History of Luther College, Nebraska (Part 1 History)
From: Past and Present Saunders County, Nebraska
A Record of Settlement, Organization, Progress and Achievement
Charles Perky Supervising Editor
The S. J. Clarke Publishing Co. Chiago 1915


No people that neglect the training of the ideal side of man's nature can prosper. The Pilgrim Fathers of the church in this state recognized this fact and acted accordingly. As soon as a rude shanty or a sod house on the plain was built up, they planned for a congregation and a church. In less than twenty years they were ready for a second step, an institution of higher education.

Saunders County, lying midway between Omaha and Lincoln, had the largest number of Swedish people, and this very ridge, on which is now the institution of Luther College, loomed up before the vision of more than one enthusiastic wayfarer as a suitable site for a temple of learning. The first one to give a formal expression to this idea was, as far as known, Rev. J. E. Nordling. He and the worthy pioneer brother, Rev. S. G. Larson, were one day strolling over these prairies, when he exclaimed, "What a beautiful site for a school!"

In midsummer, 1882, Rev. J. P. Nyquist came to Edensburg Church at Malmo. He had assisted in establishing Gustavus Adolphus College at St. Peter, Minn., and was enthusiastically interested in having a separate institution for Nebraska. The Lutheran people around Lindsborg, Kan., led by the youthful and energetic Carl Swensson, had begun the work of higher education in their midst. Railroad service was poor, the distance by way of Manhattan to Lindsborg was too great; it was equally far to Rock Island or St. Peter; therefore it was seriously thought that Nebraska ought to have a school of her own.

The question of a higher institution of learning for Nebraska was first discussed at a mission meeting near York, Neb., in November, 1882. A committee consisting of Revs. J. P. Nyquist, C. J. E. Haterius and E. A. Fogelstrom was elected. These men went to Saunders County in January, 1883, with a view to find out what could be done there. Meetings were held in the Swedish Lutheran churches in Mead, Swedeburg and Malmo, also in the City of Wahoo. Subscriptions were then taken up. Afterwards joint meetings were held by the two mission districts of Nebraska, for Nebraska was at that time a part of the Kansas Conference. Three places competed for the institution: Wahoo, Stromsburg and Saronville. A meeting was held at the last named place, March 6-10, 1883, for the purpose of deterinining the location. After a long and heated discussion it was decided that the school should be located at Wahoo. Ten acres of land, and $10,000 in good subscriptions ($6,000 from WTahoo, the balance from the three congregations, Alma, Swedeburg and Edensburg), were offered. A board of directors was then elected, consisting of the following members:

Ministers - E. A. Fogelstrom, Omaha; J. P. Nyquist, Edensburg; John Tore11, Oakland; C. J. E. Haterius, Saronville; J. E. Nordling, Swedehome.

Laymen - John Erickson, Swedeburg; N. P. Hult, Swedehome; Abraham Helsing, Wahoo; P. N. Henning, Mead.

The board met and organized March 29th, Rev. J. P. Nyquist being elected chairman, Rev. J. Torell, secretary, and Mr. Johannes Olson, of Swedeburg, treasurer. Articles of incorporation were prepared and filed for record March 29, 1883, at 2 o'clock P. M. They are recorded in Miscellaneous Record B, Saunders County, pp. 99-102, and they are as follows:


This corporation shall be known as the Luther Academy, and its location and place of business shall be at Wahoo, Web., and it shall have all the rights and powers now or hereafter conferred by law upon corporations for similar purposes.


The object and purpose of this corporation shall be the establishment and maintenance of a college at Wahoo to be known as the Luther Academy, and which shall be devoted to the promotion of education and the dissemination of learning with such courses of study as the faculty and the board of directors may direct.


For the purpose of carrying out the object and the purpose above named, this corporation shall erect, construct and maintain such suitable buildings as may be necessary and shall also have the right to enact such bylaws as may be required for the government of said school and the interest of the corporation.


The corporation and the college hereby established shall at all times be under and subject to the control and management of the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran Church of Nebraska and the succeeding organization of the said church in Nebraska, and the trustees and directors shall have such powers as may be conferred by law and the bylaws of this corporation.

State of Nebraska, County of Saunders, March 29, A. D. 1883.









