They were the wind beneath the hymns.
Strong young members of St. Joseph Parish in Westphalia used to take turns pumping the bellows for the old pipe organ in their parish church.
Their efforts still resonate, three-quarters of a century later.
“Lord, we give You thanks for these once-boys of many years ago, who served their parish in a most unique way, that the beauty and power of organ music would fill this majestic church,” Father Anthony Viviano, pastor of St. Joseph Parish in Westphalia and St. Anthony of Padua Parish in Folk, prayed at the end of Mass on Sept. 19.
Music in the church used to come from a late 19th-century organ similar to the one that’s still in the choir loft of St. Thomas the Apostle Church in St. Thomas.
“It took two boys or men of equal strength and with attention to detail to pump the organ, as the organ-pumpers had to work together to provide consistent air flow to the organ,” wrote Janice Wieberg, current St. Joseph Parish organist.
“With the addition of an organ with an electric blower came the end of the church organ being powered by a hand-pump,” she stated.
That milestone came in 1946 — 75 years ago this summer.
To mark the anniversary, Mrs. Wieberg contacted 11 of the former bellows-pumpers and the wife of a 12th and invited them to Mass on Sept. 19.
“You are part of the living history of St. Joseph Parish!” she wrote to them.
Harry Buersmeyer, Eddie Eichholz, Robert Holterman, Harry Otto, Elmer Weber, “Tip” Weber, Jim Werner and Cornie Westerman attended the Mass in person.
Charlie Cassmeyer, Eddie Castrop and Larry Horstdaniel tuned in by livestream.
Tony Bock’s wife Dorothy attended on his behalf.
Fr. Viviano noted that the men carry among them more than 900 years of faith, family, service and life experience.
He prayed a blessing over them after Holy Communion.
“Bless these now-men of advanced years, men of faith, men of character and service, men whom You call today to serve You, O Lord, to the best of their ability,” he prayed.
The Westphalia Historical Society hosted a reception for the men and family members who attended the Mass.
The church dates from the mid-19th century.
Parishioner Mary Ann Klebba noted that in the parish’s early days, a brass ensemble likely supplemented the music of the organ, especially for processions when the sodalities had celebrations in honor of their patron saints.
Chris Soer, an organ technician with Wicks Organ Co., said the ornate wooden case that contains the organ pipes probably dates from before the lofty clerestory and second loft were added in 1905.
Some pipes from the original organ were refurbished and incorporated into the new instrument built and installed by Wicks Organ Co. in 1946 and ’47, while Father Bernard C. Feldt was pastor.
“The pipe organ that belongs to the parish church is a modest organ, designed to allow the traditional architecture of the church to produce the needed resonance,” Mr. Soer noted.
Mrs. Wieberg said the pipe organ is truly designed to enhance the voices of the congregation, “as voices are made by God and organs are made by people.”
“The organ is at its pinnacle when every voice in church is joining in with the organ music, as organ music is intended for God and His people,” she said.