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'Music Man' Russ Bunker to be honored

Pianist, organist, church music director and teacher Russ Bunker in a familiar position; on a piano seat, music in front of him--framed by a music-themed stained glass window at Calvary Lutheran.

By Chuck Johnson

Guest Contributor

If there's a musical event in Perham, Russ Bunker is probably involved.

Community musicals. Check

Talent shows. Check

Piano recitals. Check

Easter cantatas. Check

Perham Blues Band. Check

Calvary musical ministry. Check

Rotary sing-a-longs. Check

Over the years, Russ has contributed thousands of hours to events such as these, bringing the arts to citizens around the area. Sometimes, he's front and center, with his pre-eminent piano or directing skills. Just as often, he's accompanying another musician or musical group. In either case, his generosity with his talent enhances the quality of life for local citizens.

Russ' musical saga started in Attleboro, Massachusettes, where he and his brother Bill, and parents Ann and Frank, lived when he was a boy. It was there that his dad decided to go into the ministry, a journey that eventually led the Bunker family to Perham when Frank accepted the call to the United Church of Christ churches in Perham and New York Mills. Two years later, Frank died, and the Bunker family decided to remain in Perham. It was several years later that his brother, Bill, died of heart disease, leaving Russ and his mother as a Bunker two-some. Russ was her caretaker for many years, until she died.

In the years before coming to Perham, Russ studied music at Troy State University in Alabama. In fact, when the Bunkers received their call to preach in Perham, Russ was faced with the decision of whether to finish his studies at Troy State. He decided to do so, then came to Perham to join his family. "I didn't think the Troy State opportunity would cross my path again," he says, "so I stayed and finished. I felt that's what the Lord wanted me to do."

To make a living in Perham, Russ began offering piano lessons and working with church music. Several hundred people have learned piano from Russ over the years, a mixture of youth and adults. In his early years in Perham, he served as musical director for UCC and St. Peters in NYM. Eventually, he became Musical Ministry Coordinator at Calvary Lutheran Church, serving as choir director and organist and helping at other musical events.

Russ is happy that he has been able to live in a small town, and been able to utilize his musical talent to bring joy and a musical ministry to people. "We've come a long way at Calvary," he states. "I'm now the Music Ministry Coordinator, and we have a designated fund in the budget so that people can give money directly to the music ministry."

"I hope some day to have a Calvary bell choir. It's a God thing that they (the council) created that music job for me," he concludes, "definitely a God thing."