Key player

Retiring organist has been at center of worship for 67 years


When: Noon SundayWhere: First Presbyterian Church, 2415 Clinton ParkwaySpecial gift: To contribute to a gift to be presented to Gallup, send a check to the First Presbyterian office.

Winnie Gallup looks like she just might fly away as she plays “I’ll Fly Away.”

She’s demonstrating her footwork on the organ pedals at First Presbyterian Church. She sticks her hands up in the air, as though she’s a child daredevil on a bicycle.

“Look,” she says with a laugh. “No hands.”

Gallup, 85, has been behind the organ console at First Presbyterian a whopping 67 years.

She first came to the church in 1940 and, aside from a handful of years in the 1940s, she was the church’s organist until she retired late last month.

On Sunday, the church will have a reception to celebrate her many years of service, which came to an end late in January.

“I really wouldn’t have stuck with it if I didn’t enjoy it,” Gallup says. “You feel like you’re doing something good. I’ve never regarded it as something to do just to earn some extra money.”

Early gigs

Gallup grew up in Chile – her father worked for a copper mine there. The family moved to Lawrence after her father’s death.

She graduated from Lawrence’s Liberty Memorial High School in 1936 and started attending Kansas University as a piano major. She had been playing piano since age 6.

To earn extra money, she would accompany students and faculty members at their recitals.

“I was lucky to be able to do that,” she says.

“They paid 50 cents an hour or something really big like that,” she adds with a wink.

Gallup got hired on as the organist at the local Unitarian church in 1939.

“I was scared to death,” she recalls. “It was my first organist job. I was really nervous.”

She then moved to the Presbyterian church a year later. At that time, it was located at the corner of Ninth and Vermont streets. It moved to its current location, 2415 Clinton Parkway, in 1967 and purchased a new Moller-brand organ.

‘Delightful spirit’

In her years, Gallup has worked for 14 music directors.

“They’ve had different varieties of music, different styles of directing,” she says. “But I got along with all of them.”

She’s also worked for seven senior pastors. That includes the new pastor, Kent Winters-Hazelton, who learned about Gallup’s tenure during the interview process.

“When I read the materials from the church and it listed when individual staff members started here, I had to ask if it was a typo,” Winters-Hazelton says. “One of the reasons she’s been so successful is her incredibly delightful spirit and presence. She’s very lively.”

David Grisafe, who has sung in the church choir for about eight years, also sang with Gallup when she accompanied the Lawrence Civic Choir.

“What do you say about someone who can play the organ 60 years?” Grisafe says. “It’s fabulous. It’s like two lifetimes of work. She’s a fabulous person.”

Steady presence

For years, Gallup’s weekly schedule included a choir rehearsal on Wednesday or Thursday nights, practicing on her own during the week and playing two services on Sunday morning. She also directed the bell choir and the children’s choirs on and off through the years.

It’s impossible to know exactly how many Sundays she played through the years, but it was more than 3,000.

“She’s always the same,” says Tracy Resseguie, First Presbyterian’s current music director. “You come in, and she’s always ready to go, and she’s excited to see you and the choir. Week in and week out, it’s always the same.”

Resseguie says Gallup’s playing is still precise.

“To be able to play this long at the level at which she played is unheard of,” Resseguie says. “People’s skills start to drop off at some point. Winnie can still hear a tune from something else going on in the service, identify the key, pick it up on the organ and transfer that into the next musical idea. She wouldn’t even blink an eye.”

Spouse support

Gallup’s musical partner through the years has been her husband of 64 years, Al. He’s been in the choir nearly as long as his wife’s been at the organ console.

“She amazes me,” Al Gallup says. “She knows words to Latin, French, Italian and popular songs. They’re all up here” – he motions to his head – “and she can sit down and play them.”

Al Gallup, a retired KU military science professor, says he couldn’t imagine Winnie not playing the organ.

“It’s just part of her life,” he says.

‘Things to do’

Gallup finally decided that she wanted to have more time for herself, and she’s hoping to have more time to travel with her 91-year-old husband. They went to China 1 1/2 years ago.

The Gallups also take exercise classes, audit KU classes and are involved in the Endacott Society, a group for retired KU faculty.

Gallup waited until a new, full-time pastor got on board to keep a little more stability at the church.

“I keep telling people I don’t need this job,” Gallup says. “At 85, you don’t depend on it for your next meal.”

Though she’ll have family in town Sunday for the reception, she’s not spending much time looking back.

“You can’t get too nostalgic about that,” she says. “We have a lot of things to do.”

The Gallups plan to continue attending First Presbyterian. Now, they can enjoy sitting next to each other for a change.

Besides, Winnie Gallup says, “the organ sounds better out in the church than it does under the pipes.”