A History and Tradition of Christ-Centered Education

In September of 1903...

Horse-drawn wagons clamored through the streets of the 25 square miles of the city of Milwaukee in the first years of the 20th century. Immigrant populations brought with them their language, customs, foods, and religious denominations and began to reshape the young city. Just as the city of Milwaukee was becoming characterized by industry and government, so also were American high schools being defined. The high school curriculum was becoming established and reflecting a part of the American dream in that all children should be educated and able to earn a living in society. Lutheran education in Milwaukee was also flourishing, and grade schools of Lutheran congregations were becoming a means for promoting religious education, preparing children to enter the work force and American life, as well as preserving culture and language.

In 1902 Pastor August Pieper of the Wisconsin Synod recognized a need to educate the lay members of the church. There was also a growing trend and need to educate women. Professor Pieper recommended starting a Lutheran high school. Borrowing an undertaker's horse and wagon, believers in the need went around the city asking for help. By the same evening they had a faculty of volunteers and the use of one of the classrooms in Immanuel Lutheran School on 11th and Garfield. The first school was supported by a number of the larger Missouri and Wisconsin Synod congregations, including Jerusalem, Bethesda, Immanuel, Zion, and Cross.

In September of 1903 the school, then named Milwaukee Evangelical Lutheran Akademie, opened its doors to about 20 girls. The first staff consisted of volunteers who came in to teach classes such as German Language and literature, English language and literature, math, science, French, and music. While the girls never changed classrooms, the teachers dropped in on different days of the week or during different hours of the day to instruct their students. Young men began to receive instruction in the evenings, and by the high school's second year both girls and boys attended school together. The first half of the century, 1903-1955, was a pioneering period in Lutheran education. In 1903 there was only one other Lutheran high school in the country, which later closed. The high school in Milwaukee is the lone survivor of those early years.

List of 5 items.

  • Determined to Survive and Grow

    Quickly outgrowing the classroom in Immanuel, the school was moved in 1904 to the old Wisconsin Synod Seminary grounds at 13th and Reservoir. Later, in 1908, the three-acre site was purchased and a brick school was erected. In 1923, 1926, and 1928 the school was expanded to accommodate an ever-increasing student enrollment. Organized sports and other curriculum changes also added to those needs. The technology of the 1920's was incorporated into the new and remodeled facilities. The first telephone and washing machine were added in 1924. At this time that the school became a four-year high school rather than the three-year program it had been.

    After experiencing growth and expansion in the 1920s, the school had trouble surviving through the uncertainty and financial insecurity of the Great Depression. The enrollment dropped to 265 in the fall of 1938 from a high of 340 students in 1929. The survival through these years of the Depression is by God's grace and the dedicated faculty members who received little and irregular pay. Just before World War II, Lutheran High School started to grow rapidly once again. During the war years school population grew by approximately 100 students a year, reaching an all-time high of 858 students in 1946. The old building was able to accommodate only 250 students, therefore the school day was run in shifts beginning at 7a.m. in the morning and running until 5:30p.m.. At this time the gym was converted into classrooms and temporary barracks were used for additional classroom space.
  • Division and Rededication

    From 1946-1949 discussions centered around the building of a new high school able to accommodate approximately 2,000 students. A site was purchased on Story Avenue, but there were only about three acres available. The city of Milwaukee cancelled that location to accommodate future expressway plans. The circumstances were also such that no one could be certain whether the two church bodies would be together for any length of time. By 1951 the Wisconsin and the Missouri Synod congregations started talking about the division of the school. Doctrinal differences which brought about the end of the Synodical Conference ultimately resulted in the division of Lutheran High School. This could have become the greatest problem of the first half of the century for the high school, but instead it became its greatest opportunity for growth.

    In 1951, a Wisconsin Synod group of five representatives began to meet about planning a new high school. The members of this group included pastors John Jeske, Robert Krause, James Schaefer, Jr., Erhard Pankow, and Paul Pieper. The group recommended to the City Pastoral Conference that a conference of congregations be started for the purpose of supporting a high school. In 1952, twenty-seven congregations in the Milwaukee area formed the high school conference. Today 57 congregations and 33,000 communicants constitute the Wisconsin Lutheran High School Conference.

    As summer vacation of 1955 began, no one had as yet accepted the call to be principal because the situation for the new school did not look promising. At this point, there was no budget in place for the coming school year. However, early in the summer of 1955 the Lord led Robert Krause to accept his call to be the first principal of Wisconsin Lutheran High School. His tenure as principal lasted until his retirement in 1985. The physical separation of the two schools also came in the summer of 1955. The Missouri Synod had already started to build its school and, although not yet completed in the fall of 1955, they moved into their new building at 92nd and Congress. The new Wisconsin Lutheran High School rented the old building from the original conference. Later the building was sold to the city of Milwaukee and a new fire station was built on that site.
  • Plans Begin for a New School

    From the beginning there were some difficult questions that needed to be settled by the Wisconsin Synod High School Conference. The members of the Wisconsin Synod were found to be 60% north of the Menomonee Valley and 40% south of it. Either one building needed to be located in the middle of the city or two schools would have to be built. Both possibilities were researched and several alternatives were considered. One site was on 76th and Oklahoma. Land north of Capitol Drive on about 100th Street was also in the process of being donated to our conference. If the offer of donated land had been accepted, the conference would have been obligated to build two schools. It was voted to turn down the offer of free land and to buy land toward the middle of the city. Eventually, land was purchased in Wauwatosa on 76th Street just north of Wisconsin Avenue. However, Wauwatosa rezoned it and the city council would not grant the permit to build, even though one was already held by the conference. The conference appealed. The case went through circuit court and the right to get the permit was granted. Wauwatosa then appealed to the State Supreme Court, where it won the case. The conference finally appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the appeal was lost. Once again prospects looked bleak for the fledgling school.

