Includes Wittenburg Hospital, Good Samaritan Hospital, Bethel Lutheran Home, Bethel Mountrail Home, Stanley, ND, and Good Shepherd Home, Watford City, ND.


First Lutheran Church, Planting the Seeds

Much of the development of Social Ministry organizations in western North Dakota is tied to the work of members of the First Lutheran Church in Williston.  From the  beginnings of the congregation in the early 1900s until today, the building committees, fundraising campaigns and Board of Directors are represented by members of First Lutheran Church. 

“…five members were elected to a Building Committee in the fall of 1908… the active members of the Committee were T.A. Stenehjem, A.N. Eidsness and Rev. M.L. Holey.”   Rev. Holey came to Williston on August 28, 1906, and became the first resident pastor.  The congregation had been meeting in the Congregational Church which was located at Main and Fourth Street where the “Old Post Office” is located.  The new church was located at 803 First Avenue East. 

In 1918, Rev. George S. Natwick was installed as Pastor.  That same year the name “The Norwegian-American Lutheran Church” was changed to the present name “First Lutheran Church”.  In 1921, Lawrence N. Field became Pastor of First Lutheran.  This same year, building plans were developed and a building committee was elected which included Torger Hofengen, Ole Johnson, A.N. Eidsness, Lars Christensen and J.P. Dahl.  The new church building was built at 6th St. and 1st Ave W for a cost of $21,522.75.  This served the congregation until May 9, 1954.

In the fall of 1951, plans began to develop to build a new church building.  Rev. Casper B. Nervig, Dean Winkjer, Philip Stenehjem, Arnold Haugen, Gust Rossland, Hjalmer Borrud, Dr. Carroll M. Lund, and Lester Carter were part of the planning section.  Albert C. Livdahl, Oscar H. Lee, Arley Bjella , Lloyd W. Anseth, and Andrew Dale were part of the finance section.  Ground was broken, and the cornerstone was laid on May 9, 1954.

Wittenberg to Good Samaritan to Bethel Wittenburg Hospital

Wittenberg Hospital was established in 1911.  Rev. Albert Johannsen, pioneer pastor of First Lutheran Church, and other congregations in this area, had come to Williston in 1908 from Northwood, North Dakota where he had been associated with the building of the Northwood Hospital and Home for Aged.  This previous interest and experience led him to become the principal moving spirit in the establishment of a Lutheran Hospital in Williston.

In 1911, a large residence on First Avenue West and Fifth Street was purchased and remodeled as Williston’s first hospital.  In order to make a down payment on the property, Rev. Johannsen borrowed $2,000.00 from a local bank giving the security in his farm.  About $150 was subscribed in Williston and about the same amount was given by friends of Rev. Johannsen in his former parish at Northwood, North Dakota.  This amount was used to buy the first equipment.

The hospital was dedicated on Sunday, December 17, 1911, during services held at First Lutheran Church’s basement.  The first nurse in charge of the hospital was Miss Laura Eng, who was assisted by Miss Alma Nelson.  It is believed the two had been trained as deaconesses and nurses at the Lutheran Deaconess Home and Hospital in Brooklyn, N.Y. 

Good Samaritan Hospital

In 1926, it was evident that a more adequate facility needed to be provided to carry on the work.  A movement was started to build a new and adequate hospital building with the Rev. Lawrence N. Field, pastor of First Lutheran Church taking the leading part.  It is noted a fund drive during 1926 and 1927 raised $40,000 in cash and pledges.  The basement was built in 1928, with the superstructure completed in 1929.  At this time the Articles of Incorporation were revised and the name was changed to Good Samaritan Hospital.  The debt at the time of completion was $60,000.  The doors opened on February 1, 1930, with Miss Borghild Bue acting as supervisor and was assisted by Mrs. Alice Micz.  Rev. L.N. Field functioned as manager until he left First Lutheran Church in 1931.  Oscar E. Westberg became the full-time business manager on October 1, 1933 and served until 1946.  Mr. Sidney J. Berhow then managed the hospital until 1971.

