In the early 1900’s, shortly after the Merritt brothers discovered iron ore, many Lutheran families moved to the Iron Range. Out of concern for the spiritual welfare of these Christians, various Lutheran missionaries from Duluth, Minnesota, came here to minister. Three of them known to have laid the groundwork here on the range were Pastors Seebald, Bode, and Hinz. Because of God working through these men, small congregations soon banded together forming one large Mesabi Range parish. The first resident pastor exclusively serving the range was Reverend William Greve, who made his home in Hibbing, Minnesota. It was during his pastorate (1907-1911) in Virginia, MN, Zion Lutheran Church was formed. The named officially changed to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in 1923.
The Ladies Aid Society was organized on May 22, 1909; starting out with 14 members. They had a special service on May 22, 1924 celebrating their 15th year anniversary. At that time there were 24 members. In 1958 a constitution was drawn up stating that every woman member of the congregation was automatically a member of the Ladies Aid Society. At that time the Guild, as they were also called, was divided into eight circles. Each circle met once a month in various members’ homes. The Ladies Aid regularly served the congregation in various ways. They contributed financially by raising funds for various church needs. They were the backbone, so to speak, of the church. Sadly, due to lack of interest, the Ladies Guild was disbanded. Their contributions and sacrifices made are still not forgotten.
Zion Lutheran Church was formed on May 22, 1910; organized in the living room of Mr. E. C. Strauss at 601 3rd St. in Virginia, Minnesota. Charter members were: E. C. Strauss, H. E. Pribnow, R. Falkenberg, F.W. Brooks, Fred Brooks, Jr., E. A. Falkenberg, August Cushman, Chris Schramoff, Frank Seibert, John Cushman, and William Haenke.
Almost immediately plans were made to build a house of worship. Lots were purchased on the northwest corner of 7th St., South and 3rd Avenue. By November 1911, a chapel was completed at the cost of $3000, seating 60 people. Reverend Henry W. Krieger arrived to serve Zion Lutheran Church in August of that year. After constructing the new church, the congregation grew slowly but steadily. Reverend Krieger served Zion and other Range parishes including Meadowlands, Hibbing, Chisholm, Grand Rapids, and Goodland until December 31, 1916. He then accepted a call to Brewster, Minnesota.
When Reverend Krieger left, a call was extended to Reverend Walter Melahn of Eden Valley, Minnesota. His installation ceremony was April 29, 1917. He served both Virginia and Hibbing congregations. While he was serving Zion Lutheran, enlarging & remodeling became necessary. Simultaneously the parsonage was built on the churches north corner on the same lot; church seating capacity doubled. The cost of both structures was $17,000. The parsonage was completed July 1, 1920. The new church was dedicated November 20, 1920. Stained-glass windows, chancel furniture, altar, pulpit, organ, baptismal font, crucifix and communion-ware were donated by organizations within the church, such as the Ladies Aid, youth group & individual church members.
The membership of both churches continued to grow, so Pastor Melahn decided to devote all of his time to serving the Hibbing Church so Zion congregation decided to call its own pastor.
At this time, Reverend George Propp of Ogema, MN became Zion Lutheran Church’s next pastor. During his term on October 18, 1923, the Articles of Incorporation were amended, thus changing the name from Zion to Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church.
In April of 1930 the Reverend Emil Polster of Walker, Minnesota was called to serve Trinity; serving as the 5th resident pastor. After struggling together with the congregation during the depression’s hard times, he was forced to resign due to his wife’s health issues and replaced by Reverend Albert J. Schultz of Duluth. Schultz served Trinity for 11 years. During this time the congregation experienced steady membership growth. They purchased a new Baldwin organ and another remodeling program took place. Pastor Schultz was also busy with civic affairs during World War II; heading the local Red Cross and engaged the help of Mrs. Mildred Olson to aid in the project. She taught knitting classes to women in rooms above the Bowling Gardens; making scarves, sweaters, hats, mittens, etc. These items were sent both to American soldiers and victims of war-tone Europe. Schultz was also the manager of Camp Arrowhead for 7 years. While in Virginia, he started two missions; one in Orr and one in Babbitt. He left Trinity in 1948.
In September 1931 a Men’s Club organized and were active with 31 members, with no records available of this club until February 1946 showing 16 members. The club then became affiliated with the National Organization of the Lutheran Laymen’s League in March 1946. At this time, they sponsored a fund drive for the Memorial Building at Concordia College, raising $290. They had an active bowling team and also helped in raising funds for a new organ. They held annual fishing outings in June. In the late ‘50s they took an active part in organizing the LLL Iron Range Zone.
In 1948 Pastor Christian Oesleby was installed as Trinity’s 7th pastor. The purchasing of new pews, church remodeling and refurnishing, and kitchen remodeling occurred during his ministry. On January 7, 1951, when remodeling was completed, the church was rededicated. Pastor Oesleby also began a Christmas Eve broadcast over the Virginia radio station, WHLB in 1952.
On October 6, 1953, Reverend Erick H. Schmiege took over as Trinity’s Pastor. In January 1955, the congregation was instrumental in creating a daughter congregation in Aurora. Twenty-five Trinity members were released to form Redeemer Lutheran Church and dedicating Aurora’s new church building September 1958. With considerable membership growth, overcrowded conditions soon caused Trinity to initiate two Sunday morning services, which began December 12, 1955.
In 1956, a new parsonage was purchased at 814 S. 4th St. and the former parsonage was converted into an educational building with eight classrooms and pastor’s study. This was a much-needed addition as a Sunday school enrollment had grown to over 200.
