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Early History of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan
Ed. Note: This entry was copied with permission from the book This Far By Love: The Amazing Story of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan by Nancy Manser. Motivated to serve others as an expression of the love of Christ, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan continues today to help those in need regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or national origin.
Introduction: Among the immigrants making their way to Detroit at the end of the 19th century were many Lutherans from Germany and Scandinavia. They followed the Biblical imperative to help others in need especially fellow immigrants with food, clothing and jobs. Congregational outreach efforts came together in 1909 in the Missionsbund (Mission Federation), a group dedicated to “inner mission” (social service) work. The Lutheran Inner Mission League of Greater Detroit was incorporated in 1934, changing its name soon afterward to The Lutheran Charities. Its ministry grew to include child welfare work, a settlement house and services to the elderly. In 1959, the organization merged with a similar group in Saginaw and was renamed Lutheran Social Services of Michigan. Lutheran Social Services of Michigan is affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and is the largest faith-based nonprofit human service organization in the state. LSSM spans the Lower Peninsula with more than 70 programs in 40 cities. These include foster care, adoption, subsidized housing, nursing homes, community centers and services to the homeless, refugees and persons with developmental disabilities.
The Builders of Service- The Groundwork
City Missionary Rev. Martin Luther Frederick (1918 – 1937)
The Beginning: It was not the most auspicious start for the new City Missionary to Detroit when the Reverend Martin Luther Frederick arrived in 1919 from his former pastorate in Luckey, Ohio. Rev. Frederick drove an old Studebaker from Ohio to downtown Detroit with a crate of chickens tied to the back. The car stalled and he sent out a summons for help to the Rev. Richter at Detroit’s Salem Lutheran Church. Rev. Richter responded and arranged to tow the car down Jefferson St. but then decided to turn into Joseph Campau. Richter said he saw “…streetcars coming from both directions but I figured they were far enough away to pull the Studebaker across the tracks”. Unfortunately, the rope broke, stranding the car on the tracks. Richter could hear “…tooting from both directions and the chickens didn’t help, either.” Somehow they safely got the car across the tracks with the passengers and squawking chickens – and that is the way the second City Missionary entered his new missionary assignment that lasted 18 years and became the base for the LSSM today.
City Missionary Rev. Frederick was one of 12 pastors called by the Missionsbund Ohio Synodaler Gemeinden (Lutheran churches of the Ohio synod) from 1914 to 1919. Urban missionary work was not a desired area of service since the church saw its mission in congregations and not in the then unfamiliar world of social ministry. Only one other besides Rev. Frederick accepted the call — the Rev L.M. Mohrhoff of Ashland, Ohio who served from 1914 to 1918.
Rev. Fredrick had declined the call to a social ministry once before his acceptance in 1919. In this new role he would serve as City Missionary until his death in 1937, visiting prisons, hospitals, homes for the aged, hospitals and children’s home and sanitariums. He would refer the people he counseled and prayed with to the local Lutheran pastors serving congregations in the area. He listened and he talked, he handed out pamphlets and tracts, helped find jobs and involved his family in the ministry.
Historical Background: Organized February 10, 1909, the Missionsbund was the outreach primarily of the Detroit congregations of the Joint Ohio Synod (which later became the American Lutheran Church). Like many other social ministry organizations, it was the pastors and lay members who initiated service to Lutherans in Detroit. The city then had a population of 465,000. By 1920, the population had reached two million due to the auto companies building factories and the growing industrialization of the area.
Detroit became a magnet for a new wave of migrants and immigrants looking for jobs. Earlier, with the completion of the Erie Canal in 1825 and the availability of cheap land many people began migrating to Michigan. At that time, the Lutherans arriving in Michigan generally were Germans who came through Lake Erie ports starting in 1824. Those first Germans were generally from Baden-Wuerttemberg and Bavaria, and they arrived in what is now Ann Arbor and settled in Monroe County.
An early pioneer Lutheran pastor of this era was the Rev. Frederick Schmid, who, according to the Lutheran historian Rev. Umhau Wolf, “…could have been called the Rev. Mr. Michigan Lutheran.” Within two days of landing in 1833, he was preaching and baptizing, holding his first services in Detroit at a carpenter’s shop run by John Haik – a site now occupied by Ford Auditorium in the city’s downtown. According to Wolf, Schmid founded, served and organized at least 20 congregations in 17 localities, from Detroit to Allegan on the west side of the state.
