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Marcia (Samp) Bahr, Laurel (Mickelson) Nelson, and Marilyn (Mickelson) Hansen can each trace their family history back to Willow Lake’s charter members in the 1870s.

Faith of their Fathers endures for descendants of Willow Lake Norwegians

By Seth Schmidt

Twelve autumns after Willow Lake Lutheran disbanded, the white-steeple country church continues to call the faithful.

Two-dozen people gathered at the rural Tracy church Sunday, for what’s become an annual September gathering.  (A scheduled July gathering was canceled because of flooded roads).

Gospel-favorites like “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,”  “Beautiful Savior,”  “Children of the Heavenly Father,”  “Old Rugged Cross,” “I Love to Tell The Story” and “Faith of our Fathers” echoed again through the simple, wood-frame country church.  Bible readings, a liturgy led by Kristin (Campbell) Harner, and an offering, were also a part of the 30-minute program. Lunch of sandwiches, chips, and cookies followed.

The proceedings took place within a church that has changed little since its 1899 construction. A hand-carved oak altar, framing a painting depicting Christ’s ascension into heaven, offered the same view beheld by Willow Lake’s first and second-generation Norwegian founders.  A Baptismal font, where generations of parents brought their babies, stood ready.  Pews  purchased with money raised by the Ladies Aid in 1902, provided the seating.  A 1911 church bell pealed before and after the service.

A show of hands indicated that many of the Sunday attendees had been Baptized, confirmed, and married in the church. Some had children who’d  gone to Sunday School at Willow Lake.

“I love this church,” said Marcia (Samp) Bahr, who is a great-great granddaughter of Paul and Anna Mickelson, who farmed just west of the church.  Paul and Anna were charter members of the Willow Lake congregation in 1874, and donated land for the Willow Lake Church and cemetery.   

The Samp family lived on a nearby farm until moving to Jackson in the early 1960s.

Laurel (Mickelson) Nelson of Slayton, grew up attending Sunday School, and was confirmed at Willow Lake.  She and Clifford were married in the church in the fall of 1957.

“This is home,” she reflects.

For more on this article, see this week’s Headlight-Herald.