Organ Rededication

Restored church organ to be rededicated Sept. 18, 2016

By Julie Gutknecht
From the constant pumping for air pressure to the electronics of today, Immanuel’s congregation is celebrating the music that has been used for decades to praise God’s glory.
With the completion of its most recent organ upgrade and renovation, Buffalo’s Immanuel Lutheran Church is planning an organ rededication service for September 18, 2016, at 2 p.m. “We hope the entire area will join us,” Pastor Stephen Smith invited. “We selected our theme from Psalm 98, ‘Make music to the Lord.’”
According to Karen Davis, head organist at Immanuel, “We had a pretty long list of problems when this process started but it has been worth the restoration effort. The sound of the organ and the new chimes now is simply amazing. What a fantastic way to accompany the congregational singing to praise God.”

Church records show that when Immanuel was first organized in the late 1800s, they paid $98 for their first pump organ. “And that included the stool,” Davis said. When Immanuel decided to replace its small white clapboard church with a larger new brick version in 1927, they also formed a committee to discuss their 30-year-old pump organ. An Immanuel member, Albert Nowack, remembers that committee traveling to Litchfield as part of their research. “They’d heard that congregation had an impressive organ.” It must have also impressed them since they returned to Buffalo with an order in hand for a Reuter Organ, the Opus 300, which was installed in 1929 at a cost of $3,600.

Some of the 421 pipes that make up the beautiful sound of Immanuel’s pipe organ.

Some of the 421 pipes that make up the beautiful sound of Immanuel’s pipe organ.


Of the 421 pipes, the tallest in Immanuel’s pipe room are called 16-foot pipes and measure about 12 inches square. Since there isn’t room for the 16-foot pipes, they actually measure 8 feet tall. The pipe has a divider in the middle with the air traveling 8 feet up and then 8 feet back down to achieve the same pitch as a 16-foot open pipe. The smallest metal pipe is about the size of a pencil.

The smallest of the pipes is about the size of a pencil.

A 20-note set of Cathedral Deagan chimes was added to the organ and dedicated in 1965 as a memorial to several members ($550).  The chimes also needed restoration. The chime tubes were pneumatic, but much of the leather had rotted with some notes not working at all. They were pulled outside of the pipe room and repaired. The chimes restoration has been made possible by a gift from Vernice and William Kowalke. With his mother, Mayta Kowalke, the organist at the time, Bill played the church organ in his youth.
Over the years, updates and maintenance has been done on the Opus 300. Much of the more recent work had fallen to Mike Christian of MG Christian Organ Company who also was in charge of the very first phase of this restoration project. “He kept our organ going for many years,” Davis said. David Engen and David Grandall of Grandall and Engen Organbuilders have been working on this most recent repair and upgrade. As typical in any maintenance project, it needed to be a blend of older elements with their historic, artistic and musical value and modern, reliable and durable components.
      “Our involvement began after a roof leak in the chamber which allowed water into one of the wind chests. This ruined the valve pouch leather and resulted in pipes either playing all the time or not at all,” Engen explained. These pouches were sent back to Reuter (the original organ builder) for new leather.

Work on the console itself necessitated it be taken to the Organbuilders’ shop. Weighing over 100 pounds, the console was removed and returned over the balcony railing. “Those were hold-your-breath moments,” Davis admitted. The total cost of this latest restoration project was about $28,000.

At various times the renovation meant removing the organ console from the choir loft.

At various times the renovation meant removing the organ console from the choir loft.

The two manuals and foot pedals, on which so many of Immanuel’s organists played, needed to be replaced as part of the restoration. But since they hold so much history, the congregation couldn’t just toss them into recycling but has decided to save those parts to be installed in a display. “Just looking at those keyboards, I saw mom’s hands,” Davis said. Her mother, Doris Gutknecht, played for about 35 years, fulfilling a childhood dream. She never felt she was doing anything very special, just privileged to do her job. Her predecessor, Mayta Kowalke, had played the original reed pump organ and then the Opus 300, beginning in 1919 while in high school and playing until 1978.
The Reuter organ and its organists have been a part of the congregation’s more than 125 year history. Davis began playing at her mom’s side while in high school. She took a break to raise her family and returned in 2010. “I see it as a privilege to serve my congregation. God blesses us with the talents we need to best serve Him,” she said. Mindy Hoffmann also began playing in 2010 and continues currently when she’s home from college where she is majoring in music.
The Organ Rededication Service at 2 p.m. on September 18 will feature Greg Baures on the newly restored Opus 300. Baures is a music, choir and band instructor at West Lutheran High School in Plymouth. Past and present members will also perform musical selections with Immanuel’s mixed choir singing during the service.
Immanuel Ev. Lutheran Church is located 4 miles east of Buffalo on County Road 35. The congregation is a member of the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod. “You can find more information about our congregation, who we are, what we believe and the many ministry resources and activities we offer on our website,” Smith added. “And now you can like us on Facebook.”