History of the Martin Luther School
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”-- Matthew 7:24-27
“For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.” --1 Corinthians 3:11
In response to a growing need to educate young Lutherans in Brooklyn and Queens, Martin Luther School was founded by an incorporation of twenty-three local congregations called the Lutheran High School Association of New York City. Originally named Martin Luther High School, the school opened in September of 1960, with an initial enrollment of 65 students. Classes were first held in the education building of Christ Lutheran Church, Woodside, with three full-time and five part-time teachers.
In June 1960, Herbert Geisler, Sr. accepted the Call as Principal and teacher. In April 1961, the Reverend Frederick C. Hinz became Headmaster. With a need for a school building and a place to put down roots, PS 72 (known as George Clinton School) in Maspeth was purchased from the city of New York at a cost of $87,000.
Two weeks later, a fire gutted the building. The existing building was renovated and a new wing was built, giving the school its distinctive ‘L’ shape. The architectural firm of Shreve, Lamb, & Harmon was chosen to design the building and the Auserehl & Son Contracting Corporation of Jamaica was approved to build. The original blueprints of the school can still be viewed today.
Upon completion of the renovations in November of 1963, the school moved to the present building. The Ridgewood Times highlighted the event on November 7, 1963, "Tomorrow will mark a great date in the life of a young Queens high school. On this day Martin Luther High School will move from its temporary quarters in Christ Lutheran Church...to its new million-dollar building, 60-02 Maspeth Avenue, Queens"
The new building included eighteen classrooms, cafeteria, library, chapel area, gymnasium, and science rooms. According to the original plan, the chapel and cafeteria area would be converted into five additional classrooms and a separate building off the main entrance would later be constructed for a permanent chapel and cafeteria.
The baccalaureate service of the first graduating class was held at St. John's, Glendale on June 19, 1964. Two days later, the commencement exercises were held, conferring fifty-five diplomas to the graduating class.
Continuing the routine of daily worship, students met for Chapel in the first floor assembly area next to the cafeteria. The assembly space was furnished with chancel furniture received as a gift from Chapel of the Redeemer, Flushing. To beautify the space in 1966, stunning artwork in the form of faux stained glass windows were installed on the windows facing Maspeth Avenue. Students under the direction of art instructor Doris Lindemann produced fifteen panels interpreting the Te Deum Laudamus, an ancient canticle of the Church. The artwork remains in our Prayer Chapel and in Room 102 today.
In its new location on Maspeth Avenue, Martin Luther High School continued to grow and thrive. It was granted a charter in the National Honor Society of Secondary Schools in 1966. In the succeeding years the school grew to well over 600 students (1970-1972). Three classrooms were built in the former chapel area to accommodate the increasing enrollment, and weekly chapel has since been held in the gymnasium.
The Board of Regents of the State of New York announced in June of 1970 that Martin Luther High School was admitted to the University of the State of New York as a four-year high school. In responding to the announcement, Pastor Hinz said: "Accreditation means that Martin Luther High School has met standards of instruction, equipment, maintenance of physical plant and financial stability as laid down by the State Education Department. It is a further assurance to our students and parents that anyone who enrolls at Martin Luther High School is receiving a quality education."
In the late 1960s, realizing the need to assist families with the rising costs of tuition, the Board of Directors established the Scholarship Fund. Guided by Rev. Hinz and the board's Scholarship Committee, the fund received individual gifts, income from the annual scholarship appeal, and interest from wise investments. Proceeds from the Scholarship Committee were first used in the fall of 1972 to award each of eleven students a sum of two hundred dollars. In 1973-1974, twenty-eight students received scholarships of $250 each. As the fund grew the interest was used to support both those who qualified in the Academic Excellence Scholarship Competition and families who demonstrated financial need in the Grant-In-Aid program. This money was made possible through the generosity of faithful donors who clearly had a high regard for Christian Education.
