Chicago-Midwest Chapter

Organ Historical Society

In The Beginning

by David M. McCain

Every few months I find in my mail a now-familiar looking envelope that signals an automatic response which I have no desire to ever change.  Regardless of whatever may be on my immediate agenda, the world around me is put on hold until I have opened that envelope, extracted its contents, and read every word of the latest issue of The Stopt Diapason.  Over the past two-plus decades, the pages of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter’s journal have reintroduced me, often with fresh perspectives, to venues and instruments with which I was once familiar.  And no issue fails to present exciting details of churches and pipe organs that I regret having not known about, or failed to explore, during the twenty four years I lived in Chicago.

Beyond the well-researched church histories and the detailed descriptions of each congregation’s organ (so well written that I can almost smell the incense and feel the rumble caused by the bourdons), every issue of The Stopt Diapason reminds me of what I held as the most important objective of the Chapter’s focus, its continuing life, and its future success – the people: those men and women who pooled their individual and collective abilities to enlighten, encourage and support those among us who were knowledgeable, or talented, or “enthusiasts,” or perhaps just curious about old organs.

This journal’s record of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter’s activities has served as a constant reminder of people who, because of our common interests, I once worked with during this Chapter’s formative days.  It gives me great pleasure to be regularly reminded that many of those people who were present and active in the Chapter’s earliest days remain active, contributing members to this day.  I cannot, however, fail to mention that I have missed seeing in these pages the names of some of our founding members whose contributions were vital to this Chapter’s beginnings.  Perhaps as in my own experience, other forces or factors in their lives have commanded their attention.

Other than my appreciation of this journal’s constant reminder of people I came to know when the Chicago-Midwest Chapter was first formed, I have found myself intrigued and curious about the talents and contributions of some members of the Chapter who, though I have yet to meet them, have become familiar to me through descriptive references in the pages of The Stopt Diapason.

Unique individuals, each with her or his own contribution offered, each with her or his own interests met – that, I believed in the days of this Chapter’s formation, was the firm foundation we needed to build upon.  If anything, the pages of this journal continue to confirm this conviction.


When the Autumn 2005 issue (No. 89) of The Stopt Diapason arrived in my mail box I, as was my practice, put all other matters “on hold.”  Well, I did pause to turn off NPR’s “Evening Edition” as I didn’t want to be distracted.  I trusted that there would be a chair to receive my descending body as I sat at the kitchen table.  Every page, every word, every photograph commanded my attention.  The headline announced that the Chapter was “Celebrating Twenty-Five Years in 2005-2006.”  It was thrilling to know that the Chapter had reached this milestone.  The Chapter, like many of the organs in which we are interested, has survived the test of time.

Eventually I arrived at page 23: “The Early Days of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter, OHS,” by Julie Stephens.  This report, I trusted, would tell about a period in this Chapter’s history with which I had some familiarity, as told by a fellow founding member whose dedication, hard work, and enthusiasm I have long admired.

Julie Stephens’ independent account of those early days was about as accurate as my own recollection would be if I didn’t have at hand some earlier recorded and accepted understandings about the Chapter’s genesis.  Without challenging Julie Stephen’s published memories of events, I contend, as honesty demands, that my own contribution to the Chapter’s formation and early development was less influential than one might conclude from a casual reading of Julie’s report.  Nonetheless, I have told Julie, and a few others, that when the last note of my life has been played and General Cancel has been pressed, I will welcome Julie Stephens’ writing of my obituary.  Only she will be able to write about my life the way I will have wished it to have been.


At the Chicago-Midwest Chapter’s business meeting of February 22, 1980, we acknowledged that we had not been keeping minutes of our earliest, informal discussions.  In order to create a complete record of the Chapter’s activities, Julie Stephens was assigned the responsibility of writing a report about our early gatherings.  As written by Julie, her report is as complete an account of the Chapter’s birth as can ever be expected to be told.  In the interest of presenting an accurate portrayal of the Chapter’s earliest history, that document is republished here, complete and unedited.

A beginning:

(A brief history of the founding of the Chicago-Midwest Chapter of the Organ Historical Society)


At the 1979 National OHS Convention in St. Louis, David McCain and Arthur Lawrence suggested the idea of a local OHS chapter to Chicago area members Tom Burrows, Bryant Hazard and Julie Stephens.  We all agreed, and made plans to get together when we got back home.


On July 24, 1979 our first planning meeting was held over dinner at Henrici’s Restaurant in Rosemont, Illinois.  Those attending the dinner were William Aylesworth, Tom Burrows, Eugene Hamilton, Bryant Hazard, Arthur Lawrence, David McCain and Julie Stephens.  David McCain brought a list of all national OHS members in the Illinois and Wisconsin area, and we agreed that there were a sufficient nucleus to support a local chapter in the geographical area.  David McCain then agreed to contact Alan Laufman concerning the requirements to organize our new chapter.


