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New Orleans, Louisiana


We have assisted this church in their acquiring an early 1960's III manual Wicks organ from a neighboring Lutheran church which disbanded.  Our company assisted in dismantling and placing this instrument into storage.  Local church members undertook the necessary renovation work (including mitigation of Termite damage!), and re-installed the instrument in place of the church's current older II manual Wicks organ, which was then going to be sold.

On August 7, 2005, we completed the Tonal Finishing for this project.  The Dedication service was scheduled to be held on Reformation Sunday, October 30, but all events were interrupted by Hurricane Katrina.

We have recently returned from a work-trip in early December, 2006 to Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in New Orleans. We had been dreading the prospect of returning to this church not knowing what would await us after the devastating effects and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in August, 2005; some 15 months earlier.

Life is returning to the City of New Orleans VERY slowly, but NO East,where this particular church is located, is probably the second-hardest-hit area behind the (infamous!) Lower 9th Ward. As we drove through the neighborhood surrounding the church, we witnessed devastation ranging from residences that were relatively unscathed and folks are living in their homes to a completely bombed-out war zone;all within a few houses of each other! The basic pattern of destruction was that the further away from Chef Menteur highway (which is relatively high!) one gets going in the direc ion of the lake, the worse the devastation was. You could tell if the house was uninhabitable by whether or not there was a FEMA trailer sitting in the front yard of the house hooked-up to the utilities and sewer.

The damage at Prince of Peace was also equally "fickle", in that the church itself had surprisingly minimal damage, both to the roof and to the interior. It appears there was no more than 3" of water that had made its way into the church, so fortunately the organ blower or DC electrical system was never submerged. However, because of the amount of time which passed before anything could be done to remove the water and clean up the church began, the water had wicked-up the plywood paneling and the sheet rock behind it and it all had to be removed and replaced. Due to the difficulty in matching the pecan paneling, the decision was made to substitute two layers of sheet rock, glued and screwed on the walls in order to enhance the acoustical properties of the church.

Meantime, the damage at the adjacent Prince of Peace Lutheran School building was much more extensive, since that structure received over afoot of water within the building and required a much more extensive re-rehabilitation in order to return it to usefulness.

Unfortunately, some of the articles which belonged to the church were removed and needlessly destroyed by well-meaning volunteers because the members of the Church Council had been displaced by the storm and could not adequately supervise the decision-making processes that were going on during the "mucking-out" phase of the restoration work.Unfortunately, some of the components of the organ were amongst those things which were lost during this process!

All-i -all, however, the organ fared REMARKABLY well for having lived through an ordeal like this.

Because of the painful reality that at this juncture, the church could not possibly be in a self-supporting mode; largely because the neighborhood it serves remains completely devastated, the leadership of this congregation voted to lease the Prince of Peace facilities to the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod-based Laborers for Christ for up to three years while the Laborers and other volunteers who come and stay at the POPLC facilities restore other Lutheran churches in town,as well as help both members and other neighbors in the NO East neighborhood.

The only request the leaders of this organization make is for the recipient to purchase the necessary materials while the "laborers",who serve as crew leaders and the volunteers provide the muscle for"mucking-out" the houses, followed by restoring them after the mechanicals and electrical systems have been inspected and replaced as needed by local contractors (a New Orleans city inspection requirement!)

We spent a 10-day period "bunking-in" with these good folks who came from all over the country to spend a week volunteering at Camp Restore. Some folks were from the various northern states and on every enjoyably memorable group was from the Carolinas and Georgia.

However, the BIGGEST personal surprise of all was when some person tapped me on the shoulder and said: "Hello, stranger!" I whirled around to find myself standing face-to-face with my former Pastor of17 years and his wife, Rev. Paul and Wilma Droegemeuller, formerly of Mt. Pulaski, IL! They have both since retired and are now living in Giddings, TX. During their retirement, they spend a go d deal of their free time traveling back-and-forth between home in Texas where one of their sons lives and their other son and his family, who live in Florida. During their "in-between" time, they come and stay at the Camp Restore campground in their travel van since the camp has hook-ups and facilities for trailers and RV's as well as "dorm" type arrangements and gang showers in the school building. The Droegemeullers, of course, knew of my work from when our family were members of Zion Lutheran Church where he pastored and she taught (and in fact, she taught all three of our children in the Lutheran grade school there!) and we had re-done the Zion Lutheran organ back in the 1990's. Just the same, they were rather shocked but pleasantly surprised to to pull up in the parking lot and find our company truck there. I guess they had not realized we worked so far afield as to be in New Orleans. The coincidence certainly was uncanny, since this encounter was was not planned at all and was completely happen chance!

