May 02, 2022 Print This Article

Starting With a Seed: Lehenbauer Legacy

What does sharing the Gospel have to do with planting soybeans in Brazil? Quite a bit, actually.

A Lutheran pastor named Albert Lehenbauer introduced soybeans to the German immigrant community of Santa Rosa in the 1920s. Over the ensuing decades, the Brazilian soybean industry grew into the largest in the world.

And from generation to generation, the Lehenbauer family has produced pastors, teachers and other church workers for service within The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS).

“Church work is our family business,” said Pam (Lehenbauer) Nummela, a retired teacher. “The legacy of church work is a huge part of our family definition.”

It all began with a Lutheran farmer named Johann Konrad Christian Lehenbauer, who emigrated from Oettingen, Germany, more than 150 years ago. According to family records, he was the first Lehenbauer to attend Concordia Seminary, where he often worked as the buggy driver for Dr. C.F.W. Walther, the founder and first president of the Seminary and the first president of the LCMS.

While Johann withdrew from his pastoral studies after contracting a fever, the family’s ministerial roots rapidly grew. Four of his five sons became pastors, and two of his four daughters married into pastors’ families.

“Perhaps inspired by their father’s unfulfilled dream of becoming an LCMS pastor, all four boys fulfilled that dream for him vicariously,” said Dr. Joel Lehenbauer, executive director of the LCMS Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) and the great-grandson of Walther’s buggy driver.

Over the years, the Lehenbauers have served in South America and throughout the United States. They have served as LCMS district presidents in Brazil, Kansas and New England.

Many of the family’s church workers can be traced to Conrad Lehenbauer, Johann’s son. By birth or marriage, four generations of his family have produced 24 pastors — more than half of whom attended Concordia Seminary.

The Lehenbauer family legacy extends beyond pastors; many others serve the Lord in various other vocations.

Chief among them were the late Arno and Virginia Lehenbauer, who established the Lehenbauer Scholarship

Endowment at Concordia Seminary in 1986. Their generosity and foresight continue to benefit the church. Nummela said various family members regularly add to the endowment as they are able and she invites others to do the same.

“We don’t have a lot of money,” she said, “but there are a lot of us.”

First-year deaconess student Alyssa Lehenbauer is the latest in the family to attend Concordia Seminary.

“It’s cool to be part of a family that is so involved in doing God’s work, whether it is in direct ministry or in vocational ministry,” she said. “For every one of us in direct church work, there is another who is actively serving God through his or her vocation.”

That faithfulness, passed on from generation to generation, is how the Lehenbauer family has blessed at least four of the 11 presidents to date of Concordia Seminary. Johann Konrad Christian Lehenbauer drove Walther’s buggy. Arno Lehenbauer served on the Board of Regents under the late President Dr. Karl L. Barth in the 1980s. Osmar Lehenbauer is the parish pastor who married and ordained President Emeritus Dr. Dale A. Meyer in Chicago Heights, Ill. Marlin Rempfer guided President Dr. Thomas J. Egger during his teenage years in Muscatine, Iowa.

“(Rempfer’s) faithful and sincere preaching, teaching and encouragement meant a great deal to me as a youth, and still today,” Egger said. “He encouraged me to consider serving as a pastor, and he involved me in small but meaningful ways in the life of the congregation.”

And through the Lehenbauer Scholarship Endowment, a family legacy that started with a seed will continue to bear fruit for generations to come. Said Seminary Senior Gift Officer Laura Thomas: “What has been most evident to me in my conversations with the Lehenbauers is that the Gospel is spread and the church is built through the generations and heritage of faithful service.”

Michael Stainbrook is a fourth-year Master of Divinity student at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis.