Church organist is the key to Sunday services

June 16, 2004|by MARLO BARNHART

When Kenneth George Plank was just a boy, his mother sat him down at the piano and told him he was to play for one hour each day. There was no debate, he was just to do it.

"She just put the music in front of me and, after awhile, I learned to read music," Plank said.

From that modest beginning, Plank grew musically and, in 1954, he began playing the organ for church services at Salem Reformed Church in Cearfoss.

This year, he is beginning his 51st year playing that same organ in the same sanctuary.

The Moller organ at Salem Reformed was built in Hagerstown in 1947 and donated to the church by the McLaughlin family. A compact model, it was designed especially for the limited space available at Salem Reformed, Plank said.


"Everything is self-contained in this organ because it had to fit," he said.

Over the years, Plank, now 84, has only failed to be at the keyboard for one extended period - three months spent recuperating from a hip replacement.

"One other time, I was delayed by a storm and another time, my car broke down," Plank said. "But they held off church until I got there."

As a child, Plank attended what is now Grace United Methodist Church in Hagerstown.

"It was Grace Brethren when I was there, but it later changed to Methodist," Plank said.

At 16, he went to work on a dairy farm.

"Our milkman told me there was a job opening at the Beckley dairy farm and I went right out and got the job," Plank said.

That job at the farm off U.S. 40 east of Huyetts lasted 26 years and led to him meeting Mary Beckley, whom he married in 1942. The Planks have two grown sons, Perry and Edwin.

Later, Plank worked for Glaize Orchards, which was on Wagaman Road but now is in Winchester, Va. Now, Plank and his wife live in a house on a one-acre lot where that orchard used to be.

Plank joined the Williamsport Fire Co. band in the 1940s. For six years, he studied the trombone while playing in that band and then in the Hagerstown Civic Band until it broke up.

While at the Hagerstown Fairgrounds one night, Plank and his wife visited a Shockey's Furniture display of organs and Plank became interested.

"I went down to Shockey's store, sat down and just played the organ," Plank said.

Later, he purchased a used organ for their home.

In addition to services, Plank played for weddings and funerals for several generations.

"I've even played for more than one wedding for some people," Plank said.

Each Sunday, Plank chooses the prelude, postlude and offertory music for the service. The pastor selects the hymns. Charles Grab is the choir director.

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