The First Social Ministry: Rev. Fredrick’s ministry initially was to serve Lutherans in the area but his outreach became ecumenical. The 1924 incorporation papers for the Inner Mission League of Detroit make clear that the thrust was to serve Lutherans and promote Lutheranism, but he reached out to everyone.
The ambitious purpose, in part, was “to promote the cause of Christ in Detroit and environs…to aid in the establishment and support of mission congregations, churches, parish schools, the appointment and support of city missionaries to do missionary and pastoral work in the penal institutions, hospitals, infirmaries and asylums….”
“The whole thing actually was to go get people to become Christian,” says Rev. Fredrick’s daughter, Mrs. Lillian Zemmin, of Grosse Pointe Park. “He was on call as a supply pastor. He would go from our home to a mission church on Sundays. We children sat in the front row and we’d get the giggles and then we’d get it after church.”
When Rev. Frederick came to America form Wuerttemberg, Germany, he was a teenager and an excellent singer. On the ocean trip he met Madame Ernestine Schumann-Heink, an opera star of that day, and they sang together during the crossing. She encouraged him to devote his life to opera but, even as a teenager, the call of the ministry was stronger than any other. Fredrick’s voyage from Bremen, Germany to Ft. Wayne, Indiana cost $38.95 and that included a train ticket from Baltimore to Ft. Wayne.
Frederick graduated from the Evangelical Lutheran Seminary in 1901, a part of Capital University, Columbus, Ohio – and he was ordained the same year. He served a church in Pennsylvania, then one in New Bedford Ohio, and the church in Luckey, Ohio before deciding to devote his life to City Missionary work, answering the immediate needs of people rather than serving a single congregation. Rev. Fredrick and his wife, Mary Dorothy, had 11 children with two dying in infancy. Lillian, the youngest, was born in Detroit in 1920. Mrs. Zemmin recalls their home as being a central meeting place. People could find clothing and items they needed at the Fredrick home at 3731 Ellery, “I can remember long tables downstairs,” she said. “People wanted these items and we were the collection point.”
Then, when the fledgling mission agency had headquarters at Joseph Campau street, people stopped there for clothing, carrots, beans and potatoes that were stored in the building’s cellar. The number needing help grew greater after the 1929 economic crash. Through it all, the Fredrick house always was a place of welcome for many people. “A meal setting for 19 was small,” says Mrs. Zemmin. “My mother would often have several dozen at the table and sometimes with a baby in a high chair. Her mother raised one unrelated boy for five years.
“At home we always sat in the same place at the table. My father was a disciplinarian and darned strict. After eating, we would pray and sing. And he would ask, “What did you do today?” After the depression that question changed to: “Did you get a job today?” On Christmas Day all of us would pack into the car and go to Eloise, west of Detroit, to sing there. We’d sing walking up and down all the corridors, then give out fruit.” Eloise was, at that time, the county poor farm and a site frequently visited by Rev. Fredrick. Today Lutheran Social Services of Michigan manages a shelter for homeless families on that site.
There is no known record of what happened to the car that brought the Rev. Fredrick’s family to Detroit but it apparently died. For a long time Fredrick used public transportation, not always an enjoyable experience. He wrote of being out in “cold and stormy weather,” standing at street corners and crowding into “stuffy street cars” for long trips. Local Lutherans gave him a car in 1923 which he tagged the “gospel wagon.” He he told his supporters about the car: “There are ever so many more calls than can be made, a certain amount of follow up work can be done in a much shorter time than formerly.” He reported at the 2,000 mile mark that the machine was “…getting more pliable and thoroughly accustomed to the work, goes when it has to and stops when asked to do so…The radius of our activity has been widened considerably, so again we express our sincere gratitude to all those who helped in the purchase of our Ford. Many words of cheer are spoken, many a prayer is uttered, much admonition and instruction is freely given and the work never grows monotonous. Sometimes the Lord is with us to such an extent that we can feel it and are greatly encouraged.”
