Doris Thompson has been a minister of music in northeast Iowa, playing the famous organ that Dvorak himself played at the very same church at St. Wenceslaus Church in Spillville for over forty years. She truly is a role model for Northeast Iowa with her dedication!
Doris grew up with a piano in her home here in northeast Iowa and by third grade she began taking lessons on the piano for six years by the then church organist Emma Swelha. Little did she know that she would follow in her mentors footsteps. She continued to play her piano at home after she was married and her six children arrived, while they farmed just outside of Spillville. Doris was a natural, she enjoyed listening to the radio and if she liked the song she would go to the family piano and was able to pick up the tune without the sheet music. She never thought of playing publicly, until she saw a need in her faith community.
She recalls when her oldest of six, Noel, turned eighteen as she began to play the organ for church. Doris recalls, “It was when the three young ladies graduated from high school and were ready to go off to college that I realized there was no one to play for the Masses and I volunteered. The girls did not come back to Spillville to live after their college education so I kept playing.”
At that time the church used a Lowery organ, so it wasn’t quite as intimidating as the big Pfeffer organ that was bought in 1876 that Dvorak played daily when he visited one summer many years ago. But she soon realized that it was a lot harder playing for the worshippers in church, she had to listen to see if the congregation or song leader was singing slower or faster and keep their pace. That big organ housed up in the balcony in back of church was no longer working until 1976, when the century old organ went through a restoration, Doris recalled it had been sent out to Clear Lake and was brought back again in working order. Then she self taught herself how to run the huge pipe organ.
Doris normally choose what songs will be song for services each week, and one day on the radio she heard “How Great Thou Art” and went to Kephart’s Music Store in Decorah and found the very popular music sheets for the song. After listening to the words, she decided to introduce the song at the next funeral. Well, it didn’t go over good with Rev. Father Louis Trzil and she somewhat felt scolded for playing it, when he asked why in the world did she used that song, of course it wasn’t in the church hymn book at the time, so that could have been why. Doris told him if he listened to the words he would know why. She continued to use the song from then on out and, she choked back a chuckle when she went on to say that in July of 1977 for his going away Mass, “Father Louie” picked that same song that he scolded her about. She was also the one who introduced her parish to the song “Going Home” after she heard Al Sensor play it and Rev. Donald Hawes picked that song as one of his favorites among others, for her to play during his Benediction Service at St. Wenceslaus for his Diamond Jubilee last weekend.
With over forty years of service, Doris only took a short sabbatical seventeen years ago when she broke her hip and a year ago when she had heart surgery from playing the organ for church. Now she recently has been taking new medicine for her arthritis that seems to be helping immensely and uses her cane to get up and down the steep stairs at St. Wenceslaus. At age 86, she is doing well and hopes to continue her music ministry for a few more years if her hands and legs let her. Thank you Doris, for your many years of faithful service volunteering here in Northeast Iowa.