The county judge, H. Gilkeson, appointed a board of appraisers, consisting of John Ekeley, E. E. Lyle and M. B. Reese. They found subscriptions in the hands of the committee to the amount of $6,330 which they valued at $5,500.

The board elected Rev. Martin Noyd of Round Rock, Tex., president of the institution and the missionary, S. M. Hill, of Salt Lake City, professor. They then arranged for a three years' course preparatory for college and a general course, academic, of two years. The subjects should be so arranged as to constitute a normal course, preparing students for teaching public school.

The second meeting of the board was held May 1st, when plans for the main building were accepted. A contract was let for the erection of the south wing and the cornerstone was laid with proper ceremonies on July 23, 1883. This building is now used as a music hall and ladies' dormitory and is called South Hall.

School was opened October 18th, in Room 6, second story, and at the first recitation five pupils were present. The total attendance that year was thirty seven. As Professor Hill could not be released from his field in Utah, Mr. Dayton Andrews assisted in teaching during the fall and winter terms. With the beginning of the spring term, 1884, Professor Hill began his work at the institution.

As the subscriptions did not come in the board had to borrow $1,000 in the fall of 1883 and, no arrangements being made for meeting current expenses except the tuition paid by the students, this debt increased. It was necessary to have a dormitory for girls and a house for the president, and so the first frame building was erected in the summer of 1885. This building was moved in 1903 and is now used as Ladies' Hall and contains the art rooms as well as the rooms of the lady principal and other lady teachers. It is known as East Hall. The erection of this building, together with the annual deficit in current expenses, increased the indebtedness to $8,000. To meet this debt, new subscriptions were taken in Saunders County, but at a joint meeting of the Nebraska Mission Districts in Swedehome it was decided to solicit aid in all the congregations in the state. Rev. E. A. Fogelstrom was elected solicitor and he accepted this on the sole condition, however, that after he had lifted the debt the institution should never after be allowed to run into debt. He obtained $8,238.25 in subscriptions all over the state, but as he did not have charge of the collection only $4,967.38 was paid the first year, and $1,750.19 afterwards. The usual deficit in current expenses lessened the net receipts, so that the next year the indebtedness was nevertheless $6,260.50. This went on for a few years and the indebtedness reached $9,000. Rev. J. Brodine of lloldrege bravely accepted the call to wipe out by means of a subscription the debt of the conference; he succeeded in this undertaking.

The frame building was dedicated March 19, 1885, and at a meeting then held by the board, it was decided to recommend to the Nebraska congregations that they should ask for separation from the Kansas Conference and join the Iowa Conference in order that the educational work might be placed on a better footing.

At the meeting of the synod in Rockford that year, this plan was not approved. Then upon a solemn protest by the delegation from Nebraska, the synod recommended that the Kansas Conference permit the congregations to become an independent conference.

A grand school festival "Folkfest" was held September 9, 1885, when Dr. T. N. Hasseiquist paid his first and only visit to Luther Academy. The Kansas Conference held its meeting the same week at Swedeburg, when it was decided that Nebraska and Wyoming should constitute a separate conference. That was not the original plan of the Nebraska leaders, but the interests both at Lindsborg and Rock Island demanded that Nebraska should stand unsupported. A veritable policy of the survival of the fittest was adopted. "Throw the child into the water and see if it can swim to shore" was the emphatic and suggestive exclamation of Doctor Olson at the Rockford meeting.

Luther Academy sent out its first graduates on May 20, 1886, a class of nine members. One of these, Augusta C. Stenhoim, was on the day of her graduation called by the board as assistant teacher. Some years afterward she was called as permanent professor.

In 1885 P. A. Rydberg was called to teach mathematics and natural science. He was later made permanent professor. During the school year of 1890-91 he had leave of absence to pursue studies at the state university. He resigned in 1893, returned to the university for further work, and then became assistant curator of the Botanic Garden of New York City.

A commercial course, the beginning of the present school of business, was arranged for in October, 1886, with Prof. P. A. Rydberg in charge and room was provided in the upper story of the brick building. A school paper, "Till Verksamhet," was published during the years 1885-86-87 and as a result the attendance was considerably increased. But at the end of the fall term, 1886, Professor Noyd handed in his resignation, to take effect immediately. This was a severe blow to the institution as well as to the conference. Professor Hill was appointed by the board as acting president and calls were extended. to fill the vacancy. The third or highest class, consisting of only three members, was dissolved.

