Chicago Luther Institute "Wildcats"

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Luther Institute
Credit: Lake County Discovery Museum/Curt Teich Postcard Archives

                                  The History of Chicago Luther Institute
Chicago (population: 2.8 million) is located along the shores of Lake Michigan in northeastern Illinois. From its early days as a Potawatomie settlement, then as the site of Fort Dearborn in 1803, which led up to the formation of the city and its incorporation in 1833 and 1837, respectively, the "City of Big Shoulders" became a major location in the US for various reasons. Railroads and water transportation were two reasons why Chicago was one of the fastest growing cities in the country during the 19th Century.

Today, numerous railroads and highways of interstate, US, state, and local designations bring people together in the city on a daily basis, as does air traffic at O'Hare and Midway Airports. Chicago is a melting pot of people from many nationalities, making it ethnically diverse, and thus, is referred to as "the cultural, economic, and financial capital of the Midwest" (according to Wikipedia). 

Luther Institute was started in the early 1900's (roughly after 1903) on Chicago's West Side near the old Chicago Stadium on Wood Street as a number of first- and second-generation German Lutherans helped found the school as one of the first Lutheran high schools that actually thrived past its early years. The school was only the second (Milwaukee Lutheran being the first in 1903) institution of its kind to succeed in a major metropolitan area of the US.  

Perhaps one of the reasons why the school was successful was that the financial source of funding came from a number of local Lutheran churches that were committed to giving their children an education beyond the grade school level which they had received from Lutheran institutions, most of which were connected to the Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church.
Luther Institute was located west of today's Loop and stayed in its location until 1953 when the school grew to the point that it split into two locations (Luther North and Luther South), and the location was needed for urban renewal projects caused by the growth of the city of Chicago during the first half of the 20th Century. 
Shortly after the move, the Luther Institute building was torn down while its history is tied closely to Luther North as a number of athletes and coaches from the former school have been inducted into the latter's athletic hall of fame.
Year opened:                around 1904
Year closed:                 1953
Split into:                       Luther North & Luther South High Schools
School nickname:         "Wildcats"
School colors:               Blue & Gold
School song:                 "On, O Luther"
Luther North did offer basketball, football, and baseball for its male students from what we can tell as a charter member of the Private School League in 1930, but we are unsure if the girls had to the ability to participate in sports with a Girls' Athletic Association (GAA) club or a similar group. Information is needed and can be sent to us at the addresses listed below.
The roundball was one of the first sports offered at the school and had one very special moment during the 1945-46 season. Luther racked up a 22-2 mark that season, defeating the likes of Oak Park-River Forest, Oak Park Fenwick, and Maywood Proviso. Coach Louis Menking's squad also won the Private School League tournament in that season, and were rebuffed in their efforts by the Catholic League champs to decide who might be an unofficial city champion.
1930-31             Private School League Champions  coach unknown
1935-36             Private School League Champions  coach unknown
1945-46  22- 2  PSL Season & Tourney Champs!     Coach Louis Menking
With help from our conference guru Tom Sikorski, Luther began a football program in 1944. Records from the first season have been partially found, but it was a competitive program from 1945 until the final season of 1952.
1945  4-3-1  3rd Place Private School League         Coach Ted Leitz
1948  4-2-2  3rd Place Private School League         Coach Ted Leitz
1950  5-2-1  3rd Place Private School League         Coach Ted Leitz
1951  4-3-1  3rd Place (tie) Private School League Coach Ted Leitz
1952  5-0-3  2nd Place Private School League      Coach Ted Leitz
The school also offered some diamond action in the spring, but no records are available. We do understand that Louis Menking also coached the sport from the 1930's into the early 1950's, so we do need more details about Luther's baseball program.
Luther offered a number of other activities to allow other students express their talents. One of the things that the school offered was opera as they presented the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, "The Mikado" in 1940. Presentations like this were a chance to showcase the music department at the school, plus even the school newspaper wrote some accounts about them.

Program from "The Mikado"
Courtesy of Sue Owen

Program from "The Mikado"
courtesy of Sue Owen

School newspaper account of music department
courtesy of Sue Owen

Joe Pahr (class of 1946) -- earned 10 varsity letters (four each in baseball and basketball, two in football), and went on to play at Valparaiso College (now University) as a member of the Crusader football team. Pahr wound up an two-time All-American at Valpo (1950-51) and set both the school's career scoring mark (234 points) and career rushing total (2,326) in just three seasons. Those figures lasted over 50 years before being surpassed by other players. Pahr also scored 46 points in a basketball game during an era when teams didn't even average that many per game. Joe is a member of both the Luther North and Valparaiso Athletic Hall of Fame.
Alvin Harks (class of 1946) -- Led Luther in rebounding and field goal percentage during the 1945-46 season from his center position. Alvin was also a football star and was all-conference during his (and the school's) first two seasons.
Wallace Pflug (class of 1955) -- An all-around athlete like Joe Pahr, he was an all-conference pick in three sports and went on to play baseball at Yale.
Ed Krueger (class of 1956) -- As a freshman, Ed was a member of the final Luther Institute football team that went undefeated. He later went on to gain all-conference honors for three years running, plus received all-state mention his final two seasons.
Louis Menking (coach from 1930's-early 1950's) -- Had records been kept, he could have been ranked as one of the top coaches for career winning percentage in basketball and baseball. Louis later served as the first superintendent of the Lutheran High School Association and was an education executive in the 1970's.
Ted Leitz (football coach 1944-1952) -- Ted was the first head football coach at Luther Institute as well as Luther North and served as the mentor at Walther Lutheran and Concordia in River Forest. His 1952 team competed for the PSL title that season, as he built the program from scratch into an area power.
George Yursky (assistant football coach, 1945-1952) -- In helping Ted Leitz, George was responsible for developing a winning tradition at Luther and Luther North, later taking over as Luther North's head coach in 1953 when Leitz left for Walther Lutheran. While in the head coach position, Yursky's teams went 18-3-3 over a three-year period from 1959-61 and overall compiled a mark of 44-18-5.
then we invite you to contact us. Information such as win-loss records, team photos, school colors, nickname, and words to the school song are greatly appreciated. Please either click on this Guest Commentary link or send it to Also, the USPS is an acceptable way to send us your information. Our address is:
Illinois High School Glory Days
6439 North Neva
Chicago, IL 60631