Our History

We've been located on this corner of Milwaukee since 1971. Our history is the story of God's leading. Looking at Risen Savior's history it is evident that the church did not progress as people first thought it would. Rather the church progressed as God willed and blessed. It is only by God's abundant grace that this little brick church on 96th and W. Brown Deer Road not only grew but also flourished in its unique mission field.

The conclusion remains the same after all these years. "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord. …but [my word] will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it." (Isaiah 55:8,11) Thank God that despite the ups and down of our congregation's history, God's Word continues to achieve his purpose in our neighborhood of Milwaukee.

Below is a year-by-year chronology that highlights the blessings that Christ has richly showered on our congregation from its earliest beginnings and the privilege we have to carry the gospel to our community into the future. Our purpose has not changed. We still exist to serve the community, and ourselves, with God's Word and Sacraments.

Generous Beginnings

1969 Early in the year Mr. Allen Retzlaff of Skyline Realty was ready to donate a block of land on the corner of 96th St. and West Brown Deer Rd. to the Wisconsin Ev. Lutheran Synod. The land was given with the intention of building a church to serve the growing community surrounding the land. This area with its large number of apartments was becoming the most densely populated area in Wisconsin. Because of a lack of funds, the WELS Home Mission Board could not accept the offer. They in turn asked Salem Ev. Lutheran congregation if they would be interested in starting a daughter congregation at the Brown Deer Road site. The idea was appealing to Salem congregation. Many thought that the daughter congregation would solve Salem's own crowding problem in their small sanctuary. A "Daughter Congregation Committee" gave a favorable report toward starting a daughter church. Concerns about finances were somewhat relieved by a loan of $50,000 towards the project by a fellow WELS member, Mr. Riek.On October 30, 1969, Salem Congregation voted to begin a daughter congregation.
1970 Approximately two and a half acres of land was officially donated.
1971 In spring the construction began on the church and a parsonage was purchased on 98th St. The church building seats about 150 people and contains a fellowship hall which can be used for meetings, Sunday school and preschool. There is also a mother's room, pastor's office and a small kitchen. Salem paid for the construction of the church, furnishings and parsonage as a loan to their daughter church.

When the construction of the church was finished, members of Salem (two families) who wished to transfer to the daughter and some people from the community began to worship in the new facility. Because the new group was small, loan were difficult to obtain. But God provided blessings when Atonement Lutheran Church became a guarantor for the loan.

Professor John Jeske of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary filled the preaching duties and Pastor W. Nommensen of Salem took the rest of the workload for the fledgling congregation.

Formation and Rapid Growth


In March Pastor Thomas Spiegelberg was installed as the first resident pastor. At this time there were 67 baptized souls, 29 communicant members, 10 voters and 15 in Sunday school.

On September 17, 1973, Risen Savior Congregation was organized.

There were 111 baptized souls, 55 communicants, 19 voters, 45 in Sunday school, eight in confirmation class and one in adult class at the time of organization. The first church council of four members consisted of Mr. Herbert Sager, Mr. Chris Dorio, Mr. Tim Schneider and Mr. Robert Morse.

1976 On August 23rd Atonement, Salem and Risen Savior approved the sale of the parsonage on 98th St. to Pastor Spiegelberg. Relief from that mortgage allowed Risen Savior to become self-supporting. There would no longer be monthly payments from Salem. Risen Savior became a sister church instead of a daughter to Salem.
1977 Pastor Spiegelberg received and accepted a call to serve a congregation in Alaska. Pastor Fred P. Zimmerman of Vancouver, WA was called to serve Risen Savior. He accepted the call and was installed on September 18th, 1977. By this time the congregation had grown to 272 souls with 134 communicants.
1978 Risen Savior agrees to a proposal from Salem that Salem's Lutheran elementary school become a joint school of the two congregations. Support of the school would be based on the percentage of students enrolled from each congregation until such financial support from Risen Savior would equal the salary of a teacher. At that time Risen Savior would call a teacher for the joint school.
1979 From the time the Zimmerman family moved to Milwaukee. They lived in a rented apartment. The congregation decided to sell a portion of its property to the east of the present land for $52,000 and to build a parsonage with the proceeds. The present parsonage was built and the Zimmerman family happily moved in.

