History of Hope Lutheran Church and School
Missouri Synod Lutheran Church work started in the Levittown-Fairless Hills area in the early 1950’s and was associated with the name of Bruce Clark. Mr. Clark, who was employed by the new United States Steel Company in Morrisville, and his wife Erna had moved here from the Chicago area and were interested in helping to establish a Missouri Synod church in this rapidly growing area. The Clarks joined St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Croydon and very soon enlisted the help of St. Luke’s pastor, the Rev. Laurence E. Wachholz, to get mission work started in the Levittown-Fairless Hills area.
Mr. Clark began by securing the community building in Fairless Hills for use by the Sunday School; today that is the smaller of the two buildings that house the Fairless Hills Senior Activity Center. Within a short time 35 children were attending Sunday School on a regular basis.
Because Levitt and Son, Inc. of New York were proceeding with the building of over 16,000 homes (the first model homes were opened in December of 1951), the Clarks saw the vast mission potential in this rapidly growing area. Mr. Clark was untiring in approaching such groups as the Home Mission Board of the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod in St. Louis, the Mission Board of the Synod’s Eastern District in Buffalo and others in an effort to obtain the services of a pastor who could begin to establish a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church..
In the fall of 1951 the Call process began, and in June 1952 the Rev. Louis A. Kaufmann accepted the Call to be Mission Developer in the general area of Levittown and Fairless Hills. The first families involved in this endeavor along with the Clarks were Fred and Norlene Lening, George and Helen Kraus and John and Shirley Jordan.
On September 7, 1952 the group held their first Lutheran Sunday School and worship service in the second floor auditorium of the Fallsington Free Library. Mr. Clark had secured use of the building for the grand sum of $2.50 per Sunday – which included electric, heat, water, a piano and folding chairs! The group chose to be known as Hope Lutheran Church. It would be just two years later that they would dedicate their new house of worship.
Four children and four adults were present for this first Sunday School hour, and 73 people (most of whom were members of St. Luke’s, Croydon or Holy Trinity, Trenton, NJ) attended the worship service. During this service Wanda Lynn Lening, infant daughter of Fred and Norlene Lening, was baptized.
The founding families and the Eastern District officials next concerned themselves with securing a site for a permanent church edifice. The group rejected an offer to buy a large house in Fallsington for $20,000, thinking that the price was too high and the location too remote. They next considered a two-acre plot containing a rambling one-story house on the corner of Levittown Parkway and Route 13 for $40,000. However Mr. Clark and Mr. Jordan urged District officials to contact Mr. William Levitt personally on behalf of the church, since he had already allocated acreage for other local churches.
During this same time temporary leaders and committees were chosen: Bruce Clark – Chairman and Treasurer; Fred Lening – Chairman of Trustees; John Jordan – Elder; Neil Werberig – S.S. Superintendent; Carolyn Dufendach – Pianist; Helen Kraus – Chairwoman of Women’s Activities; and George Kraus – Delegate to the Lutheran Action Council. Men of the group met the 2nd Monday of each month to discuss church business, with the first of such meetings being held on November 10, 1952.
On November 6, 1952 Rev. William A. Drews, Executive Secretary of the Eastern District, met with Mr. Levitt, at which time Mr. Levitt offered the six acre parcel at Millcreek Parkway and Haines Road, known as the Stackhouse site, for $40,000. He had paid $55,000 for it, but the $15,000 difference would be the Levitt Corporation’s donation to the new church. This dollar amount was comparable to the value of the two acre sites that had been granted without charge to other church groups that were planning to build in Levittown. On March 4, 1953 the final paperwork was signed.
A building committee, which had been formed on February 19, 1953 consisted of Donald Bickel, Bruce Clark, John Jordan, George Kraus, Fred Lening, Neil Werberig, and Howard Dufendach, chair. They strongly favored the erection of some type of “all purpose unit” that could be utilized by the Sunday School and a Christian Day School, before constructing a building that would be suited for only worship services. At the time long range plans for the site called for a church, a school, a parsonage, a “teacherage”, parking facilities, and a playground.
