The seeds for Zion Lutheran Congregation were sown sometime during the winter of 1902 when four ladies were spending a social afternoon at the home of Mrs. Daniel Swanson. During the course of the afternoon, they discussed the possibility of organizing a Ladies Aid but wondered if they were too few. As they were finishing their lunch, Mr. Swanson came home. When he heard about the ladies’ idea, he was much in favor of it so he put a quarter on the table and said it was a starter for their Aid. And so it began with his donation of twenty-five cents! The Swanson home was just south of where the Fulkerson Funeral Home is now.
The first meeting, of what later became Zion Lutheran Congregation of the Lutheran Free Church, was held at the home of Mr. and Mrs. John Neset in August of 1903. (They were the parents of Josie Knutson, grandparents of Chet and Jim Wolla, and aunt and uncle of Avis (Neset) Rhode.) A.G. Lee, a circuit pastor of Harvey, North Dakota, officiated at this meeting where Clifford Nylander, son of Mr. and Mrs. L.A. Nylander, was baptized. Clifford was the first baby boy born in the Pleasant Valley Community. Others present were; Mr. and Mrs. Olaus Herfindahl (Orel Herfindahl’s parents), Mr. and Mrs. Narvestad, Mr. and Mrs. Christ Borstad, Mr. and Mrs. Ole Nelson (Avis Rohde’s and Josie Knutson’s aunt and uncle), Mrs. Nels Simon (Pat Nelson’s grandmother), and Mr. Adolph Borstad.
Since the group was small and newly organized and Pastor Lee was not a resident pastor, they asked the stern-faced Reverend O.C. Dahlager, to help out. He was serving the neighboring railroad town of White Earth and the Beaver Creek Congregation. Whenever he could reach Tioga by train, Pastor Dahlager would hold services. Because of the great amount of snow in the winter of 1904-05, the train was usually very late and sometimes did not come at all. No one could ever be sure meetings would be held as scheduled. They did, however, meet several times that winter at the home of John Neset.
When Pastor Dahlager left the area in 1905, again Reverend A.G. Lee, Pastor at Harvey, along with Pastor Christ Jorgenson of Zahl, took turns serving the young congregation until 1906. They met in the school house, located south of the present American Legion building and sometimes in homes or upstairs in the Simon Store, which is presently the Ben Franklin building on Main Street.
Reverend Lee, a ruggedly handsome man, told of his experience one winter while in Tioga. There was a warm Chinook wind, and the snow had formed an ice crust. He had promised to hold services the next day in the Hamlet area. He used skis to make the trip going cross country northwest from Tioga. He was fortunate to arrive there, and the service was held the following day. During the service, the wind turned to the northwest, and Pastor Lee had to get back to Tioga so he set out in the hard wind on his skis with this strong wind at his back. He wore a long coat. To make skiing easier, he raised the lower part of the coat like wings, and the wind blew him along without much effort. His skiing time back to Tioga was only two hours which was quite a feat when it was about thirteen miles as the crow flies!
Another experience concerned two couples who wanted to get married. This incident was told by one of the bridegrooms and the liveryman. One August day in 1906, the young couples arrived in Tioga. Each man had already acquired 160 acres on which to homestead. This time they were not seeking land but looking for a pastor. Pastor Lee was available and, in looking over their licenses, found that one couple had been given a license in Ward County and the other in Williams County. The pastor and the two couples went down to see the liveryman, Ole Neset (Avis Rhode’s dad), and decided to go to the closest place near Tioga where the Williams and Ward Counties join. Ward County then included what is now Mountrail County. This happened to be on the west side of what is now the George Neset farm. With one couple on either side of the county line, the weddings were performed with the pastor stepping over from one county to the other and each couple standing up for the other. These two couples lived south of Tioga to a ripe old age. Reverend Lee resigned in the late summer of 1906 but visited the congregation occasionally in later years.
Reverend Hans O. Helseth and family came in November of 1906 from Abercrombie, North Dakota. They homesteaded north of Tioga on Highway 40 where they built their home. The early travelers called it “Preacher’s Hill”. Besides serving Zion Congregation, he served Beaver Creek, Norman, Lindahl and Battleview Congregations. He owned his own team and buggy with which he traveled to and from the different congregations. His yearly salary was $50.00 from each congregation plus free oats and hay for his horses. The feed must have been scarce for his horses were very thin.
