It has been an honor to sit and talk with Ruth Lee about her family, friends, music and life. Trying to put a lifetime of love, service and blessings into words for one short article seems impossible, and it is. But I hope to share a glimmer of the beauty in the soul at our pipe organ or piano bench on Sundays, that her story may inspire you as it has me and countless others.
Beryl Ruth Racek was born on November 16, 1925, to Val and Martha (Kalsem) Racek. Baptized on Christmas Day by the pastor of Fjeldberg Lutheran Church, she began and is still a precious gift to this family of faith. Growing up, her family embraced and encouraged musical talents fostering their growth. Her great-grandparents donated the original pipe organ in the old church, and this tradition of giving and love for music permeated the lives of Ruth and her younger sister Mary Anne (Racek) Schonhorst.
Ruth started taking piano lessons in Des Moines when she was five with Ruth Stevenson. She loved the music; it felt like it was a part of her while she played. She would take lessons from a variety of teachers all around Huxley, Cambridge, Kelly, and Slater while she was growing up. She celebrated her confirmation of faith in June of 1940 and soon after she started taking lessons from Howard Chase in Ames. In August of 1941 Ruth was fifteen, and the church council asked if she would play the organ; up to this time Ruth had never played an organ. But Howard offered to come down and do a lesson at the church to help her familiarize herself with it. During this lesson a few of Ruth’s cousins - Homer, Ralph, and Jay Kalsem - were playing around the church and Howard really got a kick out of watching them and listening to their chatting away in Norwegian. Ruth then started playing as the church organist and continued taking lessons from Howard until she graduated from Huxley High School in 1943.
Ruth attended college at Waldorf College, then a two-year institution, before transferring and completing a degree in Piano Performance at St. Olaf College in 1947. Upon completion of college, she decided to become a teacher and so went to Drake University for summer school to get her education certificate in order to take a music teaching position in Churdan. While at Churdan, she taught vocal and instrumental music classes and took summer education classes at Drake. In 1949 she began working towards her master’s in organ at Drake and took a new position on the faculty at Waldorf as an instructor for piano and organ, and the director of the chapel choir. While working with the chapel choir, she met her future husband, Jacob Lee, who sang bass.
Ruth and Jake made beautiful music together and after Jake completed that year at Waldorf and transferred to St. Olaf, he made weekly visits to Waldorf. Jake and Ruth Lee were married in 1951, at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church, and Ruth moved to take a position at St. Olaf, as the secretary to the chair of the Department of Music, while Jake finished school. In 1952, after Jake finished his degree in economics, they moved to Sioux City, where he got work with Kresge’s in manager training. Ruth began doing some organ demonstrations for Baldwin Organs and filling in at churches; she fondly remembers traveling, playing and having a good time with her husband and friends. In November of that year her daughter Nancy was born and Ruth chose to stay at home and “tone down” her playing commitments. They settled into a comfortable life, enjoying their time together. In June of 1954 her first son Phillip was born, and in August Kresge’s moved them to St. Joseph, Mo. In January of 1955, Jake and Ruth decided to move back home to their home farm northwest of Huxley. She took up playing regularly at their home church, Fjeldberg Lutheran Church, after their return until November of 1960, when her son Daniel was born. Her youngest child Paul was born in March of 1963 and some time later Ruth went back on as a regular organist for us here at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church.
Ruth has faithfully served as our organist for the past 47 consecutive years. During that time she has also taught piano and organ, directed the church choir, been a part of the sewing circle and women’s circle, and genuinely enjoyed the community and family of faith at Fjeldberg. Her husband, Jake, always loved to hear her play at church and he used to come and listen to her practice. Jake passed away in 2008, but that love for music and service that he and Ruth shared still are ever present in Ruth and their children. The commitment to excellent quality, her joy in playing and her love of the Fjeldberg family drives her to keep her regular practices and scheduled services at church. We are honored to have her.
Reception this Sunday to honor Ruth Lee
On Sunday, Oct. 6, we are officially calling it “Ruth Lee Sunday.” She will be playing her favorite hymns and her family will be joining us as we celebrate her past and future years of service at Fjeldberg Lutheran Church. Please join us to be a part of this joyous occasion for Ruth at either the 8:30 a.m. or the 11 a.m. service. A reception is being held between services at 9:45 a.m. The church is located at 209 N. Second Ave., Huxley.