By Shana Adkisson
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — It’s hard not to reminisce about days gone by when a small group of University Lutheran Church and Student Center members get together.
They’ve got stories of weddings, confirmations, potluck dinners and funerals. They have stories of growth, building projects and new pastors. All of these stories reach back as far as 50 years.
What started in an old fraternity house at 815 Jenkins Ave. as a way to reach out to University of Oklahoma students has now developed into a full congregation.
To celebrate its 50th anniversary, the church plans to host a church open house from 4 to 6:30 p.m. June 7 with a happy birthday ULCSC party for children and families at 6:30 p.m.
Other activities include a co-ed softball game at 10 a.m. June 8 at Rotary Park followed by a church open house and lunch from noon to 2 p.m. The evening of June 8, the church will host a banquet and program at the Holiday Inn, beginning at 5:30.
On June 9 at 10 a.m., the church will host a 50th anniversary jubilee worship with a noon brunch.
In 1955, the Oklahoma District of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod purchased land at 914 Elm Ave. The campus ministry was served by vicars of Trinity Lutheran Church from 1955 through 1963 in the garage apartment on the property.
As the years passed, the students favored the idea of the University Congregation model. At the 1963 LC-MS Oklahoma District Convention, students petitioned the district for a separate ministry to the university community.
“At that point, 125 members of Trinity made the commitment to come over here to be the backbone for a new congregation that would focus on campus ministry,” ULCSC publicity chair Cathy Bowden said.
The district responded and Pastor William H. Hecht was called to be the first full-time campus minister for Lutheran students at OU in August 1963.
On Sept. 13, 1964, the first services were hosted for the University Lutheran congregation.
Family names of the original members include Brinker, Folks, Iverson, Robinson, Kuhlman and Shehab.
Marilyn Brinker was a second-grader when she first started going to ULCSC.
“It’s nice to see it grow. It’s nice to see new faces all the time and still see the old faces,” Brinker said.
One of the reasons Brinker credits to staying at ULCSC all these years is choir director Sammie Olkinetzky, who has been at the church since 1965.
“It’s like a big family to me, and I’m looking forward to seeing people again,” Olkinetzky said.
Kathy (Khulman) Rothfusz agrees with Brinker on Olkinetzky being a pinnacle point in the church.
“So many of us were in Sammie’s children’s choir. She was good at teaching us proper annunciation. When my family gets together and sings, we all use the same pronunciations. You should hear us sing ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’” Rothfusz said.
The Rev. Joseph E. Summerville, pastor of ULCSC, has only been at the church since last summer. Summerville has enjoyed being in the center of planning for the 50th anniversary.
“It’s actually been very helpful because its like getting a speed course in church history. A lot of times pastors have to be there for several years before you start learning who is related to whom and what happened the year before and why we do things the way we do,” Summerville said.
One of the things the congregation has been able to do over the years, said Duane Winegardner, 50th committee chair, is adapt to the needs of the times.
“Compared to other churches in other parts of the county, we have a unique organization because it is a revolving organization and constantly changing, and I think that’s what makes it fun,” Winegardner said.
Although the congregation is looking forward to seeing past members that are coming from as far away as Alaska for the celebration, they also are looking toward the future.
“I have a desire to increase the connection between the congregation and students, but to also connect the ties between the congregation and the university,” Summerville said.
“I think that we will be looking for different ways to be a service to others and share God’s word with them. We have reached all the way to Tanzania in the past. Our mission field is just outside of the edge of the parking lot,” Bowden said.