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Organ resurrected at Estherville Lutheran

By Staff | Sep 24, 2008

James Norton checks a board before placing it in the slot. EDN photo by Michael Tideman

Estherville Lutheran Church at 208 N. Eighth St. will rededicate “The Mighty Wurlitzer” organ after a $70,000 restoration on Oct. 12.

Originally manufactured in 1929, the organ was first installed at a theater in York, Neb. When movies with sound came along in the 1930s, pipe organs typically used for vaudeville performances fell out of use and the pipes were silenced.

Then in 1941, Fred Cesander, who had decided to buy up all the pipe organs in the region, sold the Wurlitzer to the Tosdal family who donated it to the church.

According to Dr. Richard Lepird, the mover behind the Wurlitzer restoration, the rededication ceremony will feature the Many Voices Choir and Glenn Henriksen with past pastors attending. The morning service will segue into the rededication service at 2 p.m. and area churches have also been invited.

“The congregation chose to restore this as a responsibility to history,” Lepird said. “It’s going to be world class once we’re done with it.”

Bob Arndt, who restored the Wurlitzer organ and is installing it at Estherville Lutheran Church, Arndt shows the power supply cord to the Wurlitzer. EDN photo by Michael Tidemann

Bob Arndt, organ restoration specialist and owner of Arndt Organ Supply in Ankeny, is doing most of the work.

Restoration will be paid for with parish contributions. One of the fundraisers for the organ has been to use old stops and keys for keychains and other momentoes, Lepird said.

In addition to completely rebuilding the organ, Arndt is adding a rank of trumpets that was removed when the organ was first placed in the church. The project has taken several months. After going through the organ to ensure that everything works, Arndt was in Estherville this week to install the organ.

Arndt is one of those men whose unique interest turned into a profession. Always fascinated with old pipe organs, he has been manufacturing and shipping pipe organ parts around the world since 1966. Along with manufacturing pipe organ parts, though, he loves to work on old organs.

“It’s amazing,” Arndt said. “You sit down at a pile of wood and end up with something that plays. This one was in pretty good shape.”

David Hikes, also of Ankeny, is restoring the wooden case and bench of the organ. He has been doing custom refinishing for 32 years.

“It’s a pretty straightforward type of operation,” said Hikes who will hand strip, sand, and finish the organ case by hand. Hikes explained that he is hand stripping “to preserve the integrity of the veneer.”

While he terms it straightforward, it is still a long process. Hikes said he will apply stain then three finish coats, sanding between each coat until the final finish.

For Hikes, it’s a lot more than just refinishing a piece of furniture, though. Maybe it’s because he holds a master’s in divinity that gives him such a fondness for old organs.

“It’s an act of stewardship to preserve that instrument,” Hikes said. “The sense of history, working with a historic instrument, gives you a sense that it will go on. The instrument will just go on into perpetuity.”

Hikes said he won’t remove all the imperfections from the organ case since they’re part of the organ’s history and character. Some of the larger voids he’ll fill in then stain over.

He finds particularly gratifying the two Wurlitzer medallions which are made of walnut and inlaid with brass. “When you saw those finished, it just made it a Wurlitzer,” he said.

Anyone who would like to contribute to the organ restoration fund may send contributions to Estherville Lutheran Church organ fund, 208 N. Eighth St., Estherville, IA 51334.