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St. Paul’s School: A 125-Year Tradition

September 5, 2010
The Journal

NEW ULM - St. Paul's Lutheran Elementary School will celebrate its 125th anniversary Sept. 25-26, with a variety of events.


In the early 1880s, members of St. Paul's congregation, formed in 1865, were concerned about their children receiving a Christian education. They organized a Schulverein, or school society, requesting the opening of a school, in St. Paul's "old church" building.

Article Photos

St. Paul’s school began in the old church building in 1885.

The request was granted, and the school opened on Aug. 17, 1885. With an enrollment of 75 students, a Mr. Abele, the first teacher, began classes. The building had been repaired, after sustaining damage in a 1881 tornado.

From the beginning year, Dr. Martin Luther College (DMLC) students were on call for teaching assistance. They were engaged to assist in education because the enrollment was too large for one teacher. Also, Mr. Abele was not conversant with the English language, since he had received his training in Germany.

At the end of the first year, Mr. Abele left - and never returned. He was replaced by a pair of teachers. One taught in German, the other in English. All teaching was done in the one-room school, with each teacher teaching half days.

Fact Box

An Invitation

What: 125th Anniversary of St. Paul's Lutheran School (1885-2010)

Where: St. Paul's Lutheran School, 126 S. Payne St.

When: Saturday, Sept. 25 and Sunday, Sept. 26

Saturday, 2-5 p.m.

Carnival snacks and games

School open house

* The Anniversary mural

* Kickoff of 2010-11 locker project

* Display of photos and memorabilia

Alumni-sponsored collector car/truck/tractor display

Outdoor movie (come back at dusk, bring a lawn chair)

Sunday, beginning at 11 a.m.

Outdoor worship (place of St. Paul's and St. John's services)

* Dress casually, some seating provided, lawn chair encouraged

Hog roast to follow (free will offering)

Please tell family and friends. RSVP appreciated but not necessary. Call school 507-354-2329, e-mail

Facebook: check updates or RSVP.

Anniversary booklets will be available for $5.

The early years at St. Paul's were unstable. Teachers remained only a short time - and often left without notice. There was not enough room, or teachers, to serve the students.

The situation improved with the building of a second classroom and the arrival of a stable team of teachers. On Oct. 17, 1886, a new frame building opened on 2nd North Street - called "die Kleine Schule," to distinguish it from the division remaining in the church called "die Grosse Schule." The first long-term teacher, F.W. Blauert and W.S. Muesing, who started respectively in 1888 and 1889, worked side by side for 25 years. Blauert served the school until 1936, just short of a half century.

In 1900, the school building was replaced. A two-story 40-by-70-foot brick building with four classrooms was dedicated on Nov. 4. By 1918, there were four full-time teachers, and at the end of that year, a kindergarten teacher was provided as well.

School realities were quite different in these early years, recounts an anniversary booklet written by Mrs. Irma (Paap) McLean, a now retired long-time teacher. There were no school buses and no hot lunches. All town students walked home for lunch, even if they lived on the hill or by the river. Some students sat together in large wooden desks. Writing was done on slates, and German was spoken as much as English. There was no gym, and girls always wore dresses to school.

Students from the early 1900s tell of spanking straps being hidden or cut into pieces; of a ball being thrown out of a second-story window; of teachers' cars being lifted into a position between two trees, so they could not readily be driven away... Mischief, yes, but perhaps not as destructive as vandalism in today's world.

As enrollment increased, the facilities were further enlarged to accommodate growth. A 50-by-80-foot addition, dedicated in 1921, more than doubled the size of the school. The additional classrooms made it possible for DMLC to open a teacher training facility, with college students teaching classes under supervision. The college also accepted responsibility for the kindergarten, which was in session for the last ten weeks of the school year.

Eventually, there were more college supervisors and more grade levels included. All DMLC practice teaching took place at St. Paul's for many years.

In the early 1900s, space for recess was limited, writes McLean. All the students had recess at the same time, so there were many children playing. They played around the school and in State Street, which was blocked off at recess time. By 1940, there was a slide and a merry-go-round to play on in front of the school.

In 1947, St. John's congregation was organized. In 1948, the decision was made to support St. Paul's School at the rate of $10 per student. As time went on, support was increased, and St. John's also provided teachers. Many St. John's children have received their education at St. Paul's.

By the 1950s, enrollment had grown to more than 400 students. The science room, the auditorium stage and even a storeroom were converted into classrooms. To solve the problem quickly, a nearby bowling alley was purchased and remodeled. Called "the annex," this building, dedicated on Sept. 13, 1959, added four classrooms.

In 1960, a ninth teacher was added. Additional teacher training rooms were provided, as enrollment reached 412. In 1968, a tenth classroom was opened. The stage in the basement of the main school building was converted into the last available classroom. There were now 15 teaching stations in the building, with enrollment of 451. Enrollment would peak in 1970, with 466 students.

These developments clearly indicated a need for a new school, and the congregation approved the $750,000 project in 1969, following a three-year study.

The present school, on Payne Street, was dedicated on Sept. 26, 1971. The building included 17 900-square-foot classrooms, a playground, a gym, a cafeteria, a library, an administration area, conference rooms and other features.

The building has fulfilled many purposes in addition to classroom education: conferences, church services, music events, social gathering and even the launch of Minnesota Valley Lutheran, the area high school, writes McLean.

In early 1988, the idea of a pre-school was approved, and that year, the program started with 14 children. Since then, enrollment in it has quadrupled.

In 1992-1993, the school opened a computer lab.

An all-day, every-day kindergarten program began in the 2005-2006 school year.

College involvement

In 1995, DMLC became MLC (Martin Luther College). The number of supervisors and training rooms was gradually reduced, as teaching experiences were moved to other schools. Students teachers assigned to St. Paul's are now supervised only by staff teachers who are both state and synod-certified.


St. Paul's provides Scripture-based Christian education. The curriculum is centered on Christ, with daily devotions, prayers and the singing of Christian hymns and songs. Much emphasis is given to the teaching of Bible history. So that all subjects will be taught from a Christian viewpoint and Christian living encouraged, only Christian teachers have been called to teach.

The organizers of the school also stipulated that the curriculum should provide for a well-rounded general education. In the early days, the objectives included that children acquire adequate oral and written skills in German and English. A large share of the curriculum was devoted to mathematics, and also included music, history, geography and art.

Science in the elementary grades was not taught until about the 1930s.

Opportunities for extracurricular competitive sports did not really exist until the 1950s.

Alumni remember a teacher who gave eighth-grade boys a chance to play baseball with DMLC freshmen. The teacher, Mr. Nolte, loaded the boys into his converted Crosley hearse and took them to the college campus to play, says McLean's history.

A St. Paul's student, Terry Steinbach, particularly liked the very competitive kickball games played on the small playground between the brick school and annex building.

Now, both boys and girls have athletic opportunities including soccer, volleyball, contact football, baseball, softball, track and Saturday basketball for grades 1-4.

Since 1969, the students have had the opportunity to participate in a voluntary band program. College students have helped by giving instrument lessons. In recent years, St. Paul's has had three bands, the Raider Band, a Jazz Band and a Junior Band.

An annual musical is presented by the Raider Choir, a group of volunteer singers from grades 6-8.

The students present concerts and prepare songs to sing in church services. Through the past 125 years, a favorite event has been the Christmas Eve service, entirely delivered by the students.



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