Good Samaritan Expansion

Discussions over the years involved the need for the hospital to enlarge its facilities to meet the more modern trends in services.  The pressure of the increased activity in Williston after the oil boom only served to increase the need for this expansion.  In September 1953, it was decided by the board that the time had come to proceed with raising funds for building an addition to the hospital.  Dr. Casper B. Nervig, of First Lutheran Church, and Arley R. Bjella were asked to direct the appeal.  In October 1954, contracts for the construction were assigned to Sterhan Construction Company of Glendive, Montana.  A groundbreaking service was held on Sunday, November 7, 1954, and the cornerstone laying service was held on September 18, 1955, with Rev. Casper B. Nervig officiating.

Upper Missouri Bible Camp has Roots with First Lutheran

In the spring of 1944, Rev. Nervig and Rev. Nelson, of Epping, visited congregations in the area and began to raise interest in the development of the Upper Missouri Bible Camp.  On June 5, 1945 groundbreaking was accomplished and the first actual session of the camp was held July 8-14, 1946.

Welfare Committee of First Lutheran Ladies Aid Plans Home

The building of a home for aged in the Williston area received its first impulse from members of the Welfare Committee of the First Lutheran Ladies Aid, which has been an organized activity since 1932.  During these years they carried on an extensive program of relief among families in need, distributing food, clothing and other necessities.  In addition to this work, each Thursday the year round, a group of these ladies or the pastor called on the aged, infirm, and other shut-ins for a brief visit and devotion.

The women became increasingly conscious of the need for an old people’s home.  At the annual meeting of the First Lutheran Church in January 1944, the Welfare Committee made a suggestion in which “a committee be appointed to investigate and make recommendations for a much needed old folks home.”  The matter was referred to the church council and discussed at subsequent meetings.  In 1946 the congregation went on record in favor of building a home and instructed the trustees to appoint a committee to work on the proposal.  On March 29th, 1946, the trustees appointed the Rev. Casper B. Nervig, Arley Bjella, Dr. C.M. Lund, P.I. Dahlen and A.C.Livdahl to serve on the committee.

Bethel Lutheran Home for the Aged is Incorporated 

The committee decided to expand its group to include other congregations and interested people.  The group presented the proposal to the Evangelical Lutheran Churches Board of Charities during its general convention in June of 1946.  On March 17, 1947, the organizational meeting was held in Williston for the purpose of taking official action to form the new organization.  The Articles of Incorporation were approved.  A board of Directors was elected which included Rev. C.B. Nervig, A.C. Livdahl, Arley Bjella, Ernest Arnson, P.I. Dahlen, Dr. C.M. Lund, of Williston, Rev. E.O. Gilbertson of Crosby, Olaf Knutson, of rural Williston, and Julius Jacobson, of Alexander.  Mr. Jacobson declined and was replaced by Anund Aamodt, of McKenzie County.  The Articles of Incorporation were filed on July 16, 1948 with the Secretary of State.

On June 5, 1947, Mr. Ole Gilseth passed away at the age of 71.  He farmed five miles north of Wildrose, ND.  He was born in Norway on April 2, 1876.  Mr. Gilseth left $326.54 to the Corporation for the purpose of building the home.  This was the first bequest received by the new Corporation.

On March 14, 1949, the first annual meeting was held.  Seventy-Six pastors and delegates attended the meeting.  The plans for construction were approved with the bids totaling $338,524.40.  The architects were Thorson and Thorson of Forest City and Waterloo, Iowa.  The general contractor was Iver Orheim,  of Minot, ND.

Ground is Broken for Bethel

On May 2, 1949, the groundbreaking ceremony was held.  About 250 people, with over a hundred cars, gathered around the site.  Rev. Casper B. Nervig, the president of the Corporation, opened the service.  Rev. Ray Williams, of Alexander, read the scripture.  The Welfare Committee of First Lutheran Ladies Aid sang “My Jesus, I Love Thee” and “Blest Be the Tie that Binds.”  The Rev. J.A. Nestingen, of Grenora, gave the main address.  The Rev. I.M. Thvedt, of Crosby, brought a greeting emphasizing what this home could mean to the congregations of this area.  He called attention to the choice of the name “Bethel” which means “House of God” and expressed the hope that those who come to this house might find it a haven of rest and spiritual refreshment in a place which shows that God’s love makes people care.  Mrs. E. L. Nelson, who had begun the work of the Welfare Committee in 1932, took the first spade full.  She was followed by Mrs. Morten Mortenson and Mrs. Peter J. Erickson who had been involved in the work from its beginning.  Also assisting were Mrs. Art R. Johnson, Mrs. L.J. Bean, and Mrs. Gilman Asleson.  After others were invited to turn a shovel full, a benediction was given by Rev. A.S. Bue of Zahl.

