Sketch for 1891 - 1917 - Rev. R.H. Bergstresser
Sketch for 1917 - 1993 - Rev. Carl W. Alexy
Edited and Updated by Rev. Betty E. Landis, 2008
In 1891, Mr. William S. Tomlinson and Mr. Joseph W. Wilson, members
of the First Lutheran Church, together with Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Harpster
and Mr. and Mrs. James H. White canvassed the territory of what
is now the 8th and 10th Wards of Altoona
for the purpose of securing the names of Lutherans who would be
willing to cooperate in organizing a Sunday School in that section
of Altoona. The canvass revealed sufficient interest, and the first
meeting was held on the second floor of the John Kline building,
330 Sixth Avenue, on Sunday afternoon November 22, 1891. The meeting
was attended by a large number of people, and 69 people organized
the first Bethany Lutheran Sunday School. The first officers elected
were: John H. White, Superintendent; Isaac Hapster, Secretary; and
Harry C. Keith, Treasurer. The School grew so rapidly that, in less
than a year, it became necessary to seek larger quarters. The third
floor of the IOOF Building at 401 Sixth Avenue was rented, and this
continued to be the place of the meeting until a church was built.
On June 25, 1893, Bethany Lutheran Church was organized with 48
charter members: Mr. and Mrs. Adam Beecher, Mr. Emory Beecher, Miss
Molly Beecher, Mrs. L.W. Flanagan, Miss Maggie Gibbons, Mr. John
Griffith, Mr. and Mrs. J.L. Haffly, Miss Jennie Haffly, Miss Lilly
Haffly, Mr. and Mrs. Isaac Harpster, Mr. and Mrs. Harry Keith, Mr.
and Mrs. George Klahr, Mrs. James Laughlin, Mr. James Leach, Miss
Jennie Leach, Miss Mary Leach, Mr. George Levan, Miss Emma Liebegotte,
Mr. George Liebegotte, Miss Verna Liebegotte, Mr. and Mrs. Charles
Lingenfelter, Mr. and Mrs. John Lingenfelter, Mr. and Mrs. M.W.
Porter, Mr. and Mrs. John Richabaugh, Mr. and Mrs. D.R. Stonerod,
Mr. and Mrs. William Tomlinson, Miss Mamie Wantz, Mr. and Mrs. L.W.
Watts, Mrs. Ella White, Mr. and Mrs. James H. White, Mr. and Mrs.
Thomas White, Mr. Joseph Wilson.
The Church was self-supporting from the beginning. The first officers
elected were Elders: James W. White, President of Council and William
S. Tomlinson. Deacons: George Liebegotte, Isaac S. Harpster, George
W. Levan, and John D. Rickabaugh, Secretary, Rev. Elmer E. Parsons,
a member of First Lutheran Chuch and a student in the Theological
Department at Gettysburg College, acted as a supply pastor during
one of his summer vacations from June 25 to September 1, 1893, when
Rev. H.W. Heilman was elected regular pastor. A few days later,
on September 7, 1893, Bethany Lutheran Church was admitted to the
Allegheny Synod of the Lutheran Church in America.
Mr. D.K. Ramey, a member of Second Lutheran Church, realizing the
great need of a permanent home for the new organization, very generously
donated a plot of ground, 50 x 120 feet, at the corner of Third
Avenue and Second Street. A building was at once started and the
cornerstone was laid on November 12, 1893. In addition to the Pastor,
Rev. H.M. Heilman, the others who assisted were Rev. J.B. Hartman,
D.D., Rev. E.D. Weigle, D.D., and Rev. B.S. Dise. The church was
dedicated April 1, 1894, with the dedication sermon preached by
Rev. J.F. Hartman, D.D., Pastor of the Second Lutheran Church.
On January 2, 1897, Rev. H.M. Heilman organized the Mt. Olivet
Lutheran Church, Elberta, PA, about two miles east of Altoona, which
was served by the Pastors of Bethany Lutheran Church until 1915,
when it was made part of the Sinking Valley Parish. The membership
of Bethany Lutheran Church was now over 200, and in 1902 the building
was remodeled, an annex building added, and the entire building
Rev. Heilman resigned May 17, 1903. "Verily his works do follow
him." The second pastor of the church was Rev. T. Bahn Thomas,
who was called from October 1, 1903 through June 1, 1905. During
his pastorate the chuch debts were materially decreased and the
house and lot at 204 Third Avenue adjoining the church property
was purchased for the sum of $2,700. The Rev. H.W. Stine, Ph.D.,
served as third pastor of the congregation from August 1, 1905 until
November 1, 1908. During his pastorate the church debt was reduced
to $3,000 leaving a balance of $2,500.
Rev. Ralph H. Bergstresser, the fourth pastor, accepted a call
to Bethany on December 1, 1908. The ministry during his administration
was greatly blessed by God. The membership increased to more than
The church debt was cancelled and the offering for the apportionment increased in 8 years from $214 to more than $1,000 annually. On March 26,1916, the property adjoining the parsonage, known as 206 Third Avenue, was purchased for $2,500 cash, now giving the church property a plot of ground extending 100 feet on Third Avenue and 120 feet on Second Street. In addition, on May 1, 1917, nearly $7,000 was saved in the New Building Fund. Rev. Bergstresser resigned the pastorate June 1, 1917, to take a call at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Hanover, PA. His successor, Rev. A.J. Rudisill, began his service November 4, 1917.
It was during the pastorate of Rev. A.J. Rudisill that the present
structure was built. It was dedicated September 23, 1923. The building
stands as a tribute to the many people who labored long and hard
to bring about its construction. To name just a few of the people
would be to neglect the many who labored by means of their contributions.
