It is difficult to imagine the thoughts that must have been going through Katharina Erb Luther’s mind on February 12, 1881, as she prepared to leave her homeland of Germany at the age of 54. The passage document to America shows that her children Catharina (23), Karl (21), George (19), and Christian (11 1/2) would be accompanying her. The passage document details a long journey ahead: a night in Paris, a long ocean voyage, train trips in the United States ending in Champaign, Illinois where Johann George Luther, husband and father, who would be awaiting them, had made the journey earlier. Eventually, they would experience a welcome in a church family where services in their native German would be heard for many years.
(John) George, the middle son of the couple began to work on a farm north of Urbana. Here he would learn to speak English. At St. Peter’s he met Fredericka Lemke whose parents Carl and Maria Lemke had also come from Germany. On March 21, 1888, George became a U.S. citizen; three days later, he married Fredericka at St. Peter’s. They became the parents of Elsie, Bertha, Cornelia (Lela), Carl Frederick, Ida Louise, and Wilhelmina (Minnie). All were confirmed at St. Peter’s with Cornelia and Carl confirmed in the same class (1908), the first class of Rev. Henry Mueller. (Carl’s daughter, Mildred, would be confirmed in Rev. Mueller’s last class in 1940.) Elsie, Bertha, Ida, and Minnie were Sunday School teachers; Elsie, Bertha and Minnie were also quilters. Carl was a member of the Men’s Brotherhood.
Elsie married Raymond Buckner, who was an excellent cook and helped foster St. Peter’s Sausage Supper in its early days. Their son, John Luther Buckner, was confirmed at St. Peter’s and active in youth activities until he was called up in the first draft from Champaign County as WWII approached. He would not return home for two years.
When St. Peter’s was located on Fourth and University, students from the University of Illinois frequently attended the church and took part in its activities. Cornelia met and later married a Commerce student, John Eppinger, whose name appears as Secretary of the group that drafted the 1922 Constitution of St. Peter’s Evangelical Church. (This Constitution was written in both English and German.) Cornelia and John later moved to Chambersburg, PA. Minnie and Harry W. Glawe’s wedding was at the St. Peter’s parsonage on September 2, 1933. Harry was a very active member of St. Peter’s
Carl met Ida Lietz at St. Peter’s where she and her parents, August and Grace Schlorff Lietz, and her sister Louise attended. Ida and Louise were long time Sunday School teachers and members of the women’s organizations. Carl and Ida were married at St. Peter’s parsonage on February 1, 1922.
Their daughters, Kathryn and Mildred, were “brought up” at St. Peter’s. In “old” St. Peter’s at Fourth and University, at Christmas and Easter, the men of the church would construct a large platform at the front of the sanctuary for the presentations of the season’s Sunday School programs. Kathryn, at the age of three, presented a three line poem for an Easter program. As a teenager, she became the secretary of the Sunday School, taking attendance and collecting the offerings. She became a teacher in the Sunday School when she was 18. Mildred’s first experience was to graduate (complete with cap and gown) from the Sunday School’s Cradle Roll. As teenagers, both daughters attended the denomination’s East Bay summer camps. Pearl Harbor Day found Kathryn leading the devotions for the regular meeting of the “League,” the youth and young adult group. Soon many of the young men of the church were members of the Armed Services serving in far away parts of the world. Margaret Wascher and Kathryn produced a newsletter to keep those in the service aware that their church had not forgotten them.
On August 22, 1953, Kathryn married William T Henderson, who a few weeks earlier had returned from serving 13 months of active duty in the U.S. Army in Korea during the Korean Conflict. They spent 12 years in Chicago. When they later returned to Champaign-Urbana and St. Peter’s, they conducted church services, served as liturgists, members of two pastoral search committees, and were active volunteers with St. Peter’s youth program (WINN).
Mildred served on the committee that kept records of births, deaths, and marriages updated. She arranged pastoral visits for Pastors Kalkbrenner, Trost, and Hornbeck and accompanied the pastors on their visits. She often took tapes of church services to the shut- ins and she was a member of the Stitchers.
The other children of Katherina and Johann George were also members of St. Peter’s Church. Catherina married John Weiss. Their daughter was also named Katherine. Karl (later known as Charles) married Christina Hundertpfundt. They were parents to Mary (Clinton Demlow), Caroline, Anna, Ella, Lillian (Charles Stephens), and Christian. Christian suffered a severe accident early in life and was disabled. The son of Lillian and Charles (also named Charles) was ordained at St. Peter’s in 1950 and was a long time pastor with the United Church of Christ.
This is one family’s tribute to the women and men who helped form the legacy of St. Peter’s for 150 years, providing spiritual and social lives for its members as well as solace in times of grief and the opportunity for service to the church’s mission in many ways. Katharina Luther lived only five years after her amazing journey. As a result, like many others who came to the United States under similar circumstances, she missed many events in the lives of those who followed her. Our thanks to Kathryn Luther Henderson for sharing her family’s story. It could be similarly written for many other families at St. Peter’s.
Corrections and Additions
August 1, 2015
The marriage certificate pictured above is that of Johann George and Frederika Lemke Luther (Katharina’s son and daughter-in-law). Johann George and Frederika Lemke Luther were also pictured in the article.
Christian, who suffered a severe accident early in life, was the son of Johann George and Katharina Erb Luther and brother (not the son) of Karl Luther.
Of the eleven children, six of George and Frederika’s and five of Karl and Christina’s, ten were girls. Carl Frederick Luther (Kathryn and Mildred’s father) lived to be the oldest of that generation of the Luther family which was unusual for a male.