A Legacy of Love

The first group of people from Martin Luther Home.

Today’s Flashback Friday post honors the legacy of the clergy and lay persons who founded Martin Luther Homes, one of Mosaic’s legacy organizations. 

They were “dedicated Christian people who knew their scriptures and knew what it meant if your brother is in need to take him and to help him out,” the late Rev. Richard Fruehling said in a 2007 interview. He was present at the home’s founding on Oct. 20, 1925.

His father, the Rev. William Fruehling, along with the Revs. Julius Moehl and August Hoeger, and laymen John Aden and William Ehmen are historically honored as the founders of the home. They were among those who gathered in the library of the former Martin Luther Academy in Sterling, Neb. The group prayed and voted to establish a “home of Christian charity” for people with intellectual disabilities.

“These early founders were tremendously, tremendously resourceful,” Rev. Richard Fruehling said. “They were starting out from scratch with scarcely any experience, scarcely any facilities, with scarcely any resources of any kind. But they were, as I recall, led by the spirit. … That was the beginning of a dream.”

Earlier that year, Rev. Moehl had helped send a questionnaire about the need for a home for children with disabilities to Lutheran pastors in the region. Finding a great need, the group decided to open the school. The need was confirmed when, 11 days later, four students arrived from North Dakota, Wisconsin and Iowa, and the school was nowhere near ready for them.

Martha Moehl, the pastor’s wife, welcomed the children into her home and “washed, bathed, fed, clothed and mothered her new family and her own until the home was opened,” Rev. Richard Fruehling wrote. “She took in the strangers, one at a time … until there were eight or 10 of them.”

Other than Rev. Fruehling’s memories, which also were shared in “Martin Luther Home Society Love Alive, 1925-1995,” there is little historical information about the founders of Martin Luther Home Society. An exception is the written memories of Rev. Hoeger. In 1922, he founded the Evangelical Lutheran Good Samaritan Society in Arthur, N.D., which now has numerous long-term care and senior living centers across the country. He used his background to help the newly-formed MLHS.

“The first five years we always had articles about Sterling in our paper, the Sunshine. We also collected money for (the Martin Luther Home), and although we were not legally united, we were one in spirit and work,” Rev. Hoeger wrote.

A child from Arthur became one of the home’s first residents. Rev. Hoeger also sent Sister Sena Hestad to be the home’s house mother, a position she held for many years.

John Aden and William Ehmen were members of the local Lutheran church, where the Rev. Moehl was pastor. The Rev. William Fruehling was pastor of a rural congregation in southeast Nebraska called Martin Luther Church.

Caring for the needs of others was in their nature.

Rev. Richard Fruehling remembered his father using a personal line of credit to pay bills for the Martin Luther Home, anticipating that he would be paid back after the Home Day collection.

“That was the type of support that sustained the early Martin Luther Home through tests,” he wrote.

It was otherwise known as ‘putting your deed where your creed is.’

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