Part 1, Calvary’s Beginnings, 1890-1941
To fully understand how Calvary Lutheran Church came into being, we need to go back in time with several generations of the Heitmuller and Boehne families.
“You could really say that Calvary had its beginnings around 1890 when my grandfather, W. Charles Heitmuller, left Trinity Lutheran Church in downtown D.C., where church services were held only in German,” explains Charles (Chuck) Boehne, Calvary’s only surviving “charter” member. “My grandmother could not speak or understand German. My grandfather and two of his church friends received approval from the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod to start a new English speaking Lutheran church in Washington.” That is how Christ Lutheran Church, originally on New Jersey Avenue, was started. Christ Church later moved to 16th and Gallatin Streets, where it still exists today.
Chuck continues, “My dad, John W. Boehne, Jr., had served in World War I in the Ordnance Corp, stationed in Cincinnati, Ohio. He received an assignment in Washington D.C. While he was there, he attended Christ Lutheran Church and met, among many other folks, the family of W. Charles Heitmuller. While leaving church services one Sunday, on the church steps he met the Heitmuller twins, Selma and Hortense. It is my understanding that he was ‘taken’ by Selma or ‘Sally’ as everyone called her. My dad returned to Cincinnati, and at the end of the World War to his home in Indiana, but the two continued a long distance exchange of letters. My dad returned to Washington after proposing by letter, and they were married at Christ Lutheran Church in 1920 and together returned to Indiana. And thus began a lifelong, loving relationship between my mom and my dad.”
Chuck adds, “My dad [John W. Boehne, Jr.] ran for Congress in 1930 and was elected to the House of Representatives from Indiana.” Chuck commented that his paternal grandfather, John W. Boehne, Sr., had also served in Congress. “The family now moved to Washington and the Heitmuller and Boehne families were reunited and together attended Christ Church, and Dad was able to keep his promise to ‘Sally’ that he would some day return her to Washington.”
In those days, much of Washington and the surrounding area was still farmland, but the suburbs were developing. “Grandfather Heitmuller retired from his business and moved his family to a “gentleman’s” farm in the Silver Spring area on Georgia Avenue and Dennis Avenue,” Chuck said. “He wanted to start a new church near to his new home and also recognized the need for a church in the fast growing area. He and my dad met with leaders of Christ Church asking them to sponsor a new mission in Silver Spring.
My dad had been elected to the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod’s Board of Directors that met in St. Louis, Missouri. At one of their meetings, he explored with the church leaders about starting a new church in the Silver Spring, Maryland, area. He was referred to the Synod’s Southeastern District Office, which just happened to have their offices in a large house next to Christ Church in D.C. I guess it was just meant to be. The District agreed that the area was ‘ripe’ for a new mission.” Pastor Carl Koerber was appointed by the Southeastern District Mission Board to start the new mission, which was to become Calvary Lutheran Church.
Part 2, Calvary’s Early Days, 1941-1950
On October 12, 1941, less than two months before Pearl Harbor was attacked, Calvary’s first Sunday service was held at the Masonic Lodge in downtown Silver Spring. The Masonic Lodge was an interesting location, since the Missouri Synod Church members were prohibited from joining Masonic orders at that time. About sixty friends and future members attended that first service. Chuck Boehne was in high school then and remembers that he took up the first collection.
Sunday School started a week later on October 19. A branch of Calvary’s Sunday School was later started in the Glenmont area in 1948. This would lead to the founding of The Lutheran Church of Saint Andrew, the same church that is now located on New Hampshire Avenue.
Early church council meeting notes indicate that Calvary had a bowling team as early as the 1940s.
In January of 1942, Calvary Lutheran Church was officially organized and twenty-eight people were accepted into membership. Calvary’s charter members included Mr. & Mrs. W. Charles Heitmuller, Miss Hortense Heitmuller, Mr. & Mrs. Theodore Heitmuller, Miss Florence Haesemeyer, Miss Erma Meyer, Mrs. Florence Fay, Mr. & Mrs. E. K. Miller, Mr. & Mrs. Robert A. Miller, Mr. & Mrs. Homer Bangham, Mr. & Mrs. John W. Boehne, Jr., Mr. & Mrs. Frank Mauritz, Mr. Charles Boehne, Miss Thelka Frey, Mr. & Mrs. Edgar Horn, Miss Brunelda Koehn, Mr. & Mrs. W. A. Schneider, Mrs. Louise Heitmuller, Mr. & Mrs. Robert Lunow, & Rev. Carl Koerber. The congregation issued an official “call” to Pastor Koerber, and he became Calvary’s first full-time pastor.
For a time, Calvary held services in a space rented from the Montgomery County Board of Education at the Woodland Elementary School, and later, the church met near the Woodside Deli in a vacant storefront, now a beauty parlor. Soon, the council decided that Calvary should have its own place, and the first Building Committee was appointed in 1945.
After the Mission Board assigned Pastor Koerber to another area, the church called its next pastor, George Hoyer, in 1947. “Pastor Hoyer was a beloved pastor,” Chuck remembers. “He established a very liturgical form of service. I’ll never forget when he chanted the Maundy Thursday liturgy. Never heard such a thing in my old Indiana congregation, but I loved it.”
Construction on the original part of Calvary’s building at 9545 Georgia Avenue began in 1948 on land that was a gift from W. Charles Heitmuller. Most of the area was still “out in the country” and Georgia Avenue then consisted of one lane in each direction. Philip H. Frohman, architect of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., was chosen to design Calvary’s first building, which like the Cathedral, was built in the Gothic style. The cornerstone was laid in 1948 and the structure was completed in 1949. This first building now serves as our chapel.
Chuck notes that if you look carefully at the stones that make up the wall inside the chapel, you can see a natural marking that looks like a Scottie dog. Can you find it?
From the beginning, people have praised Calvary’s warm hospitality. Just out of law school, Bud Vieth came from Davenport, Iowa, to join a law firm in our area. He knew about Calvary from his uncle, Ed Horn, one of the charter members. Bud first came to a service at Calvary in 1949. “I remember being invited by the Heitmullers to their farm for lunch that day,” he said.
Bud also remembers attending the wedding of Chuck and Barbara Boehne in 1950 at All Saints Episcopal Church in Chevy Chase, where Barbara was a member. Barbara said she was in the first confirmation class for new members at Calvary and that the other members of the class were also former Episcopalians. Since they had already been baptized and confirmed in a “close cousin” of the Lutheran Church, that class progressed rather quickly.
Since those early days, Chuck and Barbara, and Bud and his wife, Jane, have remained at Calvary, where they have served and been a blessing to the church in many ways. Bud said he and Jane have seen the church go through many changes and face many challenges. They have stayed, because they always felt that Calvary was “their church” and that it held “first place in their hearts.”
Part 3: Day School Started, New Building Completed, Membership Grows, 1951-1962
Early church council meeting notes show that Calvary’s total budget request for 1951 was $16,570, with $3,300 as salary for the pastor, $350 for fuel, $100 for utilities, $150 for general repairs, and $120 for a telephone. What a difference 65 years makes!
Calvary’s day school began in 1951, and the first expansion of the original church building was completed in 1953. This new addition included three new classrooms, office space and utility rooms.
Philip H. Frohman, architect of the National Cathedral and designer of Calvary’s original building (now the chapel), had been asked to continue with additional plans for the main church sanctuary and the school. He proposed a much larger, very traditional structure, similar in style to the National Cathedral. Though beautiful in its own way, “we never could have afforded it,” Chuck Boehne said. Calvary members decided, instead, that they wanted a more modern-looking building that would be appropriate for a new church in the suburbs.
“It was felt that Gothic churches were not very welcoming. The trend was that churches should be closer to the people,” said Bud Vieth, who was on the Building Committee then. This time, Stanley Arthur was selected as the architect.
