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By Amber Hayden
GLENWOOD CITY— After 41 years as Holy Cross’s full time organist, Marian Schmitz decided it was time to retire and let someone else enjoy the post as much as she did.
“It was an emotional decision,” she said about deciding to step down. “I turned 80 in November and thought that maybe was a good time.”
Schmitz grew up in Barron and graduated from Barron High School in 1956, she attended Suomi College in Hancock, Michigan for two years retraining her associates, before going on to graduate from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, with a degree in Music Education in 1960.
But in all of the schooling she received, she taught herself to play the organ.
“I pretty much taught myself how to manage the pedals, and playing the organ was easy,” she said.
She, along with her husband, Jack, moved to Glenwood City for Jack’s job, with the power company. They raised six kids, Julie Berends, Janet Mortenson, Amy Root, Henry, Peter and Anthony Schmitz, and the couple have ten grandchildren and three great-grandchildren, she said.
“We raised six kids and so with everything I was always busy, there was always volleyball games or basketball games,” she said. “They did it all.”
Marian began playing for Holy Cross in 1977 when Faith Lutheran and St. Paul’s Lutheran combined to build Holy Cross. She and Emma Knoebel split the services until Emma stepped down to retire, leaving Marian to become the full time organist.
“The old organ came from one of the churches but I can’t recall which one,” Marian said. “When the churches merged they each had their own organist, and they all played at Holy Cross, and one by one they retired.”
In 1995, Holy Cross purchased an Allen Digital organ that was said to resemble all the stops on a pipe organ, she explained, which she played along with being the choir director, the bell choir director, as well as teaching 35 piano students. And she substitute taught for the Glenwood City School District.
When Holy Cross got the Allen organ, they moved it to the front of the choir loft, which to Marian made more sense than having it tucked away in the corner with very little light.
“I hadn’t played that in some time, but for a while I was playing it once a month,” she explained.
A recitalist from Schmitt Music came for the dedication of the Allen organ, and according to Marian, he played music from different centuries and was able to get sounds out of the organ that haven’t been heard since.
When Marian started with Holy Cross, she recalls Pastor Essie as the first pastor, who was about to leave, and the station, passed to Pastor Thompson and he was with the church for 35 years.
“Pastor Julie was here for a few months, then it was Pastor Diane for four years and now it’s Pastor Johnathan,” she smiled at the memory. “I played for all of them.”
Marian explained that Pastor Thompson used to get her music, such as preludes, that he liked. She also said they were always a challenge, but she managed to get through them.
In 2016, the church purchased a new Clavinova piano that is located to the right downstairs, making it very seldom that she played the organ up in the loft.
“It never needs tuning because it is digital,” Marian explained. “It’s a wonderful instrument.”
She also played for 22 years at the St. John the Baptist Catholic Church on Saturday evenings but retired from there last March.
“I do miss it. It was over half my lifetime,” Marian explained as she tried to keep from getting emotional.
At the time of her retirement, the staff of Holy Cross made the decision to rename the choir loft after Marian. She felt very humbled and honored they would do something like that for her, she explained.
Since retirement, Marian has spent her time quilting, along with attending weddings, and spending time with her ever growing family.
“The family photo grows out of date with every wedding,” she said.