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Ruskin expert recycles pipes from retired organs

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By PENNY FLETCHER
penny@observernews.net

SOUTH COUNTY — The part of the organ visible to people watching it played is but a tiny portion of what makes the sound. Behind huge walls of specially-made swell shades that open and close like shutters as the keys are played and foot pedals are pumped, are two whole rooms filled with pipes brought from three separate churches, some made before World War I.

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Photo courtesy Ohio Historical Society
This organ, which is now at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, 1015 Del Webb Blvd. E., Sun City Center, was once part of a huge pipe organ ensemble at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Toledo, Ohio, which has since been marked as an historic site.
Parts of the organ, some of which came from as far away as Michigan, were tracked down and brought to St. John the Divine in Sun City Center by trucks and vans and put together under the direction of two musicians, who have been friends for 30 years: Chuck Wirick and Wayne Warren.
As many readers will recognize, Chuck is the president of the South Shore Arts Council Board of Directors, the music director at both the Ruskin and Sun City Center locales for St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, and holds office in many performing and musical arts groups, while Wayne is currently the music director for St. Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin and organist for Apollo Beach’s Calvary Evangelical Lutheran congregation as well. He is also very active behind the scenes of many musical programs around the  world, because of his expertise in building, repairing and tuning of some of the finest pipe organs ever built including overseeing all of that for the Organ Historical Society’s National Convention held in Detroit.
Chuck and Wayne met when Chuck was director of music at Brookside United Methodist Church in Detroit and Wayne was building and repairing organs there; a business he still operates from his Apollo Beach home via his Web site, www.warrenpipeorgans.com.
When St. John the Divine planned to build a second campus in Sun City Center (while retaining its 45-year-old Ruskin-based site) members wanted to have a spectacular organ but it just wasn’t in the budget.
Organs like the one now in St. John’s Sun City Center location would cost more than $100,000 if ordered new, and could be on a waiting list long enough to have held up the building of the sanctuary. Knowing there had to be a way to obtain the same quality at half the cost, Chuck contacted his old friend – who had moved to Florida in 1990 – and they came up with a mind-boggling plan to build one organ from parts of three organs that were in different parts of the country.
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Wayne Warren, music director at St. Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin and organist for Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in Apollo Beach, is also a master organ builder and tuner. Here he adjusts pipes for maximum sound at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church in Sun City Center. The pipes came from three churches, some as far away as Michigan, made before World War I. All the scaffolding and other woodwork had to be built from scratch and almost 4,000 wiring connections made to put the organ together. Penny Fletcher Photo
Wayne had been the organist for the second-oldest Catholic Church in the United States ­— St. Anne in Detroit (the oldest is in St. Augustine) prior to moving to Florida in 1995 and still had many connections due to his positions there and through the Organ Historical Society.
After much searching he located an organ in storage at the former Westminster Presbyterian Church in Toledo, Ohio. The building was an historic site but a new congregation had moved into it and wanted to use the space the organ had taken up for a Baptistery.
The organ itself was in good shape although more than half a century old, but many of the pipes were not.
Some of the pipes that were still useable were made before World War I, and together with pipes from the Seventh Day Adventist Church in Brandon and others from a private residence in Ferndale, Mich., made a full set of wind pipes capable of creating the old-fashioned pipe organ sound.
“An organ like this new would cost more than $100,000,” said Chuck. “The new electronic organs don’t have the same sound. A lot of churches have an organ façade, which really, is the illusion of pipes, but they aren’t real pipes.”
This organ has 11 ranks (rows of pipes) which would have cost more than $20,000 each if purchased individually, he said.
While most people think of an organ as a percussion instrument similar to a piano, it is really a wind-driven instrument, Chuck explained. “The special sound of wind going through the pipes is very different from the new electronic sound if you listen closely,” he explained, showing me how playing the keys and pumping the pedals made its swell shades (which are shaped like vertical blinds) open and close, allowing different amounts of wind to pass through much of what looked to me like pipes from old-fashioned wood and coal heating stoves.
Chuck and Wayne worked with church building committee chairman Jack Edison to supervise the arrival of trucks and vans that brought the organ, often one tier of pipes at a time, to its new home.
Bill Longmore of Lakeland Organ Builders was called on to help.
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Looking at this organ, people usually don’t suspect there are two whole rooms filled with pipes and equipment behind the scenes that make its sound. Penny Fletcher photo

Earlier this month, after about 4,000 electrical connections had been made, wooden scaffolding made, and the pipes placed in proper ranks, the project, which was started in 2008, was completed.
“The wind going through the pipes makes this a living, breathing instrument,” Chuck announced after playing it for the first time.
The family of Wendy Smith, a member of the congregation, donated a Steinway concert piano to the church as well, he added.
A dedication concert open to the community will be held April 25 at 4 p.m. at St. John the Divine Episcopal Church, 1015 Del Webb Blvd., E, Sun City Center, with many people from area churches performing, including the children’s’ choir, Les Petits Chanteurs de St. Anne, from St. Anne Catholic Church in Ruskin.
After the concert there will be a reception. The event is open to the community at no charge. An offering will be taken to go toward the organ fund.

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Chuck Wirick tests the new organ after all the pipes are put together practicing not only what church members will hear, but also the songs that will be played at the organ dedication concert April 25 at 4 p.m. The concert will be open to all members of the community without charge, followed by a reception. Penny Fletcher photo

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