St. Mark Lutheran Church
A knock at Lajla Lyon’s front door in June 1951 proved to be the beginning of what we now know as St. Mark Lutheran Church. The visitor was Pastor B.J. von Renner of Fallon, Nevada, who had seen the need in Elko for Lutheran services. Lajla recognized his visit as an answer to her prayers. She was concerned about the religious education of her 8-year-old son, Leland. Pastor von Renner and Lajla contacted a few others in the Elko area that they thought would be interested in services, and they decided to hold monthly services at the various homes. The first service was held at Lajla’s house on a Wednesday evening in August,1951,with eight ladies present.
Pastor von Renner’s time was very limited on his trips to Elko, which included a stop in Ely, Nevada, where he also held services. His calls in Elko had to be made the same day as the service or at night afterward. Then he would drive home to Fallon in his not-too-good car, often leaving Elko as late as midnight. Sometimes he would stop along the road to sleep for a while in his car. Lajla later wrote that the little group could have done more to encourage him, but none of them fully understood the sacrifices Rev. von Renner was making. He came to Elko because he saw a need, without financial help or support from the Synod and with very little from the Elko group. The attendance averaged about five people and the offerings about $5, which didn’t help much with gasoline for a trip of 570 miles. Later he admitted that sometimes he couldn’t come to Elko because he didn’t have enough money for gas. Lajla called him “a most dedicated Christian.”
By 1957 the California Nevada ( now California-Nevada-Hawaii) District of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod had helped the Lutheran congregation in Ely build a church. Pastor James Gruetzner arrived in Ely and with District support made regular trips to Elko twice a month, driving the 190 miles to Elko and back to Ely in his car. When he was in Elko, he stayed at the Lyon home. The District regarded the two congregations as one, and every so often they got together to divide up expenses and the pastor’s time.
The congregation’s incorporation papers were filed with the Nevada Secretary of State on December 24, 1958, the date we celebrate as our birthday, and the name St. Mark Lutheran Church was chosen. The congregation by that time had 13 communicant members. In 1959 Pastor Gruetzner confirmed the first class of young people. At about the same time, Pastor Gruetzner accepted a call to Texas, leaving the church without a pastor. Over the next 5 months Pastor Emil Leising from Gardnerville and Pastor Brohm from Hawthorne preached several sermons.
In May 1959 Pastor Donald Broeske and his family arrived in Ely to serve the dual parish. When he was in Elko, the Commercial Hotel and later the El Neva Motel served as his headquarters. Since United Air Lines was serving both Elko and Ely daily, Pastor Broeske chose to travel by air rather than by car. This cut the trip to Elko from 3 hours to half an hour, and the air fare was cheaper than the mileage allowance authorized for the 190-mile drive. In his nearly 6 years as pastor of Elko-Ely he made approximately 160 round trips and traveled more than 50,000 miles by air, becoming known as the “flying parson.”
In the fall of 1960 with the help of the California-Nevada District, St. Mark purchased almost 3 acres of property at Second and Willow streets in Elko. The congregation realized a building was several years away, and they began using the 20 Century Club Building for both Sunday School and church. They met every Sunday, and membership had been slowly increasing. In February 1963 with Pastor Broeske’s encouragement, a building committee was formed with Ray Sparks as chairman, and in the fall architects Peterson and Cope from San Francisco were chosen to plan the church’s first unit. Again with the aid of the California-Nevada District, St. Mark began building in the spring of 1964,with Don Knapp of Elko as contractor. The church was dedicated on May 2, 1965, with Pastor Broeske and Pastor Emil Leising leading the first service and Lajla Lyon playing the organ.
In 1965 Pastor Broeske retired from the ministry and moved to California. Pastor Adolph Brand was St. Mark’s next pastor. The California-Nevada District helped St. Mark buy a parsonage at 894 Ryan Way. Pastor Brand, his wife Inez, and their five children lived there along with Pastor Brand’s father.
Pastor Brand made regular trips to conduct services in Ely while he lived in Elko. By the time Brand left Nevada to accept a Call in Texas, the decision was made to separate the Elko and Ely parishes and try the worker-priest concept. Pastor Richard Klein was the first to serve under that plan and the first to serve only Elko. He and his wife Donna had 4 young children. Pastor Klein started inspiring weekly adult Bible classes, and his wife started a youth choir. However, he was unable to find suitable employment outside of the church and after about three years he accepted a Call to a fulltime ministry in California.