The congregation refinanced its mortgage to the amount of $125,000 for twenty years.
Determined to Survive and Plant the Word
1977-1982 These were trying years. Membership declined and financial problems developed as a result. The community surrounding the church began to change from middle income residents to lower income housing. Poor management brought new difficulties. The average length of residence for people in the area dropped to about three years. There was rapid change in church membership as well. The mission of the church changed to equipping people with the Word for only a short time. People came and went with the prayer that, as they moved, other congregations would water and nurture what had been planted at Risen Savior.
New Beginnings and Growth
1982 In October Luther Haven, a retirement residence, opened its doors only a short distance away. This event was of importance to Risen Savior because some residents of Luther Haven transferred their memberships from their home churches to Risen Savior. This resulted in stabilization of membership and finances for Risen Savior. God's grace was truly evident.

Pastor Fred Zimmerman received and accepted a call from St. Bartholomew Ev. Lutheran Church in Kawkawlin, MI. Mr. A. J. Kunde, a Seminary student and member of Risen Savior, under the supervision of Pastor Nommensen who served as vacancy pastor.


Pastor George Ferch accepted our call and was installed as pastor of Risen Savior on January 3rd.

An emphasis on stewardship, which had begun under Pastor Zimmerman, was continued. Tangible results showed that Risen Savior's number of souls in 1979 of 182 had increased to 248 in 1983.

There were now two services per Sunday and Wednesdays during Lent. A communion Sunday was added and communion was held in both services twice a month.


Risen Savior had 35 children attending Salem Lutheran School. Risen Savior now called a Minister of Education to teach at Salem School and to be in charge of all educational programs for children at Risen Savior. Mr. Daniel Whitney, from Rapid City, SD, accepted our call and was installed on July 29th. He taught the middle grades at Salem.

A storage shed was built and a chain link fence was installed on the north and east sides of the property for security reasons.

It was approved that Seminary students may be used to make evangelism calls in the area with an emphasis on personal witnessing.

1985 The church was renting a house owned by Mr. Chris Dorio for use as a teacherage. On December 22nd the voters decided to purchase a home for the sum of $52,900. It is located at 8371 N. Ann St. in Milwaukee.


A new AOB organ was purchased and paid for at the cost of $16,565. This organ replaced the two previous used organs, which served well, if not for a long period of time.

On July 7th Mr. Whitney presented a proposal to start a preschool at Risen Savior to serve the young children of the church and of the nearby area. It would be self-supporting with a start-up cost of $1000. Mrs. Nannette Ferch accepted the call of the congregation to be the first preschool teacher.

1987 At its April 13th meeting the voters resolved to carry out a number of needed improvements to the property. These were implemented over several years.
1988 The improvements in this year included new pulpit, lectern, padded pews and carpeting. Mr. Whitney, our teacher, built the cross that hangs on the wall in back of the altar.
1989 The parking lot was paved.


A computer and printer, along with fresh exterior paint and new storm windows on the church building, were the major projects of this year.

From 1987 to 1990, new lighting in the nave and a new ceiling in the basement were also achieved.

1993 Fencing was installed on the church property along Brown Deer Road and 96th St.
Celebration and Rededication


On August 22, 1993, Risen Savior celebrated its 20th anniversary.

Professor Jeske of the Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary was the guest speaker. He was the first regular preacher in the beginning days of the congregation. The celebration fittingly was called 20 Years of God's Grace. The members had decided to have a thanksgiving offering which would be extended over three years. The hope was that the offering would be large enough to pay for the mortgages on the church and the teacherage. At the picnic dinner, following the celebration service, we were privileged to burn the mortgage on the church building. Over $60,000 had been gathered by this time.