Just before this happened, Pastor Hoyer accepted a call to Concordia Seminary in Saint Louis, where he became a professor. Walter Moeller was then called to be Calvary’s pastor. Chuck remembers Pastor Moeller’s strong interest in outreach, which helped the church to grow a lot during this time.
A Sunday School class for children with special needs began in 1956 with Elise Fischer from Christ Lutheran Church as its teacher. This class, which continued for many years, may have been the first and only one of its kind.
In 1958, Pastor Moeller was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives from Ohio and Calvary then called Pastor Frederick Kemper. A much-loved pastor, he would go on to serve Calvary for 21 years. Pastor Kemper made good use of his talents in art and drama, which he used to enhance the worship service and education programs at Calvary. For example, he designed the needlepoint cushions at the altar and used skits to teach young people about religion.
In 1961, Alice Maxfield became Calvary’s organist. When the church began having two services in 1962, Vince Gingerich served as organist during the early service. Alice continues as our organist, and in the past she also served as choir director and as director of adult and youth handbell ensembles, all of which helped Calvary to develop a strong music program.
After a big push for building funds, the new church building was completed in 1962.
“Stanley Arthur was an artist as well as an architect,” Chuck Boehne said. He explained that Mr. Arthur was influenced by the artist, Albrecht Durer, and that the tall A-frame structure of Calvary’s sanctuary represents Praying Hands, as depicted in Durer’s famous painting of the same name.
Many would agree that Mr. Arthur succeeded in creatively blending the traditional style of the original chapel with the modern look of the sanctuary, using the hallway and the classrooms as a bridge between the old and the new.
Mel Schnackenberg, who was a longtime church member, youth counselor, school teacher and principal, recalls that when the new church was finally built, membership, school enrollment, Sunday School participation, and youth group involvement all skyrocketed.
At about the same time the church building was completed, the Washington Beltway was also finished. Still, “going to Gaithersburg or even to Wheaton was a trip,” said Beverly Harmon, Calvary’s office administrator.
Andrea Twomey remembers sledding down a snow-covered hill from the Heitmuller House in the sixties. Chuck Boehne said this was the country home of his grandfather, W. Charles Heitmuller, in an area between Silver Spring and Wheaton. Andrea believes it was close to where townhouses stand today near the Baptist Church on Dennis Avenue.
Part 4: The Three R’s, ”Reading, Writing and Religion”, 1951-2010
When Calvary Lutheran School first began in 1951, it was the only Protestant day school in our area, according to an early newspaper account. The school then consisted of 24 nursery and kindergarten students and the first teachers were Dorothy Hoyer and Juanita Wesche. Tuition was $10 a month and the equipment fee was $10. Ellsworth Kierbs was the first principal. George Hoyer was the pastor then, and he was an early and strong supporter of Calvary’s day school. More grades were gradually added until the school consisted of eight grades plus kindergarten.
In the beginning, Calvary’s school was seen primarily as a place to educate the church members’ own children, who were all or mostly white and of German heritage. Later, surrounding neighborhoods began to change and the church and school began to attract people of different backgrounds and circumstances. The school became more of an outreach mission. Some of the new school families joined Calvary Church, while others remained members of other Christian churches. From time to time, children from other faith traditions also enrolled. All this gave Calvary the gift of diversity, and a more interesting atmosphere developed with multicultural traditions.
Keith Lentner, a longtime Calvary member and school parent, who recently passed away, once commented that the school was Calvary’s mission, “because it teaches the three R’s–reading, writing and religion.”
Another school parent once remarked how thankful she was that her children were at Calvary on 9-11. She recalled that Principal “Marlys Natonick took the students and teachers into the sanctuary where they prayed throughout that day,” and adds, “I felt comforted, knowing they were safe.”
On a humorous note, Mel Schnackenberg tells about a student who once put mud on his sneakers to make footprints going across the ceiling in the boys’ restroom. As punishment, the boy had to clean the entire restroom. Reports are that the same kid later became a missionary and an author of children’s books.