    At this time a developer by the name of Urbanek became interested in the 76th Street location for an upscale subdivision. He also owned land on Glenview Avenue near Bluemound Road where he originally intended to build high-rise apartments. Milwaukee County was also interested in developing this Glenview location for parkland. A deal was made with the developer, and the conference traded the 76th Street property for Urbanek's land on Glenview. The school would now be located on the 13-acre site at 330 North Glenview Avenue. While no expressway had as yet been built, this site would be a blessing in the years to come for bus and expressway access into the city out to the growing suburbs.

    Architects suggested that at a reasonable cost an auditorium big enough for 1,000 students could be included. Planned with classrooms beneath, it was built at less cost than a completely separate auditorium. In 1964, after a successful fund drive by the students in which they raised $40,000, the Schlicker organ was dedicated with a concert by Paul Manz. A home for daily chapel services was now assured. The cost of the new building, including equipment, was $2,250,000. By 1960, $1,200,000 had already been collected.
  • Rebuilding and Rededicating

    The next forty years were again an opportunity to revisit the purpose of the school's existence, the maintenance of outstanding facilities, and developing the long term financial basis of Wisconsin Lutheran High School, all of which enabled the institution to meet the needs of future generations of students. Students since the earliest days of the school have attended religion class for all four of their years in high school. This mission-focused ministry exists for the purpose of educating teenagers in the growth and development of their personal faith and to actively spread the Gospel. The Mission Statement and School Outcomes are periodically revisited to strengthen our commitment to the main tenants of Lutheran education.

    Maintenance of the facilities has been an ongoing project. In 1964, thirteen classrooms were added to the building in order to completely accommodate the 1,000 students for which the school had originally been built. Milwaukee Lutheran Teachers College (which later became Wisconsin Lutheran College), operated by the Wisconsin Synod in the early 1960s, used a portion of the high school building for about 10 years. The synod agreed to contribute financially for the addition of these classrooms. This first addition cost about $250,000. Increased enrollment in the mid '70s resulted in both an addition to the administration with Wayne Borgwardt called to be the first Superintendent another addition needed to be planned. WLHS needed to provide adequate facilities for increased student enrollment and a steadily expanding curriculum. A spending cap of $1,500,000 was set, and on February 5, 1989, the mortgage on this second addition was burned.

    By the mid 1990s it again became evident that the new advancements in technology, the additional needs of the athletic department, and the outdated science and math rooms necessitated the addition of space and the overall refurbishment of the existing facilities. Plans were mapped out to insure that the building would be able to accommodate the programs and technology necessary to prepare the students of Wisconsin Lutheran High School for the 21st century. As we entered the second century of Lutheran high school education, God once again blessed us with the gift of dedicated Christians who once again stepped forward to ensure excellent facilities to assist in educating our children through donations and gifts exceeding $3,000,000.00.Ground was broken on June 1, 1997, for an addition that would house a math and science wing consisting of twelve classrooms, a greenhouse, office areas, a fitness center, and a multi-purpose room. The new addition was dedicated on April 4, 1998. Additional remodeling was completed throughout the building including redesigned administrative offices and an enlarged guidance complex. In the fall of 2000 students returned to a newly remodeled central lobby in which there was new lighting, a cleaning of the brickwork, and the installation of marble and examples of Christian artwork.
  • God's Blessings Continue

    The purpose of Wisconsin Lutheran High School has always been to educate the layperson. While not a worker training school, it meets a need in giving a Christian secondary education to the youth of our congregations. Through the years, many of our students have also gone on into the public ministry. As a comprehensive high school we train students for whatever comes after graduation, whether that is the work force, college, or the military.

    Today, new immigrants continue to arrive in the City of Milwaukee bringing with them their foods, customs, culture, and religions. The city has now grown to 90 square miles and is encircled by suburbs. And, by the grace of God, Wisconsin Lutheran High School is still permitted to minister to the teenagers of the city and the surrounding areas. History demonstrates that what is state of the art today is only temporary, and that in the years to come these present facilities also will become as obsolete as yesterday's slogans, technology, and textbooks. What is unchanging in this changing world is God's Word.

    History compiled by Dr. Carol Krause (WLHS '68)
"It is evident that, through all that has happened, the Lord's hand of blessing has rested on Wisconsin Lutheran High School."

- Pastor John Jeske, member of the 1950's new building committee
Phone: 414-453-4567  |  Fax: 414-453-3001