- Associated Press - Monday, June 20, 2016

MARSEILLES, Ill. (AP) - To realize how long Shirley Smith has been playing the organ at Marseilles’ Trinity Lutheran Evangelical Church, keep in mind the church celebrated its 150th anniversary on May 22. She has been pianist and organist for 74 years - nearly half that time.

“That didn’t dawn on me until we were planning (anniversary) services. That church means so much to me,” the lifelong Marseilles resident said.

Smith started early, at age 12, playing the Trinity Lutheran piano beginning in 1942. The original church burned down and she’s played on two different organs, but the 86-year-old has no plans on stopping.

“I always say until the notes aren’t in the right place and I can’t read the music, I’ll do it. It’s a service to the Lord,” she said.

The Rev. William Chormann, Trinity Lutheran pastor for three years, admires Smith’s dedication and longevity.



“I’m almost 74 years old. All the places I’ve been - 4,000 weekends, Shirley was playing the organ. That’s amazing,” said Chormann, former pastor at Ottawa’s Zion Lutheran Church.

If ever there was a person to be a Trinity Lutheran institution, it would be Smith. She grew up just south of the church. Smith’s son, Michael, resides in the home, and Smith herself lives with her other son, Timothy, across the street from the church.

Born Shirley Hayes, Smith was baptized at Trinity Lutheran, where she married Howard Smith, who died in 1998. Some of her ancestors, who came from Germany, were among the church’s first members. For nearly 50 years, Trinity Lutheran services were conducted in German.

When Howard served in the Korean War, Shirley moved back to her old home in an apartment her parents built. She and Howard moved into the house across the street from the church in 1957.

At least once a week, Smith walks across the street and practices in the Trinity Lutheran organ loft. She uses a stair lift the church built for her to get to the loft.

“I haven’t been well lately, but when I get on the organ bench, I’m fine,” said Smith, who plays during services at 5 p.m. Saturdays and 10:30 a.m. Sundays, as well as extra services for weddings and during Holy Week.

Her musical calling came at a very young age. Smith played piano at home, and Trinity Lutheran asked her to start playing when she was just 12.

“I had been raised in the church and I knew it was serious and I had to do my best,” said Smith, nothing the original church piano was in the front of the chapel, near the altar. “I didn’t like it because they all could see you.”

Trinity Lutheran once was a block away at Cole and Washington streets before it burned down in 1961. Smith had been playing an organ at that church, but soon received a new organ, and a new church. The existing building was constructed on the site of the old church parsonage.

“I had this totally different organ and felt a little uneasy for a while. My husband said if you could find anyone who could play better than you, then get nervous. After that, I was fine,” she said.

Chormann is the 19th pastor Trinity Lutheran has employed since Smith began playing. He said she is invaluable regarding the history of the church, where she served as recording secretary, taught Sunday school and is former president of Lutheran Women’s Missionary League.

“We’re a small congregation, but we’re a family. God is with us, and when I come here this is my second home,” Smith said.

Still, the church she has known all her life has changed.

“I don’t think the church today is as relevant as it was. People don’t bring their kids to church. They get married on a beach instead of the church,” said Smith, noting the church isn’t as much the center of activity for most people.

Trinity Lutheran doesn’t have another congregation member who can play the organ.

“Obviously, we’ll have to find another organist. It’s hard even to find a backup,” said Chormann, noting the church has CDs that can be used for organ music.

Until then, Trinity Lutheran services will be graced by Smith, the same woman who has performed there for nearly three quarters of a century.

“I love music and I love playing the organ. It’s been a joy and comfort to me,” she said, recounting a favorite phrase: “Make a joyful noise unto the Lord.” (Psalms 98:4)

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Source: The (Ottawa) Daily Times, https://bit.ly/1TVSguv

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Information from: The Daily Times, https://www.mywebtimes.com

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