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Blog 3: “Franken-Trost”

What defines a community? What gives meaning to a place? Sure, buildings and businesses can provide great meaning and memories for many of us. But, at their root, is the people themselves.

The first people to arrive in Frankentrost came in 1847. They, too, immigrated from the Bavarian province of Germany with the primary goal to evangelize their faith. Frankentrost’s growth was hampered because of poor drainage of its farmland, but the small community persevered and flourished. They formed their community around Immanuel Evangelical Lutheran Church and organized a school that same year. For over two decades, a log church served as the worship center and schoolhouse for the community.

In 1870, Trosters constructed a new church and converted the first church to a schoolhouse. Conrad Graebner was hired as the first teacher, where he instructed students for many years. Two other schools were constructed in the early 1900s. In 1913, the “Buena Vista” school was built, serving membership around Portsmouth and Holland Road (M-46). Miss Meta Blank was hired as the first schoolteacher. In 1926, the “North School” was founded, located near Wadsworth and Dehmel roads. Immanuel hired Richard Korf as this location’s first teacher. Together, the three separate schools educated the community’s youth until 1964, when the three locations were consolidated into one. By 1975, the central location boasted a fellowship hall, five classrooms, a kitchen, and a library. By 1997, a sixth classroom, church and school offices, and a cafeteria were added.

Frankentrosters have remained united despite some major setbacks. In January of 1951, Immanuel’s 81-year old church caught fire and burned to the ground. The fire started around 7:30a.m. and was quickly engulfed in flames. Two teenage brothers, Walter and William Hetzner, awoke in their house across the street. They rushed over to the burning church and ran inside to rescue communion hosts. Despite their efforts, they couldn’t save anything else. By the time firemen arrived, the roof had collapsed and the church was engulfed in flames. The blaze was hot enough to melt three iron church bells into a pool of metal. The cause of the fire remains unknown today.

Immanuel Lutheran church on fire in January 1951.

Immanuel Lutheran has remained the center of Frankentrost to today. I wanted to learn more about it, so I recently caught up with Wesley Reinbold, regarded by many as the historian of Frankentrost. He showed me his collection of Frankentrost artifacts. Family heirlooms, old newspapers, beaten and battered artifacts that have managed to stand the test of time, thanks to Wes’s care. What I thought was going to be a quick trip to pick up some loaned items for our new exhibit turned into a 2 hour chat about his family, the church, and his community.

He showed me some newspaper clippings of Trosters proud to serve their country during World War II. We perused his collection of old artifacts that he has collected over the days: a piece of old burned wood that sat atop Immanuel Lutheran before it burned down in 1951. He humbly showed me a book of photographs he created himself, documenting the fire that burned Frankentrost’s church to the ground. A disaster for the community. But a moment he felt worth preserving….

His passion…

His humbleness…

His love for his community.

All struck me.

I needed to learn more. I reached out to Heidi Chapman, Director here of the FHA, and just so happens to be Wesley Reinbold’s daughter (you can say a passion for history runs in the family). I asked her, “What does Frankentrost mean to you?” She said,

“To me it means heritage and it means family. In 1847, my great, great, great grandparents (on both my mom's & my dad's side, actually - Reinbold's and Abraham's) came over from Germany to add to the mission that Frankenmuth had started two years before. Today my family's heritage continues to be upheld through traditions, activities, language, and through the Lutheran church that the original settlers started and that we are still proudly a part of.

Today Frankentrost is a small spot on a map that people drive through on their way to Saginaw. The settlement now consists of a church and a school and a few houses that are closer together. It's not flashy and most people surely don't even notice where they are driving through when they pass by. However when I drive through it, I see the spot where Heidenburger's once stood. Where the cheese factory or where the general store once stood. Where the old school and other schoolhouses once were (or still are). I see the homes and barns that have stood there for over one hundred years. I notice how the farm fields are still parceled in skinny, long sections as that was how it was set up in 1847 when the settlers first arrived. Immanuel Lutheran Church and School is still going strong after natural disasters, wars, depressions, pandemics, and everything in between. I see these spots and think of the dreams that the settlers had when they arrived in this forested, mosquito-infested area in 1847 and what they have done with it and also think of the stories, both good and bad, that accompany the area as well. I try not to see buildings, but instead, I try to see the heritage and the stories that accompany them and that still continues today. I'm particularly proud because my family has been deeply involved in this history and we dot the history pages of Frankentrost for the last 173 years. I feel very blessed as not everybody feels that type of pride in their history or are able to point to an exact spot and say "here is where my great so-and-so settled and lived." I can do that and feel very proud of that fact.

So what defines Frankentrost? Faith? Family? Farms? Frankentrost directly translates to “consolation of the Franconians.” Take some time to talk to any Franketroster, and you’ll hear them talk about what Frankentrost means to them. They’ll talk about the community, about their families, about their church, their businesses, their farms. But you’ll never hear them talk about themselves. But, in reality, its people — past, present, and future — are what define Frankentrost.

“He who has not searched the past has no authority to present proposals for the present or the future.” - Wilhelm Loehe

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