REV. E. J. HOMME, owner and
manager of the Orphans', Home and Home for homeless old people at Wittenberg,
Shawano county, Wis., was born at Thelemarken, Norway, October l7, 1843,
a son of John and Carrie (Lund) Homme.
John Homme, father of our subject, also a Norwegian by birth,
born in 1817, was a cabinet maker in his native land, a business he made
a success of, and was married in Norway to Miss Carrie Lund, by whom he
had eight children, as follows: Evan J.,. subject of sketch; Ole, now a
resident of Houston county, Minn.; Osmond, a wagon maker and carpenter
in Wittenberg, Wis. (he is married and has five children); Miss Helga,
who has charge of the boy's department in the Orphans' Home, Wittenberg,
in the capacity of assistant matron; Birgitte, married and living in Clay
county, Minn.; Annie, who married Oscar Frohling, and died leaving a family
of children, three of whom are inmates of the Orphans' Home at Wittenberg;
Andrew, an engineer with residence at Grand Forks, N. Dak.; and Frederick,
foreman of Kemnitz Manufacturing Company, at Green Bay, Wis. In 1854 the
parents came to America, locating in Dane county, Wis., where for two years
the father worked at his trade, or until 1856, in that year moving to Houston
county, Minn.. settling on a piece of land, and there combined farming
with cabinet making during the rest of his busy life, dying in 1885 at
the age of sixty-seven years; his widow is now passing her declining years
with her son, Ole, in Houston county, Minnesota.
Rev. E. J. Homme, the subject proper of these lines, after attending
elementary schools, at the age of nineteen entered college, taking a two-years'
course, and then proceeded to St. Louis, Mo., where, at Concordia Seminary,
he commenced the study of theology, at the end of three years being or-dained
a minister of the Norwegian Lutheran Church of America. He then, in 1867,
took up his abode in Winchester, Winnebago Co., Wis., and was pastor of
the Lutheran Church there some fourteen years, thence in 1880 coming to
what is now Wittenberg, of which village he may be said to be the founder,
there not being a human being in the place when he came to it. He walked
all the way from Tigerton (a distance of nine miles), which at that time
was the terminus of the Lake Shore & Western railroad.
From a pamphlet, published in 1894, at Wittenberg in the interest
of the Orphans' Home at that village, is gleaned the following: The village
of Wittenberg was founded February 13, 1880, by Rev. E. J. Homme, which
event happened in the following way: The Norwegian Synod, to which Rev.
Homme belonged at that time, had for several years discussed the great
need of a home for orphan children and homeless old people, as no such
institution existed among the Norwegian Lutherans of America. Rev. Homme
declared his willingness to take the lead in this move toward the establishment
of such a home, on the condition that he be at liberty to select the place
for it. To this the Synod agreed, but declared that he should consider
this as a private enterprise, and not undertake the erection of buildings
with the idea that the Synod should be obliged to pay for them. On
the other hand, the Synod promised to lend their support to every honest
means he might make use of in furthering the cause. On the 27th of January,
l880, a number of German Lutheran clergymen resolved to form an association
for the purpose of establishing a high school (an academy or progymnasium)
for the congregations in this section of the State. Rev. Homme was a member
of this association. The German brethren resolved to locate their high
school in the same place where Rev. Homme thought of building his Orphans'
Home. At the same meeting it was decided to select a location between Clintonville
and Wausau on the Milwaukee, Lake Shore & Western railway, which was
then being built through the western portion of Shawano county. A committee
was elected to inspect and choose a site, said committee consisting of
Jonas Swenholt of Scandinavia, Wis., John Uvas, of Winchester Wis., Aug.
Kraenke, of Reedfield, Wis., and Rev. Homme (at that time stationed at
Winchester, Wis.). The committee accomplished its mission the 9th
and l0th of February of the same year (1880), and chose this region for
the founding of a Wittenberg.
Rev. Homme immediately wrote a petition to the I railroad company,
that the station which was then in contemplation of establishment might
be named Wittenberg, to which the railroad company responded favorably.
The railroad had at that time not reached that far, and the whole region
about was a dark and lonely wilderness, devoid of the habitation of man.
The first sign of civilization in Wittenberg was a log cabin made by the
railroad company for some of its laborers; the first frame building in
the town was a store, built in the spring of 1880 by Jonas Swenholt, of
Scandinavia, Wis. The following year Rev. Homme built his residence
there, and moved thither with his family November 4, l881.
