CALUMET, Iowa -- Florence (Dau) Rehder remembers being a 16-year-old and shaking in her shoes 71 years ago when she sat before the congregation at Zion United Church in Christ in Calumet and began playing piano.
"I had taken lessons for two years during junior high school," Rehder says with a smile. "I was certainly no professional."
Rehder sits down on Wednesday afternoon, playing a hymn to check the organ's volume, spending a few minutes playing before reflecting on her retirement from the position. She last played in November. The church honored her last Sunday with a reception that followed the regular worship service.
"I was given some recognition and then we had a reception," she says. "I thanked everyone for their support all these years."
The Calumet native was baptized and confirmed in this church, a couple of years before she began playing piano, taking her place to lead the church in music every third week, alternating with Mildred Abrahamson and Geraldine Bolt.
"The two other pianists wanted some younger stuff to be involved, so they talked me into it," Rehder says.
Following her graduation from Sutherland High School in 1949, the church pianist worked at a variety store in Sutherland for six months, then wed Dalton Rehder, who farmed northwest of Calumet. On Dec. 14 this year, they'll celebrate their 70th anniversary. They farmed for 40 years, raised three sons and moved to Paullina, Iowa, 29 years ago. And every Sunday, even after moving, they've driven 10 miles back "home" for Sunday worship services.
Florence, who sang in the children's choir at her church, where they wed, didn't sing or play for her own wedding. She'd have plenty of those opportunities over the next seven decades.
"I might have taken a year or two off when our kids were little," she remembers. "And, for about 20 years I was the only organist after the other two (Mildred and Geraldine) passed away."
Cherie Friedrichsen, of Calumet, began playing piano several years ago and has now assumed the lead musical role in Rehder's retirement.
"In the past two months I've had Afib (atrial fibrillation) and decided it was time," she says, noting how she also suffered a pair of heart attacks in past years.
It's not as if she's sitting still, though. Florence, who is 87, joins Dalton, 90, in dancing once per week at Pearl Valley Care Center in Sutherland, entertaining residents as another longtime church organist, Verla Hibbing, of Paullina, plays. The dancing, though, isn't continuous. Florence giggles and says she and Dalton waltz or ballroom dance for one song and then rest for a song, and on and on.
Music has always been a part of her being. All three sons, she says, played in the band during school. Son Mark played some organ for his church in Florida for a few years. Son Matt, who farms the home place, took piano lessons.
"I have a piano, an organ and a keyboard at home," Florence says, setting up a punch line. "With all those, I should be really good!"
In reality, she says, it took lots and lots of practice to play the way she wished. Weddings were generally the toughest assignment as the organist often had to work on new music with a different soloist. It took time to match rhythms.
The instruments themselves also took some time to get to know. Rehder started on a piano and graduated to a Conn organ in the early 1950s. She remembered Mrs. Dugan from the Dugan Music Store in Orange City, Iowa, coming to the church to provide three lessons each to Rehder, Abrahamson and Boldt. In 1968, the church purchased the Lowrey electronic organ, the one that's still in service. Rehder played it for a while on Wednesday, offering tidbits on her favorites, standards such as "How Great Thou Art," and "Amazing Grace."
She says it's been fulfilling to play in the only church she and Dalton have ever known. The dancers stand in the back of the church, examining artifacts that point to its founding 127 years ago. Florence's grandfather, Ernest Horstman, helped establish this congregation, one she's been proud to serve since she was a teen.
"I was baptized here, confirmed here and married here," she says.
"We'll be buried here, too," Dalton says with a nod.
The longtime organist, who for years kept the place in song, looks around and surmises, "We have a nice church, here."