With the approval of the Board of Directors and area pastors, the religion department initiated the celebration of Holy Communion during the 1972-1973 school term. Under the direction of Rev. Arthur Gillespie, Dean of Chapel, intensive preparation was conducted in every religion class prior to the Reformation Day Festival. Pastor Herbert Dick of St. John's Lutheran Church in College Point provided the elements and the vessels for the service. Both Reformation Day and Epiphany Communion services were a mix of traditional and contemporary liturgies. Worship leaders included students and faculty. A third such service was also held on Ascension Day. A periodic celebration of the Eucharist continued until 1999.
The 1980s brought many expansions and change to the academic, athletic, and extra-curricular programs of Martin Luther High School.
In the fall of 1980, the school became one of the newest members of the International Thespian Society. This society is dedicated to promoting drama at the high school level. Member benefits include the right to attend conferences and receive scholarships for worthy students. Students earn hours through participation in on- and backstage work.
An all-Lutheran band program was launched in September of 1981. Focusing on students in the fifth and sixth grades in Lutheran elementary schools, it was intended to get students involved in instrumental instruction. Nine schools participated in the first year and two hundred children were enrolled. In November 1982 a total of 330 students were enrolled. The program continued until June 2009.
Also in September of 1981, the closing documents were signed for the purchase of the property on the corner of 61 Street and Maspeth Avenue from St. Stanislaus Kostka Church. The property continues to be a gathering place for special events and overflow parking today.
By November of 1981, the athletic department conducted six Varsity sports for boys (basketball, baseball, wrestling, soccer, cross-country, and track) and girls (volleyball, softball, basketball, and track). Since then, the athletic department has expanded its offering to both boys and girls offering co-educational teams in wrestling, soccer, and cross-country, along with offering a competitive intramural program which includes 5K, archery, badminton, basketball, floor hockey, indoor soccer, volleyball, and wrestling.
The school began its twenty-fifth year of operation, in 1984-85, under the theme "O Give Thanks Unto the Lord." The opening service saw six hundred people in attendance. The Executive Director of the Lutheran Schools Association, Dr. Melvin Kieschnick, was the speaker for the occasion.
After twenty-eight years of faithful leadership, the Rev. Frederick Hinz retired in August of 1988. Both he and his wife, Mrs. Esther Hinz were recognized for their dedicated service to the school and the Martin Luther Thrift Shop.
In 1988 the Board of Directors issued a Divine Call to Mr. Ben Herbrich, who had been with the school since 1964. He accepted the Call to serve as Executive Director, having completed twenty-four years as a commissioned minister/teacher at Martin Luther and seventeen years as its Principal.
To accommodate increasingly demanding and changing academic requirements, a new computer laboratory with twenty-four student units, printers, and a teachers' unit was installed on the third floor of the building in 1989.
The history of dedication and service has been evident throughout the years as many graduates of Martin Luther have walked through the doors both as students and later as faculty and staff. On February 25, 1991, Ms. Elizabeth Crowe (Class of '70) accepted the Call to serve as principal of the school. Ms. Crowe had previously been serving as Principal at Chapel of the Redeemer in Flushing.
In November of 1992, seventy-seven walkers and twenty volunteers from Martin Luther gathered at Kissena Park in Flushing to participate in the first annual Walk-A-Thon. Organized by Athletic Director Mr. James Regan (Class of '76) to promote the benefits of physical activity, the Walk-A-Thon helped raise funds toward the purchase of a new van for the school's many extracurricular transportation needs. Participants gathered monetary pledges from friends, relatives, and neighbors before the event. Since then, Walk-A-Thon pledges have supported new locker installations, bathroom remodeling, a new van, and class activities and events. Each year, the school is visited by Walk-A-Thon Man and his various family members, encouraging participation by the students. Despite evildoers such as Nap Man and Captain LazyPants who attempt to thwart Walk-A-Thon Man's efforts, the faithful walkers prevail.
