By SHELLY WILKISON
The recent flurry of activity on a nine-acre tract of land that for generations has been home to cattle, has Richard Steyer beaming with pride.
For years, it has been the dream of the 92-year-old Liberty Hill rancher to have a church on his land — specifically a church that shared his faith and the faith of his forefathers.
On Sunday, about 100 members of the Mission Liberty Hill Lutheran Church and neighboring congregations gathered on the peaceful pastureland and dedicated the property for the service of God. Churchgoers erected a cross at the entrance to the property on CR 213 and built a marker beneath a shady grove of oak trees describing the gift.
“I first offered to donate the land years ago,” said Steyer. “I was baptized into the Lutheran church and my father was a Lutheran pastor. I didn’t want anything but a church here.”
Steyer still lives in a house at the front of the property that he built in 1965. When construction on the church begins, he thinks he will be able to see the activity from his back porch.
Steyer’s inlaws, Herman and Alma Haedge, acquired the land in 1942 from the Womack family. He said they came to Liberty Hill from Copperas Cove and were among the many landholders there that had to move when the government built the massive military base Fort Hood.
“Land was hard to come by and it was hard for them (the Haedges) to find a place,” Steyer recalls, adding that his wife’s family owned about 800 acres in the Copperas Cove area at the time they had to leave.
The Haedges bought 325 acres on both sides of State Highway 29 where they raised cattle, chickens and other livestock, farmed and sold their produce and dairy products to passersby and at Piggly Wiggly grocery store in Georgetown.
As the Haedges grew older, their children took turns coming to Liberty Hill to help run the farm, and eventually their daughter, Arlee, and her husband, Steyer, volunteered to leave their home in Irving and move to Liberty Hill to help look after them. Haedge deeded one acre to Steyer where they built a home in 1965 that still stands near the intersection of Seward Junction.
Steyer met Arleee Haedge in the Dallas area where they attended the same Lutheran church. They had one daughter, Rachel Austin, who still resides in Liberty Hill.
Mrs. Austin said her father was born in Lexington where his father, the Rev. Edward Steyer, was pastoring a church. He had multiple siblings who all graduated from Cisco High School after his father was called to preach there.
In the 1980s following the passing of Mr. and Mrs. Haedge, the land on the south side of SH 29 was inherited by Mrs. Steyer’s siblings who later sold the property. Mrs. Steyer inherited 125 acres on the north side of the highway.
Steyer said his inlaws and his own parents would be pleased to know the family land will someday be home to a church.
He said he enjoyed growing up in the church and has fond memories of sermons preached by his father. He said most of the services were preached in German.
“Most (in the congregation) were local people and farmers and they wanted the service in German,” Steyer said. “There was a heavy German population at that time. About the time Hitler came in, the members in Cisco said no more German. Dad said he wouldn’t quit. Then it (the war) got bad and he went to English.”
After high school, Steyer served in the military. He was an aircraft mechanic and crew chief in the Army Air Corp from 1942-1948. After leaving the military, he went to work in Dallas as a machinist for Temco Aircraft Corp. When he moved his family to Liberty Hill, he went to work for the University of Texas Applied Research Lab where he also worked as a machinist until he retired at age 65 in 1987. After retirement, he and his wife took care of the cattle on the ranch and raised chickens.
Mrs. Steyer passed away in 2006 at the age of 84.
“The congregation is so appreciative of the gift to us, and we are looking forward to relocating and being on this land,” said Mission Liberty Hill Pastor Paul Frerichs. “Everyone is excited and we’re starting to get questions about what the building will look like.”
Pastor Frerichs said a church building committee is working on ideas for the facilities and a site plan is being developed to identify the best location for the buildings on the 9.16-acre tract.
Some facilities being discussed include a worship center that could be used for multiple purposes. The committee is also considering an education facility and a kitchen.
“We will be working to grow our building fund, and want to be careful not to take on too much debt,” he said.
“We feel strongly lead that God wants us on this land. He has opened doors that needed to be opened, and we trust God with this project,” said Pastor Frerichs. “All will happen when God wants it to. We know it will be successful, and this is an exercise in faith.”
As the church plans for its future, the property will be an extension of its building on SH 29. The Pastor said it will be used for outdoor activities, and will be a fun part of Vacation Bible School this summer.
“We want members to spend time here and be invested in this place,” he said.
Mission Liberty Hill Lutheran Church was sponsored by Zion Lutheran Church of Walburg in 2010. It received its charter in 2013. The church has been meeting in a warehouse at 15725 W. State Highway 29 since it formed.
“We’ve seen slow, steady growth,” said Pastor Frerichs, who was called to Liberty Hill in 2012 from a church in Portland, Oregon. He said Sunday services average about 90 in attendance, and “every ounce of space is used.”
“We will be asking ourselves how the (new) building can be used to invite people in to meet Jesus and how it can be used to send off the congregation to invite people to meet Jesus,” the Pastor said. “If we aren’t engaged with the community, then there is no opportunity to bring people to Christ.”
About 100 parishioners attended the land dedication service Sunday — the most people Steyer recalls being on the property at one time. Friends and supporters from neighboring Lutheran churches also attended, and read scriptures and sang hymns that Steyer had selected.
Of those Steyer chose was “Silent Night”. The first verse was sung in German in honor of his father.