Concordia Historical Institute states that Jacob Gönner (after this I will spell it Goenner) was born on May 11, 1807. We here at the Lutheran Heritage Center have a lot of records, but none of them record his birthday. CHI must know something that we do not. On the other hand, I am guessing that our historical society knows some things that CHI does not know.
Jacob Goenner journeyed to America aboard the Olbers with Rev. Martin Stephan. Since Jacob was a Candidate of Theology at the time of the immigration, I am sure he had quite a bit of face-to-face time with the leader of the Gesellschaft. Upon arrival, Jacob stayed in St. Louis, and early records at Old Trinity Lutheran Church indicate that he was a teacher there for a while. Here is a photo of Jacob.
Another passenger aboard the Olbers was Rosine Winter. Both Jacob and Rosine are listed in Zion on the Mississippi as being from the city of Leipzig in Germany. Jacob and Rosine were united in marriage on June 30, 1839 in St. Louis. They were married in the basement of the Episcopal church where the recently arrived immigrants were holding their worship services in those early days in St. Louis. This marriage took place about a month after most of the immigrants had left to settle in Perry County.
1843 became an important year for Jacob Goenner. It was a time for a new challenge and some moments of tragedy. In June of that year, a meeting was held to discuss the future of the Log Cabin College in Altenburg. By this time, all three of the original professors of that institution had left Perry County to become pastors elsewhere. That left Rev. Loeber of Altenburg and Rev. Keyl of Frohna as the ones who ended up teaching the classes. With all the rest of the duties these men had, it became evident that they were unable to handle everything by themselves. The group in St. Louis decided to call Jacob to be a professor at the Log Cabin College. He became the first teacher there to receive a stipulated salary.
Jacob did not travel to Perry County immediately. The Goenner family had a child who was about one year old, but she was very sick. On August 26, 1843, that daughter died. It must have been shortly after their child was buried that they traveled to their new home in Altenburg. It is recorded that in September of that year Professor Goenner assumed his responsibilities at the College. By that time, the school was being conducted in Altenburg, probably in Rev. Loeber’s parsonage for a while.
Jacob was not in Altenburg long before tragedy once again struck. His wife, Rosine, died on October 14, 1843. Now a brand new teacher at the College was attempting to take on that task in the midst of just losing his wife and child in just a matter of months.
We have a description of the subjects which were taught by Professor Goenner. First we see what he taught to what was described as the “upper class”.
“Goenner gave instruction in theological training; Bible, in the original Greek and Hebrew; Xenophon, Plutarch, and Homer in Greek; Ceasar, Cicero, Virgil in Latin; and English.”
It is also said that he taught the “second class” Latin, Greek, and English. The enrollment in 1843 was eight students…three in the upper class and five in the second class.
In 1845, another special event took place on Jacob’s birthday. It was a Pentecost Sunday that year when Trinity Lutheran Church in Altenburg dedicated their first permanent church building and had their first worship service there. We do not have a photo of that building at the time when it was used as a church, but this is about the earliest photo that includes this building.
This photo shows the new church in the background which was dedicated in 1867. After the new church was built, the 1845 church became a classroom for the school. Here is another photo of that building when it was used as a school.
By the time of this dedication of the first church, Jacob had remarried. He married a widow who had also lost her spouse not long before. Her name was Justine (Noennig) Poppitz. Justine had been married to a Knoll in Germany and they were divorced. Upon arrival in Perry County, she married Johann Christlieb Poppitz in 1842. But in 1843, he died. This led to her marriage to Jacob Goenner on May 14, 1844. So when the church was dedicated, this couple was three days short of celebrating their first anniversary. Here is the record of the Goenner/Poppitz marriage from the Trinity records.
In 1849, the Seminary moved from Altenburg to St. Louis, and the Goenners moved there with it. Jacob and Justine did not have any children of their own. However a record in the Old Trinity Lutheran Church books says that in 1850, someone abandoned a baby that was about 8 months old on the terrace of the Lutheran College on the evening of September 1. The Goenners took that baby in and adopted her. She was named Concordia Rosine Wilhelmine Goenner.
The Goenners had just that one girl, and if she had married, she would have taken on another name. She also seems to have disappeared from any records we have. So finding any kind of history of the Goenners is almost impossible.
Jacob died on June 25, 1864 in St. Louis. After her husband died, Justine returned to Altenburg to live out the rest of her life. She died August 18, 1879.
Although his name has vanished and you cannot find any Goenners around today, Jacob’s contributions to the early history of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod and Concordia Seminary were monumental and well worthy of us remembering.