Leslie church celebrates 110-year-old pipe organ

By: 
Linda Trest
Staff Writer

The congregation of Leslie United Methodist Church had much to celebrate this December. Of on those things was the 110th anniversary of the installation of their pipe organ. 

A list of at least 66 members who contributed to the purchase of the organ is available. Tim Lindemeyer, a church member who compiled many historical church records, says that he cannot find an actual purchase price for the organ. However, the total raised from the donors was $175. He assumes the price was near that amount. Today, the organ is valued at $75,000.

The organ was created by the Hinners Organ Co. Technical details on the pipe organ at Leslie can be found at pipeorgandatabase.org.

At present the church is a three-point charge, the Leslie church and those at Casco and Champion City are all pastored by Mary Avizenis.

Geraline Ellerbrake currently serves as the organist at Leslie, although she says she is semi-retired. She began that job as Jane Click’s assistant and took over as full-time organist in 2004. For the last 12 years, Ellerbrake has also  played for the Casco church. There have been at least nine organists for the church in the last 110 years. After the organ was installed, men served as organists.

When asked if it was more difficult to play a pipe organ, Ellerbrake responded, “Oh my, yes.”

In the beginning, bellows were used to pump the air for the organ to play. The task of working the bellows was usually assigned to teenage boys in the congregation.  

In an undated article on the church from an unidentified newspaper, Ellerbrake was pictured with the organ. That paper wrote: “She recalls childhood days at the church when the task of pumping the organ (now done by electricity) was assigned to young boys who, hidden from sight of most of the congregation, would occasionally ‘Make monkeyshines.’”

The church was wired for electricity in 1936, after the church raised the necessary $116.60 needed for the project. This eventually allowed a motor and squirrel  cage to replace the bellows. This in turn, allowed the boys to return to sitting in full view of the congregation. There is record as to how the boys viewed this change. 

The church was extensively renovated in 1996. At this time, the organ was removed, refurbished and reinstalled by St. Louis Pipe Organ. That company continues to tune and repair the organ as necessary.

Lindemeyer says that during that process, several paper airplanes and other items were discovered on the ledge above the organ. 

Until her death, Jane Click who was a church member from birth, was the long-time organist. 

She wrote some of her memories for a church publication:

Everyone enjoyed the pipe organ, pumped by hand. The pipes were always so beautiful--—much like European taste. Our organ is one of the oldest west of the Mississippi River. The tone is incomparable.

The church first began in 1842 when a missionary from Illinois was sent into this territory. His circuit included all of Gasconade and most of Franklin County. 

The Leslie congregation built a log church in 1843 on a site about three miles from its present location. In 1860, the current church was built using rock quarried and set by church members.

By this time, members of the church were spread over a large area. To determine a more central location, two men “stepped off” the distance between two points. One man started at Noser’s Mill, the other from the Bauche farm. They began at sunup and met in a hollow just west of the church’s location. It was decided a hollow was not a good place for a church, so they decided to build on the hill where the church now stands. 

Much has changed for the church since its humble beginnings in 1840. Yet the Leslie Methodist Church remains a group of faithful people who work together to honor the past and plan and provide for the future.

 

Cutline: The beautiful pipe organ at Leslie Methodist Church was installed 110 years ago. Current members have appreciated the physical beauty of the pipes and the beautiful sound it creates for their entire lifetimes. Geraline Ellerbrake (above, seated at the organ) is the church’s current organist. Rev. Mary Avizenius, shown seated at far right, is the pastor.

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