On May 20, 1953 the contract to build was awarded to Frank M. Bates Associates, Architects and Engineers of Philadelphia and Bristol. Just one week after the fledging church celebrated that milestone, they heard the news that the Lord had called Bruce Clark to Himself. The suddenness of his death shocked all who heard it since Bruce was well known and revered by all who knew him.
On June 8, 1953 the formal organization of Hope congregation took place and the proposed constitution was ratified. According to this constitution decisions about the church would be made by a Voter’s Assembly comprised of only male members of the congregation over the age of 21. Women would not have voting rights until January 1971.
In July 1953 Vicar Charles L. Ertman, a third year student from Concordia Theological Seminary in St. Louis, arrived to assist Pastor Kaufman for a one-year period.
On August 18, 1953 the group purchased a house at 334 Dogwood Drive, Levittown to be used as the parsonage, and just days later Vicar Ertman and his wife moved into part of it.
During this time a Sunday School of about 50 students was being held at the Fallsington Library, four miles from the church site. To accommodate even more children, a branch Sunday School was started on September 13, 1953 at the newly acquired parsonage. The number of children attending increased so quickly that double sessions were soon needed, and before long Sunday School enrollment was well over 100!
Eager to begin a Christian Day School, the church began a kindergarten program on September 28, 1953, with Mrs. Carolyn Dufendach and Mrs. John Wagner as teachers of the thirty boys and girls who enrolled. As of that date there were no other kindergarten programs offered in the Bristol Township portion of Levittown.
The final worship service at Fallsington Library was held on May 30, 1954. Then, one week later, on The Feast of Pentecost, June 6, 1954, the congregation celebrated the dedication of the new Hope Lutheran Church in a special afternoon service. Three infants were baptized, one of whom was Karen Marie Lening, daughter of Fred and Norlene Lening, and sister to Wanda, who had been baptized during the first worship service in the Fallsington Library. Organist for both services that day was Mrs. Carolyn Dufendach.
Charter Members of the newly formed Hope Lutheran Church were Don and Betty Bickel, Bruce and Erna Clark, Howard and Carolyn Dufendach, Fred Elling, John and Shirley Jordan, Ernest and Judy Kosan, George and Helen Kraus, Fred and Norlene Lening, George and Frances Schmitt, John and Lillian Thorsen, and Neil and Alice Werberig.
During the period from September 7, 1952 until July 1954 there were 45 baptisms and two funerals; communicant membership numbered 67 and the average Sunday worship attendance for the first six months of 1954 was 72.
Hope’s first permanent pastor, the Rev. Walter A. Maier, Jr., his wife Leah and son Walter III arrived in Levittown on July 9, 1954 and his installation was held on July 11.
In September 4, 1956 Hope introduced its elementary school program by starting grades one and two with Eunice Redeker (later Hausler) as teacher and principal.
Some four months later, on January 1, 1957 Hope Church changed from mission status to being fully self-supporting.
In September 1959 a separate four-room school building was completed and dedicated. The school offered classes from kindergarten to grade six. Soon there were other improvements to the property: on October 21, 1962 permanent pews were installed in the worship area, and in November of 1973 the front parking lot was completed.
During the fall of 1973 Hope’s Christian Day School expanded by offering grades 7 and 8 off-site at St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Croydon. The next year (1974) Hope began a preschool program for four year olds, and in 1975 a story hour for three year olds was added. Due to the large number of students and the scarcity of space, a number of classes were moved to Emilie Methodist Church, Levittown until more classroom space could be added.
On September 11, 1977 Hope celebrated its 25th Anniversary with a special worship service and at this service the mortgage, which had been paid off just one month prior, was burned. That same day there was a ground breaking ceremony for the new building program, the goal of which was to renovate the sanctuary and add classroom and office space.
Actual renovations started in 1978 under the direction of architects Hassinger Schwam Associates and general contractor Stahl and Davis. Worship services were moved to the basement during the construction. It wasn’t until this time that the church and school buildings were joined. New office space was a welcome addition, since up until 1977 office space for the secretary was very small and the Pastor used the parsonage across the street for his office and for various meetings. During that same summer the parsonage was sold, and a “residence fund” was created to assist future pastors with loans for purchasing their own homes.
