The members of First Presbyterian Church in LaGrange have announced plans for the celebration of the centenary of the installation of the church’s chancel pipe organ which will take place during 2013. The pneumatic assist Hinner Tracker 14-rank instrument was built and placed in the church sanctuary in 1913. It has a total of 671 pipes and is believed to be one of the last original church pipe organs remaining in LaGrange County.
The church will be holding a “last concert” spotlighting the organ at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 21. The public is invited to participate in the event.
Time has been relatively kind to the First Presbyterian Church organ, which has been in almost constant use for nearly 100 years. A survey of the instrument by several organ experts conducted during this past year showed that many of the original stops, pipes, wood and other components are in relatively good condition. Unfortunately, only one of the three “organs” in the instrument is currently working. The leathers, many of them from the original installation, need to be replaced. Kevin Ramer, church organist for almost 30 years, notes that playing the organ has become a challenge. “There are keys, keyboards and pedals that no longer work. I have had to learn how to play around these problems,” Ramer stated. “It is really time for something major to be done.”
The First Presbyterian Church Session members contacted three different organ companies and two independent organ builders, searching for the best solution for the preservation of the instrument. It was decided to have the organ completely and authentically restored. This task will be undertaken by the Levsen Organ Company of Buffalo, Iowa. The 56-year-old company is renowned for building new and restoring historic instruments. The church signed a contract with the company in July.
The first step in the restoration will take place in the next few weeks as 12 large stones weighing over one ton are removed. The stones, which represent the 12 Apostles, were installed in front of the organ consol during the renovation of the sanctuary in the mid-1960s. This is necessary since the organ must be completely dismantled and the main wind reservoir bellows removed from the old apse of the chancel space. This task should occur during the beginning of January as the actual rebuilding and restoration task begins in earnest. Several large pieces of the organ will be transported to Iowa, where they will be repaired and releathered at the Levsen workshop. The pipes and other components will be restored at the church by Levsen technicians.
While work on the organ takes place, church leaders will be taking advantage of the situation to renovate the chancel of the sanctuary. The new architectural focus will be on the magnificent oak casework of the organ. The chancel space will be enlarged and other small changes will be made to accommodate moving the organ forward a foot or two, providing better access for tuning and ongoing maintenance. This work will be completed before the restored organ is reinstalled in late February or early March.
The church pastor, Rev. Ken Weaver, hopes that the work will be completed by Easter. “It would be wonderful to hold the rededication of the organ on Easter Sunday. We feel that our organ is an important piece of the heritage and history of LaGrange. We want to take every opportunity to share our joy and good fortune at having this historic instrument with the community.”