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Century-old organ gets new lease on life

 

The wonderful pipe organ has been a part of the church service at the First Presbyterian Church for 100 years and, following an extensive refurbishment completed last week, it is set for decades to come.

The organ, originally built by the Henners Organ Company out of Illinois, was installed in 1913 and was getting to the point where it needed some care and work to bring it back to its original condition. “There were three major problems,” noted Pastor Ken Weaver. “The keys were drooping or were dead. Some of the steps were malfunctioning and some pedals weren’t working.” The church began looking at what to do with the organ back in the summer of 2011 before work actually began in January 2013.

One decision was how modern to make the organ. “We chose to keep it as authentic as much as possible,” Weaver said Thursday as workers from the Levsen Organ Company were getting close to finishing their work.

Rod Levsen Jr., son of the founder of the company, and his crew were hovering around the pipe organ testing keys as well as checking pipes, connections and other parts as they were finishing up their work. They began in mid-January by dismantling the organ and taking many of the components back to their shop in Buffalo, Iowa. Once they had created new parts or refurbished others, they returned to LaGrange for three weeks to rebuild the organ.

“It takes much more time to put it back together,” Levsen said. A lot of the time is making sure they get all of the adjustments just right.

A lot of the original leatherwork on the organ was replaced with new leather parts, including leather washers that were custom made for this organ, along with the bellows that provide the air for the pipes and leather hinges.

“For 100 years old, its condition is generally pretty good,” Levsen stated. “The pipe work is in fine condition.”

However, a challenge to the workers was the tight space. “It was nearly impossible to get to all of the pipes,” Levsen said. As part of the renovation, the crew pulled the organ out from the sanctuary wall by three feet to get behind it and to make it more accessible for future maintenance and work. They also added ladders and a walkway to allow better access to pipes in the “swell chamber” that sits just above the keyboard and back into the wall. They also added some lights in the organ. Levsen pointed out that they originally used candles to see back in the pipe section, something they would prefer not to do today.

“This is a labor of love,” Levsen said. “You have an instrument that the congregation is proud of and values. It needs some TLC and that’s what we’re here for.”

The church is also taking the opportunity to refurbish much of the sanctuary itself, including adding some space to the front section of the altar area. The church is planning a special celebration with the refurbished organ and sanctuary on Pentecost Sunday, May 19. A public organ recital is planned for June 23.

“It’s a unique asset,” Pastor Weaver said. “We’re glad to be able to maintain it and share it with the community. It’s a great way to celebrate the glory of God though music.”