Anna L. Westman was assistant teacher the spring of 1889 and a part of the next fall term, until she was called away by the sudden death of her mother. During the school years of 1889, 1890, 1891, Rev. A. P. Fors was teacher of Christianity and assisted in other subjects. At the end of the first year he was called as permanent professor, but declined and at the same time tendered his resignation to the congregation at Wahoo His successor, Rev. John Ekholm, was teacher of Christianity and Swedish Literature, until he accepted the chair of Greek and Swedish in Bethany College, Lindsborg, Kan. Rev. Joshua E. Erlander was likewise teacher of Christianity during his pastorate at Wahoo, 1895-99. In January, 1901, Mr. L. Bonander came to take charge of the congregation and at the same time to serve as assistant teacher in the Academy. Shortly afterward he was made a permanent professor, and in 1913 assumed the president's chair pending the appointment of a permanent president.

Oscar Sellberg taught the commercial branches from 1890 until 1893, when he went to Bethany College to complete his studies. J. H. Flodman was called in 1890 and began his work that year. Later he was called by the conference as permanent professor. Sadie M. Seablom of Essex, Ia., served as assistant teacher in 1893-97. Joseph M. Ohslund was elected in 1893 to have charge of the commercial department. He had one year's leave of absence when he pursued further studies at the Drexel Institute in Philadelphia. He is now president of the Citizens State Bank of Wahoo. A separate music department was opened in the fall of 1893, with Prof. Charles Purdy from Bethany as teacher. He chose for assistant John T. Peters of Rockford. The following year the board elected Frank Johnson of Rock Island as professor in that department. When he resigned, the board called D. T. Dandell, who served one year. Then Prof. A. O. Peterson from the conservatory of music at St. Peter was called.

In 1902 the board called Esther Monteen as teacher of voice culture. She was followed by Cora Babbitt.

A department for needle work was opened at the beginning for the lady students. But after a while it was discontinued, as it interfered too much with the other work. Louisa Johnson of Alton, Ill., had charge of the department 1885-86, Mrs. J. P. Nyquist in 1886-88, and Alice Schutz of Swedesburg, Ia., 1888-89.

One of the former students, J. N. Sundquist, donated to the institution a full set of models for a course of sloyd after the Naas pattern, but these have not been very much used.

Gymnastics have occasionally been taught, but only when some student has been teaching it.

The courses originally mapped out have been considerably enlarged so as to meet the increased requirements both at Augustana College and at the state university. The various courses now taught in the college include: Christianity, English, Swedish, German, Latin, Greek, History, Civics, Mathematics, Penmanship, Physiology, Agriculture, Botany, Zoology, Bookkeeping, Domestic Science, Education, Reviews, Geography, Drawing, Psychology, Biology, Business, Shorthand, Music, Voice Culture.

The attendance at Luther College started in 1882-3 with an enrollment of 36 students; this number increased slowly each year until 1906-07, when there were 301 students in attendance. There has been a slight decrease the last few years, the record for 1915 being 250. The presidents of the institution have been: M. Noyd, S. M. Hill, O. J. Johnson, L. Bonander (pro team), and A. T. Seashore.

The panic years were of course felt severely by Luther College. The institution then went through a crisis which tried its metal. Within the conference there had never been a full consensus of opinion as to the wisdom of maintaining a separate institution. Now the opposition seemed to gain control. Then the president resigned, thinking that if the institution should be closed it was best so to decide. A meeting of the board was called by the president of that body, Rev. P. J. Brodine. The members of the board met with Rev. C. G. Widen in the chair and accepted this resignation. But when the president, Reverend Brodine, arrived the next day he declared the previous meeting illegal and its decision null and void. Then he presided at a second session, and the board reversed its former action. The work of Rev. P. Sjoblom while a member of this conference and especially as the president of the board decided in a great measure the continued existence of Luther Academy. He rebuked the hostile, encouraged the weak and wavering, and was such a pillar of strength to the faculty and especially to its president in those days of sore trial, that the grand old man of the Minnesota Swedes must not be forgotten in the history of Luther Academy and of the Nebraska Conference.

