(Photo by Randy Cauthron) [Order this photo]
Gretchen Hagedorn is extremely active, so removing one thing from her very busy plate should seem like a relief, but the Grace United Methodist Church organist of more than five decades admitted "it's a little different" sitting on a pew as opposed to her familiar playing bench.
On the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving last year, Hagedorn played as the church's regular organist for the final time. Now she will enjoy a little more time for golf, walking, volunteering at the hospital, offering her services to the church in other areas and enjoying time reading. But she will miss her weekly date working the keys.
"It's been the joy of my life," she shared.
Hagedorn continued, "To be faithful and be here on time every week and do the best I can."
(Photo by Randy M. Cauthron) [Order this photo]
"I've been a very healthy person," she chuckled.
Regardless of the circumstances, GUMC could count on Hagedorn.
"I remember one time in 1988, it was really bad weather. I came to church on a snowmobile. Not many people got here. The Franks, Tim and Mary, came. It was their daughter Erin's birthday. We had the service in the chapel and we celebrated her birthday. My husband Lowell went to go get doughnuts."
"It's one less thing the pastor has to be concerned about," GUMC Rev. Chuck Kellogg said of Hagedorn's dedication. "Music is a very, very important part of the worship experience. Preaching of the Word and the music are the two major components."
Kellogg added, "She's always been very gracious and always open to play whatever I asked. I always appreciated that."
Early on, Hagedorn was prompted to make a commitment to performing in church.
"As a kid, church was the only entertainment we did," she explained.
Her first music teacher, Cleo Kunath, spent the first month teaching Hagedorn to work the pedals without watching her feet.
"I will never forget," Hagedorn continued, recalling a quote from her Morningside College organ instructor Faith Woddford. "She looked at me when I walked in the room and said, 'Sister, if you're here for some rinky-tink music, there's the door. If you would to play for a church for 50 or more years, sit down and let's get busy.' I sat down and we got busy."
Hagedorn began her work at GUMC working with Gladys Watts, the choir director. Since then she has been through a number of directors and pastors, providing a degree of continuity to the church's music.
"It's been so much fun to play for the many choir directors. I remember having a youth choir of 25 to 30 kids," she said. "We've had some good times and played some really good music."
Among her favorites were the Easter Cantatas, Christmas Eve and candlelight services.
"Those Easter Cantatas, many were 6:30 a.m. sunrise services. I was up and the first one on the road at 5:30 a.m. to pick up doughnuts," she said.
Over the years, the music style has also changed. Hagedorn said the church hymns seem to have a bit of a country western flair to them.
"You grow to like and enjoy it. I love all music. You sing it to the joy of God and do the best you can," she said.
Christi Gabhart and Leah Kreutner have been sharing organ duties since Hagedorn stepped away, but Hagedorn said she remains available if needed and will offer her services for special events.
"Stepping away has been very difficult because of her commitment and love of music," Kellogg said.
"I feel like I've played for the happiest times of people's lives - weddings - and for the saddest times - family funerals. But you do it all for the glory of God," Hagedorn said.
A special come-and-go card shower recognizing the 54 years Gretchen Hagedorn has committed to serving Grace United Methodist Church as its organist will begin at 11 a.m. Sunday in the BenTena Room at Grace United Methodist church.