Humble Beginnings: Luther Crest and the Concordia Farm

January 24, 2012

In celebration of Concordia's 130th anniversary of service, we're periodically posting excerpts from our history book. Additionally, each issue of our magazine, called Faith in Caring, for this year will feature a page on our continually shaping history.

The excerpt below is about Luther Crest and some of the many things the Concordia farm was used for. Feel free to comment, call us at 724.352.1571 or e-mail us if you have any questions and enjoy!

Just as the farm proved the ideal site for the yearly festival, it was equally attractive to the members of the supporting churches for parish picnics, camping trips, and other outdoor celebrations. Over the years, many a church group headed to the farm where they could enjoy the space, clean air, and beauty of the Home's country setting.

In time, accommodating all these groups with the necessary facilities grew increasingly burdensome. The Board did the best they could, but the Home's resources could only stretch so far.

But as was so often the case in Concordia's history, a group of dedicated volunteers rose to the occasion and took the lead in improving the grounds for these gatherings. In 1958, Luther Crest was formed as a non-profit group with a board of directors that included six laymen and three pastors. Led by Butch Bicker and Chuck Purucker, the first items on their agenda were the baseball field and camping area.

In these early years, Concordia supporters would converge on the farm when the apple trees were heavy with ripe fruit. In addition to selling the apples, they also produced apple cider for sale, with all proceeds invested back into improving Luther Crest facilities. It's also been said that couples would meet and become sweethearts during apple picking time!

It was only natural that many of the group activities centered on the old barn constructed in 1918 (which was built after the original had burned down.) In 1971, the members of Luther Crest announced a plan to transform the barn into a modern facility with activity, cooking, eating, and restroom areas. Louise Colteryahn provided a generous gift towards this project in memory of her mother (whose maiden name was Thoma) which lent the name Thoma Center to the new area. In time, two cabins would be constructed nearby as well.

In 1974, the group received another $50,000 grant from the Aid Association for Lutherans to help complete the project. However, the grant was conditional on Luther Crest securing enough volunteer labor to work on the renovations.

In time, Luther Crest became as much a "destination" as the formal name for the organization that sustained it. Among other things, family and school reunions, weddings and retreats were held there as well as Sunday School classes and summer camps.

Mr. Herb Davis, longtime president of Luther Crest and chairman of the Luther Crest committee within Concordia' Board of Directors, devoted countless hours to overseeing the organization's activities and facilities. But as was the case with the Concordia Ladies' Aid Society, Mr. Davis passed away in 1996 and without new members, Luther Crest's fortunes waned as well. In anticipation of new construction, the barn was dismantled in the early 2000s and rebuilt on the grounds of a private residence on Bonniebrook Road; the two cabins were taken down permanently.

Its structures may be gone, but Luther Crest still lives fondly in the memories of all those who camped there, and especially the now long married couples who first met in that sweet apple orchard.

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