Dode Henry reflects on 75 years of playing organ
As yet another Easter approaches, Dorothy (Dode) Henry of St. James Church in Wetmore continues to punch out notes as she carries on her legacy in playing the organ. With her 75th year of playing the instrument quickly approaching, Dode took a look back at her life on the bench.
Under her mother’s instruction, Dode began playing at the age of 11 for St. Patrick’s Church in Corning. Father Hubbard said mass at the time, and Dode recalls he was very insistent that Latin songs be played, which she found out promptly after mass one Sunday.
“I played an English piece during offertory one time and was told it wasn’t a proper song for high mass,” Henry explained. She laughs now, but at the tender age of 11 it was quite impressionable.
Dode’s mother assured her that she was not only playing for the parish, but more importantly, “for God.” These words of wisdom unknowingly helped set the foundation with her role as an organist for decades to come.
As years flew by, Donald Henry came into her life. The two married in 1950, before Don left to train and serve in the Korean War. After his service was completed, Don and Dode moved south of Wetmore and began attending the St. James church. The couple quickly started a family and Dode took a short break from playing.
Soon after the fifth child was born though, Father Alfred, priest of St. James at the time, announced the need of an additional organist. At the urging of Don, Dode began playing the instrument again and has not stopped since.
Over the years, Dode has played several types of organs. Her first was a pump style at St. Patrick’s. Pump style organs require the organist to push pedals in order to pump air so the organ plays properly. This calls for a lot of work for an organist, especially for a young girl.
St. James also had a pump style organ, but quickly moved to electric as the pump style was phased out. An older electric organ still resides at the Wetmore church with a newer electric piano beside it, but Dode still prefers the organ when it’s her turn to play.
Don and Dode operated a family farm, as many did in the day, but after the two quit milking in 1976, Dode was convinced by the local music teacher, Carol Armstrong, to begin teaching a few lessons to local children. She agreed to the idea and by the next week, she had seven young girls riding the bus after school to learn the piano and organ. Within six months, that number had grown to 27.
“One girl would be on the keyboard, another on the organ, and Dad would keep another busy baking bread and rolls while she waited her turn,” said Tim Henry, Dode’s son.
At the time, Dode did not think there would be much interest in children learning to play the organ.
“It just amazed me at the number of kids who wanted to play,” she explained. “Even kids I thought would have no interest at all were wanting lessons!”
Of course, Dode played for several weddings and funerals in all the surrounding churches and communities. Although the music has changed, playing for God has always been the focal point for Dode. She continues to live on the farm, even after Don died a few years back.
However, as always, there is still an organ close by in the family room ready for someone to play. Lessons have ceased, but the desire to play lingers.
Dode will be honored at the 6:30 p.m. mass on Saturday, March 28 at St. James for her many years of service. Fr. Barry Clayton will present her with a Papal blessing from Rome, along with a reception for family, students, and friends to follow in the adjacent hall. All are welcomed and encouraged to attend.
Editor’s note: The above article was submitted by Ron Heinen of Wetmore.