On November 2, 1979, a meeting was held in the home of Julie Stephens.  Those in attendance were William Aylesworth, Tom Burrows, James Frey, Bryant Hazard, David McCain and Julie Stephens.  This meeting was a long working session.  David McCain informed us that it would be necessary to send a petition with at least 10 signatures to the national board in order to organize a local chapter.  This was to be accompanied by a copy of our proposed bylaws.  David McCain having brought copies of the bylaws of various other local chapters, we used them as samples, and developed our own bylaws.  It was decided to call our chapter the Chicago-Midwest Chapter, and to call our journal THE STOPT DIAPASON.  Tom Burrows typed the petition letter on the spot, and we all six signed it.  David McCain took the petition with him, to obtain the signatures of Arthur Lawrence and Dr. William H. Barnes, as well as others, to secure at least 10 signers.  He also took the draft of our bylaws in order to have them typed.  (Due to a unique set of circumstances, the petition and bylaws were mailed from St. Paul, Minnesota on November 19, 1979.)  At the end of the meeting, a champagne toast was drunk by way of celebration.


On December 17, 1979 a meeting was held in the home of William Aylesworth.  Those in attendance were William Aylesworth, Tom Burrows, James Frey, David McCain and Julie Stephens.  David McCain advised us that he had talked to Cullie Mowers, and that although our petition did not reach the national board in time for their meeting on November 22, 1979, we could consider ourselves organized as the Chicago-Midwest chapter of the OHS.  We discussed the need for an interim board, until one could be elected by the entire membership, and agreed upon the following:


            President – David McCain

            Secretary/Treasurer – Tom Burrows

            Editor of Publications/Correspondent – Bryant Hazard

            Chicago Convention Committee – William Aylesworth (program)  Julie Stephens (logistics)


Julie Stephens brought drafts of letters to be sent to AGO and OHS people, announcing our chapter and enclosing membership applications.  After revision, the drafts were given to Tom Burrows to prepare for distribution.  The AGO letters were to be sent as stuffers with the AGO mailings in January or February, and the OHS letters were to be mailed directly.  We also discussed a concert on the Johnson organ in Lincoln Park Presbyterian Church in Chicago.  William Aylesworth agreed to make the necessary arrangements for this, which will be our first program as a local chapter.


Note: From my not infallible memory, I believe that the above report fails to mention that Susan Friesen, in addition to those named, was also present at the 1979 Convention in St. Louis, and participated in discussions about forming a chapter in the Chicago area. -- DM

Just re-reading the above report causes me to be amazed at the amount of energy and drive that propelled us into action.  We had not yet presented our first public program, yet we were already discussing the possibility of hosting a National convention!


From the beginning, the Chapter took pains to assure that every member’s talents and abilities were well used – to the extent each member was willing and interested to make a contribution.  Although we had an elected board of directors, every member was invited to attend board meetings, and any member present could contribute to the discussions and vote on any measure presented.  While board members had assigned responsibilities, there was no hierarchy or undue respect for dominant personalities that would detract from supporting the interests of all members.  Still, it cannot be left unmentioned that the Chapter’s early solid foundation was greatly strengthened through the efforts and abilities of certain phenomenal contributors.  At the risk of offending anyone I may have overlooked, I would pay tribute to these few people who left a lasting impression on my memory:

Julie Stephens, for her unbounded enthusiasm, and for being a constantly driving force that propelled us forward in our formative days.

Susan Friesen, for her sense of organizational structure, her skills that developed The Stopt Diapason into the respected journal that it has become, her comfortable, common sense demeanor, and her ready willingness to share her musical talents with us.

William Aylesworth, for bringing several notable instruments to our attention, making them available to us, and sharing his phenomenal musical abilities.

Michael Friesen, for his relentless work in research and documentation which gave weight and authority to The Stopt Diapason, and fostered a great amount of respect for our Chapter’s work.

Thomas A. Burrows, for his fine skill as a photographer in graphically documenting so many of the organs visited by the Chapter in our early days.

Robert Voves, for his organizational abilities.  Mr. Voves was likely the only member of our first board of directors who had any concept of organizational matters as established by Robert’s Rules of Order.

I thank each of these people, and others unmentioned, for the valuable contributions they made in forming, promoting, and sustaining the Chicago-Midwest Chapter of the Organ Historical Society.



5/27/2006 - © Chicago-Midwest Chapter, Organ Historical Society