Helseth’s arrival appeared to have moved the little congregation towards formal organization in 1906. The charter members were; L.A. Nylander, John Neset, Amund Stakston, Ludwig Mickelson, Andrew Strom, Daniel Swenson, N. W. Simon, John and Peter Hilleren, Ole Nelson, and Julius Strom, their first secretary. From his picture, Pastor Helseth looks like someone Charles Dickens himself would have cast as a strict schoolmaster. Perhaps he felt right at home, since they were meeting in the schoolhouse. This became a problem because the real schoolmaster did not like it when his supply of coal was gone on Monday mornings. The parishioners were determined, however, to have the fellowship of weekend services, so they carried their own coal and wood to heat the building. Sometime later this same schoolhouse was purchased jointly by Zion Congregation and the other Lutheran congregation of Tioga.
Worship services were conducted in the Norwegian language, but on occasion, it would be in English. Pastor Helseth was also very fluent in the German language, and many German persons would smile at his “Norwegian-German brogue!” In the beginning, the men would sit on one side of the church and the women and children on the other side. As the congregation grew, this changed, and families sat together. Oscar Risan was the first person to be confirmed in the newly formed church in 1907.
Reverend A. G. Logeland, who came in 1909 to take over the ministry here, also served the Beaver Creek, Lindahl and Norman Churches and later St. Olaf and the Battleview Church part time. He homesteaded south of Tioga in the Beaver Creek are but later moved to Tioga and built the first parsonage. This later became the home of John Baslies and later, their daughter, Nora, who was a teacher in the Tioga school system in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Pastor Logeland used a team and buggy to do from church to church and part of his salary also was oats and hay. Feed may have been more plentiful though because it’s not mentioned that his horses were thin!
Reverend Logeland held church services every three weeks in Zion, then later every two weeks. Because he could not afford a nice suit, he wore a prest frakk (which is a pastor’s long coat or a tuxedo) at the service. Mrs. Logeland served as organist playing on an organ belonging to John Hilleran. John Hilleran was the grandfather of Inez Stenbak, Alice Iverson, Josie Hilleran and Edna Peterson, who are Zion members, and the late Myrtle Theodorson. The hymnals used were the Lutheran Free Church Hymnals and each family had their own which they brought with them to the services.
The country churches had services once a month combined with Ladies Aid. It is recorded that Pastor Logeland endured much hardship to bring the Word of God to the people in this area. Different ones remember him leaving on Saturday and staying over night at one of the farm homes. The next day he held services at Lindahl, then on to Norman, and possibly going up to the Battleview Church. It was not uncommon for him to travel forty miles with horse and buggy to confirm one or two persons. It is difficult for us to imagine all he had to go through to bring God’s Word to settlers so widely separated.
This was a stormy time for our young country. We were a new community, there were many people of different backgrounds, building was at its peak, and there began to be much talk of war. While Pastor Logeland was a quiet man, when it came to politics, he was very outspoken. It is recorded that one discussion regarding the war went on until the wee hours of the morning.
Many changes took place during these years. The Articles of Incorporation were filed with the Secretary of State, Alfred Birdsdell, March 9, 1910, signed by John N. Neset, Peter E. Hilleren and Olinus Bakken, and notorized by T. F. Burns. The Ministerial book which listed the name as “Zion Norsk Lutheriske Meninghed” in 1907 was now changed to “Zion Norwegian Lutheran Free Church”. The name “Zion” is a Hebrew name used in the Bible to refer to Jerusalem in Israel, a place of worship in the hill section of that city and also refers to Heaven. The “Free” signifies we are not a synod dictated to by a higher governing body, but we are made up of free and independent congregations. Other changes that took place were the organization of a Young People’s Society and a building committee. Peder C. Wolla (grandfather of Jeanette Mortenson), Peter and John Hilleran were elected, and work was started on our first church building.
Reverend Logeland had his last confirmation class in 1915. Services were held in the basement of the new church as the inside was not yet finished. At this service, there were no pews but only benches with planks on top of nail kegs. The Logeland family left Tioga in November of 1915.
In the winter of 1916, the Zion Parish was in the process of calling a pastor to replace Reverend Logeland. Reverend A. G. Hanson accepted the call and began his ministry in March of 1916. The following June, he took a short vacation and went to Minneapolis to get married. He was the first pastor to get married after arriving in Tioga.
Within a year of his arrival, the church building was completely finished including pews and altar furnishings.