Executive Council Members
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Chris Dekker, Dean
Howard Slenk, Sub-dean
Larry Biser, Past Dean
Helen Hawley, Secretary
Errol Shewman, Treasurer
Norma deWaal Malefyt, 2014 Council Member
Bruce Klanderman, 2014 Council Member
Brian Bartusch, 2015 Council Member
Joan Ringerwole, 2015 Council Member
Suzanne Tiemstra, 2016 Council Member
John Dibble, 2016 Council Member
Members ex officio:
Herman Keizer, Chaplain
Larry Biser, Membership Coordinator & Registrar
Dennis L. Buteyn, Webmaster & Cipher Editor
A Brief History of the Grand Rapids Chapter of
The American Guild of Organists
Prepared by Janet Van Dyke
for the 50th Anniversary in 1987
The Western Michigan Chapter of the American Guild of Organists was organized on November 17, 1937, at a luncheon meeting in the Pantlind Hotel. On November 29, the National Council of the American Guild of Organists granted formation of the Chapter and on January 7, 1938, the first Guild meeting was held at Grace Episcopal Church, Grand Rapids. Thirty-six persons attended the dinner prior to an organ recital given by Walter Blodgett. Monthly meetings that first year included concerts by the English Choir Boys and John Challis, a Guild Lenten Service, and a Guild picnic. Thus began a tradition of social and professional association that was to continue for fifty years.
Harold Tower was the first Dean of the new twenty member chapter. All new members were required to pay an initiation fee of $2.00, and annual dues of $3.00. Prices of Guild dinners ranged from $0.45 to $0.60!
The new chapter launched an ambitious program of organ concerts, vesper services, lectures, choir concerts and festivals, and social events. By 1944, an Artist Concert Series was well established for the purpose of bringing nationally and internationally known organ recitalists to the area. Numerous musicians performed; some returning for several performances. A news article in 1950 reported that 1400 people attended Alexander Schreiner’s fifth Grand Rapids concert, held at Fountain Street Church.
By the late 1940’s the Chapter had become very active in establishing and promoting community involvement in church music. Junior and Senior Choir Festivals were begun in 1949 and continued for more than a decade with wide support. In 1950, Guild-sponsored student organ recitals and student organ scholarship competitions were established for the benefit of area students. Beginning in 1959, annual church music conferences were held under the joint sponsorship of the Grand Rapids-Kent Council of Churches and the Chapter.
The 25th Anniversary Year (1962-1963) was highlighted on December 3, 1962, with a banquet and organ recital played by Charles Peaker at Fountain Street Church. A special concert honoring the Chapter was given by the Grand Rapids Symphony on February 8, 1963, with Virgil Fox as the guest artist. Other events followed and in June, 1963, the Chapter concluded the Anniversary Year by hosting the Regional Convention.
In the 1970’s the Chapter division of the National Organ Playing Competition was begun, numerous workshops covering a wide range of topics led by Chapter members and guest clinicians were introduced, and several noted organ recitalists appeared in concert. In 1978, the Chapter organized a placement service to better serve are churches and musicians.
The Chapter was again host for the Regional Convention in June 1985. Extravagrandza ’85 offered a wide variety of concerts, workshops, and social events and was an artistic and financial success.
The name was eventually changed from the Western Michigan Chapter to the Grand Rapids Chapter to more clearly identify the geographic location of the membership.
Over the years, the Guild has continued the tradition of offering outstanding musical events and educational opportunities to both its members and the community. Our 50th Anniversary Year brings a sense of great accomplishment and pride in our Chapter. In a letter written in 1967 to the Chapter, the first Dean, Harold Tower, wrote the following, “The first years were a struggle and I am so glad the Guild has developed so well.” We are indebted to him and the countless others who have contributed so much over the past fifty years.
SOLI DEO GLORIA!