Reverend McVeigh, Council President Cary, Members of the Congregation:
Thank you for welcoming David, Jeff and me as part of your service this morning.
As we observe Totenfest Sunday in memory of those who have passed away this year, it is appropriate that we also remember our ancestors who founded this church, 159 years ago. Without their endeavor we would not be here today.
One of the 30 church founders was Johann David Rowe, my great-grandfather, and great-great-grandfather to my sons David and Jeff. Along with the 29 other founders, he was a recent immigrant from a small town in the southwest of modern Germany called Rettert, near the banks of the Rhine, in what was then the Duchy of Nassau. At least nine of the founders were from the Rettert area, including several family names which have been part of this congregation from the beginning. Two of these are Boller and Neef; our Rowe plaque will be placed on the pulpit behind me beside another placed by the Bollers and Neefs. In a way, it is a small reunion for three of the founders from that small village far away who created the church in which we now worship.
Soon after arriving in Boonville, Johann Rowe began to use only his middle name, David. The name David appears through all the generations of Rowe descendants; my father’s name was David Carroll, my middle name is David, and my youngest son is David. Our cousin John David Hopkins is a namesake for Johann David. Rowe descendants have been part of this congregation from the beginning to the present.
David Rowe was an active member for only the first five years. Soon after he married in 1859, as recorded in your founding Kirchenbuch, he bought a small farm in Clarks Fork. As in those days the journey from Clarks Fork to Boonville was difficult, he and 27 other German immigrants founded the new Clarks Fork Trinity Lutheran Church. Later, when his children began to marry into families living further south, he would also help found the Lone Elm Zion Lutheran Church.
It is striking nowadays when so many traditional churches have vanished that all three of these are still alive, and continue as vital parts of Cooper County life.
Our family connection to this church continued via my grand-uncle William Martin Rowe. While many of David Rowe’s other children, including my grandfather, left to study and work elsewhere, William Martin Rowe remained in Cooper County, first as postmaster and general store manager in Clarks Fork and Lone Elm, and then from 1909 until his death in 1936 as President of the Boonville Mercantile Company. When he moved to Boonville he also joined his father’s first church.
William Martin Rowe was a long-time treasurer of the Church Council; in 1915 he was responsible for expanding the church building of that time by about 1/3 to include the raised sanctuary area behind me and the rooms to its side and downstairs. He was also a leading member of the choir. After his sudden death in 1936, the choir robes which had been his project to obtain were used for the first time at his funeral. In his honor the church Memorial Fund was also created at that time.
The Rowe connection continued strongly through his children, in particular his youngest daughters Erna and Vera, who married Woodard Hopkins and Henry Grathwohl, respectively. Erna and Vera were lifelong members of the church, and they and their families were well known for their service to the congregation. Woodard Hopkins was director of the choir for over three decades, until his death in 1961. Today Vera and Henry’s grandchildren Kurt and Kristen Grathwohl continue the Rowe tradition in the church, as does Woodard and Erna’s son John Hopkins, from afar.
While presenting this plaque to remember and honor Johann David Rowe and the 29 other founding members of this church, we would also like to do more.
Last June, Jeff and I and my brother Ed and his wife Gina visited here for the first time. We were guided by John Hopkins, whom we were meeting for the first time after several years of correspondence. We were struck by the history of the church and the impact it has had on the city of Boonville. One looks at the stained glass windows around us which honor some of Boonville’s leading businessmen and civic leaders. One thinks of Walnut Grove Cemetery, founded and developed in large part by church members such as Carl Aehle, Jacob Gmelich, and William Mittelbach, as well as William Martin Rowe, who was treasurer of its governing board at his death. Over the years, church members have had much influence on this community.
This is a history of which to be proud. It is a history which is also of value to those beyond the church. Many original documents of the church’s early years still exist, rare and informative records which would be of great interest to historians and genealogists. But they have become fragile with age and must be handled carefully lest they disintegrate. Should the originals be lost, the knowledge would be gone forever.
There are also countless photographs, newspaper clippings, and other valuable historical material on the church and its members. Last June we eagerly read the plastic frames of church history downstairs which was assembled decades ago by Mary Frances Putnam. We wondered then, could not these and other aspects of church history be edited and digitally published so this priceless heritage would not risk being lost, but rather be permanently preserved and more widely available?
I understand that Council President Janice Cary is forming a committee to investigate just such an undertaking. It is our privilege, while presenting this plaque, to contribute a sum of $1000 to assist the work of this committee, with the hope that the story of this remarkable church which David Rowe helped found long ago can also be known and honored well into the future.
Thank you again for welcoming us so warmly into your service this morning.