The Holy Cross Pipe Organ
Since the very beginning, Holy Cross has always been very proud of and strongly supported its musical ministry. In 1983, when the building committee was meeting to select a design for the church, we also had to consider the future musical instruments that would lead worship. Since our congregation’s beginning in 1979, we had only a piano to use in worship. It was decided by the committee that one day we would have a pipe organ in our sanctuary and that we would need to have a wall at least 16 feet tall so we could get a 16' tall pipe into the new building. We also had at our disposal $15,000, which was allotted to us by the Synod, to purchase a musical instrument for our church.
It was during 1983 and 1984 that we started an organ committee. After visiting many churches with pipe organs and hearing each one played, the committee decided to only consider a pipe organ or to stick with the piano until we could afford a real pipe organ. We felt that a purchase of this significance would last for many generations to come. Some pipe organs are still playing today that are over 500 years old. It was not financially possible for us to buy a new organ, which at the time would have cost in excess of $125,000 for a minimal quality instrument. We then decided that we should look for an older organ and rebuild it in our church.
In January of 1984 we received a call that a pipe organ was for sale in Roselle, Illinois, and that it would be perfect for our church. On a snowy January evening, the committee and council members made the trip to see this organ. When we got there the roof over the organ chamber had collapsed, water was pouring in on the pipes, and the local mice population was leaving its calling card for all to see. The organ we found was built in 1955 by the Pels Organ Company of Alkmaar, Holland. We felt the value of the organ in its present condition was around $2500, so we offered that to the church. They, however, wanted $25,000, so no purchase was made.
It was six months later that we got a call from our organ builder, Jim Gruber, who said the organ was still for sale and that we could purchase it for $6500. We found out the instrument had 18 ranks, about 1,000 pipes — all European made, two blowers, console, wind chests and more. The committee agreed that this was indeed a good price.
Upon reviewing the instrument and talking with the builder, we decided that the main wind chests to the Great and Swell organs needed to be replaced. We now had a major decision to make — to rebuild it as a smaller organ (about half the size of what we have now) or to use all of the purchased pipes and build a larger instrument. In order to make the organ more versatile, we decided to buy some new pipe work to augment the original specification. Jim Gruber set up the organ specification along with consulting from organists John Oliver, Devon Hollingsworth and Carl Hansen.
After some time, the organ was finished. We brought our organ almost home — to Ed Benno’s barn in Wildwood, where it sat for about two years.
In 1985, as our pipe organ sat in Ed Benno’s barn in Wildwood, the present church building was complete, and we worshipped together in our new sanctuary for the first time on Palm Sunday. Six months later, our founding pastor, John Puotinen, announced that he was able to secure the refinancing of the church mortgage and that we would also have the additional monies to complete the organ project.
In 1986, we signed the contract with Gruber Pipe Organs and the total cost of the organ would be about $62,000 including the original purchase price. This included the complete installation, two brand new slider wind chests ($20,000), eight new ranks of German pipe work ($8,000), the organ case and the complete voicing of the organ. The organ, when completed, would contain 24 ranks, or about 1,400 pipes, and would occupy the northeast corner of the sanctuary. The reason it was placed in this location was because of the clerestory over the center of the nave which has a south exposure. The original purpose of the clerestory was to give passive solar heat, but it gives us morning sun in the northwest corner during the winter months which would cause the pipes’ temperatures to change and would make the organ seriously out of tune on Sunday morning. The organ’s construction was started in the fall of 1986 in Gruber’s shop in Elmwood Park. It was not until January of 1987 that the first parts of the organ were delivered to Holy Cross.
One special project the congregation members worked on during this time was the stripping and refinishing of the console. We did all of this work in Pat Rossett's garage, and we took almost 200 hours to complete the job.
We had our first service with the organ, with only three ranks of pipes playing, on the last Sunday of January, 1987. The prelude that morning was the chorale prelude by Mendelssohn, The Lord’s Prayer, played by Carl Hansen, our first organist.
The organ was finally completed in May when the trumpet pipes arrived from Germany. In case you are curious about those large wooden pipes on the side of the organ, they were a little bonus we got and were not in the original plans. (If we were to purchase this organ today from a quality builder and have it all be brand new, the cost would exceed $350,000).
A dedication recital was then given by our Organ Committee consultant John Oliver. This was followed by another concert in 1988 given by Devon Hollingsworth, Minister of Music of Christ Church in Oak Brook.
Most people who visit our church cannot believe that a congregation that is only 17 years old and in its first building would ever have an instrument like this. We are truly blessed to have this in our midst, and we should all rejoice every time we hear our Lutheran music played on a real pipe organ.
Many thanks go to Carl Hansen for these details of the history of our pipe organ. He was very instrumental in the acquisition and restoration of our wonderful musical instrument.