During the 1992-1993 school year, the Board of Directors began updating and revising the constitution and bylaws of the Association. A major change involved reconsidering the status of various church bodies, most notably the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The new constitution ensured that Martin Luther would be in association with congregations of both the Missouri Synod and the ELCA, thereby allowing for closer ties to more churches. Members and churches of both synods were given the vote and the right to hold office on the Board. Also, after an intense study as to whether the name of the school should be changed, it was decided to retain the name of Martin Luther High School despite occasional confusing by the general public with other schools named after the civil rights leader, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The first Celebrate Kids Auction was held in the gymnasium of the school on April 12, 1997. Under the theme, "A Stroll Down Main Street, USA," the successful event yielded funds which were applied to improvements in the academic program. Since then, the Celebrate Kids Auction raises funds for various specialized projects and to support student scholarships.
Under the theme, "Smart School--Smart Choice," the ministry of Martin Luther was launched into the twenty-first century. Utilizing renewed energy and devising smart plans for the future, the Board of Directors announced bold projects to carry the school into its fifth decade of service to students of Brooklyn and Queens. In explaining the goals of the school's forward movement, Mr. Herbrich said: "While increasing scholarship funds to support future generations of students and families, we are unveiling state-of-the-art technology which will impact both current and future instructional excellence."
Through various on-site celebrations during the school's fortieth anniversary year, many saw the progress in the Smart School--Smart Choice venture. Among the stated goals were: to increase the scholarship fund, complete and upgrade the computer lab, supply a Smart Cart to each classroom, provide internet access throughout the building, rehabilitate the rear entrance of the school, and improve the school yard.
In the Spring of 2000, the school unveiled its state-of-the-art computer lab. An anonymous donor gave a large gift to create a lab with twenty-five new computer workstations, air conditioning, and new ceiling and lighting. In addition to helping the students, the computer lab offers outside education programs the use of modern equipment in a controlled space.
A new Fitness Center was officially unveiled at a reception held in March 2001. Complete with free weights, treadmills, stationary bikes, and strength-training equipment, it was funded largely through the efforts of students, who raised over $45,000 during the three previous Walk-A-Thons. Thanks to fundraising and generous donations, the Fitness Center remains a staple to the Athletic Department at large. Updated machines allow for cross-training opportunities for athletic teams and so students, faculty, and staff can make health a priority.
Renovation began in mid-2001 on three new science labs, providing air-conditioning, new ceiling lights, new storage cabinets, and upgrading safety devices. On March 8, 2002, the William and Grace Miller Conservatory was dedicated. Perched high atop the gymnasium, the room offers a spectacular view of the New York skyline. This new addition provides students an opportunity to learn botany. It has created an environment that motivates students to explore the sciences more in-depth.
The terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, left the community of Maspeth reeling. In addition to friends and family of Martin Luther alum, Martin Luther lost two of its own when Eustace (Rudy) Bacchus (Class of '71) and F.D.N.Y. First Responder Paul Gill (Class of '85) perished. Each year, a special prayer is offered for those who lost their lives on the anniversary, and in Chapel.
A program was implemented in the fall of 2005 which was intended to expand children's horizons and enable them to explore new frontiers through fun, hands-on learning experiences and day trips to the city. Called Smart Saturdays, the curriculum was designed by principals and staff members of Lutheran elementary schools in Queens. Students in grades four through eight participated in science, math, robotics, and other enrichment classes. The program continued through June 2008.
A major renovation took place on the first floor of the building over the summer in 2006 as work began on the main office complex and guidance suite. Supervised by Mr. Webster Schott, the school's representative for the construction, crews worked in the original lobby area (new administrative offices) and Room 101 (the new guidance suite) simultaneously. The dedication of the entire complex was held on November 28 of that year. A three-year fundraising campaign, "Are We There Yet?" which began in 2004, enabled the project to see completion.
The Martin Luther High School Foundation was established in 2006 to support the mission of the school and to provide deserving students scholarships and grants-in-aid. The Foundation formed the basis of financial support, thereby ensuring a more stable structure. Monies donated to the Foundation are invested and used to ensure the future of the school. Persons who provide for Martin Luther in their wills or estate plans are recognized as members of the Frederick C. Hinz Society.
