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St. Paul’s School holds mortgage burning ceremony

Members of the St. Paul’s Lutheran School Board, along with student representatives and fundraiser organizers, gathered at the front of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church to burn strips of the school’s mortgage on May 18. Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS

Years of hard work went up in smoke at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Perham last Sunday – and everyone applauded. The congregation’s fundraising efforts managed to pay off the mortgage for the school addition years early, so they celebrated by burning the paperwork.

St. Paul’s Lutheran School was founded in 1910. As school attendance grew and the church relocated, conversations about expanding became more and more earnest.

Serious planning and fundraising began sometime during the summer of 2005, said Kent Zitzow, a church member and one of the fundraising organizers.

Former principal Bonnie Stohs said the school moved in to its new space seven years ago, finally reuniting with the rest of the church facilities in 2006.

“It was designed to be much more than just the school,” said Gary Ebeling, another member and organizer of the project. Plans for the addition also incorporated offices for church staff and some major capital projects.

When the math was finished, the church had over $2 million that would need to be repaid.

Ebeling said they knew there would be debt to be handled after the initial five-year pledge was paid, so the fundraising push began.

“We’ve been very blessed,” Ebeling said.

During the fundraising push, donations poured in from congregation members as well as people who were not directly associated with the church.

“We paid it off early enough,” congregation president Fred Lehmkuhl said.

According to the paperwork, payments were scheduled to go out until 2028.

Pastor Carl Noble and Lehmkuhl led the paperwork burning on May 18 as part of the church’s normal Sunday morning service.

The final strip of paper went up in flames as Lehmkuhl read a statement from the lender saying that the loan had been “fully paid, satisfied and discharged.”

In addition to organizers and school board members, student representatives from each grade were chosen to participate in the mortgage burning because the students are the reason the school facility was built, said Lehmkuhl.

He added, “We built it for them for today; we built it for them for the future.”