Other Calvary graduates have become teachers, librarians, police officers, journalists, musicians, politicians, entrepreneurs, or have served in the military. Seven became pastors, and quite a few became doctors and lawyers. One student, Roger Mason, played basketball for the Washington Wizards and numerous other NBA teams. He also donates much of his spare time and raises money for a number of charitable causes.
Stacey Holiday and Miles Gray, who graduated a few years ago, now work at the Washington, D.C., Humane Society, where they have helped rescue dogs who were victims of disasters like Katrina, and from Russia, where stray dogs are usually shot.
Recent principals Stacy Sato and Mike Gall helped guide many students in the right path, using “tough love” when necessary.
Elda Banks, who taught first grade at Calvary for 30 years, invited the community to many events she organized, such as “Breakfast with Santa.” The Breakfast has since become an annual tradition at Calvary where young and old experience the joys of the Christmas season, while learning some lessons about its real meaning. Each year, the event continues to grow and attract new families. We learned that some of them have even started doing Breakfast with Santa at their own churches.
Sadly, Calvary Lutheran School closed in 2010 due to economic reasons. Nevertheless, its legacy continues in the lives and work of the many students, teachers and others who were touched during 60 years of our school’s wonderful ministry.
Part 5: A “Mini-United Nations” : profiles in hospitality and diversity
Edelgard Tamorria grew up in Germany when the Nazis came to power. As a young woman, she met and fell in love with an American soldier named Bill Tamorria, who lived next door to her family during the Allied Occupation. After years of difficulty, Edelgard moved to the United States to be with Bill and they were married in 1949, but Edelgard felt like a person without a country. Then, they joined Calvary. “For the first time I was not a foreigner from the enemy country, but a Lutheran among Lutherans, accepted and welcomed. I found people who wanted to be my friends and still are.”
Edelgard, who recently passed away, is remembered for her kind heart, friendliness, and sense of humor. Along with other “Wednesday Morning Ladies”, she made beautifully illustrated books that told the story of the Nativity. Made from recycled Christmas cards, the books were distributed to shut-ins and people in hospitals and prisons.
In January, 1966, Sandi Isler and her family became the first African Americans to join Calvary. “There was a family from Africa, diplomats, who were here when we arrived, but they didn’t stay very long,” she remembers.
Sandi had grown up in Oklahoma City, where she went to a predominantly Black Missouri Synod Lutheran church. She later moved to D.C. to attend Howard University. When she had a baby girl who needed to be baptized, Sandi looked in the Yellow Pages for a Missouri Synod church close to her home in Takoma Park, and she found Calvary.
Sandi told Ellsworth Kierbs, who was the choir director then, that she wanted to audition. She said he laughed and told her she was welcome to sing in the choir, but they never made people audition. In those days, Calvary produced musical plays on the stage in the Fellowship Hall, and Sandi played the role of Little Buttercup in a production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore. Chuck Boehne also remembers playing the role of Nanki Poo in a production of The Mikado.
When her husband Marshall was able to take advantage of very good business opportunities, Sandi and her family moved to North Carolina in 1989. Her many friends from Calvary kept in constant contact with cards and letters. “They kept hoping and praying I would come back, and 17 years later I did.” Sandi was surprised and pleased at how diverse the congregation had become. “I thought it was like a mini-United Nations,” she said. “The atmosphere was just wonderful.”
“I came to Calvary in 1972 on a date,” reveals Mary Sue Baugham, Calvary’s kitchen manager. Mary Sue said she was so impressed with the warm welcome she received, that she never left. Besides serving as President of the Women of Calvary for several terms, she has volunteered regularly in other areas and worked in several jobs on the church and school staff.
Louise Holley, who died in 2009 at the age of 102, may have been one of Calvary’s oldest members. She graduated from law school in the forties, but worked mostly as a special education teacher. Louise’s son, Alfred Holley, who had Down’s Syndrome, was part of a special Sunday School class taught by Elise Fischer at Calvary for many years. Once a month, members of the Special Class served as crucifer and acolytes.