Rev. Frederick was saddened by what he saw as a change in agency direction with the organizing of the Inner Mission League in 1934. With the hiring of a superintendent to oversee the agency, Rev. Frederick continued on as Institutional Pastor. It was requested that people help him in “…labors that are more than any one man can possibly accomplish.” After 18 years of dedicated service, Fredrick died in 1937 at age 62 after suffering for six months with stomach cancer. He and his wife, Mary Dorothy, are buried in Gethesemane Cemetery in Detroit.
Inner Mission League and Lutheran Charities
Background: Because of the growing needs and the realization that volunteers could not respond to all the requests for help, the Missionsbund became the Lutheran Inner Mission League of Detroit in 1934. At the annual meeting in 1935 the League became Lutheran Charities, its name for 25 years, a name suggested by the League’s first superintendent, the Rev. Carl F. Schaffnit.
The Inner Mission League, (inner mission distinguished it from foreign missions), marked the first time Michigan congregations belonging to the National Lutheran Council (NLC) officially participated in a cooperative agency. The NLC was formed in 1918 so Lutherans could cooperate in such areas as publicity on matters affecting Lutherans, representing Lutherans to other groups and coordinating activities “related to social, economic and intellectual conditions affecting Christianity.” It also was to “foster loyalty to the nation and maintain proper relations between church and state.”
The Detroit League was unlike many early social ministry organizations that offered residential care, usually for older adults and orphaned children. It moved from direct service and the institutional pastorate to serving individuals through formal programs, as the placing of children in boarding homes and a Settlement House for children in a downtown Detroit neighborhood.
The late Dr. Norman Menter, who had served as head of the Missionsbund’s Board of Managers during the early days, recalled when Remelda Schultz Bremer was the League’s first paid worker, hired “at a paltry sum.” Mrs. Bremer made $30 a month and, if she was ill or unable to be at work, she had to pay for her replacement out of her salary. In 1933 she reported on a three-month period of service related to 70 old cases and 45 new cases with direct relief given to 92 individuals and referrals to the other 23.
Another name well know to old-time Detroiters is Mrs. Frieda Fritz, brought to Michigan from Toledo by Rev. Schaffnit in 1941. She was the solid rock for operations until 1967 when she retired. Beloved by Lutherans, she was honored for her “devotion to duty, her inspiring optimism, her gracious manner and her loving concern for all those in need.” It was ironic that this lady, known for her frugality and running a very tight ship, had been told by her first employer she would never “make a bookkeeper.” At Lutheran Charities she had kept all the books plus managing the office.
Finding support for this new organization was not an easy task. Menter, as president of the Michigan District of the American Lutheran Church, found it difficult to get younger and newer congregations to assist Lutheran Charities. “The German churches were the staunchest members, and were the big, stable churches,” he once said. “The mission churches never got into the work at all. The Germans ruled the roost and the job was to get the English-speaking churches on the main track. We organized it so that people who became interested could become individual members of Inner Mission League. We did all right and got it off the ground.”
The Great Depression also made the job more difficult. According to Samuel Ross Pond, who wrote a master’s thesis on the early days of Lutheran Charities in 1951 and who had been a worker at the Detroit Settlement House, finances “were precarious” because the 1933 bank holiday blocked League funds in the closed banks. To raise money 6,000 appeal letters were sent at a cost of $160. A total of $2,033.10 was raised from 19 congregations.
The German influence mentioned by Menter was clearly manifested in the board minutes. These were in German — written in a distinctive script hand until 1930 when English was used for the first time with the notation that the board agreed future meetings would be conducted in that language. The practice in America had been to use native languages in worship. In 1900, 80% of all the Lutherans used a foreign language in worship while by 1930 more than two-thirds were in English.
Rev. Carl F. Schaffnit (1934-1946)
To build the Inner Mission League, the pastors and laity turned to the Rev. Carl F. Schaffnit, then at the Toledo Inner Mission Society. Schaffnit was an important part of the growth and development of inner mission work within the Lutheran Church. Credited with building the Ohio agency into one of the largest and best of its time, he had been financial secretary of the Lutheran Welfare Society of Minnesota for two years. He was a member and founder of the Division of Welfare of the National Lutheran Council.