“The plans called for the home to be built on a choice ten acre tract of land on the north, and just inside the limits of the city of Williston.  It is on the west side of the main highway coming from the north where all who drive in and out of the city will see it.  The main building will consist of three stories and a basement; 118 feet by 45 feet, laid out north and south so as to make sunshine available in every room either in the morning or afternoon.  The Chapel wing will consist of only one story; 23 feet by 43 feet above a basement and extending eastward with a glassed in porch 9.5 feet wide extending along its south side and partially around its east end.  The main entrance into the building will be through the glassed-in porch from which entrances will lead directly into the main living room and also into the chapel.  The main floor will have, besides the chapel and living room, the dining room and kitchen with food storage room off from the kitchen.  There will also be the office and six residential rooms.  The second floor will have seventeen residence rooms besides one room for the matron and a general living room.  The third floor is planned as an infirmary.  It will have twelve rooms, two wards, and a room for the nurse and a general living room.  Altogether there will be 45 residence rooms and two wards.  A very important feature of the plan is the provision for future wings for which one connecting corridor is already in place.”

Bethel Accepts its First Residents

On June 4, 1950, the cornerstone was laid.  This cornerstone has been moved several times but still contains the original items.  On July 10, 1951, the first resident Magga Anderson, of Williston entered the home.

Also arriving that same day were John Stordahl, Grenora; Mrs. Cora Biggs, Williston; Mrs. Ragnhild Everson, Wildrose; Mrs. Sophie Thompson, Crosby; Amanda Peterson, Williston; Mrs. Dorothea Winsryg, Williston; Mrs. Guro Ronning, Williston; and Mrs. Daisy Jones.  The first staff were Rev. Walter I. Aamoth, Superintendent; Mrs. Walter Aamoth, Miss Martha Reishus, Matron Obert Quale, Care Taker, Mrs. Laura Spaulding, Miss Margrethe Lauritzen, Mrs. Esther Oystal, and Miss Elsie Lee.

On September 9, 1951, the dedication of the Bethel Lutheran Home for the Aged was consecrated.  The service was performed by Dr. J.A. Aasgaard, President of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Bethel Radio News Begins and Other Changes 

During the month of September 1951, the first radio broadcast news from Bethel Lutheran Home was sent over the airwaves.

In December 1952, the Superintendent’s residence on the Southwest corner of the property was built.  In 1955, Walter I. Aamoth ended his employment as administrator.  In January 1956,  Pernie C. Pederson took over and served as administrator until 1960.  In April 1961,  Rev. U.A. Turmo began serving the home.

Mountrail Bethel Lutheran Home for the Aged and Good Shepherd Home

In the late 1950s interested parties began discussing adding additional homes for the aged in Stanley and Watford City.  The Mountrail Bethel Lutheran Home for the aged was completed in November 1960.  The dedication and cornerstone laying was done on Sunday September 17, 1961.  Pastor U.A. Turmo, served as superintendent and the Board of Directors were Dr. C.B. Nervig, Olaf C. Knutson, Gilman Wang, Albert T. Heide, Dr. Carrolle M. Lund, Lloyd Nelson, Palmer Dilland , Paul S. Berge and Pastor Merlin Hatlestad.  The ceremony included a vocal solo from George Byron Everson.   

In June 15, 1962 a Ground breaking ceremony was held for the Good Shepherd Home in Watford City, ND.  The projected cost of the building was $318,827.  The Steering committee of the project consisted of Rev. Casper B. Nervig, Gilman Wang, Paul Berge, Rev. Hobart Skilbred, Sidney Swenson, Lee Stenehjem, Ivan Omlid, Murphy Eklund, Rev. U.A. Turmo and Olaf Norstog.  The Finance Committee consisted of Murphy Eklund, Oscar Knutson, Lee Stenehjem, Ivan Omlid, Mrs. Sisney Veeder, Dr. P.O.C. Johnson, O.N. Stenehjem and Mrs. John Braaten. 

