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Organist gives the gift of music

October 25, 2007|By MARLO BARNHART

SMITHSBURG - One Sunday morning in early July, Betty Eckstine showed up at St. Paul's United Methodist Church as always to play the organ for the 9:30 a.m. service.

All she knew was that the hymns of Charles Wesley were going to be featured that Sunday on the occasion of the birth 300 years ago of that church leader.

What she didn't know was that she, too, was being recognized - for her 50 years at the keyboard.

"We only realized it had been 50 years because Betty had said something to someone," said the Rev. Mark Mooney, pastor of the church. "We decided to do something."

Plans were made in secret. Not even Betty's husband, Richard, was told for fear she would get wind of it.

Everyone in the church signed a card and a special gift was arranged for Betty.

A piano student since she was a girl, Betty said she took lessons but in those days all girls learned to play the piano.

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"It was OK," she said, recalling she wasn't really crazy about it.

"Our minister then, the Rev. George Gray, came to me in the early 1950s and I told him I didn't know how to play an organ," she said.

But Betty tried it and then she took some lessons. A volunteer pianist and then organist all these years, Betty said it is her gift to her church.

"No money then, no money now," Betty said with a smile.

Although she gets no pay for playing the organ, she receives a monetary gift every Christmas, Mooney said.

In her younger days, Betty, now 79, worked as a budget analyst at Fort Detrick in Frederick County. She retired from there after 19 years of employment.

Richard Eckstine is also retired after a long career at Pangborn. The couple has one son and two grandchildren.

"We once had three choirs at St. Paul's," Betty said. "Now we just have the young people's choir with practice on Sundays after church."

In addition to her Sunday duties, Betty also plays the piano for vacation Bible school in the summer.

"I pick the hymns each Sunday and then I check with Betty," Mooney said.

She also accompanies the service each Sunday with the musical responses during worship.

Once Mooney starts his sermon, Betty leaves the organ and sits with her husband in the congregation.

"I grew up in this church and I enjoy contributing here," she said, noting that she has been approached by officials from other churches looking for an organist.

When she isn't attending to her music and her church, Betty said she enjoys reading and playing "500" with her card club.

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