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Back Roads: Work on Westfield church nearly done

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Workers attach the final pieces of new siding to the Westfield Lutheran Church last week. Work on restoring the 99-year-old church is nearly done. Many of those who helped build the church or once worshiped there regularly are buried in the church's cemetery.

BLOOMING PRAIRIE — All around him — in the walls of the Westfield Lutheran Church, in the names in the stained glass window, in the cemetery outside — Dale Underwood sees the history of the area and his family.

The congregation of Norwegian immigrants formed in 1898 several miles northeast of Blooming Prairie. They first held services in a schoolhouse on Dodge County Road 4. In 1917, the congregation of the Westfield Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church built its church across the road from the school. It was small by today's standards.

"If everyone holds their breath, we can get 100 people in here," said Underwood, who lives nearby.

But the church stood tall in the flat farm fields and was the place for baptisms, Sunday services, weddings and burials. In early years, services were conducted in Norwegian. There were "probably three times as many people on the land then than there are now," he said.

Like so many of the small churches, small towns, and small farms of the time, Westfield Lutheran fell on hard times. With better roads and cars, people could drive to Blooming Prairie. With fewer people on the land, there were fewer people in the pews.


The church was ready to fall down.

Then, about 25 years ago, Evelyn Trom decided to act.

She determined the church had to be fixed up, and was the driving force behind fundraising efforts that have generated more than $50,000 over the years to lift the church off its foundation and put in a new basement, rehabilitate the inside and now put new siding on the outside. Donations came from those who once went to that church or whose ancestors once worshiped there.

"Without her, it would have fallen into the basement by now," Underwood said. "Without her, it probably wouldn't have happened, it probably wouldn't be what it is now."

As it was fixed up, the church began to be used for Memorial Day services, the fall festival, Christmas holidays and even some weddings.

There will be a special service Sunday to celebrate the work being 99 percent done, Underwood said.

Trom probably won't be able to attend because of health issues, he said. But she would be proud to see how the church looks today. Even from a half mile away, the steeple is visible as is the grove of conifers around the cemetery.

In giving a tour, he showed off the restored ornate tin siding and refurbished basement ready for refreshments after Sunday's program.


"It's pretty neat," he said. "We're pretty proud of it."

Underwood, 75, said he got involved in the work, even though he's Catholic. His grandfather, Ed Jaeger Trom, came from Norway. He was a carpenter and one of the main builders of the church. Underwood's mother was baptized there.

"It's our ancestors that built it," Underwood said. "A lot of the neighbors here are connected through their ancestry." Many of his relatives, including his grandfather, are buried in the church cemetery.

While the restoration work is nearly done for now, there will always be needs in the future, he said.

"Hopefully, the future generations will carry on the tradition," Underwood said. "I think they will."

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