Rev. Schaffnit organized the Toledo Society in 1921. When he left for Michigan, there were ten full-time department heads and hundreds of volunteer workers. Programs included: child welfare, family ministry, institutional ministry, a community center, a place for “Working Girls”, a news and employment bureau and a relief warehouse with donated items for the people served. In Ohio, he paid off the mortgage debts and assembled assets totaling nearly $106,000.
A workaholic dedicated to a faith-based outreach combined with a professional approach, he came to Detroit in 1934 and after visiting the office said to his wife and children: “Why, they don’t even have a typewriter! How can they do any work if they don’t have a typewriter?” “His life was his work,” says his daughter, Mrs. Ruth Hilton, of Bloomfield Hills. “The world was his church. He was very religious and would have home devotions after dinner. He was a brilliant organizer and was years ahead in what he did. He was professionally minded as far as social work was concerned. It wasn’t just a matter of doing good. He was ahead in demanding a lot of academic preparation. He had a Puritan work ethic. Work came first and play later. He was a very dedicated man who had a strong need for achievement.”
The Wisconsin native was 41 when he came to Detroit. A 1916 graduate of Wartburg Seminary (Iowa), he served a Minneapolis church before going to Ohio. Rev. Schaffnit was asked in February 1934 to survey the Detroit Inner Mission situation and help launch that year’s appeal for funds. It was an unsettled situation as the Missionsbund had dissolved in 1932 in Detroit and there was no formal organization until 1934 although a constitution was being formulated in 1931.
Lutheran Charities Growth
In March, Rev. Schaffnit’s recommendations were accepted and in June he was offered the job of superintendent. According to Pond, the first salary offer was for $2,400 a year with a month’s vacation. That was increased to $2,800. The new superintendent was installed at a December 11th rally at the Detroit Naval Armory that was publicized through placards on the streetcars and a banner stretching across Jefferson Avenue (several blocks from the current LSSM headquarters).
Five-foot-nine, of medium build and with lots of energy, Rev. Schaffnit immediately began shaping an organization. He had to build a financial base that included more than just Lutherans and an
infrastructure to support this newly professional organization. This meant personnel policies, establishment of committees, and reaching out to the community to work with other councils and agencies. It involved an incredible amount of work and time just to give a firm undergirding to this outreach. During his 12 years in Detroit, Rev. Schaffnit started a Settlement House that operated for 22 years; opened a child welfare department; started a radio ministry and promotion service; founded a choir that performed on the agency’s radio program; expanded chaplaincy services and merged the Saginaw and Detroit programs.
A feature of the headquarters was the Book Shop that operated for 31 years. The first person in charge was Mrs. Grace Heeny of Messiah Lutheran Church. In 1944, Eleanor Hedman (popularly known as “Hedy”) took charge. “If I increased business I would get a percentage,” says Hedy. “So, I increased it and later they decided to cut it out because it cost them too much money.” The store closed around Easter in 1970. The board said changes in the practices of the two major Lutheran publishing houses canceling discount policies forced the change. Hedy moved to Grosse Pointe Woods where she operates “Hedy’s Book and Gift Shop” which reaches out to a larger, ecumenical audience with books and church supplies. Through her many years of work with Lutherans, it can be said that she is a prime repository of knowledge about the church in this area, its members and pastors. It also is unquestionable that the Book Shop helped contribute to the awareness of Lutheran Charities.
Rev. Schaffnit took the agency from a small rented house on Benson to temporary quarters in the Settlement House on Trumbull and later to 3457-3463 Gratiot Avenue near downtown Detroit. An open house introducing that new center was held on a memorable date — December 7, 1941. As the agency grew, his last move was to yet larger quarters at 484 East Grand Boulevard (next to Luther Haven), LSSM’s home for 37 years. When Schaffnit left Detroit, Lutheran Charities had 19 full time workers (compared with the one staff person when he arrived); a budget that grew from $4,590 to $60,000; and from zero assets to property valued at $188,000 and assets of $240,000.
