagnardi who also designed the Tompkins County Public Library and St. Catherine of Sienna Catholic Church. Already, at the time our church building was dedicated on October 18, 1964, Mr. John B. Brombaugh, a member of Trinity and graduate student at Cornell University had begun work on a pipe organ for the church. The congregation paid only for the parts of the organ. The design and construction of the instrument, the first he ever made, were exclusively the contribution of Mr. Brombaugh as he served his apprenticeship with various organ builders. In both technical and musical aspects, the instrument follows the great organ building tradition of the last five or more centuries. Mr. Brombaugh made and assembled all of the parts of the organ with the exception of the metal pipes which were made by Gustav Bier in Germany, and the blower. The complete story of the organ is found in the files of Trinity Lutheran Church. Mr. Brombaugh continues today to build organs of significant importance in the field of organ building.
On a blustery, blizzardy Sunday in January 1966, the organ was played for the first time. A neophyte choir, organized only a few months before by Mrs. Darlene Nesheim, sang on that day, which also was Pastor Lareva's last Sunday as Trinity's minister. He had accepted a call to a congregation in Ohio. There followed a vacancy in our pastorate of a year and a half during which much of the preaching was done by laymen. Although it was a time of difficulty, it was also a time of great spiritual growth for the members who felt directly some of the responsibilities usually borne by a pastor. Once a month, Rev. C. O. Frenzel came up from Owego to conduct an evening communion service. Also, during the summer months he was able to carry out the regular Sunday morning services. The formal dedication of the organ took place on November 20, 1966.
The Congregation Grows
In June 1967, we installed a new Pastor, the Rev. G. W. Degner, formerly a professor at Concordia College, Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The next few years saw the realization of several educational projects. Vacation Bible Schools have been held every summer since then. The Bethel Bible series was instituted in 1963 and has gone through several additional phases. In the spring of 1972, the congregation decided to go ahead with the construction of an educational wing similar to the one which was part of the original building plan. Ground was broken in April 1972 and the wing was dedicated in the summer of 1973. Construction of the wing required over 3,300 man-hours of labor supplied by the congregation. The only paid workers were the roofers. Another use for the wing began in 1977 when a Tuesday morning Nursery School was begun. The first teachers were Mary Ryan and Sue Wood. The following year the Nursery School met twice a week and, by 1984, it had become a five-morning per week operation.
Trinity became a self-supporting congregation, ending its Mission Board support, at the end of 1968. Growth can be measured in numbers, in bricks, or in dollars. Another measure of growth and maturity in a congregation is the ability to look out beyond itself. In 1971, direct contributions from Trinity to a mission in Korea were commenced and continued until the late 1980s. The active work in our midst by a Korean graduate student and his wife, Mr. and Mrs. Kwang Yul Kim, influenced this action. In 1977 direct contributions from Trinity for the work of Miss Terry Malone began. Miss Malone serves with Wycliffe Bible Translators in Colombia, South America. Other evidence of concerns beyond our congregation were the sponsorship of several Vietnamese refugee families starting in the mid-1970s and participation in Synod's missionary efforts in the Philippines through direct (partial) support of Rev. Thomas Feirtag in 1982. Other missionaries that have been supported by Trinity through Synod are Rev. John Fiebelkorn and Rev. James Lowmaster in Sri Lanka. Recently, support was extended to Rev. David Birner, Papua New Guinea for three years.
In October of 1975, Pastor Degner returned to academic life having accepted a call to be professor at Concordia Seminary, Springfield, Illinois (now located at Ft. Wayne, Indiana). During the vacancy which commenced, Pastor Adolph Steinke, of Trinity in Syracuse, conducted a service with communion once each month. The other weekly and special services were conducted by laymen, about 20 taking part. Almost a year later, on October 3, 1976, the Rev. Donald A. Cario, was installed. A graduate of Cornell University and Concordia Seminary (Springfield, Illinois), Rev. Cario's previous pastorate had been in Burton, Michigan where he had also been Circuit Counselor for the Flint South Circuit. In 1985, Pastor Cario became a Vice-President of the Eastern District-Missouri Synod. Kenton Puls arrived in the fall of 1985 to be with us for a year as Trinity's first full-time Vicar.
Shepherds Move On
From 1986 to the present the congregation has had nine Vicars who have enriched Trinity's congregational life and who have been a blessing to Trinity. The Vicars were Kenton Puls, Richard Woelmer, Nathan Schwartz, Richard Gudgeon, Brian Moseman, Kent Burreson, Joel Okamoto, Kris Whitby, and Hans Trinklein. The Vicars have enabled Trinity to extend and enhance its outreach to young people in Ithaca, and students at Cornell and Ithaca College.
The congregation became debt-free in 1981 and celebrated with a traditional mortgage burning. However, in the following year a new debt was incurred to pay for major changes including a balcony, pews, and carpeting in the worship area, dividers for three Sunday School rooms, and paving of the driveway and parking area. In May 1991 a carillon was installed at Trinity paid for from Memorial funds. The bells call people to worship.
On December 28, 1989 a farewell reception was held for Pastor Cario and his wife Marie, as Pastor Cario had accepted a call from a mission congregation in State College, Pennsylvania. His passion for new mission opportunities won out over remaining in Ithaca. During the five month vacancy, Rev. Thomas Block, from Cortland, kindly served the congregation.
The Rev. Paul M. Volz accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church, and on Sunday, May 27, 1990 he was installed as our new pastor. His former calls included service as Executive Director of Lutheran Bible Translators of Aurora, Illinois; as Secretary for Parish and District Social Ministry Services of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod of St. Louis, Missouri; and as a Missionary of the Lutheran Church in Africa. On December 31, 1994 Rev. Volz retired and the congregation began the process of looking for a new pastor once more.
In the summer of 1996, the Rev. Robert M. Foote accepted the call to Trinity and has been serving as our pastor to this day. He brought with him his wife, Sheila, and his three children, Jennifer, Stephanie, and Matthew. Before coming to Trinity, he served as pastor for an LCMS church in Braddock, PA (an urban borough near Pittsburgh.)