In memory of Ernie

Published 7:53 pm Sunday, November 22, 2009

The holiday season is often a time for families to remember those who aren’t here to celebrate, and one local family is honoring the memory of an area musician by hosting a concert to raise money for cancer research.

Clara Murphy, along with her daughters, are organizing a Christmas program to remember her husband, Ernie Murphy, who died of cancer in February. The program will bring together two things Ernie loved: music and Christmas.

“He enjoyed it. He enjoyed the music,” Clara said. “He played for several Christmas parties around town. He volunteered at several nursing homes. He just really enjoyed Christmas time — I think the giving more than anything, and his way of giving was his music.”

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The program will be held at First Congregational church, 1910 Third Ave. NW, on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.

Ernie shared his music with the community by playing organ and piano at area churches, and this event is a way to continue giving the gift of music to the community.

“It’s meant to be a free gift to the community as a thank you,” Clara said. “It’s just a good community gathering.”

The free event will feature the Christmas program “Go Tell It.” The program is open to anyone in the community. A free-will offering will be taken with all proceeds going to cancer research, likely to organizations like the Mayo Clinic and the Hormel Institute.

Ernie had talked about organizing a Christmas program for several years. However, Ernie was diagnosed with bladder cancer last November. Though the doctors thought the cancer was treatable, Ernie died from complications Feb. 13.

Shortly after Ernie’s death, Clara and Ernie’s daughters, Cathy, Laura and Cheryl, talked about hosting a Christmas program to remember their father. They didn’t begin planning the program until September, and the choir has been practicing since mid-October on Saturday mornings.

Ernie’s five grandchildren will participate in the performance in some way, Clara said. Cathy, Laura, Cheryl and Clara have all participated in the planning of the event and have helped at practices.

Clara, who has been to many of the practices, described seeing the program come together as a bitter-sweet experience.

“I’m happy that they’re doing it — very happy they’re doing it,” Clara said.

“I’m just sorry and sad that he isn’t here to be able to partake in it.

He would have been very happy to be singing in it. He really enjoyed that. I would like to think that he has some way of knowing that they’re doing it.”

For 37 years, Ernie played piano and organ regularly at nine area churches, and he substituted at other churches, too.

Ernie first started playing for Crane Community Chapel in 1972, where he and Clara attended for a number of years.

In 1980, Ernie added another church to his Sunday morning schedule to play multiple services each Sunday. He also played a midweek service at one church and a Saturday night service at St. Edward’s Church.

“He really enjoyed his music,” Clara said. “He liked sharing his music. He liked listening to other people play music. It was a very, very big part of his life.”

Ernie also sang with the Northwestern Singers and local church choirs.

While he didn’t play for all nine churches at once, he did play for multiple churches at a time.

Ernie also played for many weddings and funerals. Most recently, Ernie played for First Congregational Church after he and Clara began attending the church.

When he wasn’t playing organ and piano in a church, Ernie worked in research and development at Hormel Foods for about 44 years, and he then worked at Mayer Funeral Home after he retired.

About 40 people from area churches and groups Ernie was involved with are singing or helping with the program. Clara said at least one person from each of the churches Ernie played at is participating in the performance, as are people from around town who didn’t even know Ernie.

Clara said it’s nice to see the performance has brought people from different community churches together.

“A lot of them didn’t know each other until they got together in the choir,” she said. “They came together very well and they seem to be very pleased and happy with it.”

The performance will include narration, and a small drama with Christmas characters like Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and shepherds, but the majority of the performance is focused around the music.

Two of Ernie’s sons-in-law will be singing “Let there be Peace” during the offertory, and Clara said that will be a special song to the family because Ernie frequently played the song.

While the money from the freewill offering will go toward cancer research, Clara said the organizers aren’t aiming for a specific amount.

“Anything and everything we can do — we know how important cancer research is,” Clara said.

“I don’t believe there’s anybody who hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way. And they can use every penny they can get.”

Clara described the program as uplifting, and she said the program could become a yearly community event if it’s well received.

“I think it will be an enjoyable evening,” Clara said. “They (the audience) will benefit in more ways than one.”