Also, we could forget that many individual efforts were undertaken
in the name of church organizations and Sunday School classes. It
should never cease to amaze the members of Bethany what their forebears
did in raising the sum of $130,000 to build the present church structure.
For example, the Church Council members each had themselves insured
for $10,000 with the church as a beneficiary. One Sunday School
class sold bricks. Another class raised the funds for an organ.
There were dinners, soup sales, and just about anything anyone could
imagine that raised the funds needed to build the beautiful church
building that continues to be used in active service for our Lord
Bethany continued to grow over the years and in 1928 the basement
was dug out to provide additional Sunday School classroom space.
Throughout the years, other changes were made in the church building
including the refurbishing of our Sunday School facilities both
upstairs and downstairs. The membership steadily increased through
the mid-1950's (especially under the leadership and ministries of
the Rev. George K. Bowers, 1944-1954). However, Bethany has had
the same steady decrease in membership since the late 1950's that
has been seen throughout the country. Even though membership has
decreased from the post-World War II era, the support of the members
by way of their offerings and their care of the buildings increased
so that the basement was redone and a basement lounge was created.
The parking lot was paved with blacktop. New gowns for the Cecelian
Choir were purchased: new storm windows with Lexan covering for
the church windows were installed. The parking lot was resurfaced
and the church nave walls washed. A new pipe organ was installed
and celebrated in 1973. A new roof was placed on the church, parsonage
and garage in the 70's and again in 2007. The church nave and hall
were repainted. The exterior of the church and parsonage were cleaned,
silicone treated, the bricks pointed and the woodwork painted. Choir
robes were purchased for Cherub, Junior and Senior Choirs. New glass
doors were installed. An accessible ramp was built for the Third
Avenue entrance - long before the law required it. Pigeon repellant
continues to be used and updated to protect our roof. Carpeting
was installed in the Nave, Social Hall and the Lounge area. All
the lounge furniture was reupholstered.
Some other items of importance were the hiring of a Youth Director,
Mary Lykens, who held that position from 1978 to 1980. Irvin and
Amanda Lightner, Bill Pine, the Hoffman family, and the Kelly family
were hired as sextons to succeed Mr. Paul Neff who had held the
position for many years. In 1969, Virginia Barry and Jeanne Hair
were the first women elected to Church Council. Jeanne Hair subsequently
became the first woman secretary of the Council. Gertrude Johnson
became the first woman to hold the position of Church Council President
Paul L. Reaser addresses the congregation during a 2007 visit.
In the forty-six years that followed the death of Pastor Rudisill,
Bethany had only six pastors: the Rev. Harry L. Saul (deceased),
the Rev. Paul L. Reaser, the Rev. George K. Bowers (deceased), the
Rev. George D. Birk (deceased), the Rev. Jerome V. Guss (deceased),
and the Rev. Hugo W. Schroeder, Jr. (who preached for our 115th
Anniversary worship). All of these pastors served in unique, giving,
and faithful ways. Under Rev. Bowers and Rev. Schroeder's leadership,
Bethany was very involved in cooperative and community-wide ministries.
The Rev. Melvin Dick, Rev. Alfred Ambrose, and Rev. Vincent Guss,
sons of Bethany, became pastors within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
during and after
this era. In fact, the Rev. David O. Guss, brother of Vincent and son of Jerome,
was one of the last pastors
to be ordained in the Lutheran Church in America in late December of 1987
just before the creation of the ELCA in
January 1988. Before going to Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in
Columbia, South Carolina, he was a public school teacher for several years.
He currently is the pastor of Bethlehem Lutheran Church in Hallandale, Florida (near Miami).
In 1971, Pastor Carl W. Alexy began his 23-year ministry at Bethany.
During Pastor Alexy's ministry, a number of projects were undertaken
including the flourishing of the Altoona Area Lutheran Co-Mission,
special outreach to adults and youth with disabilities, a new pipe
organ, complete cleaning of the exterior of the Church, and in 1992-93
refurbishing of the sanctuary, nave and stairwells including new
lighting and a new sound system. An associate pastor was called
for a very short time, the Rev. Steven Caler, to serve the youth
of the congregation.
During Pastor Brian Armen's call and due to his expertise, Bethany
fully began to utilize computer technology. A son of the congregation,
Pastor David Letscher, was ordained at Bethany in 2002. In June
2005, Pastor Suzanne Morelli became Bethany's first full-time
Interim Pastor and first woman pastor. She was very devoted in caring
for the needs of our congregation and helped us prepare us for 21st-Century
mission and ministry. Despite the significant changes in
Bethany's neighborhood and member demographics over the years, Bethany
continues to try to be faithful to God's leading in this time and
place. Bethany currently is seeing an increase in weekly church
attendance and in numerous new ministries sharing God's love in
Christ Jesus by reaching out to our community as well as meeting
the pastoral needs of our faithful members.
Pastors of Bethany Evangelical Lutheran Church
|The Rev. Dr. H.M. Heilman
|The Rev. T. Bahn Thomas
|The Rev. Dr. M.H. Stine
|The Rev. Dr. Ralph H. Bergstresser
|The Rev. Dr. Andrew J. Rudisill
|The Rev. Dr. Harry L. Saul
|The Rev. Paul L. Reaser
|The Rev. George K. Bowers
|The Rev. George D. Birk
|The Rev. Jerome V. Guss
|The Rev. Hugo W. Schroeder
|The Rev. Carl W. Alexy
|The Rev. Dr. Brian W. Armen
|The Rev. M. Suzanne Morelli, Interim
|The Rev. Betty E. Landis
|The Rev. Paula Schmitt