United Church of Christ Congregational, Yankton, SD

Organ Music Begins at First Congregational Church in 1888

Historical sketch prepared by Brooks and Vi Ranney

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The Civil War had ended, and Yankton was a frontier town of approximately 400 inhabitants. Immigrants came to take advantage of the Homestead Act, signed into law by President Lincoln in 1862. Imagine that! One hundred sixty acres of free land for those brave enough to leave the Old Country and come to Dakota Territory. The people who came were religious and wanted a church.

The Congregational Church was organized here on April 6, 1868, at the home of A. G. Fuller by the Rev. E. W. Cook from Wisconsin. On November 6, 1868, Rev. Joseph Ward and his bride Sarah arrived in Dakota Territory as missionaries. Services were held two days later (November 8, 1868) in the lower level of the Dakota Territorial Capitol Building. Thirty-three people attended.

A charter member of this congregation was J.B.S. Todd, a cousin of Mary Lincoln, wife of the President. At the Christmas Eve service he pinned a note on the Christmas tree which read: `lots for the church.’ On Christmas day, Rev. Ward, one of the trustees and J.B.S. Todd went to see the lots. They choose the lots this church still occupies today. Some members questioned, “Who would attend a church so far from town?…….way out on the prairie!”

The earliest church was built of wood and dedicated July 17, 1870. It is reported to have had a `hand-organ.’ The present brick church was built in 1904 and dedicated May 14, 1905.yankton ucc 2.JPG

In 1880 Rev. Ward founded Yankton College. It was the first institution of higher learning in the Dakota Territories. It had a School of Theology, which graduated German-speaking Congregational ministers that served many communities in Dakota Territory and beyond.

Yankton College had a highly respected Conservatory of Music, which originally used the (brick) church sanctuary as its concert hall. Staff included musicians such as Dr. Lee N. Bailey, Ida Clawsen Hunt, J. Laiten Weed, Dr. Evelyn Hohf, Floyd McClain, Lewis Hamvas, Gene Brinkmeyer, Stan Rishoi and others. Dr. Hohf and Mr. Brinkmeyer were organists of this church for many years.

The first pipe organ in Yankton was installed in First Congregational Church. Records reveal that the congregation voted to form a `Committee on Music’ on January 5, 1882. In 1888 a Johnson tracker organ was installed. A recital was given on September 6 of that same year, with an offering of $52.90 received.

In 1905 this organ was enlarged and placed in the present brick church building.

In 1957 the organ was modernized, and the console moved to the choir loft. The tracker controls were changed to an electrically controlled system. This project cost $14,000. In 1980 the organ was enlarged, and renovated to three manuals for a cost of $40,000 by Eugene Doutt, Watertown, SD.

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During the historic conservation of the sanctuary in 2004, it was necessary to remove all organ pipes and parts due to construction dust. The organ was removed in October, 2003, by David Salmen of Salmen Organs & Farms, Wessington Springs, SD. Among the pipes saved and put into storage, until a new organ could be built and safely installed, were some that were part of the original 1888 organ.

Plans for a new organ were on hold until the Yankton College Board of Trustees announced a $100,000 named grant in appreciation for the support given by this congregation to the College over many years. The grant challenged the congregation to pledge an equal amount. Plans that were on hold were now put into action. The organ chamber had to be prepared with new walls, proper insulation, new wiring and a new floor. This added to the daunting tasks addressed so conscientiously by the Renovation Committee.

On January 9, 2005, a semi-truck loaded with over 2,000 pipes arrived at the church; it was unloaded by a host of excited members. David Salmen began the installation of the new Yankton College Organ.

The three-manual organ with 33 ranks of pipes and a beautiful new 3-manual console was installed. The visible (black) expression shutters and a few pipes dating to the original 1888 organ were reminders that the organ had yet to be completed. For nearly three years the members of the congregation worked together to pay down the remaining building renovation debt and raise the funds to complete the new organ.

February of 2008 again found the congregation assembled to unload another semi-truck of pipes, windchests, reservoirs and the casework necessary to complete the organ. The organ now contains 48 ranks of pipes.

It has truly been a labor of love and sacrifice for the members of this congregation, who love to sing with the majestic accompaniment of a pipe organ. Music has always been central in worship to this church. The 45-member Adult Choir enjoy this fine instrument as they prepare not only to lead Sunday worship, but for special masterworks concerts and cantatas as well.

We remain ever grateful to Yankton College, the J. Laiten Weed Endowment, and to the generous members and friends of this congregation for their support. Yankton College Conservatory graduates Ted and Jennifer Powell are the present organist and choir director.

We look forward to the next 100 years as we continue the tradition of wonderful music to the Glory of God, which began at the First Congregational Church, way out on the prairie in Dakota Territory 120 years ago!

It is with great pleasure that we again welcome concert organist Chelsea Chen to dedicate this instrument of praise.

Audio Samples

Durufle, Suite, Chelsea Chen

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Durufle, Veni Creator, Chelsea Chen

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Vierne, Naiades, Chelsea Chen

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Construction Photo Gallery

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July 2010 Cover of  THE DIAPASON

The Yankton College Memorial Organ

First Congregational United Church of Christ

Yankton, South Dakota

Cover feature on pages 30–31

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