Music minister bids farewell to audience

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 1, 2002

On his last day in the spotlight, Wilbur Sayles, accordion master, didn't touch the instrument.

He did play the piano and sing, but the instrument that made him famous -- or vice-versa -- was silent.

An open house retirement reception was held Sunday afternoon in the fellowship hall at First United Methodist Church of Austin to honor Wilbur and Marlyn Sayles, the couple, who were the heart and soul of Wilbur Sayles Lay Music Missions, Inc. since 1958.

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The couple said they approached Sunday's retirement reception with "mixed feelings."

In a joint statement the couple issued, they said, "It seems so inadequate to say only 'thank you.'"

However, that they did with "hearts full of gratitude."

The Wilbur Sayles Lay Music Missions, Inc. had its world headquarters at "Sayles-ville.," that area around the historic Enterprise Country School along U.S. Highway 218 south of Austin, where the Sayles family has its roots.

Wilbur started playing the accordion when he was 11 years old. Two years later, he was playing professionally in an area band when he was only 13 years old.

Now 77, Sayles has made music his life for more than six decades less a two-year hitch in the U.S. Army, during World War II.

Sayles' sense of humor is well-known and was in evidence at Sunday afternoon's program. When discussing the inscription on a plaque from the board of directors of the ministry's corporation, which praised him for a

"lifetime of service to God," it prompted a joke.

"I remember the time I met a man and he asked me 'Have you lived here all your life?' and I told him 'Not yet'." Sayles quipped as the audience chuckled.

George L. and Dolly Hodgkins of

Massachusetts were co-masters of ceremonies for the program,

The Sayles' daughter, Beverly, sang a song.

Testimonials to their good works came by letters read to the audience and spontaneously from guests at the open house event.

In the back were displays of the ministry's

travels throughout the nation and overseas missions.

Cassette tapes of Sayles' original and other music were also sold. The HymnTime radio broadcasts are a particular favorite of fans.

Also a favorite of Sayles fans were Marlyn's recipes, published in the newsletters distributed to spread the music ministry's influence.

But, it was the man and his "squeeze box" -- later a high tech electronic audiovox -- who loaded the trailer and packed an extra suit and hit the road all to sing and say good news to everyone who would listen.

And, all because he was "called."

The story is well-known how Sayles decided to become an itinerant music missionary with his wife and the man himself retold it Sunday afternoon.

It was 2 a.m. on Labor Day in 1966, when he first felt God calling him to read the Bible's Luke 5:4.

When he looked up the passage, it was the familiar story how Jesus Christ told Simon Peter "Follow me and I will make you fishers of men" tale.

It would take two other callings before Sayles acted, but it was worth it.

The numbers are the bet proof: more than 61 years of playing professionally, 44 years of outreach ministry, 37 years of outreach ministry in America alone and 34 years of continuous HymnTime weekly radio messages and one boss: God.

The afternoon's program ended with everyone standing and singing Sayles' theme song "Jesus Took My Burden."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at