Later in December of 1962 , L.J. Totdahl, became the first assistant administrator of Bethel.  He assisted with consultation to Stanley and Watford City homes until they were able to assume full management duties on their own. 

A joint publication called the Bethel Beacon was begun and edited by Bethel’s Administrator in December of 1962.  This provided information to patrons of all three nursing homes.

In October 1964 U.A. Turmo ended his employment.  In June of 1965 Olaf Knutson began serving as administrator of Bethel.

Mountrail Bethel Separates from Bethel

On January 28, 1971, Bethel Home transferred all assets of the Mountrail Bethel Home to Mountrail Bethel Home of Stanley.  The two facilities assumed their individual ownership and governance.

Bethel Expands with 90 Bed Addition

On June 30, 1968, a groundbreaking was undertaken for a new single-story addition to Bethel Lutheran Home for the Aged.  A new laundry, activity room, kitchen, therapy room, beauty shop, car garage, furnace room and administrative offices were added.  Seventy single rooms and 10 double rooms were added totaling 90 additional beds.  The general contractor was John Larson Co. of Bismarck.  The total contract was $1,345,965.  

A Hill-Burton Grant was received on February 2, 1970 for $556,048 and applied to the building project.  The grant required 20 years of free care for eligible residents through February 2,1990.  The major addition was dedicated on October 11,1970.  Funds came from a major fund drive, the Hill Burton Grant and a 20-year loan from Lutheran Brotherhood.  Mr. Bruce Sathe, the president of the Corporation, presided over the dedication ceremony. 

New Administration Brings Changes 

Olaf Knutson resigned from the administrator position on August 9, 1971.  He was succeeded by Wayne Hansen.  Mr. Hansen became the joint administrator of Bethel Lutheran Home and Good Samaritan Hospital on December 1, 1971.

During this period it became increasingly difficult to continue the operations of two hospitals in Williston.  An agreement was reached with the Mercy Hospital to provide acute care medical services to the area while Bethel would provide long-term care.  It was agreed the Good Samaritan Hospital would close.  On July 1, 1973, Mr. Hansen assumed full-time administrative duties at Bethel Lutheran Home.  On February 21, 1974, the Good Samaritan Hospital Corporation merged with the Bethel Lutheran Home Corporation.  All remaining assets were transferred to Bethel Lutheran Home (about $250,000).  These assets were set aside for future building projects.

New Addition Adds 28 Beds 

In December 1976,  a new addition was completed at Bethel.  This added 14 double rooms and a nurse station which was designated as Wing IV.  The cost of this addition was $532,528.19.  Funds were available from the Good Samaritan Hospital, the Nicoline Arnt Estate and other donations. 

Bethel Lutheran Home for the Aged changed its name to Bethel Lutheran Home on March 21, 1980. 

Activity Room Added and Renovation Completed

In 1986, plans were drawn, and construction completed on a newly constructed activity room.  The old activity room was changed to a chapel area.  Cost of this project was $700,000.  Later, on October 10, 1987, the original 1951 building was rededicated after a total renovation at a cost of $1,100,000.00. 

1990s Bring Additional Improvements

In 1992, the Bethel Corporation agreed to add a new van and staff entrance area and to replace the entire roof of the building.  The general contractor was Reishus Construction of Mohall.  The total project cost was $828,269.  The new entrance opened in 1993 and allowed for the Bethel bus to pick up and drop off residents in an enclosed weather protected area.

In 1994, the addition of a dining area on the Alzheimer’s wing was completed which allowed residents of the wing to have their meals in a comfortable, well-lit area.  This project was completed at a cost of $362,760.  Tooz Construction, of Dickinson, was the general contractor.  In 1995, Bethel began the process of removing Asbestos from the ceilings in the main dining room, the main lobby hallway and the chapel.

Two other milestones of note occurred in the 1990s.  In June of 1990, the home paid off its loan to Lutheran Brotherhood and became debt free.  Also on May 2, 1994, Bethel accepted its 2000th resident.  His name was Morris Cushing.