1995 Mrs. Jean Sievert accepted Risen Savior's call to serve as preschool teacher.
1996 The nave and sanctuary were recarpeted. The altar and lectern were moved back and the communion rail, which was on the top step of the sanctuary, was replaced with a new rail on the bottom step. The communicants could now stand instead of kneel as before.
1996-1997 New furnace with air conditioning installed.


Pastor Ferch received a call from Bethlehem Ev. Lutheran Church in Carmel, Indiana. In July, he accepted the call of that mission congregation and he and his family moved in August.

Risen Savior then called Pastor Kenneth J. Fisher to serve as its vacancy pastor. Pastor Fisher was serving the WELS World Mission Board under a one-year call to develop the World Mission Collection.

1998 In January our congregation called Pastor Fisher to serve as our permanent pastor.  He accepted the call but continued to serve as vacancy pastor until his one-year call with the World Mission Board was completed.  Pastor Fisher was installed as Risen Savior’s fourth resident pastor on April 26th, 1998.
On June 28th Risen Savior celebrated its 25th anniversary with the “Appreciation-for-Ministry Sunday.” This was the first of two special anniversary worship services.  Professor Emeritus John C. Jeske was the guest pastor as we thanked God for the blessings of 25 years of public ministry.
On September 13th  Risen Savior officially celebrated its 25th anniversary with a special “Anniversary Sunday.”  Pastor Thomas Spiegelberg, the first resident pastor of Risen Savior, traveled from Colorado to preach the sermon.  A choir from the Seminary Chorus proclaimed the Word in song.  A picnic followed.
The generous offerings of thanksgiving from the members of Risen Savior on the occasion of its 25th anniversary have permitted the installation of two outdoor signs to welcome the community to hear and learn God’s Word. The gifts have also permitted the installation of a 21-note set of chimes on the church organ
Risen Savior begins to conduct Advent and Lenten services at Luther Haven.


Major property improvements include new siding, furnace, flooring, and patio at teacherage; new windows, roof vinyl flooring in parsonage.

Risen Savior received $12,700 grant to begin an outreach program directed at at-risk children in the neighborhood.


Risen Savior begins Youth Haven - an after-school program for children in the neighborhood. It is held once a week and offers a safe place for latchkey children.

Mission statement: "Risen Savior Evangelical Lutheran Church, uniting hearts and hands through Word and sacrament, exists to nurture believers and reach out with the gospel, all to the glory of God" and 10-year vision unanimously adopted by the voters after cottage meetings.

Planning Committee works on long-range plan for the development of improved facilities.

Food pantry begins at Risen Savior Lutheran Church.


Youth Haven (after-school program) expands to three days a week.

Parish nurse program begins.2002


Neighborhood Bible distribution program gives away 250 Bibles in immediate community.

11 children from Youth Haven program are baptised in one service.

Risen Savior conducts "Building Faith and our Future" Appeal for Building Fund.

Mr. Peter Reese is installed as Youth and Family Minister and School Developer at Risen Savior.

Camp Trees for inner city kids initiated and sponsored by Risen Savior at Pine Ridge Campground in Waldo, WI.

Pregnancy Counseling Center starts at Risen Savior.

Congregation votes to begin a Milwaukee Parental Choice School in September 2003.


On March 27, 2003 at a special voters’ meeting the voters unanimously decide to move forward with the $1.35 million building expansion project o which includes improved handicapped accessibility (bathrooms, covered drop off, etc), 4 classrooms, a media center, and Christian life center (gym).

At a special joint service on June 8, 2003, ground is broken for the new building project. Anderson-Ashton is the general contractor for the project. On this Sunday, special speakers include Scott Walker (County Executive), Curtis Gielow (State Representative), Barbara Horton (Milwaukee Public School Board representative) and Rev. James Kleist (Wisconsin Lutheran High School). The congregation all joints together to pull a rope attached to an antique plow as the soil once used for farming is now turned for planting a different kinds of seed (God’s Word).

