Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington
Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane
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Okanogan’s 94-year-old organist: too many funerals, weddings, and Masses to count
by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff
(From the March 22, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)
Organist Helen Rawson enjoys a moment with Bishop William Skylstad. The bishop presented Rawson with the Bishop’s Medal for her long-time dedication as an organist for Our Lady of the Valley Parish, Okanogan. (IR photo from Our Lady of the Valley Parish)
Helen Rawson, of Our Lady of the Valley Parish in Okanogan, celebrated her 94th birthday last fall, which means that she has been playing the organ for Sunday and daily parish Masses for more than 80 years. “I did have to miss some days,” Helen recalls, “when I had my children, sometimes I wasn’t able to play, so someone would fill in.”
The summer Helen was 14, a Holy Names Sister came to Oka-nogan to teach catechism classes. The Sister encouraged Helen to share her talent with the parish community. Helen had been playing the piano, with the occasional lesson tossed in for good measure, since she was 10 years old.
“I had a few lessons,” she recalls. “We were very poor, so when my mother could afford some, or my older brother, he would maybe give me five (dollars), and then I would go a long while without any, and then I’d have a few more, and we worked it out that way.”
During her high school years, young Helen also played the trombone. “I haven’t done that lately,” she says with a smile and a laugh.
Asked if she has some favorite music she likes to play for parish Masses, without hesitation she says, “I like the new hymns very much, like ‘Only a Shadow.’ The newer hymns I like very much, but there are a few old ones to the Blessed Mother that I like very much, too.”
The Okanogan County Chronicle reported that, according to relatives, Helen’s late husband, Bob, once remarked that his wife attended so many daily Masses that he was tempted to write a book about her titled 100,000 Miles to Church and Back Again.
Each Sunday morning Helen Rawson arrives at the church early to warm up and to practice for a few minutes with the six members of the choir. She continues to play for weekday Masses, too. She has played for weddings and funerals – too many to count – and continues that aspect of her ministry as well.
At home, for years Rawson has had both a piano and an organ. “I played the piano yesterday for quite a while just for my own enjoyment,” she said. “I played this morning at Mass, of course.”
In September, 2005, Bishop William Skylstad awarded her the Bishop’s Medal in recognition of her many years of service. Still, Rawson says that she has never played the organ to get recognition. “I just played because I love to play for the Mass. That’s the main thing.”