“Next to the Word of God, the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.” Martin Luther
It has been an honor to sit and talk with Ruth Lee about her family, friends, music, and life. Trying to put a lifetime of love, service, and blessings into words for one short article seems impossible. I hope to share a glimmer of the beauty in the soul that has sat at our pipe organ or piano bench on Sunday for 72 years, and that her story inspires you as it has me and countless others.
Beryl Ruth Racek was born on November 16, 1925 to Val and Martha (Kalsem) Racek. Baptized on Christmas day by the pastor of Fjeldberg Lutheran Church, Huxley, IA, Ruth became, and still is, a precious gift to this family of faith. Growing up, Ruth’s family embraced and encouraged musical talents fostering their growth; her great grandparents donated the original pipe organ in the old church. This love for music and tradition of giving permeated the lives of Ruth and her younger sister Mary Anne (Racek) Schonhorst.
Ruth started taking piano lessons in Des Moines when she was five with Ruth Stevenson. She loved the music; it felt like it was a part of her while she played. Ruth took lessons from a variety of teachers all around Huxley, Cambridge, Kelly, and Slater while she was growing up. She celebrated her confirmation of faith in June of 1940 and soon after she started taking lessons from Howard Chase in Ames. In August of 1941 Ruth was fifteen and the church council asked if she would play the organ, up to this time, Ruth had never played an organ. Howard came down and to do a lesson at the church to help Ruth familiarize herself with the organ. During this lesson a few of Ruth’s cousins Homer, Ralph, and Jay Kalsem were playing around the church and Howard really got a kick out of watching them and their chatting away in Norwegian. Ruth started playing as the church organist and continued taking lessons from Howard until she graduated from Huxley High School in 1943.
Ruth earned her degree in piano performance at St. Olaf College in 1947. Upon completion of college Ruth decided to pursue teaching, and went to Drake University for summer school to get her education certificate in order to take a music teaching position in Churdan, IA. While at Churdan she taught vocal and instrumental music classes and took summer education classes at Drake. In 1949 Ruth began working towards her masters in organ performance at Drake and took a new position on the faculty at Waldorf as an instructor for piano, organ, and the director of the chapel choir. While working with the chapel choir, Ruth met her future husband Jacob Lee, who sang bass.
Ruth has faithfully served as the organist at Fjeldberg for 72 years. During that time she has also taught piano and organ lessons, directed the church choir, been a part of the sewing circle and women’s circle, and has genuinely enjoyed the community and family of faith at Fjeldberg. Her husband, Jake, always loved to hear Ruth play at church and he used to come and listen to her practice. Jake passed away in 2008, but that love for music and service that he and Ruth shared still are ever present in Ruth and their children. The commitment to excellent quality, her joy in playing, and her love of the Fjeldberg family drives Ruth to keep her regular practices and scheduled services at church, and we are honored to have her.
Written by: Brent Stanek, Youth Director, Fjeldberg Lutheran Church