Longtime church organist honored

Longtime church organist honored
Kristi Schweitzer

Janet Straits and Fr. Tom Gardner pose with an award Straits received for 60-plus years as organist for St. Peter Catholic Church in Millersburg. Straits enjoyed a surprise party after her retirement on Sunday, Jan. 14.


It takes a special kind of person to dedicate her time and talent, even more so for several decades.

That sentiment was echoed on Jan. 14 as members of St. Peter Catholic Church in Millersburg took the time to honor longtime organist Janet Straits. Straits, 88, of Millersburg retired from playing mass every Sunday for over 60 years.

As a thank you, parishioners surprised her after the service with a lunch party complete with catering, gifts and a special award. The party had been in the works for some time, said Fr. Tom Gardner.

“It’s hard to get anybody to commit to doing something for a few weeks, let alone 60 years,” Gardner said. “I’m so impressed with her faithfulness — to the job and for doing so well. She plays really beautifully and works well with (everyone).”

Seated with her family, Straits enjoyed a meal and fellowship, receiving many compliments and well wishes.

“I thought something was in the works (today), but I didn’t know what,” Straits said.

Straits joined St. Peter after marrying her husband Charlie in 1954. A few years later, she filled in when the church needed an organist, and the rest is history. It wasn’t hard for her to get started because she’d been taking piano lessons since she was 5, thanks to her mother’s due diligence. Her mother also happened to be an organist at another congregation.

Straits played the parish’s traditional pipe organ for years and recently its digital Yamaha one. She enjoys playing hymns at every mass.

“‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ are my two favorites,” Straits said.

In addition to years of practice, she has her own special gift: the ability to play by ear.

“She can play anything from Christmas tunes to you name it,” said David Straits, her son. “She just sits down at the piano and rattles it out. If she hears it, she can play it.”

“It’s just easy to me,” Straits said.

Debi Stadler, a longtime member and Straits’ hairdresser, has appreciated Straits’ talent for musical improv, such as filling in moments during the mass.

“She’ll just play, and I’ll say, ‘What was that?’ ‘Oh, I was just kind of making that up as I went,’” Stadler said.

Stadler, like so many others, has shared so much life alongside Straits and family and appreciates everything Straits has given.

“She will be greatly, greatly missed,” Stadler said. “She’s got an amazing talent. She’s just given so much.”

Longtime parishioners Bob and Becky Porter had all of Straits’ kids in school and have enjoyed being a part of each other’s lives.

“She raised all her kids here and has been the organist for years. She does a great job,” Bob Porter said.

Straits and her husband Charlie raised all six children at St. Peter and now enjoy 14 grandchildren and many more great-grandchildren and step-grandchildren.

Although she’s taking a step back, Straits said she plans to substitute on occasion for services and funerals. And she’ll still attend church.

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