by Norb Manthe
St. John’s Lutheran School has a long history of teaching God’s word to the children of our congregation, beginning in 1882 when Rev. William Rader founded the church and school. That same year construction was completed on the first church building, which also included an attached annex for the school. At that time the school had approximately forty students who were taught by Rev. Rader. As God worked through his people the congregation and school continued to grow and in 1884 it was necessary to call a full-time teacher to assist Rev. Rader with the teaching duties.
By 1888 the school had outgrown the church annex and a new two-story, two-classroom building was constructed south of the church for a cost of $3,000. A third classroom was added to the building in 1929 when the original church was replaced with the present Gothic style building.
Few enrollment statistics are available for those early years, but it is believed that the annual enrollment fluctuated between forty and one hundred students. Many of the students at St. John’s came from the Lutheran Children’s Home, which was located nearby on Harwood Avenue. This home was in existence from 1896 until 1967 and was a temporary receiving residence for orphaned, dependent, or neglected children.
In the mid-1950’s the Wisconsin State Industrial Commission condemned the 1888 school building because they deemed it to be unsafe for further use as a school. However, in 1950 the congregation had already begun preparing to build a new facility by purchasing the land at the southeast corner of Harwood and Dewey from the Charles Fingado estate for $20,000. In 1958 the congregation constructed the new school for a cost of $258,000. This building was used through the 2001-02 school year and included seven classrooms, a kindergarten room, kitchen, dining hall, and a physical activity room. Soon after the dedication of the new school it was noted that the 1956 enrollment was fifty-eight students, including twenty from the Lutheran Children’s Home. The new facility and bus service allowed the school to grow to one hundred and twenty four students, including the first Kindergarten class.
Over the course of the last few years the 1958 school building began to show it’s age, making it more difficult to meet the demands and changes in school programs and curriculum. Thus, in 2001 the congregation of St. John’s once again began preparing to construct a new school and initiated the Rooted and Growing campaign. The purpose of this campaign was to improve and update the facilities of both the church and school by replacing the current school building with a new educational facility that will meet the current and future educational demands of our congregation.
The new building includes eleven classrooms, art, science, and computer labs, a library media center, kitchen, cafeteria, and gymnasium. During the construction year classes for grades one through eight were held in rented space in Elm Grove Lutheran School, while the Kindergarten and pre-school classes were taught in the church basement. Our new educational facility opened in the fall of 2003 so that God’s children, rooted and growing in the Gospel, may go forward and with their lives bear fruit for the Kingdom.