The history of St. Thomas congregation began during the trying times of World War II. Because of the spiritual needs of those living in the Rocky River area, the Mission Board of the Central District, Missouri Synod, sent Reverend Otto Toelke, its missionary-at-large, to canvass that region. In October 1944 Pastor Toelke began ringing doorbells and by the end of November, the first worship service took place. Over 200 people crowded the newly named “Rocky River Mission” at 2220 Wooster Road. Soon afterward, meetings were held to discuss the organizing of a congregation, and by February 4, 1945, 55 charter members signed corporation papers. St. Thomas congregation was born and well on its way to proclaiming the whole counsel of God to all who entered into its fellowship.
The first order of business concerned the acquisition of a permanent site for a church. A three and one half acre tract of tax-delinquent land, at 21165 Detroit, was purchased at a county auction. An old, existing schoolhouse was extensively remodeled to fit the congregation’s needs and in September of 1945 a newly transformed colonial type chapel was dedicated. By 1948 it was necessary to enlarge the chapel to accommodate 200 people and to provide additional Sunday School space and other facilities. By the end of the decade the congregation reached a total of 300 members and was now under the seven-year pastoral leadership of Reverend Luebke.
For St. Thomas the 50’s were blessed with steady growth and in February 1959, Pastor Streufert gave us spiritual encouragement and guidance for the third building project in our short history. Actually, the uncertainty of the location of Interstate Highway 90 had delayed the construction plans for five years. Finally, the structure, which holds our present sanctuary, was designed, constructed, and ultimately dedicated on the eve of St. Thomas the Apostle’s Day in December 1959. In the fall of 1960, the rededication of the former chapel as a school took place. At that time there were 35 pupils in grades K-8 with a principal and two teachers. From then on, we were known as St. Thomas Lutheran Church and School.
During the next decade the congregation again outgrew its facilities. Groundbreaking for an educational wing, complete with gymnasium, took place in May 1971 and the new elementary school and parish house were dedicated in April 1972. Pastors Streufert, Giessler, and Mueller served in succession up until 1994 when Pastor Eric Van Scyoc, the current pastor, was installed. Through the proclamation of Word, Worship, Witness, Stewardship, and Service, Pastor Van Scyoc has led God’s people toward a deeper commitment of Christian discipleship. The rapid increase of grade school students brought a new challenge and so in 1997 yet another building program was under way–Building Through Believing. This was for the purpose of expanding some of the meeting rooms, the narthex, but mainly the school. Two more classrooms were added, an art/science room, a music room, a youth room, and a cafeteria. Included also was the addition of an elevator for those with limited mobility. In 1998 phase I of the program was completed.
Because of the times, the War Production Board would not allow any new construction, only remodeling of existing structures. So, in His grace, God provided an existing village schoolhouse, for which St. Thomas paid $190. It was moved from behind Beach School to the Detroit location and plans were initiated for a new house of worship to be fashioned from it. The resulting white frame, colonial chapel was ready for dedication in September 1945. By 1948 it was enlarged to accommodate at least 200 people and provide other facilities. After the construction of the new educational wing of the existing church (1972), the chapel was demolished.
Since its inception St. Thomas has been involved in promoting parochial education. (Did God have a hand in this by making an old schoolhouse our first place of worship?) From 1945 to 1959 it was a member if the West Shore Lutheran School Association along with three other churches, Messiah, Fairview Park; Ascension, North Olmsted; and St. Paul, Westlake. The association was dissolved in 1959 and St. Thomas opened its own school in September of that year with grades K-4.
When the remodeled chapel was dedicated as a school in September 1960, Mr. Ramon Wittig was called as principal of grades K-8. During the next years, two classrooms were still in the church building. But as the school enrollment grew, so did the need for expansion of the facilities. In 1972 the new educational wing was constructed and, with the exception of kindergarten and pre-school, all classes were now held within one area of learning.
Declining enrollment in all the grades led to a restructuring in the fall of 2010 and the formation of our Early Childhood Center (ECC) with the focus exclusively on pre-school and kindergarten. Enrollment increased five-fold.
A pre-school program had already been initiated in the 1970s for four-year-olds. The start of the school year of 2001 included an additional pre-school program for three-year-olds and an all-day kindergarten. By 2012 we had added the Kindergarten Wrap-around, Parent and Tot programs in addition to the before/after school care for School Age Child Care (SACC) which coordinates with the Rocky River Public Schools for bus transportation and curriculum. We are thankful to be used by God to bring Jesus to so many families in the community each year.
Subsequent principals who have served at St. Thomas School were Don Weber, Ronald Seibert, Richard Poppe, Betty Engel (acting), Ken Boerger, David Moehring, Kymm Fehrs (Administrator) and Cathie Lucarelli, former principal and first ECC Director.
By 1997, in order to accommodate the growth of the school and meet its needs, St. Thomas made the commitment of another building project entitled “Building Through Believing.” In addition to the school’s needs which involved 2 new classrooms, a music room, an art/science room, and a cafeteria, the plan included an enlarged narthex, new church and school office areas, a youth room, and an elevator for those with limited mobility.
Special events took place as the various committees began working on Phase I of the campaign. There was a children’s poster festival, a fellowship dinner, a audiovisual presentation produced by one of the members, and a lot of excitement.
Groundbreaking was in April 1998 and the dedication took place in November 1998.
Dr. Otto W. Toelke 1944-1950
Reverend Gerhard W. Luebke 1950-1957
Dr. Paul W. Streufert 1958-1973
Vicar Richard Hamlow 1964-1965
Vicar Kirby Koriath 1965-1966
Reverend Adrian Kelly 1966-1967
Reverend Richard C. Allsing 1968-1971
Reverend Phillip B. Giessler 1973-1982
Vicar Raymond Hagan 1978
Vicar David Mommens 1982-1983
Reverend Luther O. Dau 1980-1982
Reverend Raymond A. Mueller 1983-1994
Vicar Rodney Ketcher 1984-1985
Vicar Eric Van Scyoc 1985-1986
Reverend Michael J. Roth 1986-1990
Reverend Martin Homan 1990-1997
Reverend Michael Eckelkamp 1991-1994
Reverend Eric Van Scyoc 1994-present
Vicar Randy Emmons 1995-1996
Vicar Robert Steele 1996-1997