Bethel Lutheran Foundation Established

In 1985, Bethel Lutheran Home received a gift from the Floyd and Myrtle Stewart family.  The $25,000 gift was used to establish a Foundation for Bethel Home.  This Corporation would raise money for the needs of Bethel, invest and manage the monies received.  In 1993, the Foundation hired its first Director, Jim Yockim, on a part-time basis.  The Foundation worked out of a small desk in the lower level of Bethel Lutheran Home.  Later during the capital campaign of 1997, it located to South Main in Williston.

The Foundation is governed by a five-person Board made up of two members appointed by the Bethel Home Board, and three members elected at large by the delegates at the annual meeting of the Foundation.  Foundation ownership is made up of 27 Congregations of Western North Dakota who also are owners of Bethel Lutheran Home.   

50th Anniversary Brings New Strategic Plan 

In January of 1996, Bethel Home Board Members, Bethel Lutheran Foundation Board Members and Bethel Staff conducted a Strategic Planning Retreat.  During this event plans were developed for an extensive renovation and building project at Bethel.  A feasibility study was done with the assistance of Jackson and Associates of Evergreen, Colorado.  Several areas of importance emerged.  These included the need to continue to provide quality care to the residents of Bethel in a quality care setting, seek to provide additional living options to the elderly in the area and to provide additional services to people in the Williston area.  

Building and Renovation to Bring New Era of Excellence

Planning began on the renovation and building project.  Bethel Lutheran Foundation also began a fund drive to raise support for the project.  A goal of $1.5 million was established and over $2,213,000 was raised in gifts and pledges by September 1997.

Mr. Wayne Hansen retired as Administrator of Bethel Lutheran Home.  Kurt Stoner, his assistant, assumed the duties of Administrator on June 1, 1998.

In February of 2000 the Board of Directors of Bethel Lutheran Home approved a motion to proceed with the building and renovation project.  In April of 2001 a Ground Breaking Ceremony was held and construction began on Bethel’s $6.4 Million expansion and renovation project.  Local financial institutions participated in the bond issue for the project.

Independent Living Apartments Added

In April 1997, Bethel Lutheran Foundation entered into an agreement to purchase the Bolinske Terrace Apartment Building located at 1705 3rd Ave W.  The building had 18 apartments.  Renovation of the building was started in 1997 at a cost of $809,000.  An elevator and eight garages were added along with a community room.  The completed building has 15 two-bedroom units and two one-bedroom units.  The building began renting to independent living seniors in 1997.

In April of 1997, the Foundation entered into an agreement with the Williston Housing Partners Limited Partnership for the construction of a 20-unit middle to moderate income independent living apartment complex called the Heritage Manor.  This project is located at 314 18th St. West.  The units had an income restriction for 30 years.  After 15 years it was donated 100% to Bethel Lutheran Foundation.  The facility celebrated its grand opening in October of 1999.

In the spring of 2000, the Foundation broke ground on nine additional two-bedroom units in the Estates wing of the Heritage Manor.  These units would be market rate units and have no government subsidy.  This wing would be located on the west side of the Manor building.

Eden Alternative and Neighborhood Concept Adopted 

Bethel Lutheran Home began the development of a new care philosophy called the Eden Alternative.  This incorporates children, plants and pets into the care environment in order to alleviate loneliness, helplessness and boredom which affects many elderly in nursing home settings.  The staff of the home began special training in this new care concept and began implementing the new program.  In addition, the new renovation and building project allowed the home to implement Neighborhoods in the wings.  These neighborhoods allow for more individual care and attention and more autonomy in the wings.

Rededication of Bethel Lutheran Home

In September of 2002, Nelson Manor, a new Basic Care Neighborhood opened.  The Manor is named after Leonard Nelson who was a major benefactor who provided support to the building and renovation project.  This Basic Care wing replaces beds located in the lower level of the original building at Bethel.  The administration offices were moved to the lower level.

A rededication and ribbon cutting service on September 11, 2003, reaffirmed the mission of Bethel Lutheran Home.  The public turned out to receive tours of the home and of the Hartke Center.  Bishop Duane Danielson, of the Western North Dakota District of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, presided.  The song “Praise Ye the Lord” served as the processional music and was the same song used in the original dedication ceremonies at Bethel. 

