Family pays to move church to Norskedalen

The original Trinity Lutheran church. Photo courtesy of Dave Amundson.

How much would you pay for a family memorial? Yes, family sentiment is priceless, but how much would you pay for a memorial made of wood and memories? The Benrud family is paying $210,000.

By Geri Parlin, Lee Newspapers

That’s what it takes to pick up a tiny church and move it from Sparta to Coon Valley. It will be cut in half and put back together along the way. OK, that part only costs $130,000. But the family also had to raise $80,000 to give to Norskedalen for upkeep of the building. And it all will be worth it, said Curtis Benrud, who has been on the committee working to make this happen.

It took a long time, said Benrud, who has spent 19 years searching for a building to serve as a memorial to the Benrud family. The search is over and the mission will be accomplished about 4 a.m. Wednesday, when the historic 1886 Norwegian Evangelical Lutheran Church arrives in two pieces at Norskedalen just north east of Coon Valley.

The church, which was vacated by its original congregation in 1939 after a lightning strike demolished the steeple and bell tower, had been used as a house and was part of a property that the Morrow Home in Sparta needed cleared for a building project. Benrud said the family was excited when Morrow Home offered them the church for free. All they had to do was remove it.

Two-hundred and thirty thousand dollars later, it’s moving, but Benrud said he won’t relax until it is in place at Norskedalen. “I’ll probably take my first full, deep breath since July 20 (when they got they got permission for the move) on Wednesday morning, when it’s on its foundation.” But there’s a lot of anxiety between now and 4 a.m. Wednesday.

The roof was sliced off the church Monday morning so it could better navigate the curving, hilly highways to Norskedalen. After lots of conferring with a variety of utility companies, it will follow a path beginning at 11 p.m. today from Water Street south to Hwy. 16, to Hwy. 27 and to Hwy. P just north of Westby. Then it’s on to Hwy. PI to Norskedalen. The moving company may have to switch tractors and trailers near Hwy. PI because side clearance is limited.

“I haven’t decided yet if I want to hold the old church’s hand or if I want it to hold mine,” said Benrud, who will be there for every excruciating mile of the move. It seemed at times this would never happen, he said. There were other churches, other plans. “We’ve had six different options on the table, six different efforts,” Benrud said. “But there were either objections or we didn’t have enough money at the time.” But, finally, when Morrow offered the church and Norskedalen said yes, an end came into sight.

This church particularly is appropriate, Benrud said, because it is six blocks from the train station in Sparta. That’s where the Benrud family stepped off the train into their new lives as Americans, settling in the Cashton area. The work won’t end when the church is in place. Benruds will continue raising funds to get an altar, communion rail, and everything else the church needs. “That’s some free church,” Benrud said with a laugh. Even though it would have been cheaper to build a new church at Norskedalen, it wouldn’t be what the Benrud family wants.

“The spirit of the old Norwegians — you can’t get that in a new building. It’s an emotional tie to our past. I’m so glad Norskedalen said bring the old one.” Norskedalen Education Coordinator Christine Hall said they’re glad the Benruds persisted. “They’re doing the whole project. When it’s finished, they hand over the keys to us,” she said. “It will be nice.”

For further info visit: Norskedalen

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