Bethesda 75th Anniversary Service
1904 - 1979
Watertown Daily Times, 04 02 1979
Words such as love, compassion, concern and faith, were echoed many times at Bethesda Lutheran Home Sunday afternoon
Sunday officially marked the beginning of the 75th anniversary celebration of that home for the mentally retarded and those words were often used by the main participants in the special service in the new multi-purpose room of the home. Hundreds of friends of Bethesda were crowded into the room to hear the service.
Dr. Oswald Hoffmann, the well-known International Lutheran Hour speaker, delivered the sermon at the impressive service.
Dr. Hoffmann said, "I don't know of another enterprise which has prospered like this one. But let us not forget, these wonderful things haven't been done by man, this is just God doing his thing."
He said "many people come to God asking Him to heal a physical affliction they have, but He doesn't work that way. God heals from the inside out, and this enterprise (Bethesda) stands as a testimony to that."
Dr. Hoffmann also praised the community of Watertown for the support its residents have given to Bethesda over the years. He said this is not always the case, but said he had nothing but praise for the people of Watertown.
Dr. Leslie F. Weber, executive secretary of the Board of Social Ministry and World Relief, Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, was liturgist for the service and also spoke briefly at a luncheon which preceded the service.
Dr. Weber said, "Since Bethesda's inception in 1904 it has been an overriding concern and love for their fellowman which had made these Christian people help the mentally retarded. You have brought compassion to the people who really need it."
He also recalled the many improvements in care for the mentally retarded. He said, "By the grace of God there has been movement. We are training residents to get back into their community. That's our goal today and progress is being made."
Alexander Napolitano, executive director of Bethesda, thanked all those who attended the service, and added, "On behalf of the board of directors, staff and residents, we are looking forward to the future as we continue to serve in new and better ways."
Other service participants were Emil Gust, Bethesda resident; and Rev. Frederick A. Stiemke, Bethesda chaplain, lectors; Floyd Broker, Bethesda music coordinator, choirmaster; Mrs. Evelyn Raabe, organist at Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, organist; David Rogner, Bethesda resident, crucifier; Hope Lutheran Church, Fond du Lac, handbell choir; Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, Watertown, choir, and Bethesda handbell choir and small choir.
A reception was held following the service, and tours were also offered for the hundreds who attended.
Bethesda officially opened its doors to the mentally retarded on April 13, 1904, at the Old Faith House which is located on Margaret Street in Watertown. Bethesda lost its lease in 1906 and then moved to Milwaukee. Three years later Bethesda returned to Watertown and constructed a building on a 40 acre parcel of land which is part of the present property.
Today Bethesda serves 600 residents on a 475 acre site. The physical facilities have been completely remodeled or reconstructed.
Serving 36 states, Bethesda has group homes in Maryville, Mo., Saginaw, Mich., as well as three in Watertown and sites in Cleveland, Ohio, Girrard, Ill., Lowell, Ind., and Merritt island, Fla.
Sunday's service was the first of six events which will celebrate the 75th anniversary of Bethesda.
The others include: May 6, volunteer tea; May 20, open house for residents of Jefferson and Dodge counties, in conjunction with St. Coletta's School, Jefferson, which is also celebrating its 75th anniversary this year; May 31, visitation day for workers in Bethesda's thrift shop stores in St. Paul, Minn., Saginaw, Mich., Eau Claire, Wausau, Green Bay and Sheboygan; June 21, Milwaukee auxiliary picnic; and Oct. 4, National Celebration, featuring personalities from the political and entertainment world.