Rev. Schaffnit’s work was guided by the 1935 amended constitution of Lutheran Charities, markedly different from the 1924 incorporation papers in its outreach. Lutheran Charities, said the document, was “to perform charitable and welfare work; to endeavor to bring the Gospel and the ministrations of Christian love to those not now reached by the churches; to throw proper safeguards around those who come as strangers to the city; to save those who are in danger of falling into vice; to exercise Christian mercy whatever class and character without respect to creed and nationality; and of promoting the cause of Christian religion…”
Sometimes in his drive to establish and expand the agency Rev. Schaffnit bruised those with whom he had dealings. Rev. Harry Wolf, the executive following Schaffnit and who had served on the Charities board, said: “He pressed, he pushed, he organized. He started with almost nothing. Not all the pastors would let him solicit in the congregations. It was mostly the American Lutheran Church pastors, like Norm Menter and others. Some said, “Don’t send your propaganda out because we don’t deliver.” At that time the United Lutheran Churches (which became the Lutheran Church in America) were not strong in the Detroit area.
Rev. Schaffnit was not bashful in print about the agency’s difficulty in getting a child welfare license and Community Fund monies. These finally happened but he was clear, for example, about his frustration that the Catholics were getting Community Fund monies and the Lutheran were not. He was equally frustrated that Lutherans of different synods did not join together in ministry. He showed great skills in telling people of the need, and providing ways for them to be involved and support the outreach of the agency. As Rev. Fredrick had appealed to the good will and compassion of people to server those in need, Rev. Schaffnit built on the reputation and credibility of that ministry and expanded the outreach in different direction.
The early job specifications for workers underscored the professionalism of his workers, a combination of education and experience. A supervisor for the Settlement House was required to have completed graduate work in a school of social work with specialization in group work or have finished one-half of graduate work with courses in group work plus two years experience in a recreation or education setting. Or the candidate could have master’s degree in education and two years of “successful full-time paid experience in a group work agency.” Assistants and group workers generally needed a degree from an accredited college or two of college plus two years experience. Reflecting the thinking of those days, the stipulation often was that workers be white and Lutheran. Specifications also were included for certain skills that a caretaker’s wife needed even though the agency hired the husband and not the spouse.
Schaffnit stayed at Lutheran Charities until 1946 when he took a leave of absence to work abroad with Lutheran World Relief (LWR) to help displaced persons. He returned to Detroit briefly before resigning to become promotional secretary of LWR. Then in 1950 he became executive director of the Great Plains Lutheran Hospital Association in Lincoln, Nebraska. He eventually returned to Detroit, spending his last days here before his death at age 80 in 1973, the same year Carl Thomas became LSSM president. Rev. Schaffnit’s wife, Martha, died in 1988 at the age of 101. “He never planned to retire but health reasons forced him to.” What Rev. Schaffnit left was an enviable record of achievement, linking faith, professionalism and an outreach to all peoples, a solid foundation for his successors.
Rev. Harry Wolf
When Rev. Harry Wolf became Executive Director he had known the agency as a board member, board president, and interim director. He became the executive director when Rev. Schaffnit, returning from Germany, asked for a year’s extension abroad. When the board allowed only six months, the superintendent decided to resign. Rev. Wolf interviewed two or three men and then the board asked me, “How would you like the job?”
Rev. Harry Wolf said yes and then began presiding over growth in service and geographical outreach. His impetus to serve was born during his days at Capital University in Columbus and Trinity Seminary. Wolf recalled: “My heart always has been with the poor in the time since I went to the seminary when I went to the train and passed through the dilapidated parts of Columbus. The people and their conditions aroused my sympathies so I resolved to do what I could to help.” Graduating during depression days, Wolf first worked in a foundry in Ohio where as a child he had gone to a one-room country school. His two pastorates before joining Lutheran Charities were at the Michigan congregations of Zion Lutheran Church in Woodlawn and Puritan Heights Lutheran Church in Detroit.
During his time at the helm, Wolf led the agency into care of the aged with the founding of Lutheran Haven in Detroit; the acceptance of Luther Home in Grand Rapids into the LSSM family and building an addition; and the construction of Luther Manor in Saginaw. He also expanded the chaplaincy program from one to five clergy. Refugee resettlement became a ministry with approximately 3,500 displaced persons finding homes in Michigan. Wolf took a leadership role in the state as president of the Michigan Committee on Immigration. In addition he was a member of the NLC’s Immigration Service Committee and the Governor’s Commission on Displaced Persons and Refugees. He received an Amity Award from the American Jewish Congress for his work in resettling people.