Risen Savior receives a $30,000 grant from the Milwaukee Foundation for the development of the Milwaukee Urban Inclusion Collaborative.

On July 21-25, 2003, the entire staff participates at Camp TREES--a week-long camping experience for 70 urban children (about half of whom are unchurched from our own neighborhood). Staff also mentors about 30 high school counselors who participate in program.

On September 2, 2003 Risen Savior Lutheran School opens with rented space (4 classrooms) at Redemption Lutheran Church with an enrollment of 51 children. The new teaching staff (Preschool, K5, 1st, 2nd, 3rd Grade teachers and principal) are installed on September 7, 2003.

A redesigned Preschool program (ages 3-4) opened on September 29 with 12 children which now is full day and accepts private pay and W-2 payments. On October 22, 2003, the voters unanimously approve adding fourth grade in 2004-2005 school year with additional teaching staff.

Children of school participate in a Christmas program with 158 in attendance on December 21, 2003.   


The calling of teachers for the new school begins.  The first two called accept -- Mrs. Beverly Wright and Mrs. Carmen Rupprecht.

May 1, 2004 Risen Savior dedicated its new facility with almost 400 people in attendance. An article entitled “School Knits Church Into Community” appears in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on May 3, 2004.
Last day of classes for the first year of the school concludes on May 28, 2004.

After extensive brain-storming in June, Risen Savior adopts a new organizational structure and elects a Board for Parish Ministry and a Board for School Ministry.

Camp TREES (a week-long camp for urban kids) hosted and staffed by Risen Savior from June 11-16, 2004. Also during the summer, members redevelop the church basement into office space and two new classrooms for the growing enrollment of the school with dual access to the restroom.

Risen Savior hosts its second annual School Supply Give-Away and Recruitment Fair from August 7-8, 2004. The entire neighborhood is canvassed. Hundreds visit and tour the facilities.

On September 1, 2004, Risen Savior Lutheran School opens its second year with a staff of six classroom teachers, one teacher’s assistant, a specialist for inclusive services and the principal. Ninety students are enrolled in K-4 to 4th grade in multi-age classrooms. Christian Education Sunday held in the Christian Life Center with an attendance of 179 on September 12.

Dr. E. Allen Sorum of Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary conducts personal outreach training for congregational members to make visits on school families in their homes. Over 20 people attend on September 30, 2004. Also, Mr. John Stroh begins an internship providing professional counseling services for Risen Savior. Mrs. Melissa Wolfgram is hired full-time as the Care Coordinator to expand Risen Savior’s ministry by identifying needs (emotional, spiritual, physical and social) in the congregation and community and developing and coordinating services to meet these needs.

In October 2004, a new mid-week Service initiated at Risen Savior on Wednesday nights.

On October 7, 2004, the first in-home visits are made by the lay members to school parents. Weeks later 4 children are baptized as a first direct result. Later in October, Sixteen people attend the first multi-lesson Bible Information Class intended for school parents which will be held over 4 weekends.

In November 2004 Hispanic Outreach begins under the direction of a seminary student hired to research Spanish-language needs.

On December 12,2004, fourteen children are baptized and six adults confirmed in a single service.


In January 2005, a new teen girls group is launched for neighborhood youth.

On January 24, 2005, ESL (English as a Second-Language) classes begin with 26 adult students as paid registrants.

In March 2005, German Novelli arrives at Risen Savior as a full-time pastor to the Hispanic. The first Spanish-language service was held on Good Friday with 48 people attending (39 Hispanics). Regular Sunday Service began on Easter Sunday, March 27 at 2 PM.

On August 21, 2005, four Hispanics are confirmed in Spanish at Risen Savior.

October 16, 2005, ground is broken for expanded sanctuary, 4 more offices, and 8 more classrooms.


