Organ History

Music has been an integral part of the Smoky Valley people from the beginning of the settlement. Founding Pastor Olof Olsson was instrumental in developing this appreciation for music. Soon after the church was organized on August 19, 1869, Pastor Olsson began rehearsing singers in small groups in homes. He brought them together as a choir on New Year's Day, 1870, to sing at the first service in the newly completed church of sod and stone. It is believed that Pastor Olsson also served as the church organist. In December 1877 and 1878, P. W. Lindstrom (druggist) was appointed organist.
Bethany's First Organ
The first church organ was a reed organ made by Estey, purchased at a cost of $225 - possibly in the year 1875 after the first section of the present church was completed. This organ now stands in the new Martin Luther Room.

Pastor Carl A. Swensson arrived in July 1879. The records show that he was elected organist in December 1879. The records do no say who was actually organist at this time. His wife, Alma Swensson, did not arrive until after their marriage in Moline, Illinois, in September 1880. At each annual meeting from January 1881 to January 1920, Alma C Swensson was elected organist.

Dr. Julius Lincoln (who was born in Lindsborg, was in the first Bethany College class receiving baccalaureate degrees, and was ordained in 1893) recalled the early development of music in the Lindsborg community, and added:"...Do not forget Jan Janson I Backa and his violin, the son Carl with his tenor voice who played the organ, and Johan-in-the-Valley who could play the pipe organ when the pastor's wife was absent."

The second organ was a pipe organ built in 1881 by C. J. Lindvall of Moline, Illinois - comprising eight stops on the manual and one in the pedal, costing $1,000 net, not including shipping and installation. The church had been enlarged to include the bell tower to the west, and the organ was installed in the balcony at the east end of the sanctuary, above the pulpit and altar. Records for the next few years show that the church's Sewing Society contributed at least a third of the cost of the organ. In 1905, this organ was sold to a congregation in Salt Lake City, Utah.

This organ and the next one required someone to pump air while the organ was played, so it was decided that this person would be chosen by the pastor and the organist. In 1882, "...the organ pumper's salary will be one collection and if the same is below $25 then it will be filled in from the congregation's treasury. But if it is over $25 the overflow goes to the congregation's treasury." The service of an organ pumper was required until an electric motor was installed in 1911.

On March 28, 1882, the first rendition of Handel's Messiah was presented in Bethany Lutheran Church.. Since December, Mrs. Alma Swensson had conducted rehearsals of a choir comprised of singers from churches in the valley. Pastor Olof Olsson returned from Rock Island to serve as organist for the performance, and along with him came Director Joseph Osborn and a 13-piece orchestra from Augustana College. Mrs. Swensson was one of the soprano soloists.

In January of 1901, the congregation urged the young people " soon as possible to begin work on a collection to procure a new pipe organ in our church."

In December 1903, the congregation decided to build an addition to the church, adding the two wings, and to install a new organ. At the time, some money was available from the sale of lots. The congregation asked the three Luther Leagues immediately to hold a meeting to appoint an organ committee, and also to take up a voluntary subscription in the congregation for the new organ.

On January 11, 1904, Pastor Carl Swensson gave what turned out to be his final report to the congregation: "...For the third time the congregation is purchasing an organ. It shall be built by Kilgen & Sons of St. Louis. It will comprise nine stops in the Great, ten stops in the Swell, three stops in the Pedal, in all 22 stops and 1,359 pipes, all together 28 stop-pulls and seven pedal movements. Seventeen stops have 61 pipes each, one had 49, and one has 183. The pedal stops each have 30 pipes. The organ, which usually costs $3,200, will cost installed in the church $2,585, an unusually favorable price for such a good instrument." To pay for the organ, Mrs. Swensson collected $1,513. The Young People's societies together gave almost $500. The dedication festival and other affairs brought in the rest. Other improvements in 1904 included the removal of the balcony from the front of the church sanctuary, the addition of the present altar, altar paintings, stained glass windows, and the two transepts. All was ready when the national convention of the Augustana Lutheran Synod met here in June 1904. Pastor Swensson did not live to see any of this accomplished. Five weeks after he gave his annual report, he suffered a heart attack in Los Angeles and died February 16, 1904, at the age of 46 years. Mrs. Swensson continued as organist and choir director until 1920.

Pastor Alfred Bergin, who came to Bethany Church in 1904, reported regularly on the contribution of music to the worship. In 1907, he commented, "Prof. Hagbard Brase has in Mrs. Swensson's absence looked after the organist's work and also practices with the choir to practice rhythmical hymn singing." Dr. Brase served as the organist from 1921 until 1943.

The fourth organ, built by the Wicks Pipe Organ Company, Highland, Illinois, was installed at a cost of $9,000. The dedication took place on October 10, 1930.

In 1965, and $43,000 Wicks organ was purchased and installed in the rear balcony of the church. The three-manual, 35-rank organ was dedicated at festive service on All Saints' Sunday, November 7, 1965. It was fully provided by the estate of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Olson, together with several memorial and specified gifts.

Other organists who have served Bethany Lutheran Church were Mabel King Hanson, 1944-46; Nadine Hagstrand Bohning, 1947-48; Nelouise Hodges Stapp, 1949-51; and Lambert Dahlsten, 1952-89. Genevieve Bishop, organist at the present time, began serving this congregation in 1989.

Article written by CHARLOTTE TERNSTROM