Arnold Koelpin, ex-mayor, scholar, dies at 86

Arnold Koelpin giving a presentation on Martin Luther on Thursday, January 6, 2017, at Martin Luther College

NEW ULM — An icon of New Ulm who served the city, Martin Luther College and local churches passed away Monday morning.

Arnold Koelpin, 86, died Monday. Koelpin was a long-time professor at MLC and a city mayor who spent much of his time serving his community and church.

“He was a very kind, thoughtful, intelligent person,” his son Paul Koelpin said. “He was always fascinated by the history of things. He was fascinated and interested in people. He loved to serve.”

Koelpin was born in Wisconsin to Arnold Bernhard Wilhelm Koelpin and Magdelena Gieschen on May 24, 1931.

“He loved his adopted city,” Paul said. “He grew up in Milwaukee, Wis., and that area, but he certainly and clearly loved New Ulm.”

He graduated from Concordia College High School in Milwaukee in 1951 before earning his B.A. at Northwestern College in Watertown, Wis.

Koelpin was ordained in 1960, the same year he married Ruth Jaeger before going to the University of Erlangen and Nuremberg in Germany on a Fulbright Scholarship.

He spent a year as a pastor in Cambridge, Wis., before joining the then-Dr. Martin Luther College (DMLC) as a professor of religion and history. He served in that role until 2001.

Koelpin was very much the historian. He served two terms on the Brown County Historical Society (BCHS) governing board, including as president. His German served him well.

“He had a fluent use of the German language and he would do a lot of the translations of old newspaper articles for us from the New Ulm Post and from the Pioneer that were German papers in New Ulm, so that we could utilize that in exhibits and for books,” BCHS Research Librarian Darla Gebhard said.

Koelpin also served New Ulm civically. He was appointed mayor in 2001 after Bert Schapekahm died in office.

Denis Warta, who was on the City Council at the time, said he remembered suggesting Koelpin be appointed to the position.

“He was very humble, always, in what he did and said,” Warta said. “He had a way about him that was very unique.”

Koelpin did not run for a second term. He was just not that interested in politics, Warta said.

The ways Koelpin served his community, from the Chamber of Commerce to St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church to the Hermann Centennial Celebrations in the 1980s and 1990s are too numerous to list here fully.

“He was such an ethical person and such a good-natured man, and it was always a pleasure to serve with Arnie on any committee because he was always forward-thinking and had the best interests of New Ulm and the people that he worked with,” Gebhard said.

Koelpin was preceded in death by his older sister Ruth Siehr and older brother Winfred Koelpin. He is survived by his wife, four children and 23 grandchildren. His funeral arrangements are still pending, Paul said.

“He was a fine Christian man,” Paul said. “A great example for his family.”

Connor Cummiskey can be emailed at


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