Tuned to a century

Published 5:55 am Thursday, October 6, 2011

Pam Leonard plays St. John's Lutheran Church's 100-year-old organ that just recently came back to the church. -- Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

Organ returns home to St. John’s

After more than 100 years, most items become obsolete, but some things will never lose their true qualities.

The Rev. William Milbrath, center photo, who served St. John's Lutheran Church from 1911 to 1956, brought the organ to St. Johns originally. - Eric Johnson/photodesk@austindailyherald.com

That’s the case with a local pump organ that’s likely moved from home to home more than most people have. Now, that organ is back in the same congregation to which it belonged since 1911, at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Austin. Though the church has moved to a newer building, and its organ is obviously newer, too, some people are happy to see the original instrument sitting where people can appreciate it.

“My family had it in our various homes from 1958 to 2011, and it seems fitting to be back in its original location after 100 years,” Kathy Milbrath wrote in a letter.

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The organ, which features foot pedals, knee-controlled volume and stops and slides, has been in Milbrath’s family for a long time. Her grandparents, the Rev. William F. Milbrath and his wife, Clara, brought the organ with them when William became the first pastor of St. John’s Lutheran in 1911. Clara played the organ for the church.

Kathy’s sister, Pam Leonard, of Austin, clearly remembers the organ. She’s played it, too.

“It was significant to me because I played it as a little girl, because I knew my grandmother had played it,” she said.

The organ eventually became obsolete, and a newer organ with better technology took its place. For years, it sat in the Kathy and her sister’s parents’ home.

“So this little pump organ must have been in my home, with my parents, I’ll bet you at least 55 years or more,” Leonard said.

Since that time, the old pump organ moved to various homes of the family and eventually made its way north to Kathy’s summer home near Aiken, Last month, it came back to Austin.

Dave and Sharry Watkins of St. John’s Lutheran volunteered to move the organ back. That was likely a much quicker trip than when it moved in 1911, Kathy said. But the Watkins were just as cautious. They and others at St. John’s appreciate the history that’s played through the pumps of that organ.

“We were a little nervous about bringing it that far of a distance,” Watkins said, but added “It seemed to travel well.”

Now, the organ sits quietly on display in a corner of the commons area at St. John’s Lutheran — waiting for someone to play it. Though the organ may not be nearly as user friendly as current models, and the church members don’t plan on using it again, it’s one true quality remains: the sound.