At a meeting of the conference at York he pointed out to the members their duty. He proposed that a solicitor be appointed and subscriptions be taken that would wipe out the debt of the conference both for the school and the mission work. This was done. Rev. P. J. Brodine was appointed to do this work and also to have charge of the collection. The next year Rev. J. Torell was appointed to do a part of it, and by their united efforts upward of $12,000 was gathered and the conference made free from debt. Then an annual appropriation was made by the conference, so that it might be possible to carry on the work without running into further debt.

Perhaps a few leading facts concerning the history of the erection of the main building of the institution would also interest the reading public.

When it was decided to build, the first difficulty that presented itself was whether or not to follow the plans adopted at the founding of the institution and of which the first building erected, now called the "Old Brick," is only a part. Various plans of enlarging the old building were discussed, but all were found wanting. In fact it was found impossible to enlarge the old building in such a way as to form a well appearing and serviceable structure for the present needs of the institution. It was therefore decided to build a separate building.

But to find a suitable site on the campus for the structure was no easy matter, as Gentlemen's Hall seemed to occupy the place the new building should have. At a meeting of the board October 27, 1902, it was decided to erect the new building near the Gentlemen's Hall, and that the latter mist be moved eastward. Then the firm of Leach & Plum accepted the offer of furnishing plans and specifications for the new building at a very moderate cost. The most necessary preparations for the new building were now made and the board felt that, God willing, the project would scarcely fail. A very unique decision was then made, that the members of the board should assemble on the site of the new building and break the ground with appropriate ceremonies. At 7 o'clock on the morning of October 28th nearly all members of the board, many students and members of the faculty met in a circle on the site of the proposed building. The morning was frosty but bright and serene, leaves were slowly falling from the glistening trees. It was one of nature's solemn moments, which did its part to make the ceremonies impressive. We gathered on the selected spot, uncovered reverently our heads as we listened for a few moments to words of thanksgiving and hope. Rev. F. N. Swanberg, the president of the conference, opened the exercises with a fervent prayer, followed by a few remarks, after which he broke the ground in the name of the triune God. Rev. O. J. Johnson, president of the institution, added a few words on the three Christian graces, Faith, Hope and Charity. The president of the board, too, Rev. J. E. Noodling, spoke, pointing to this occasion as an Ebenezer in the history of the institution. A prayer followed and the ceremonies closed, leaving lasting memories with those attending. The spade used was kept.

Plans and specifications for the new building were adopted by the board on November 29th, and excavation for the foundation was begun on December 1st. Nothing further could be done until March 31st, when the work on the building was begun.

Easter Sunday, April 12th, was another important day in the history of the school, for then the cornerstone of the new building was laid. The program will be found below. At the opening of the school year 1903-04, the building was finished, doing credit to the builder, Mr. C. J. Olson of Lincoln, as well as to the conference.

In style the building is somewhat antique, but in construction and plan certainly modern. It is indeed an imposing structure with its variegated walls of gray and red brick and its belt of white sandstone between the first and second story. The dimensions are 91 by 50 feet and about 42 feet high. There are three stories, the first one 12 feet high from floor to ceiling, the second about 12.3 and the third 14 feet. In the east end of the first story are two class rooms each 23 by 30 and in the west end is the gymnasium, 30 by 46. There are also two smaller rooms on the north side of the building. These are used for shorthand and typewriting.

On the second floor are three class rooms, two of them 23 by 30 and one 18 by 23 feet, also a library and museum, the former 23 by 30, the latter 26 by 18. The chapel, business halal and a music room are located in the third story, the chapel occupying the east end and the business hall the west end of the building. There are also cloak rooms in each story.

Beautiful art glass windows decorate the elegant chapel, which is furnished with first class opera chairs, donated by former students. A fine chandelier has been donated for the chapel by the Luther League of Yahoo and a reading stand by the young people of Bethany Church, Axtell. The class rooms are high, spacious and well lighted, and are almost unsurpassed by any institution.

The building known as West Hall was enlarged in the year 1905.

[Contiuned in part 2, the Graduiates]

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