Church’s only organist retiring after 63 years

Published 8:37 am Friday, December 26, 2014

Olson has played more than 4,000 Sundays

LUVERNE — Lorraine Olson has never called out sick during her more than 4,000 Sunday mornings of work. The only organist in the 63-year history of Grace Lutheran Church in western Minnesota, she has played for more than 1,000 funerals and an equal number of weddings.

But now, she’s ready to retire.

Rev. Ron Nichols, the church’s pastor for the last four years, said Olson’s goal has been to spread God’s message through music, lifting people’s spirits and directing both song and souls upward.

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“God gave us music so that we might pray without words,” Nichols told the Sioux Falls Argus Leader. “Lorraine, in my mind, really typifies that. This is her ministry. This is her passion.”

Olson was asked to play for Grace Lutheran in 1951, shortly after two congregations two blocks apart decided to merge in Luverne, a town near the South Dakota border. She was Lorraine Hoime then, a farm girl from nearby Kenneth, Minnesota, who had studied in South Dakota at Augustana Academy in Canton and Augustana College in Sioux Falls.

“They came and said to me, ‘We need an organist this Sunday,’ “ Olson recalled about her debut.

She went on to work with 14 pastors and 17 choir directors, and played for more than 10,000 worship services. She also taught piano in her home for more than 30 years, with some of her six grandchildren among her students. She’s cutting back her hours there, too, reducing her workload from 24 aspiring pianists to 20.

Colby Anderson was one of those pupils. He had taken piano lessons as a child in Sioux Falls but didn’t like the experience. That changed when his family moved to Luverne, and Olson became his instructor.

“She kind of opened my world up to it,” said Anderson, 29, who lives in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Olson will play her final weekly service Sunday at 10 a.m. After consulting with her son, she decided her final piece will be “When in Our Music, God is Glorified.”

“’God is Glorified,’ that is a difficult one but I can do it,” she said. “That is a fitting one.”