Church organist retires after 74 years of playing services

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The organist for a New Jersey church is finally retiring after playing Sunday services for 74 years.

Walter Miklas has been playing the organ at Zion Lutheran Church in Clark since 1946, he was 14 years old. The church was in Newark at the time and Sunday services were still done in Slovak, the language spoken by the largely-Slovakian immigrant congregation.

“At that time, there was an old SD reed organ. It was old and you had to push down on the keys,” he says.

Miklas did go away to college and did a stint in the Army. But he stayed on as the organist and returned full time when he came back home.

Spreading music became Miklas’ professional as well. He sold instruments at Rondo Music on Route 22 in Union, a store that he owned for years.

But he says that his most cherished memories are the hundreds of weddings for which he played the organ.

“I not only played for the person that got married, but then I played for their children and then even one step further,” he says.

He also played the organ for many funerals.

“And it was all people that I grew up with,” he says.

Miklas says that he likes to play music that other people enjoy.

“When I'm at the big console here and I see a certain family or a certain lady, I think, ‘I know she likes that tune,’ And I'll rummage through my book and I play it. And then that lady will come up with tears in her eyes and say, ‘Oh, Walter, thank you so much for playing that,’” he says.

Miklas will be stepping down as the full-time organist, but says that he will still fill in from time to time. The church will have a special service honoring his years of dedication this Sunday at 9:30 a.m.

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