The History

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church came upon a soot-laden gem in 1993, while searching for a used console to refurbish as a replacement for the failing 1951-vintage console of its pipe organ. It was an entire three-manual pipe organ built by Casavant Freres (Opus 935, 1922) incorporating an organ by Hook & Hastings (Opus 1557, 1890), and still in playable condition. To our good fortune, this instrument located in Detroit, Michigan, had not been modified in nearly 60 years, since the Wicks Organ Company supplied new windchests (Opus 1336, 1935). It had stood virtually untouched for nearly 20 years, after the building was purchased by a church body with different musical tastes. After Gloria Dei Music Director Robert Pendergrast inspected the instrument and Gloria Dei member Marvin Schurke worked out the design, a decision was made to purchase the organ for reinstallation at Gloria Dei. Thus, the console, the casework and the majority of the pipes in the new Gloria Dei instrument are an “organ transplant”.

A truckload of organ parts arrived from Detroit on December 28, 1993, and a multi-purpose room was converted into an erecting hall for the new organ. The Casavant terraced-drawknob console was rebuilt with solid-state electronics, and all of the windchests were rewired to conform to the Uniform Electrical Code. Gloria Dei’s previous pipe organ breathed its last on Easter Sunday of 1994, and was dismantled the next day. New platforms were built in the rear corners of the sanctuary to support the cases enclosing the Swell Organ and Choir Organ, and a “bridge” was built between the enclosures (over the balcony stairwells) to support the exposed pipework of the Great Organ. The Pedal Organ pipes are divided to the sides, and behind the Great Organ.

The work of Tacoma organbuilder Michael Gardner (Opus 5) was supported by dozens of Gloria Dei members who volunteered to wash pipes and woodwork, rewire windchests, construct the new structures and chambers, refinish woodwork, move tons of organ parts, solder wires, paint pipes, and complete a myriad of other tasks. Particular acknowledgment went to Paul Olson, Andy Opsata, Robert Pendergrast, George Phillips, Marvin Schurke, Paul Schurke, Jeffrey Sprengel, Ron Tallman, John Vatshell, and Rey Wicklund, who together volunteered nearly 8000 hours on the project.

The 60-stop instrument contains 3,600 pipes, including a real 32′ rank. The organ is versatile, with stops appropriate for playing compositions from the Baroque and Romantic periods alike. The Casavant ensemble accounts for about 60% of the instrument, including the principal chorus of the Great Organ and virtually the entire Swell Organ, and forms the base on which the rest of the instrument is voiced. About 30% of the pipes were imported from Holland in 1968 and 1981, for enlargements of the previous Gloria Dei organ by Balcom & Vaughan Pipe Organs, Inc. The remaining 10% of the pipes are from other sources, including an organ attributed to William Schuelke of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Opus ??, 1910?) when purchased in the 1930’s as the first pipe organ at Gloria Dei.

Regular use of the “new” organ began on Christmas Eve of 1994, and four dedicatory recitals were presented in 1995. The series was led off by Olympia-native and AGO Young Artists Competition winner Douglas Cleveland, who returned to the church where he made his first public appearance as an organist. Three “Builder’s Recitals” followed, presented by Michael Gardner, Robert Pendergrast, and Jeffrey Sprengel. Finishing touches on the organ were completed in 1998.  In 2014, Britson Organ Works added the Swell/Pedal 16’ Posaune and Pedal 32’ Contre Bombarde (both given in honor of Dan Colgan’s third anniversary as organist at Gloria Dei).  Some re-voicing work was also done at this time, culminating in a re-dedication played by Douglas Cleveland.


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