Everyone at Camp Restore was most helpful to us and were all delighted to see the organ being brought back into playing condition, as they regularly use the church for worship on Sunday mornings for the Camp Restore volunteers and staff who stay there over the weekends.Worship is currently being led by the Rev. Ed. Brashier, who was called by Camp Restore to be the interim chaplain, since the former Prince of Peace Pastor was displaced by Katrina and accepted a call elsewhere.

Because of the unusual situation and chain of events pertaining to both the church and organ having survived a major storm with such wide-spread devastation throughout the area, it seemed only appropriate to provide the information above by way of some"background" in order to offer a little bit of perspective and a point of reference.

We began our post-Katrina renovation task by evaluating the organ in order to determine exactly what restorative work was going to have to happen. We first "auditioned" the instrument by running every stop in the instrument and made a "truth table" of dead notes. When we first powered-up the organ for the first time after the storm, we were delighted to discover that almost everything worked in terms of the wind system and that the water had stayed completely out of the blower housing and motor, as well as the DC rectifiers down on the main floor. However as we continued listing dead notes, we soon realized that were found ourselves confronted by upwards of 20% of the pipes in any given stop that were not sounding. The first thing to do was to determine whether the problem was electrical or whether the magnets and armatures had rusted due to the high humidity in the church for such an extended period of time.

As it turned-out, the explanation to the problem proved to be much simpler than either of those potentially time-consuming repair scenarios! Because of the extraordinarily high humidity in the Sanctuary due to standing water and no way to run air conditioning because the local utility power was out for an extended period of time and the air conditioning chillers were submerged (and ultimately stolen by thieves for the copper!!), the individual valve pallets"stuck" to their seats and we were able to gently "coax" all of the dead notes back into playing again by carefully "rodding" the valves in order to break the bond that had formed between the pallet leather and the underside of the Toeboards.

Next, we turned our attention to some "nagging" problems which remained from prior to the advent of Katrina: some of wind conductors distributing wind to the various windchests within the instrument were installed using corrugated, aluminum duct! Because these proved to be unsuccessful in delivering stable wind to the pipes standing on the windchests which these conductors fed, it was decided to "upgrade" the wind system by a wholesale replacement of the aluminum ductwork with thinwall PVC pipe and use the opportunity of the replacement work to more carefully route the wind lines in order to avoid as many bends as possible. The difference in sound after the retrofit work was nothing short of amazing. Organ pipes that had been heretofore unstable in their speech took on a new commanding and authoritative grandeur in intonation and character that was simply lacking previously.

Finally, we turned our attention to correcting a few anomalies in the speech of the pipes that was the result of 15 months of the organ standing silent and sitting in less-than-favorable climactic conditions. Finally, the organ received a complete and careful tuning over the course of two days.

The most personally rewarding and joyous moment was when the organist of the church, Kim Jovanovich, who is still suffering from the long-term effects of having lost practically everything to Katrina's devastation (his home, business, musical instruments, music library and much, MUCH more!) was able to sit down, start playing the instrument and finding himself "coming home to an old friend"! This organ is quite likely the one tangible thing which remains from his"pre-Katrina" life and witnessing the tears of joy in his eyes as he coaxed one wonderful sound after another out of this instrument was simply an unforgettable moment which I was glad to have been able to witness.

That said, more work yet remains to be done, in that two of the Pedal Bourdon windchests which were originally located on the main Sanctuary floor were ruined and the Toeboards from them were brought back to Illinois to be re-manufactured. Additional aluminum wind conductors in the two Swell chambers will be converted to PVC pipe on a subsequent trip, as well as putting more "finishing touches" on the instrument here and there.

It has been a remarkable privilege to be able to work with the distinguished and courageous folks at Prince of Peace Lutheran Church who continue to forge ahead with re-building their lives and place of worship in the face of great loss and seemingly insurmountable obstacles. While they have their own "rows to hoe" in the ongoing efforts to re-build their personal lives, they continue to consider re-building their place of worship and the instrument which they employ as a congregation to aid in their Worship of God to have a place of importance in their lives corporately.