Hartke Center Brings Child Care Center to Bethel                                                

In 2001, Bethel Lutheran Foundation received its largest gift of over $1,100,000.  The gift was to be used to help with the building and renovation project, and to build a children’s care center.  In June of 2002, construction began on the Hartke Child Care Center located at 311 Ferndale Blvd.  This castle-looking setting provides care for 30 children throughout the day.  The children were involved on a daily basis with the residents of Bethel; interacting, playing games and visiting favorite residents.

Memory Walk and Storybook Lane Project Begins

In July of 2003, Bethel began work on building a looping walkway and park like area on the west and north sides of Bethel.  The walkway would connect Bethel Lutheran Home with the Hartke Center as well as provide access to a planned garden like area.  The Memory walk was to include a school bell, windmill, farm tractor, water pump, wishing well and other items common to Western North Dakota.  In addition, adjacent to the Hartke Center, a “Storybook Lane” was to be created with favorite storybook characters depicted along the walkway.


Foundation Acquires Additional Property 

In July of 2000, Bethel Lutheran Foundation purchased a home at 1705 Third Ave W. owned by Vivian Ostert.  The building became an office for the Foundation.  The property also contained a large garage to be used as storage for Bethel Lutheran Home.                                      

The Foundation entered into an agreement to acquire the Gaudreau car wash property on the corner of 3rd Ave W and 18th Street.

The property purchase completed the ownership of the east half of the block.  The Foundation and Bethel Lutheran Home began planning the use of this property.  Plans were developed for the building of a 34 unit Assisted Living Center covering the property from the Terrace Apartment building on the south side of the block to the corner of 18th Street.  Additional property was purchased from the Evansons on the SE corner of 18th Street and 4th Ave W.  The car wash property, the Evanson house and the Foundation office were demolished in the fall of 2007.  The Foundation relocated to the Old Post Office Building on Main Street.


Assisted Living Center Adds to Bethel’s Services

On July 17th, 2008, one day after the 60th Anniversary of Bethel Lutheran Home, ground was broken on the $6.5 Million Assisted Living Center.  Tooz Construction, of Dickinson, was the general contractor with Selid Plumbing and Triangle Electric included as subcontractors.  The project included the use of Geothermal pumps providing economical heating and cooling.  The two-story building provided an indoor walkway to the Terrace Building.  Construction continued until completion in January of 2010.

The first residents of the Assisted Living Center moved in January of 2010.  The Foundation relocated its offices to the Assisted Living Center as well.

During the early 2000s, the Williston area was engulfed in the Bakken Oil Boom.  Affordable housing for seniors became difficult to find as many units were being bought up by oil companies and rents raised dramatically.  Bethel Lutheran Foundation acquired the Golden Estates Independent Living Center in April of 2011.  The 16-unit apartment building is located at 56 22nd St. West in Williston.  The facility provides two meals a day, five days a week, to its residents.  There is hair care available on site.  This acquisition enabled the residents to continue to live in an affordable senior preferred setting.   The Foundation also sees the addition of an Assistant Director in October of 2011, as Kathy Harger joins the team.

Name Change and New Leadership

Bethel Lutheran Home changed its corporate name to Bethel Lutheran Nursing and Rehabilitation Center (BLNRC) in 2012.  The name reflects a change in its mission to provide enhanced rehabilitation services to residents who often are able to return to their own homes.

Kurt Stoner moves from Bethel Administrator to Foundation Director in June of 2015, as Tammra Peterson moves into the Administrator role at BLNRC. 

Land Acquired for New Facility 

July 19, 2022, the City of Williston along with Bethel Lutheran Nursing & Rehabilitation Center announced plans for a New Facility to be built in the “Williston Square” Subdivision.  A new modern and homelike facility is planned and will allow BLNRC to better serve the current residents and their families, employees, the region and future generations to come.  BLNRC Administrator, Belinda Moen, who joined the Bethel team in 2021, made a formal announcement along with Board President Aaron Schmit on the front lawn of the current Bethel site.

Changes for The Foundation

The year 2023 brought about changes for The Foundation.  The office moved from Arbor House Assisted Living over to Golden Estates.  Longtime Director, Kurt Stoner, along with longtime Assistant Director, Kathy Harger, both retired after years of dedicated service to The Foundation.  Keefe Lovgren was hired as new Foundation Director in March 2023 and Courtney Ransom joined as Assistant Director in May.