Andrea Twomey remembers Alfred Holley standing outside in the hall after Sunday services quoting John 3:16 to anyone who would listen. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, so that ALL who believed in Him would have everlasting life.” The word “all” was spoken in a loud voice, with arms moving about in an all-embracing gesture.
Charlie Lindgren, another member of the Special Class, was a talented photographer and everyone enjoyed seeing his pictures of Calvary people and events posted on bulletin boards.
A copy of Calvary’s 1945 Constitution, following Missouri Synod rules, stated that “the right to vote shall be limited to those male members who are at least twenty-one years of age and who have subscribed to this constitution.” It also indicated women could not be elected to most offices.
Today, women vote and serve in every way at Calvary. For years, women have served on the council, as elders, and as congregational president. Sandi Isler mentioned that her daughter Valerie, who passed away as a young woman, served as Calvary’s first female acolyte.
Hospitality has always been a major focus of the Women of Calvary (WOC), which also provides opportunities for Bible study and raises money for missions. In recent years, the Calvary Men’s Group have also become active. They get together on Saturday mornings for breakfast, Bible study and church maintenance projects. The WOC and the Men’s Group often help each other and work together.
Pastor Larry Schmidt and his wife Sue, who served Calvary for 22 years, played a huge part in getting Calvary to reach out and become more diverse and welcoming. For example, Pastor Larry was famous for witnessing in all kinds of places, like the golf course and the gas station, and he started a Bible study for people in recovery. Sue Schmidt taught Sunday School and served as president of the Women of Calvary. Among other things, she started Calvary’s fair trade project, which helps small farmers around the world get a fair price for their crops.
Part 6: The Recent Past and a Look to the Future
In 2002, Theodore Heitmuller blessed Calvary with the gift of the beautiful and historic farm in Poolesville, known as Aix La Chappelle. It was the scene of church and school picnics, swimming parties, family and school reunions, Oktoberfests, an Easter sunrise service, Christmas celebrations, women’s retreats and youth group activities. How can we forget seeing Calvary folks polka to music by Brian Priebe and his band, Chuck Boehne making apple cider, hearing ghost stores after dark, and the other good times at Calvary’s farm?
Increasingly restrictive county regulations and other circumstances have prevented Calvary from utilizing Aix La Chappelle “for the glory of God,” as it was intended. Recently, a decision was made to pursue sale of the farm.
While the closing of our school, the approaching sale of the farm and other matters have weighed heavily on our hearts, Sandi Isler believes “God has smiled on us and made us strong through adversity.” Calvary has been blessed with a number of gifted pastors who helped us weather storms and guide the church to become what it is today. We are thankful to have Pastor Mike Middaugh as our current shepherd.
We look forward to the future and to strengthening our missions and ministries, including Shepherd’s Table, Manna Food and Meals on Wheels; a missionary in China, the fair trade project, and Mi Refugio, a Christian school for homeless children in Guatemala. More recent projects include work with XYZ Industries, which provides low cost housing for those in recovery, and A Wider Circle. Calvary has a small but excellent Sunday School, wonderful opportunities for adult Bible study, a vibrant Young Adult Group, and an outstanding music program, led by Brian Priebe.
We want to continue our tradition of “welcoming the stranger,” whoever he or she may be, and we expect to keep having fun on Georgia Avenue with events like the chili cookoff, the Santa Breakfast, and outdoor celebrations.
In conclusion, I feel privileged to have been part of Calvary’s history, and I have enjoyed learning and writing about the past. I want to thank Chuck Boehne, Bud Vieth, Mel Schnackenberg, Sandi Isler, Mary Sue Baugham, and everyone who shared stories and memories. Of course, this is not a complete history of Calvary, and more could be added. We hope others will feel free to contribute.
Written by Margy Holley in 2014 and 2015, who wishes to thank Chuck and Barbara Boehne, and Bud Vieth, for sharing their memories, as well as the Mel Schnackenburg who principaled the school for many years. Many others, including those in the church office helped with this article and with providing access to records and documents.