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History of the First Estonian Evangelical Church in USA


History records this site as being established beginning in 1907 to serve the faith of Immigrants from the Baltic Nations that settled in this geographical area.

The land having been deeded to them by Sig and Tena Heineman in 1907 (#5969 Co. Reg), the founding fathers, Johan Wiltein, George Tutt and Albert Sommi, first known as the Estonian Evangelical Lutheran Church (EELC), deeded the property and church to the Estonian (Eesti) Evangelical Martin Luther Kokudus (church) on the 16th day of July, 1914. The very same church it is today.

Prior and during the building, the Reverend Hans Rebane of Boston made annual visits to preach to the Estonians in the Gleason area until his death in 1912, followed by the Reverend Konrad Klemmer in 1914 who came from New Jersey to serve the Estonians. A Latvian pastor came from Chicago to serve the Latvians until 1931 when Rev. Werner Kuhlberg came to serve both the Estonians and Latvians.

The most prominent of the Estonian settlers were the Pay Brothers who remained in the area while other Estonians sold their farms and their children dispersed into more populated areas. When the Pay Brothers decided to support a new church, Saint Paul’s Lutheran Church in Irma, services and activities of this historic landmark ceased to exist, except for occasional picnics and gatherings of Estonians who took pride in this historic landmark. In 1964, Ito (Bill) Rebane and family moved to Lincoln County from Chicago not knowing that the Irma and Gleason area served as an Estonian settlement area. It was not until the mid-seventies that he met with Albert Sommi, one of the original founders. Sommi’s last wish was that the church always serve as a landmark and reminder of Estonian roots in America. By this time, the almost forgotten church had been vandalized. The bell, the pulpit and furnishings disappeared. In 1992, after numerous attempts to restore the furnishings, doors, windows and maintain fencing, Ito Rebane and family retained legal counsel and iled reorganization documents with the County reinstating the church to the “Estonian Evangelical Martin Luther Church” to become a landmark for Estonians in America and all those who had to leave their homeland to escape from communism and religious suppression.

With a renewed and aggressive agenda, the organizers intend to renew restoration efforts to make the premises available for all Estonian people and others of Baltic Heritage to take advantage of the beautiful wooded acreage for worship, picnics and recreation and to serve as a special place for all those who love America and their heritage and Baltic history.


Jesus said:

He who hears my word, and believes … has passed out of death into life. (jn5:24)

Without undergoing any sacrament or ritual and without any waiting period or purgatory. Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in paradise. (lk23-43)

Mission Statement

First Estonian Church in America USA Gleason WIBackground

The Estonian Ev. Martin Luther church. It was humble beginnings for t he early Estonian and Latvian immigrants to America. Who chose this area of Wisconsin because it resembled the countryside of their homeland so much . Even before l907 the plans began to provide a place of worship for their community. A small amount of land ( 3 1/2 acres) was purchased by the founders and builders of the church which still stands today. Miraculously it has withstood the elements, abandonment and vandalism for over a hundred years. Until officially re established in l994 under it s original name given to it by the founders. “The Estonian Evangelical Martin Luther Church of the town of Shley”. It was just in time, before the fragile foundation and structure began to deteriorate to a point of crumbling that the efforts of “Saving this historical Icon of Baltic culture” began and are now under way.

Thanks to hundreds of contributors and hard working Estonian volunteers who have put their minds and sweat into preserving history and putting new life into this worth while cause.

Our Mission

Sheer necessity dictates saving the structure securing the foundation and structural materials which have supported it thus far.

Replacing the roof and any unsafe elements. Then, Maintaining the cemetery which still is host to eleven burial sites dating back to the late l8 hundreds. Manicuring the the surrounding grounds for use by visitors and hopefully new congregation for all who wish to find spiritual comfort from periodic services or enjoy the serene setting of this beautiful pastoral setting.

Once the structure is secured, The roof, windows and doors replaced we will have time to think about the future. With the following facts that are to be considered: As many if not more Americans then Estonians have visited the church in the past 10 years. Taken a keen interest in the history of the church and the pastoral setting of it’s location. Latvians as well have to be considered , as they were an integral part of the Gleason community and helped establish and build the Church. Estonians as well as Latvian pastors came to visit and hold services here in both languages. Future traffic and donations may well depend on the reaching out to all, by inviting all faith or spiritual oriented people to use the premises for; Services picnics, special occasions such as weddings and baptismal. All in the spirit and hope to remember early Estonian immigration to America. And to perpetuate Estonian life, traditions and culture for the public at large.

Looking Ahead

Land of Soul Hingemaa Concert Gleason WIThe Hingemaa concert event, a miracle on it’s own, was and is an example of what a volunteer effort with devotion an hard work can do to preserve this Icon of history. With many special heart felt thank you’s to; Tõnis Mägi, Kärt Johanson and Flying Eagle to grace us with their talents by coming to the north woods of Wisconsin and breathing new life into this effort. It also provided us with the impetus to think about the future.

“An Estonian Cultural center,” to perpetuate and sustain Estonian history, traditions and culture for the public at large.

The government of the Republic of Estonia can not support religious organizations but may be able to encourage and support a cultural information center, according to the Embassy in Washington.

While there is real estate in form of vacant land available adjacent to the church property, the cost of acquisition and building from ground up is costly and may be too ambitious this time.

Some of our volunteers and board members have looked at a piece of property, three miles removed from the church. Worth mentioning and worth considering for the future. It features 700 feet of river frontage in a pastoral setting with sufficient fields for a campground and a huge barn structurally worthy and ideally suited to become a cultural center, club house as well as offer bed and breakfast accomodations. It could well serve as and end destination for Estonians, near and far away for vacations and year around periodic events and celebrations.

With foresight, and entrepreneurial spirits on the order of the “singing revolution” anything can happen EVEN miracles.

Read Also

Benefit Concert Land of Soul “Hingemaa” was a success
Gleason Area Hosts Estonian Rock Legend Tõnis Mägi
Documentary Land of Soul “Hingemaa” airs on ETV this February

The Founding Fathers

l907 – l914 Johan Wiltein, George Tutt and Albert Sommi
l994 – The Reinstatement organizers: Barbara J. Rebane, Angailica Rebane, Maria Kress and Ito ( Bill ) Rebane.

Added to the management board: Justin Rebane, Jutta Rebane Bax, Jaan Karukäpp, Peeter Karukäpp.