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Trinity Seminary

from the Dana Review, Fall 1977   Volume 32, Number 1    Dana College, Blair, Nebraska

Trinity Seminary was a school without a name that first year of 1884-85 when Pastor A. M. Andersen, a Danish immigrant, held classes for four students in his Blair home, a simple white frame house.It was in the fall shortly before those classes started that the Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church Association (also known as the Blair Synod) was formed in Argo, Nebraska.  The nine pastors from 19 congregations who met there had earlier been affiliated with the Norwegian-Danish Conference.

Their split with the Conference had come about partly over its refusal to hire a Danish professor to teach at Augsburg Seminary, the Conference’s theological training school in Minneapolis, where Andersen had studied for two years, and partly over the pastors’ desire to establish a folk high school like those they had known in Denmark.Their desire for their own school led to the classes that began that fall.  Even though classes at first were limited to training men for the ministry, students from the beginning studied both theological and general academic subjects.

The next summer, pastors, laymen, and two of the first students met at Blair’s First Lutheran Church (where Andersen was pastor) to discuss a new building for the school. It was at this meeting that “Trinitatis Seminarium” was organized, with articles of incorporation adopted and signed.  Andersen was elected president.

The new building could not be completed before October 1886, however, so the seminary,  now with a dignified Latin name and five more students, was housed for one more year in Pastor Andersen’s modest home. (The house, extensively remodeled, still stands at 2104 Park Street.) Together the citizens of Blair and members of the synod raised $7,000 for the new structure, which was dedicated October 21, 1886.  Land was donated by three Blair residents.

Today that structure is the central part of Old Main. (At what point in its history did the building earn the name “Old Main?” And who first called it that?) Old Main in 1886 was an all-purpose building.  It had classrooms, offices, a library, kitchen, dining room, living quarters for President Andersen and his family, and dormitory space for 40 students.

What Old Main did not have was centralized heating, plumbing, and lighting.  Stoves heated the rooms, and students supplied their own fuel and oil for lamps.  A water pump was behind the building; the privies were to the south. Mrs. Andersen at first cooked for the students (there were 12 in the first student body that lived in Old Main), but soon a boarding club was formed, with students eating in the homes of local church members.

That year an academy, or high school, was also organized; it shared the facilities with Trinity Seminary. One of the first 12 students was C. X. Hansen, who later taught at Trinity and Dana from 1894 to 1941. He also served as Dana’s president during three intervals.

In 1889 Andersen accepted a call to another Nebraska congregation; he returned to Trinity as professor of theology for two years in the 1890’s.  In 1938 the only honorary doctorate Trinity Seminary ever awarded was bestowed on its founder.  Andersen was 91; he died three years later.

Trinity continued to grow and change.  In the early 1890’s a summer course for women was offered.  Then in 1896 the synod merged with several other Danish groups to become the United Danish Evangelical Lutheran Church.  Trinity remained the theological training school for the larger body.

As a result of the merger, an important change took place on the Blair campus.  Elk Horn College, a Danish folk high school founded in 1878 in Elk Horn, Iowa, by one of the merging groups, was moved to Blair. With the move, the Blair campus became co-educational, and the school offered academy, college, teacher education, and business courses.

The 1903 synodical convention report declared that “The name of the school of the synod shall be Dana College and Trinity Seminary.” (The report, of course, was in Danish.) Trinity Seminary and Dana College shared the campus for more than 50 years.  Many of Dana’s men graduates became Trinity students, and many of Dana’s women students married Trinity students.  Trinity professors taught religion classes at Dana, and they and their seminary students spoke in chapel.  Seminarians participated in campus life and activities.  At times both schools shared a president; at other times each had its own.

Then in the 1950’s the long-discussed merger of the United Evangelical Lutheran Church with other Lutheran synods approached realization, and the 1956 UELC convention voted to merge Trinity with Wartburg Seminary, a school of the American Lutheran Church in Dubuque, Iowa. (The ALC was founded by German immigrants.)
Life on the Blair campus would never again be the same. The Trinity faculty and some of the students moved to Dubuque.  For the next four years Wartburg and Trinity students attended the same classes taught by the same professors, but they registered and received their degrees as either Trinity or Wartburg students.
In 1960 the merger of the UELC, ALC, and Evangelical Lutheran Church (which had Norwegian roots) became official.  All three synods became The American Lutheran Church, and Trinity Seminary merged with Wartburg Seminary. A final note: The Lutheran Free Church joined the new synod several years later.  It was a Norwegian body, and its theological training school was Augsburg Seminary, where a few Danish pastors 80 years earlier had been unsuccessful in their attempts to have a Danish professor added to its faculty.

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