55 years of making music

CRYSTAL PUGSLEY/PLAINSMAN Colleen Smith, who has been organist at Riverview United Methodist Church for the past 55 years, retired after playing for worship service on Sept. 10. She also played once a month at United Congregational Church, where she will present organ music for the final time this Sunday, Sept. 18, at the 10:30 a.m. service.

Music has been a big part of Colleen Smith’s life since beginning piano lessons when she was 6.

Smith, who retired last Sunday after 55 years as organist at Riverview United Methodist Church, has also played organ once a month for worshipers at United Congregational Church for almost 15 years. This Sunday will be her last Sunday playing at the UCC for the 10:30 a.m. service.

“It’s kind of hard to find an organist that’s not already playing somewhere else,” Smith said. “It’s getting less and less with all the electronic musical instruments that are available. That’s pretty popular nowadays, but lots of people still like the organ. It sounds like church.”

Smith, who was director at Huron Public Library for 32 years, began learning to play the organ when she and her husband, Grant, joined the congregation at Riverview UMC.

“Our church was new and the lady playing liked piano better than the organ,” she said. “She encouraged me to come play with her. I started taking some lessons so I would know a little bit about what I was doing.

“Organ and piano keys are the same, that part was easy, but you had to get your feet going too for an organ,” Smith said. “That was different. I had to memorize where the pedals were, you couldn’t look down to see where your feet were when you were reading music.”

Smith said her whole family was musical, performing many duets at home with her sister.

“My mother kept us practicing,” she added. “My dad liked to listen.”

Smith taught English and music for several years in Yale “South Dakota, not Harvard,” she adds with a grin.

“When I was teaching there were a whole lot of teachers that couldn’t find jobs,” she said. “I thought I wanted something right away, so when the children’s librarian job was open at the library, I took it. After a couple three years, I went to Minneapolis for my library degree.”

She retired as library director in 2010.

Smith said they have been part of the Riverview congregation pretty much since it opened, about 55 years ago. Riverview was started through the First United Methodist Church.

“At that time the church had too many people, so some broke off and started Riverview,” she said. Before constructing the church located on Simmons Avenue, the congregation met in Madison School.

Now that she’s retired, she and her husband will likely travel a little more, but they don’t have plans to head for warmer climates over the winter.

Smith said she will be available to provide music for worship if needed. Both Jean Larson and Beth Neitzert are pianists who will share music at Riverview now.

“If the other two are busy and they can’t find anybody I can fill in,” Smith said. “I just don’t have regularly planned dates that I’m responsible for anymore.

“We’ll still go to Riverview, but I can sit in the pew now,” she added.


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