SIOUX CITY -- Eleanor Tasker got a big surprise on Sunday.
Tasker, 93, is the founder, longtime director and tireless promoter of the Twelfth Night Handbell Festival, an annual performance by several church handbell choirs held on the 12th night of Christmas, which is in early January. She brought handbell choirs to several area churches.
The show is on hiatus this year, in what would have been its 40th performance, because of the pandemic.
On Sunday, she and a group of Twelfth Night leaders got together for a luncheon at Kahill's in South Sioux City.
Don Nelson, the current chairman of the Twelfth Night directors, presented her with sheet music for a new song, "Bright and Glorious Is the Sky," arranged by South Dakota composer Cathy Moklebust. The tune was specially commissioned in honor of Tasker's many years at the helm of the Twelfth Night.
Tasker spent much of the afternoon telling stories and cracking jokes, but she wept when the surprise was presented to her. She quickly veered back to humor.
"I hope the damn COVID is over (before) I die, because you won't be able to play it for me if it isn't," she said, prompting laughter from the room. She later added: "I'm sure glad I didn't die before today!"
Nelson played a video of the new song being performed at the First Presbyterian Church in Sioux City.
Tasker, who retired from her director's position when she was 90, remains probably the most visible figure of the Twelfth Night festival -- yet she was one of the few people kept in the dark about the surprise song.
"How did you do this? How did you be so sneaky?" Tasker asked.
"We lie well. We had a good mentor," Nelson joked.
Tasker launched Twelfth Night decades ago at Morningside Presbyterian -- over the years it grew to incorporate as many as 15 separate church handbell choirs, though at present there are only five participating churches. In recent years the show has been performed at Morningside College, though it was held in various places over the years.
Tasker ruminated at length about the venues that have hosted Twelfth Night and the logistical challenges of each location -- the place that had many bleacher steps to traipse up and down, the place where pews had to be moved out to accommodate the show, the place that charged a fee to use the space, which necessitated passing the plate (she was not exactly pleased with that state of affairs).
"We had a little tête-à-tête about passing the plate," said Tasker, who always favored presenting the show free of charge, out of the belief that the performances could be beneficial to people who might lack the wherewithal to contribute.
"At church, we've got a connection with the Almighty, I think. We've been able to pass this on to the people. And it isn't like something that you drummed up at the last minute and it's all show. This is with our hearts, we've worked our butts off on this stuff," Tasker said.
Tasker, who still contributes to the labor-intensive Twelfth Night in her own way, resides now in the Heritage at Northern Hills, where she recently received her first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine -- a development which might one day revive the Twelfth Night and similar events.
"It was so easy, that old needle went in there so good and so fast you would have never felt it," she said of her vaccination.