Great news! They’ve been able to find someone with pipe organ experience to play before the pageant both days (Aug. 1st and 2nd). This organ was added to blind school when the auditorium was enlarged after Mary’s time there, but it’s a beautiful organ and it’s a special treat to get to hear pipe organ music. For my regular readers, in case you missed it both the Paramount and Theater Cedar Rapids pipe organs – once declared completely destroyed – were successfully restored to working order after the Cedar Rapids floods. Sadly the Blind School Organ could use some of that same kind of restorative love and care. While it is still in playable condition it’s been a long time sitting silent and regular maintenance not attended to. A new Mary Ingalls Society project will be to raise money to get the needed repairs for the organ.
The musician is Ruth Armstrong. Armstrong is a music educator at Alburnett CSD, a part-time church organist/accompanist, and vocalist. She studied organ with Janice Cuffel in Marion and with Robert Burns at Simpson College in Indianola, graduating in 1977. She has played organ in various churches in Indianola, Estherville, Fredericksburg, Marion, and Cedar Rapids. Ruth lives in Cedar Rapids with her husband, guitarist, Steve Armstrong.
What they’ve always known about the organ is the pipes and organ body are original from the 1902 instrument that was installed on the third floor chapel at the school and then were moved down to the current location when it was completed in 1913. The internal workings of the organ were retooled in 1931.
Back in 2013, a tour of the school organist Sally Boie was interested in our organ and followed up getting this information from Donna Story. “Governor William Larrabee, Iowa’s 12th governor, presented eight organs to various places in Iowa. In 1896, Larrabee had installed in the Union Sunday School at Clermont, the largest Kimball pipe organ of its kind (tubular Pneumatic action) existing in the United States today.” She followed up and found out that one of these eight organs was given to the School for the Blind “In 1902, Larrabee donated an organ to State College for the Blind in Vinton. It was a Mollers organ.”
Gov. William Larrabee was Iowa’s 12th governor and he and his wife Anna are remembered more than others because he has a preserved house, Montauk built in 1874 that is a State Historical Society.
Dean C. Zenor, Service Manager, Dobson Pipe Organ Builders, Ltd. who has examined the organ and prepared a report on its condition: “Through Wade Schott (the curator at Montauk, Governor Larrabee’s home site in Clermont) I was able to learn that the 1902 instrument was indeed a Moller and it was given by Governor Larrabee to the “State College for the Blind in Vinton”. Since there is a May 18, 1931 letter in your organ file from the Moller organ company stating that they built the School’s 1902 instrument, and that they were giving the School a special price as well as reusing most of the pipework from the 1902 instrument in the new one, it can be assumed that Gov. Larrabee’s organ is “still extant”, only somewhat altered in the form of the new 1931 instrument. What I have not yet been able to determine is if the casework and facade pipes are from the 1902 instrument or from an earlier tracker organ that was said to have been at the College for the Blind.”
Sarah S. Uthoff is the main force behind Trundlebed Tales fighting to bring the History, Mystery, Magic and Imagination of Laura Ingalls Wilder and other greats of children’s literature and history to life for a new generation.Attend one of her programs, schedule one yourself, watch her videos, listen to her podcast, and find her on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, and Academia.edu. She is currently acting President of the Laura Ingalls Wilder Legacy and Research Association. Professionally she is a reference librarian at Kirkwood Community College and director of the Oxford (Iowa) Public Library.