Adoptions expanded rapidly during his tenure with the 1960s a boom time for placements. In 1971 the 3,000th child was placed in a permanent home. Early in his Lutheran Charities days, Wolf chose Elaine Orheim to head childcare, a post she held until the mid-1970s. Orheim became involved in the lives of many families and is a well known name is Southeast Michigan.
Lutheran Charities Moves Towards Statewide Presence
Besides developing programs and new areas of service, the agency went statewide, a pattern Rev. Wolf saw developing in Wisconsin and Minnesota. “It made sense” and he said with pride, “…it was a move determined by the board and himself.” No other entity defined the agency’s course at that point and that course was to lay a foundation for further expansion of service. Wolf carefully involved synodical leaders in the plan for a statewide agency. Just over half of the confirmed members of the NLC congregations were scattered through the rest of the state and it was felt there were not large enough groupings of congregations with the resources to provide local social services.
An exploratory meeting of Lutheran Charities and synodical leaders regarding a state-wide organization resulted in the agreement that Lutheran Charities “…with its resources of experienced, trained staff, financial stability and demonstrated capability was the natural choice for being the base of a statewide group,” wrote Wolf. Attending the meeting were the Charities executive committee and five area representatives of the various synods: Augustana, American Lutheran Church, United Evangelical Lutheran Church, and Suomi. The head of the Michigan Circuit of the Evangelical Lutheran Church was not present but concurred with the group’s action.
This move was done without permission from anybody. “We were an independent crew,” said Wolf. “The bishops did not try to interfere. We just decided it was going to be LSSM and didn’t ask anybody.” With this independence of action, the new agency still considered itself a part of the church. In a 1960 letter to the president of the Central Conference of the Augustana Lutheran Church, Wolf wrote: “Lutheran Social Services of Michigan wishes to operate within the framework of the church. It was born out of the strong desire of The Lutheran Charities to work through the church rather than remain a free society of individuals. I want to emphasize our desire to cooperate with the church, though it would have been much simpler for Lutheran Charities to remain a local organization of interested individuals carrying on a local program. This is specially true since about 55% of the NLC confirmed members in Lower Michigan are in the Detroit area.”
Obviously responding to a comment by the Augustana Conference president, Wolf disputed the inference that “…free societies had acted in an irresponsible manner in planning and readiness to incur debts.” Wolf admitted that “some groups did not plan too wisely but not all our official Church planning has always turned out too well either.” He pointed out the agency had “never closed the year with a deficit; had not taken subsidies from any church body; never conducted a capital campaign and its nursing home never had a deficit.” He said for every voluntary dollar contributed that “from three to six dollars were secured from fees, payments for service, Community Chest, etc.” At that time Wolf referred to a survey showing the need for facilities to care for older adults in Michigan and had an agency plan to build a nursing home in Detroit and combined nursing-boarding homes in Saginaw and Muskegon (the Muskegon home did not materialize).
A New Beginning- LSSM
The vote to become a statewide agency occurred May 25, 1959 at the Kellogg Center in East Lansing, Michigan when representatives of seven synods voted overwhelmingly to cooperate in the ministry of Lutheran Social Services of Michigan (LSSM) for the lower-peninsula. The new organization had a board of 18 with representatives form each synod and geographical regions. The following year the Detroit and Saginaw groups reunited (they had been one from 1940 to 1952). Later the agency reached into West Michigan when the agency took over Luther Home in Grand Rapids from the Augustana Synod.
The new agency needed a logo and the one chosen was the brainchild of the Rev. Reginald Holle, retired bishop of North/ West Lower Michigan, then pastor of Salem Memorial Church in Detroit and Mrs. Shirley Armstrong, the secretary of the agency’s Parish Services Department. Holle pointed to his hand (the traditional way for citizens to refer to their state) so they chose the Michigan mitten with a heart (charity), a Latin cross (faith) and an anchor (hope) superimposed on it. The insignia, used for years of His Hand newsletter and all publications and forms, told the story of people through LSSM finding hope, faith and charity in the name of the Triune God and that LSSM would be “His Hand, Christ’s Hand, in Michigan.”
Source: Lutheran Social Services of Michigan – www.lssm.org