By August 26, 1882, the Orphans’ Home was completed, and on that day was
opened with an enrollment of four children and one aged man. During
the next summer, 1883, Rev. Homme built a second building (school house)
for the use of the orphans, and on October 31 the whole institution was
solemnly dedicated, Rev. A. Mikkelson, of Chicago, officiating. This institution
was located in the southern part of the village, on Blocks 30 and 31. The
same fall of 1883 the German Lutheran clergymen had their high-school building
completed, and school began on the 1st of September. After a course of
six months, however, the building was utterly consumed by fire, and school
was again resumed in Rev. Homme's Orphans’ Home. In the summer of 1884
the building was rebuilt by Rev. Homme, but the school was not continued
any longer. The next year the school was converted into the present German
In 1882, on motion of Rev. Homme, a committee was appointed by
the Norwegian Synod to investigate what could be done in regard to the
founding of an Indian mission in that vicinity. As the Synod did not take
any steps to realize the Indian mission, this committee went to work independently
to establish an Indian mission. It selected a place three and one-half
miles west of the village of Wittenberg, where in the fall of 1884
a small school was established, and engaged a teacher for some Indian children.
In 1885 the committee resolved to move the Indian Mission School
nearer to the village. A large building, the erection of which was
superintended by Rev. Homme, was completed, and dedicated by Rev.
T. Larson, of Harmony, Minn., was chosen by the committee as principal
of this Indian mission. Rev. Homme made an application to the National
Government for pecuniary aid for the Indian Mission School, which was complied
with. In 1887 the Norwegian Synod obtained full possession of the
Indian mission, and has continued it till the present date.
Through the exertions of Rev. Ellestad and Rev. Homme a Normal
school was established here in 1887 in connection with the Orphans’ Home.
The school was continued for three years until the establishment of the
United Lutheran Church, in 1890. In 1885 Rev. Homme built and equipped
a printing office in connection with the Orphans’ Home. From
this institution “For Gammel og Ung” has been issued every week, and has
reached its 14th volume. Out of this institution are also sent forth
two weekly Sunday-school papers (Sondagsskole Bladet and Sunday School
Helper) respectively, the first Norwegian and English Sunday-school papers
issued among the Norwegians in America. The Orphans’ Home has been
in existence for thirteen years, and during this time two hundred children
and aged persons have at different times had their homes here. At present
writing there are seventy-five children and nine aged people at the Home.
On June 11, 1882, a Norwegian Lutheran congregation was formed, which now
numbers forty families, exclusive of the inmates of the Orphans' Home.
The trustees of the congregation are Peter Olson, Ole Johnson and Andreas
Grimstad. The minister serving this congregation and the Orphans' Home
is Rev. E. J. Homme; H. Madson is deacon of the congregation. The corner
stone for this new Orphans' Home was laid September 23, 1894, by Rev. G.
Hoyme, of Eau Claire, Wisconsin. -- So much for what we glean from the
In truth it reads more like a fairy tale than a bare statement
of facts, and a view of the grounds, whereon stand the Home and collateral
industries, reminds one more of the work of an enchanter than of a single-handed
mortal. Mr. Homme came to Wittenberg a poor man, yet fearlessly and hopefully
built and equipped a school which furnished a retreat for some seventy-five
homeless boys and girls, which he soon began to realize was too small for
his philanthropic purpose. Securing a tract of 360 acres of heavily-timbered
land on the Embarrass river, one and one-half miles from Wittenberg, he
there established a fine water power, and in 1892 erected a sawmill with
a capacity of 35,000 feet per diem, a planer and matcher, and also a shingle-mill.
In 1894 he began the erection of his new Home, which is now (July, 1895)
under roof and will be completed for occupation in 1896; when finished
it will accommodate two hundred children, have an excellent school and
a select library. The old building will be converted into a Home for homeless
Old people. He has also erected a factory, equipped with a sixty-five horsepower
steam engine, and here it is his intention to manufacture church furniture,
thus furnishing the children with employment, at the same time teaching
them a trade, thereby making it as nearly as possible a self-supporting
Industrial School. Mr. Homme has nearly one hundred and fifty acres of
land under cultivation, where the boys are taught the science of agriculture,
and in connection with the Home he will in the near future erect a gristmill,
in addition to all which it is his intention to introduce other industries,
thus making the locality a manufacturing center. It is stated in another
part of this sketch that Mr.. Homme was instrumental in founding and erecting
the Indian Mission and the German Lutheran Orphans' Home, but he is now
in no way connected with either.
In 1869 Rev. E. J. Homme and Miss Ingeborg Swenholt were united
in marriage, and eight children have been born to them, named respectively:
William (a graduate of Northfield College), Clara J., Carl J., Inga, Martin,
Anna, Francke and Gerhard. Mrs. Homme was born, in 1845, at Stone Bank,
Waukesha Co., Wis., daughter of John and Ingeborg Swenholt, natives of
Norway, who came to this country in 1844, finally settling in Scandinavia.
Waupaca Co., Wis. where the father died and the mother is yet living. In
his political preferences our subject is a stanch Republican, and he is
one of the most highly respected citizens of Shawano county, popular in
the extreme. In 1893 he was nominated against his wishes for the State
Senate, and although defeated received a highly flattering support. In
all his marvelous success, the result of indefatigable perseverance, assiduous
industry, and sound judgment, Mr. Homme never forgets to give his amiable
wife due credit for her share in the labor of love, which has by no means
been a small one.