BROWNSTOWN

Between the family atmosphere and the great education and lunches, Brandon Briner said he’s glad he chose to attend Lutheran Central School in Brownstown.

“With small enrollment, it was a very, very close-knit group, including parents, teachers, administrators and pastors,” said Briner, who graduated from the school in 2004 and then earned diplomas from Brownstown Central High School and Indiana University Southeast.

“The cooks were amazing, and the lunches tasted and smelled like they just came out of grandma’s kitchen,” he said. “It was a great experience, and God willing, my children will go there.”

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Clay Fritz, who attended the school from 1986 to 1993, also liked the small-school atmosphere and the tasty lunches.

“The young kids knew and looked up to the older kids, and the older kids took the younger ones under their wings,” he said. “Teachers were great, and Bertie Darlage has been a mainstay in the kitchen cooking the best lunches for years and years.”

Fritz now has three children who attend Lutheran Central.

“Although the school has upgraded technology and made some renovations over the years, it’s really still providing the same grade-A, faith-based education,” he said.

On Sunday, the school will celebrate its 50th anniversary on the exact date it was dedicated in 1967. The event, open to the public, will run from 2 to 4 p.m. at the school at 415 N. Elm St.

The Rev. Jordan McKinley from Trinity Lutheran Church in Vallonia will lead a worship service in the gymnasium. Bob Pottschmidt, who retired in 2007 after 34 years of service at the school, will provide the music.

Following the service, light refreshments will be served, and historical exhibits will be set up throughout the school. Also, anyone who buried a bicentennial time capsule in Ray Bachmann’s third-grade class may pick up the contents during the event.

This will be the second 50-year celebration.

On Aug. 21, more than 600 people from the three churches that came together to form Lutheran Central — Trinity Lutheran, St. Paul Lutheran at Wegan and St. Peter’s Lutheran in Brownstown — attended a joint church service in the Brownstown Central High School auditorium.

Afterwards, a dinner was conducted at Pewter Hall in Brownstown featuring a few speakers.

Among the speakers was Lowell Wessel, who was involved with the planning of the school and was chairman of the first school board.

In 1964, Arthur L. Amt, superintendent of education for the Indiana District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, met with teachers and pastors of Trinity, St. Paul and St. Peter’s. At the time, each of the churches had a one-room schoolhouse.

Amt later conducted a survey to explore possibilities of an interparish school. He provided a comprehensive report to each congregation, which appointed three-member planning committees.

Members of the newly formed interparish school association visited Martin Luther Interparish School in Louisville, Kentucky, and discussed building possibilities with an architectural firm.

In the fall of 1965, they decided to build the school on a 2-acre lot behind St. Peter’s, consisting of five classrooms, a library, an office and a multipurpose room with a cafeteria. The 8,975-square-foot building, built by Wayman Brothers Inc. of Brownstown, wound up costing nearly $159,000.

The dedication and open house were Jan. 15, 1967. The school opened with 103 students in first through seventh grades.

“There isn’t any reason to tell you that I was happy every time the way things went,” Wessel said of the planning process. “We went through a lot of hoots and hollers, and I tried to guide it along, and I think with the grace of God, we got it done. We had some good members on the school board. We tried to do what we thought was best for the school.”

Things started off good for the school until the morning of Jan. 4, 1976, when one of the teachers discovered a fire in the building. The office area and two nearby classrooms suffered extensive damage, and the building sustained heavy smoke damage. Damages totaled nearly $98,000.

Classes resumed nine days later with grades 1 through 3 taught in the basement of St. Peter’s and the other grades at Brownstown Central Middle School.

Goecker Building Supplies in Seymour was contracted to restore the building and design two new classrooms. The addition increased the building to 11,295 square feet, cost $51,500 and was completed by January 1977.

In 1988, an expected increase in enrollment led to planning a remodeling project. Bateman Builders was hired to remodel the kitchen, create partitioning for the cafeteria and add a multipurpose room.

That allowed for eight classrooms, a library and a loft for storage, and the multipurpose room served as a cafeteria and physical education room, a room for large gatherings and an athletic facility.

The project cost $230,000 and increased the school’s size to 17,852 square feet. It was dedicated March 5, 1989.

Another bump in enrollment in 2001 resulted in Bateman Builders constructing a five-room addition to house kindergarten through fourth grade, pushing the building’s square footage above 30,000. That project cost about $650,000.

Kindergarten started in the 2002-03 school year with 20 students as a half-day class and switched to five full days in 2009.

The gym and office were remodeled in the summer of 2014 to improve school safety and the functionality of the office and workroom space. Goecker Construction of Seymour completed that nearly $70,000 project.

This school year, preschool moved from St. Peter’s to Lutheran Central. It currently has 54 3- and 4-year-olds.

Enrollment in kindergarten through 12th grade is 127, and there are 18 staff members.

That includes Principal Jon Sprengel, who has been at the school since 2010. During his tenure, he said the biggest changes have been upgrades to technology and adding preschool.

He said the support of all three congregations has been “tremendous,” which he always notes in his annual report at the beginning of the school year.

“It’s just to remind people how thankful we should be for what we have because the way in which our school is set up and has been operating for 50 years doesn’t exist in too many places anymore,” Sprengel said.

Wessel said both of his daughters attended the school and received valuable educations.

“We were really fortunate we started the school off and we had a group of really dedicated teachers,” he said. “They made the kids feel like they were important and a part of it. Of course, they also had the religious part of it, which was excellent.”

Pottschmidt attended St. Peter’s through seventh grade before graduating from Brownstown. He then pursued a career as a Lutheran schoolteacher but didn’t plan on returning to work in his hometown.

“I had this pie in the sky dream of a big church and being a full-time music person,” he said. “Something kept working in here, as I was in college, that said, ‘Maybe this big-time church stuff in the city, the farm boy going to the city, wasn’t such a smart idea.’”

By the time he finished college, Lutheran Central had an opening. It was uncommon for Lutheran teachers to work at their home school, but the pastor at St. Peter’s helped make it happen for Pottschmidt.

In 1973, he became the director of music at St. Peter’s — a title he still holds today — and fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Lutheran Central. He also taught a couple of other grades and served as interim principal twice during his 34 years.

“Wonderful staff, wonderful teachers,” Pottschmidt said of his tenure. “We respected each other as staff. We had wonderful parent support. It was just one big family.”

A couple of other former students also noted the family atmosphere.

“I loved the small classes and family feel the school provided,” said Amber Miller, a 2001 graduate of Lutheran Central who later graduated from Brownstown Central High School and Purdue University.

“I felt that I received great academic instructions because the teachers could be more hands-on with each student,” she said. “I still talk to several of my LC classmates on a regular basis.”

Allison Sparks, one of Miller’s classmates, said she also still talks to people in her class and considers them friends for a lifetime.

She said she remembers burying the time capsule in Bachmann’s class. They were opened this past year as Indiana, Jackson County and Brownstown celebrated their bicentennials.

“I almost cried as I saw (Bachmann) at the bicentennial bash in the courtyard, as I got to stand with my daughter and her classmates of LC for that moment in history,” she said.

Sparks’ daughter is a first-grader at Lutheran Central, and her son is in the 3-year-old preschool.

“I know my babies are safe and loved, and most importantly, growing in their faith,” she said. “How wonderful and blessed are we to have access to such a wonderful school in our hometown? I love that my children are reminded of Jesus every day through religion, memory and prayer.”

Along with support of the three congregations, Lutheran Central has received a lot of support from Brownstown Central Community School Corp. over the years. That includes transportation and allowing students to be a part of classes and sports not offered at Lutheran Central.

For the school to continue to thrive, Sprengel said it will take a couple of things.

“A lot of prayer,” he said, “and being able to continue to work together.”

If you go

What: Rededication service celebrating Lutheran Central School’s 50th anniversary

When: 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday

Where: Lutheran Central School, 415 N. Elm St., Brownstown

Who: Open to the public

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Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.