In January 2006, the Todd Wehr Foundation announces the award a grant of $500,000 which will be awarded over several years for the new building project.

Mr. Craig Mayfield with extensive background in community education is hired as the new Care Coordinator (Melissa Wolfgram resigns to be a full-time mother as her child is born) and Mr. Aaron Biebert begins as the new Development Director at Risen Savior.

On October 8, 2006 in a special service 30 children and young people are baptized in a single service.

Average weekly worship attendance for 2006 tops 200 per Sunday for the first time in Risen Savior's  history.


On January 21, 2007, the newly-expanded sanctuary, which can seat 250 worshippers, was dedicated.  It featured dramatically upgraded acoustics, new technology, new seating, new stained-glass windows and three cameras for digital recording of services. A special dedication booklet detailed the project.

Average weekly attendance for 2007 grows to 225 per Sunday.

2008 Dr. Clarence Jenkins accepts our call to serve as Development Director.

 The first Urban Explorer’s Camp was July 14-19 at Camp Phillip in Wautoma, WI with 30 kids attending.
Risen Savior’s voters in August authorized the start of the Granville Neighborhood Health Center at a special voters’ meeting.  It was established with its own board.
Our school opened with over 200 students for the first time, and with our first 8th grade class.
Mr. Ben Clemons, our school’s first principal, and his wife Karyn (our 5th grade teacher), left to spend a year teaching ESL classes in China as a mission outreach.  For the 2008/2009 school year, Dr. Clarence Jenkins served as principal and Mr. Craig Mayfield served as vice-principal.
On September 21, 2008, a special 35th Anniversary Sunday is held under the theme Different Histories – One Future.  There was a special meal and joint bi-lingual service at 11 AM.
The Children’s Christmas Service was held for the first time on a Wednesday (December 17 at both 1:30 PM and 6:30 PM) with record attendance of 616 from both the children and guests.
2009 On July 1, 2009 Mr. Robert Dusseau began serving as our school’s new principal, having previously served in this capacity at St. John Lutheran School in Burlington, Wisconsin.
2010 In the spring a call was placed with our synod’s Assignment Committee for a Seminary graduate to serve as our Pastor for Youth Ministry, with a one-year renewable call, resulting from a grant obtained for this purpose.  On May 20th candidate Silas Schmitzer was assigned to serve here in that capacity; he was installed on July 25th.
In November the new 3-year fund-raising appeal “Grace in Action” got underway.  This was to address the priorities of our 5-year vision, adopted in May of 2010, for ministry expansion, especially among neighborhood youth.  The main item is purchasing the property at 9505 W. Brown Deer Road (across the street) to house our food pantry, a clothing closet, a teen center, and pending further funding, also our health center and a combination Community Room and full-size gymnasium.  Roughly $280,000 was pledged, with a significant portion donated up front.
In December the 9505 W. Brown Deer Road property was purchased for $258,000. 
On January 18, 2009, the commitment period for the “Growing to Share the Savior” appeal for ministry expansion ended.  Eighty-three members/families made three-year pledges and immediate gifts totaling $256,671.
2011 In January, Pastor Fisher left to serve under the new call he had accepted, Development Director at Wisconsin Lutheran High School.  In the over 12 years that he served here, the Lord blessed Risen Savior with much growth, new life, a new school, a greatly increased staff of called and hired personnel, new and remodeled buildings, and a variety of new services geared toward community outreach.

Early in the year it became obvious that there would not be sufficient funds available to extend Pastor Schmitzer’s one-year call into a longer-term position.  He was re-committed to our synod’s Assignment Committee, and in May received his permanent call to serve as pastor of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Marquette, Michigan.

While awaiting a new Senior Pastor, Prof. Forrest Bivens from Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary in Mequon served as our Vacancy Pastor from March through August.  In September retired Pastor William Kirchner began serving in a similar capacity.  Risen Savior continues to grow and thrive under the care of our Chief Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.