54 years. 2,400 services. 13 ministers. One organist.
At the end of April, Dorothy Matthews retired as organist from First United Methodist Church, 203 E. Fourth St., Ottawa, capping a career filled with joy and perseverance.
“I felt that this was sort of a calling for me, and something I could do to help people worship the Lord,” Matthews said. “That is probably one of the things that kept me going so long.”
The first time Matthews’ hands touched the organ was in 1964.
“Our organist at the time was Mrs. Henny, and she had been here about 15 years,” Matthews said. “She and her husband were both killed in an automobile accident, and that left the church without an organist.”
As a pianist at the church, the responsibility fell on Matthews to fill in.
“The minister said ‘Dorthy, you’re going to have to learn to play,’” she said. “I had never played the pipe organ before. I had been playing the piano for everything around the church, and before I moved here I was a pianist for worship services.”
Matthews reached out to the organ teacher at Ottawa University at the time, Ruth Kerr, and quickly began to pick up the instrument.
“She came over here to give me some lessons on this organ,” she said. “The keyboard was not a problem, because I had played piano for a long time. I had always played hymns.
“But I did have to practice on the pedals, sometimes two hours a day. It was really thrilling for me to be able to do it.”
Things took off from there, and little by little, Matthews became an accomplished organist, holding down a position at First United Methodist, along with filling in for other organists around Ottawa.
“I have probably touched base with most of the church organs here in town,” Matthews said. “Of course, I played for many weddings, funerals, special music for Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and any other special services that we had here.”
Through all the years, Matthews’ love of her craft had sustained her, she said.
“It was the fact that I had always loved music, and the pipe organ is probably one of the hardest instruments to play, and it gave me a sense of accomplishment to be able to do it,” she said.