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Perham church's organ to go on historic list

Sam Benshoof/FOCUS Pastor Carl Noble of St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Perham recently discovered that the church's organ is 108 years old.

Pastor Carl Noble at St. Paul's Lutheran Church in Perham recently received a double dose of good news.

First, Noble found out that the church had received an anonymous donation of $35,000 from somebody who's not even a member of the congregation.

"We don't even know who it's from," Noble said of the donation. "But we still want to find some way to thank them for their gift."

With the $35,000, Noble said the church decided to look into buying a new organ.

"The old organ, we didn't just want it to sit there," Noble said. "We thought maybe there was somebody we could give it to, and all they'd have to do is disassemble and reassemble it."

While figuring out what to do with the organ, Noble wrote to Michael Barone, who hosts a program called 'Pipedreams' on Minnesota Public Radio (MPR). Running since 1982, the radio show is "the only nationally distributed weekly radio program exploring the art of the pipe organ," according to MPR's website.

After receiving Noble's letter, Barone traveled to Perham in late April to personally inspect the church's organ.

"He was absolutely blown away," Noble said. "It turns out that we have, in our community, a priceless treasure."

It turns out the church's organ - a Lyon & Healy - was 108 years old. Built in 1903 by the Wangerin Organ Co. of Milwaukee, Wis., it was purchased by the church in 1924. According to St. Paul's historical documents, the organ was installed in the old church on Dec. 14, 1924.

"The instrument is made of rich wood, stained a brownish color," Noble wrote in a letter to the Organ Historical Society. "The console and wood work is in excellent shape. The complete organ is 12 feet wide and 10 feet deep."

"The organist was paid $10 for his recital on the day of dedication," according to church documents.

When St. Paul's moved from the old building to its current location in 1969, the organ was disassembled and reassembled.

In 1989, the organ was refurbished by Johnson Organ Company of Fargo, N.D., and has been used every Sunday since its installation in 1924, Noble said.

After some discussions with the Organ Historical Society, it was agreed that the organ should be put on the society's list of historic organs.

According to Noble, there are four instruments in Minnesota that are older than the church's organ, but two of them don't work and the other two are in poor shape.

"Out of the old instruments in the state that work, ours is the best," Noble said.

Since discovering the organ's past, Noble decided the church should keep it rather than give it away.

It was a real surprise to find out about the history of the organ, Noble said.

"I'm blown away by this thing. I didn't realize what we have," he said. "It's like finding a 1903 Ford or something."

At the same time, though, Noble is excited about the new organ, thanks to the anonymous donor. The new organ will cost $39,000, or, more than 15 times what the organ cost the church in 1924.

"I'm really looking forward to it," Noble said. "The old instrument is still in great shape, but the new one is really going to help this congregation with its worship."