In the summer of 1973, Rev. William D. Diekelman arrived as a worker-priest in Elko, his first parish after graduating from Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. Pastor Diekelman and Carol came to Elko with 2 children, Michele and Amy, and left with 4, adding Kevin and Nathan to their family while they were here. The congregation sold the Ryan Way parsonage and the Diekelmans moved into the home they built near the church on Willow Street.
St. Mark prospered under Pastor Diekelman. Among the many generous gifts the congregation received during this period was a school bus, which made its first trip to pick up people for Sunday School and church on April 13, 1975. With people coming from Beowawe, Carlin, Tuscarora, Halleck, Lamoille, and Spring Creek as well as Elko, the church was sometimes filled to capacity.
With all of the growth it was decided to build a new sanctuary. The present sanctuary was built with the help of the District and volunteer labor by members of the congregation and dedicated on April 20, 1980. Until this time St. Mark had operated on a subsidy from the District, but the congregation decided to try to be self-supporting, making it possible for Bill Diekelman to become a full-time pastor. In 1981 he accepted a call to a new congregation in Owasso, Oklahoma. While serving in Oklahoma Pastor was selected to serve also as the President of the Oklahoma District. Pastor Diekelman was elected First Vice President of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 2004 and now resides in Ballwin, Missouri, outside St. Louis.
The congregation decided the best course of action after Pastor Diekelman’s departure was to request a graduate from the St. Louis seminary, and Pastor Frederick G. Hazel III was selected to be sent to Elko. He was installed in July, 1982, as St. Mark’s pastor. During his 11 years at St. Mark a second worship service was added, and the congregation remodeled and added on to the parish hall and established preaching stations in Wells and Eureka.
A preschool program was added in 1988 and has grown from one class with 20 students to three classes with 60 students today. Joyce Newcomer, Caroline Johnston and Deb Clarke have served as preschool directors. The congregation built a new parsonage next to the church for Pastor Hazel, wife Marilyn, and young daughter Jessica. Sadly, Marilyn was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis early in their ministry and also found to have a malignant tumor, but she remained cheerful and actively involved in church service up to the time of her death in August, 2006. Pastor Hazel accepted a call to Trinity Lutheran Church, Casa Grande, Arizona, in 1993.
Pastor Alan Eisinger served the congregation from 1994 to 2003 during which time the sanctuary was remodeled, the parsonage was remodeled and added to, and contemporary worship services and brown bag Bible studies were instituted. He arrived in Elko as a widower with 2 children, Allison and Jacob, and while here met and married Teryl. Pastor Eisinger had the gift of being able to give sermons without notes. He is now the pastor of Holy Cross Lutheran Church, in Warren, Michigan.
Lajla Lyon, who answered Pastor von Renner’s knock on the door in 1951 and served faithfully as organist, Sunday School & confirmation teacher, and church officer and provided flowers for almost every service up to 1999 and who so generously shared her time and talents with St. Mark, died on September 21, 2000. Pastor Eisinger conducted her funeral service. In November 1997 he had spoken at a community-wide celebration of Lajla’s life, “Just Say Thanks” Day declared by the City of Elko to be Lajla Lyon Day, with many of Lajla’s family members traveling to Elko and surprising her for the occasion.
In May 2004 Pastor Steve Barckholtz accepted the congregation’s Call to serve as Pastor. Under his leadership the Wells congregation grew and continues to hold worship services twice a month. The preschool expanded to provide 3 days of instruction per week to the 4 to 5-year-old class. Missionary Chuck Burnett has served in both Taiwan and northern Nevada as part of the congregation’s mission outreach. An audio-visual system was installed in the sanctuary to assist with worship services. Pastor Barckholtz and his wife Wendy arrived in Elko with a son, Zane, and in 2008 daughter Mallory was born. In 2009, Pastor Barckholtz accepted a Call to serve as pastor of Valley of Peace Lutheran Church in Hailey, Idaho.
In 2011, St. Mark again called a Seminary graduate, Rev. Chuck Hoffman who graduated in May, 2011 from Concordia Seminary St. Louis. Pastor Chuck was installed on July 17, 2011.
We are thankful for the continued blessings of our good and gracious God, humbly acknowledging through it all that He is the one who gave us the growth. We are blessed to be able to share the Good News of salvation through Christ with Elko and surrounding communities.