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New steeple, new look for Tunbridge Lutheran Church

By Sue Sitter - | Jul 17, 2021

Sue Sitter/PCT Brian Brandt, left, and Bill Brandt work from platforms high above the ground to repair the aging Tunbridge Lutheran Church steeple.

The weathered exterior of the 107-year-old Tunbridge Lutheran Church, near Rugby, has slowly given way to a sharper appearance over the past two years thanks to work sponsored by a group of Pierce County residents.

A bright, white coating on the clapboard structure now replaces the flakes of paint nearly blasted away by years of harsh winds and snowstorms. Sturdy steel panels replace well-worn asphalt shingles on the roof.

In late June, work moved to the top of the church, when Brandt Contracting of Pisek began restoring the steeple.

Brian Brandt, whose father, Bill Brandt, owns the company, pointed to the edges of the steeple, wrapped in Tyvek roof material. “It’s just a mess. It needed new flashings and valleys.”

“We’re replacing parts of it,” Brandt said of the steeple. “We’re putting all new boards in it and new two-by-six plates.”

Brandt said he and his father would keep the steeple “kind of” close to the original design. “There are steel shingles on it,” he added, pointing to the spire covered in overlapping wood-toned squares.

“Steel is better quality for shingles. It lasts a lifetime, maybe a couple hundred years,” Brandt said.

“It’s coming along okay,” Brandt said. “We should be done in about two or two and a half days.”

Brandt said he and his father enjoyed working on church steeples.

“I’ve always liked this,” Brandt said of his work as a steeplejack. “It’s outdoor work and I like the height. Heights don’t bother me. We’ve worked on some churches 150 feet up.”

Brandt’s father, Bill, started the company 40 years ago.

“We do this all over four states: North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa,” Brandt said. “We’re pretty busy. We’re on our way to South Dakota after this one.”

The steeple restoration project will complete the first phase of a three-phase project on the church headed by Pierce County resident Terry Jelsing.

Jelsing, a former board of directors member of the North Dakota Council on the Arts, gathered with eight other area residents to give the aging building a new life.

The group developed a three-phase plan to repurpose the building into a center dedicated to preserving Scandinavian heritage.

Phase 1 of the plan involves repairing and restoring the physical building.

According to the website “Preserving Nordic American Churches,” phase 2 of the plan will involve applying for 501 ( C ) 3 status to enable the group to receive grants to launch phase 3 of the plan. Phase 3 will dedicate use of the building to art and activities related to food, music and Scandinavian culture.

Jelsing said the center would not only tell the story of the Scandinavian immigrants who settled Pierce County to the Rugby area; it would enhance the local economy as well.

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