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  • 1903
    40 acres of land along the Rock River in Watertown, Wis. were donated to Bethesda.

  • 1904
    In 1904, Bethesda was officially founded in Watertown, Wis. by concerned Lutherans and opened its doors to five people.

    Bethesda focused on Christ-centered training and Lutheran education while providing people with a loving, supportive home.

  • 1906
    In 1906, we lost our lease in Watertown so the school was relocated to Milwaukee, Wis.

  • 1907
    The first confirmation was held in 1907 at Jerusalem Lutheran Church in Milwaukee.

  • 1908
    In 1908, due to overcrowded conditions and a long waiting list, Bethesda built the first building on the 40 acres of land that was donated in 1903. Staff and 42 people receiving services moved back to Watertown, Wis., where individuals who received support and services helped with the farming, gardening, and tending of livestock while also helping to take care of those less able.

  • 1923
    In 1923, the school adopted the name Bethesda, taken from John 5:2-9 meaning House of Mercy.

  • 1926
    By 1926, more than 270 people called Bethesda home. The first full-time chaplain was called and workshops began.

  • 1930s
    During the depression of the 1930s, the people sold wool batts and thistle tea to raise money. Of the 368 people living at Bethesda, 245 received no financial support.

    Money was a problem, so the staff took a paycut. Then God blessed Bethesda with two bequests and numerous other contributions, making the building of a new chapel possible.

  • 1940s
    In the 1940s, Bethesda entered a period of expansion which began with renovations and still continues today. [Current renovation projects]

  • 1960
    In 1960, the first Bethesda thrift store was started in Watertown, Wis. [Current list of Bethesda Resale Shops]

  • 1961-1968
    Between 1961-1968, Bethesda started occupational therapy, music therapy, speech therapy and physical therapy departments.

  • 1969
    In 1969, Camp Matz, a unique outdoor campground that is fully accessible to people with developmental disabilities, was opened. [More about Camp Matz]

  • 1970s-1980s
    Bethesda began expanding its services across the eastern half of the United States. In addition to Wisconsin, services were now offered in Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri and Texas. [Current Bethesda support locations]

  • 1985
    In 1985, Bethesda's National Christian Resource Center (NCRC) opened. The NCRC provides resources worldwide to families of people with developmental disabilities, pastors, volunteers, teachers and professionals in the field of developmental disabilities. [More about the NCRC]

  • 1992
    In 1992, corporate members voted to change the official name of the organization to Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Inc.

  • 1995
    Late in 1995, the corporation made a greater commitment to serve people in the community when the board authorized the new Parish Ministry Consultant (PMC) positions.

    Located in regional offices, these consultants work directly with families, teachers and pastors, ensuring that people with developmental disabilities receive the Christian education and spiritual nurture they need. All of their services are free of charge.

  • 2001
    In 2001, Bethesda signed an alliance that established a partnership, IMPACT., to assist individuals with developmental disabilities in Eastern Europe and worldwide. IMPACT. partners are v. Bodelschwingh Institution of Bethel, Germany; Bethesda Lutheran Homes and Services, Inc., United States of America; the Deacony Foundation of Northern Norway; Bethphage, United States of America; Bethphage of Great Britain; and Bethphage Fund Latvia. [Visit IMPACT.'s Web site]
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