A new constitution was adopted and six working committees were formed. There were Worship, Evangelism, Stewardship, Fellowship, Education, and Property.
Also, during Pastor Schmiege’s ministry, a Couple’s Club formed in January 1954. The club’s main objective was Christian fellowship. The founding officers were Lloyd Hart as President, Clarence Gaudy-Vice President, Clinton Barfknecht-Secretary and Mabel Barfknecht-Treasurer. They gathered to discuss challenges that may arise in daily living and also decorated the church for Christmas. They had potlucks and also sponsored a scholarship along with other church groups. The membership fluctuated as members came and went, but at present time is no longer in place.
In 1959 Pastor Schmiege received a call to another congregation and Trinity called Reverend Alex W. Roegge to become minister and installed in May 1960. At that time Trinity had about 300 communicant and 600 baptized members. On September 23, 1960, Trinity celebrated its 50th anniversary.
After just two years, Pastor Roegge left Virginia and Pastor Paul Bittner came in 1962 from Desboro, Ontario, Canada. His name was put on the call list by one of the congregations, Lyle Stoefen who’d been Pastor Bittner’s band/choir director when he went to high school in Stewartville, Minnesota. Pastor Bittner also served as vacancy Pastor to Babbitt/Aurora for 27 months. He served as LWML and Zone Counselor and was secretary/treasurer for 10 of the 12 years while at Trinity. It was during his time here land was purchased from United States Steel (jokingly referred to as Bittner’s Marsh) the present church location and former parsonage. Pastor Bittner left for Grand Island, Nebraska, in 1974.
In May 1974, Reverend Otto Drevlow became Trinity’s 11th Pastor. He was called from Bethany Lutheran Church, Saginaw, Michigan. During his term, the new Parsonage was built in 1977 at 910 S. 13th St. The congregation celebrated its 75th anniversary in October 1985 with special services and banquet.
In October 1987 Trinity again decided it was time to expand. This time a resolution was accepted to embark on building a new church on the land “Bittner’s Marsh” that was purchased for that purpose, next to the former parsonage that had already been built. The building committee was formed with Trinity members Larry Hubbard, Del Blume, Jerry Wallner, John Majetich, Ron Scherle, Joyce Dall, Tim and Barb Kuzma, and Pastor and Elaine Drevlow.
The main body of work for actual construction was done by (still existent) group Laborers for Christ. This organization consists of retired Missouri Synod Lutherans who travel around the United States, Canada and other foreign countries, assisting congregations in church building, parochial schools and other facilities. A special member of this group was Pastor Erick Schmeige, who’d served as Trinity’s minister in the 1950s.
On November 20, 1988, Reverend Otto Drevlow’s birthday, the new house of worship was dedicated to the Lord. Pastor Arthur Drewlow of St. James, Minnesota, gave the sermon with Pastor Erick Schmeige serving as liturgist.
In March 1990, Reverend Otto Drevlow retired due to health problems. In August of that year, Pastor Walter Brill and family moved to Virginia from Elk River, Minnesota. He was Trinity Lutheran’s 12th pastor.
He focused each fall on stewardship principles, encouraging Trinity to increase its mission’s commitment, starting at 1% until we reached 9%. Because the church building was fairly new when Pastor Brill first arrived, he was involved with the Worship/Education building’s completion. Many final details of the new church building were finished when he was here including Worship sanctuary flooring, new pews & organ installation. Later, a state-of-the-art public address system was installed followed up with projector and remote-controlled video screens still used in our services. Also, the parking lot was paved with a new sign facing Highway 53 installed.
Contemporary worship services were also started during Pastor Brill’s service at Trinity. This service still continues monthly on 2nd Sundays, led by Amazing Grace, a musical group formed by several dedicated Trinity members and attenders.
Pastor Brill was instrumental in initiating the volunteer chaplaincy program at Virginia Regional Hospital (now Essentia). This was done through the Virginia Area Ministerial Association, which Pastor was very involved with. Eventually the hospital hired a paid part-time chaplain, complementing their volunteer program.
When Redeemer in Aurora became vacant and unable to call a full-time pastor, Trinity entered into a dual-parish agreement with them, with Pastor Brill serving as its vacancy. At this time Donald Stauty who, at the time, was a Gloria Dei Lutheran Church member began a DELTO Program under Pastor Brill’s guidance (DELTO) meaning – Distance Education Leading To Ordination in the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod. With both Trinity and Redeemer’s assistance, Pastor Stauty pursued his studies to first become a vicar and then a minister. Upon completing his studies in 2003, Pastor Stauty became Aurora’s full-time pastor. At the present time he is also the pastor of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church north of Virginia.
In June 2004, Pastor Walter Brill retired and during the vacancy Pastor Stauty served until Pastor Bradley Felix and family came in 2005. Pastor Brad was installed on July 17, 2005. Pastor Felix came as a fresh new Concordia Seminary – St. Louis graduate. This was his second career, as he’d served almost 14 years as a nursing home administrator for the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society as a Health Care Administrator prior to seminary. Pastor Brad brings much enthusiasm to our church. He has organized a Guys Night (known as “Guy Time”). He is very much a people person & loves living on the Iron Range.
Throughout the years, Trinity Lutheran Church has seen both ups and downs with membership fluctuations in ever-changing economic conditions; nevertheless, Trinity has remained firm preaching Jesus Christ Crucified and Risen for sinners & and the only way to heaven and, LORD willing, pray we’ll continue bringing that message to The Range and World until His glorious return.