Repairing ‘anything that’s high’

Posted August 15, 2019 at 5:00 am

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By Julie Ann Madden

Ninety percent of their work day is spent climbing around church steeples and the other 10 percent they are on top of courthouses.

Bill Brandt, of Pisek, N.D., and his son, Brian, repair structures that are high in the sky.

Forty-five years ago, Bill was working with a partner, Dan Uhlir — back then they actually climbed the structures to repair them.

“I used to climb them,” said Bill, telling The Akron Hometowner about the day he “froze” inside a steeple at former North Dakota Governor Ole H. Olson’s church.

Uhlir had to cut a hole in the steeple to get him off it. “I said I’ll go draw food stamps if I have to before I do this for a living.”

The steeple sways, clouds go by and people look like ants below, laughed Bill. “It just got to me that day for some reason.”

When Uhlir died, the phone started ringing with people requesting Bill to repair steeples.

“I thought there’s got to be an easier way of doing this than climbing them,” said Bill. “Bringing all the shingles (and equipment) to the steeples’ towers, hauling all the scaffolding around the tower and setting it up.”

“I bought a truck (complete with bucket),” said Bill, noting he used to have 15 employees, too. Now, it’s just he and his son, Brian, who has worked along Bill for the past 25 years. “I’ve bought a lot of trucks over the years.”

Right now they are repairing the steeple at Roseni Lutheran Church in rural Union County, S.D.

They were just finishing up shingling the top of the steeple, and brainstorming ideas on reinstalling the church’s bell so it be functionable again. They had been on this job for three weeks, and Brian estimated it would be at least two more weeks before they completed the repairs — barring an unforeseen complications.

“They are craftsmen,” said a church council member who was serving them refreshment Friday morning when The Akron Hometowner visited. “They have a passion for this steeple repair.”

“Kind of a neat parallel or image — When I come to the church, I see one or both of them looking up,” she said. “To me that says something physically when they are working and also to our church — to be looking up either to the steeple or to our God.”

The “Church on the Hill” steeple is probably the hardest project the Brandts have undertaken to date because it’s been hardest to remove the shingles and now replacing the vertical steel ridge caps has been a challenge.

This is the third Roseni church since settlers first arrived in 1869. The congregation was formally organized in 1872 and chose “Rosenius” as their name. It was the name of the Swedish theologian, C.O. Rosenius. Common usage abbreviated the name and the church

became known as Roseni.

On Jan. 2, 1884, Articles of Incorporation were granted to the congregation and in 1876, the Roseni people realized a dream — the first church home was erected on a plot of ground donated by Mr. and Mrs. Ole Solberg. This church was built on the south side of Union County Road 15 where the cemetery is now located.

As the congregation grew, the church became too small, and in 1888, land owned by the Fitzgerald family was acquired for the purpose of building a larger church — it was built in 1895. This church was similar in structure and appearance to Roseni’s present church. The second church building was struck twice by lighting in 1911, the second time resulted in it burning to the ground.

The current church building is the congregation’s third. It was built in 1912. Therefore, the current steeple is 107 years old. Over the years, the congregation has dealt with its leaking that damaged the ceiling and walls in the main church — often making temporary fixes.

Most recently, the bell, thought to weigh more than a ton, fell on to the steeple floor and was later removed.

The church council decided about a year ago to find a solution to the century- old leaking structure, and a Steeple Committee was formed. Because of the cost, the council took a congregational vote on the project. The vote was nearly unanimous to restore the structure, “making the exterior as maintenance free as possible while preserving its aesthetics and allowing the bell to be seen and rung.

In Danish, the bell is engraved,“Come, There is still room.”

Current congregation members are looking forward to hearing the bell ring again soon.

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