The 50th anniversary of the founding of the school was observed during the 2009-2010 academic year. The theme selected for this celebratory event was "Lift Up Your Hearts," the familiar words which form part of the preface of the Lutheran liturgy. On September 25-27, a Grand Reunion of all alumni was held on Friday evening, a Worship Celebration at the school on Saturday afternoon, a Gala at Terrace on the Park Saturday evening, and Friends and Family event at Queens Botanical Gardens on Sunday afternoon.
Notable attendees of the anniversary celebration included the Rev. Herbert Geisler his wife, Gladys (former faculty), and his son, Dr. Herbert Geisler Jr. (Class of '67). Mrs. Esther Hinz, wife of the Rev. Frederick Hinz, and Dr. Joseph Walsh, longtime history teacher, were also in attendance. After serving as Principal, Herbert Geisler left in 1969 to enroll at Concordia Seminary, Springfield, IL where he received his Masters of Divinity and became a pastor. Rev. Hinz was taken to the Glory of our Heavenly Father when he passed away in early 2009 before the anniversary celebrations were held. A memorial service was celebrated in the school gymnasium, shortly after.
Cultural shifts on the East Coast and the wake of the Great Recession of 2007 dealt some devastating blows to local congregations and parochial schools. Families simply could not afford to provide their children with a private education. Several Lutheran elementary and middle schools were forced to shutter their doors.
A pillar of the Brooklyn community, St. Mark's Lutheran Church, and School especially experienced devastating challenges after structural damage to the school rendered the building unusable. Students were temporarily moved to Martin Luther until a decision could be made regarding the future of the school.
In response to lower attendance rates in the high school, closing Lutheran elementary schools, and available space in the Maspeth Avenue building, it was determined that a middle school could not only be accommodated but attempt to fill a widening gap within the community. Martin Luther opened it’s Middle School to sixth through eighth in 2011. These changes prompted the creation of a new association: The Martin Luther School Association.
Given that the school was not solely a high school anymore, the name of the school was changed from Martin Luther High School to The Martin Luther School. In 2012, The Martin Luther School was approved for renewal of accreditation with the Middle States Association, this time including grades six through twelve.
In 2013, Martin Luther School paired up with Monroe College to offer students the opportunity to earn college credit by taking college courses in the high school building. Subsequently, in 2014, Martin Luther School teamed up with Concordia College, Bronxville and St. Joseph's College to continue to provide students with the opportunity to get a head start on college by offering fully-accredited STEM courses.
In addition to adopting collegiate courses, Martin Luther School expanded its International Student Program, welcoming students from all over the world. From 2013 to the present, an influx of international students from China, Korea, Thailand, Brazil, Germany, and others has brought a unique diversity to the school and provided expanded ministry opportunities.
Over the past 55 years, Martin Luther School has viewed its role in the community not just as a place of education, but a place of ministry. From the very beginning, a Christ-centered ministry has been the number one priority of Martin Luther School.
With a strong tradition of faithful faculty, staff, and students, Martin Luther is a close-knit community. In fact, with former faculty, staff, and alumni all over the country, and the world, you’re never far away from someone who has been impacted by Martin Luther School. Similarly, we frequently welcome back our former Cougars when they are visiting the city they once called home!
This tradition of closeness extends into the community of Maspeth and surrounding areas as well. Community organizations and athletic leagues use the gym facilities in the evenings, throughout the year Martin Luther hosts various activities for all ages, and on Sundays St. Mark’s Lutheran Church meets for service and fellowship in the cafeteria.
From its beginning, the school developed a student body rich in ethnic, religious, economic, and social diversity, a tradition that continues today. Reflecting growing educational needs and trends, Martin Luther has adapted its curriculum to reflect an ever-changing society. While maintaining its ministerial integrity, it has continued to grow as a strong college-preparatory school, offering Advanced Placement, STEM Courses, and SAT Preparatory courses
Much appreciation to Stephen Grosch (Class of '76) for his research and writing of the Martin Luther School history.