It was during these renovations that the stained glass windows were installed. The large center chancel window symbolizes the Triune God – the hand of God the Father points down to Jesus, our Savior, who is portrayed as the Lamb of God. Hovering between we see the Holy Spirit represented by the white dove. Encompassing these symbols, the circle and the triangle depict the eternal trinity of the Godhead. The window in the left transept represents the Sacrament of the Altar and in the right transept the Sacrament of Holy Baptism. A new organ consisting of 829 pipes was installed at a cost of $39,120, which replaced the old Conn organ that had been purchased in June 1955 for $2,530.
The dedication of this newly built and renovated area was held on February 18, 1979, and an organ dedication concert was held on April 29, 1979. As another addition to the music program, hand bells (a 37 note set of 3 octaves) were purchased in February 1983, with subsequent additions made bringing the set to its current number of 5 octaves.
Continuing with other important milestones: in 1988 dedication of the newly paved back parking lot was held; in September 1989 the gift of a baby grand Weber piano was given in memory of Carol Soderblom who had been an active member of Hope prior to her death in 1984;
in 1992 Hope Church members celebrated the 40th Anniversary of the church in their newly air-conditioned sanctuary; in September of 1998 full day kindergarten began, and in September 1999 7th grade was added, with 8th grade being added the following year.
In 1999 the congregation undertook a three year fund raising program known as “On Christ Alone We Build,” with the goal of adding an all purpose activity center, large commercial type kitchen, four classrooms, new offices and an enlarged entrance area. Ground breaking took place on June 11, 2000.
In September 2002, the congregation began a year-long celebration of 50 years of ministry in the Levittown area with a special worship service and luncheon. Throughout the year a series of special events took place including: a Spaghetti Dinner followed by caroling around a bonfire during the Christmas season; a Birthday Bash Dinner; a Mardi Gras Celebration featuring cajun food; a “Take Me Out to the Old Ball Game” event; and a dinner theatre presentation of “You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown” by our Hope school children. The year-long festivities concluded with a special worship service and luncheon on June 8, 2003.
In September of 2006 our school continued to expand with the addition of a toddler program for students from ages 18 months to two years.
Our most recent celebration in October 2007 was the dedication of our activity center, now called the Dufendach Center, in loving memory of Mr. Howard Dufendach. Howard, who will be remembered as one of the most influential members of the congregation, had a true heart for missions, and worked tirelessly so that Hope Church would grow and prosper.
Over the years Hope Church has been ably shepherded by eight full time pastors: Rev. Walter A. Maier, Jr. from 1954-1961; Rev. Santo Puglia from 1961-1965; Rev. Carl A. Schuette from 1966-1971; Rev. Ralph A. Huwe from 1971-1980; Rev. Herbert E. Hinsch from 1983-1985; Rev. Andrew C. Lissy from 1985-2002; Rev. Paul Fitzpatrick from 2003-2005; and Rev. William Carney from 2005 until 2011. Rev. Herbert Plehn served as vacancy pastor from 1965-1966 and Rev. David Goodine served as interim pastor from 2002-2003. Rev. Dan Sparling served as our interim pastor from 2011 - 2015. Our current visiting Pastor is Roland Feickert.
Our school has been served by six Principals: Mrs. Eunice Redeker Hausler, Mr. Wilmer Kuske, Mr. Bret Bollmann, Mr. Paul Hofreiter, Mr. Doug Puls, and our current Principal Mrs. Nancy Jankowski. Mrs. Yvette Kampschneider and Mrs. Dorothy (Jan) Jeske and Interim Mrs. Eva Fronk have served as Acting Administrators during times when we were without a principal. From 2004 until 2007 Mrs. Kristina Hoffman served as fulltime Director of the Preschool. Since 2010 to current, Ms. Terri Rambo is the Early Childhood Director.
While we now focus on the future and the ministry the Lord has planned for us here in this place, we continuously give thanks for the many blessings He has showered on us these many years.