When Lucille Perley was just 14 years old, she told her mother she was not interested in playing the organ at church.

Her mother, however, persevered, and young Lucille gave the organ a try at the family's church in Huntley, Illinois. "I found out, I loved it," she said, speaking on a chilly December day in her Moline home.

It's nearly 65 years later, and Perley, 79, has retired from more than six decades of playing an organ in church and directing the choir. Her retirement was effective Dec. 31 at St. John's Lutheran Church, East Moline.

"She's been a true blessing to work with," the Rev. Kent Umbarger, church pastorm said. "She's the most gifted church musician I've ever known."

Started in Huntley

Perley was a teenager when she was recruited to play the organ at the small-town church in Huntley, located south and east of Rockford, Illinois. The woman who had been at a small pipe organ in the church taught Lucille how to play during a worship service.

Not many years later, Roger Perley came to Huntley as a musician and music teacher in the school district. Lucille and he had a "very, very short courtship," she said, and were married.

Six years later, in 1964, Roger Perley moved his family, including Lucille and their 4-year-old son, to the Quad-Cities for a job at Black Hawk College Moline. Roger eventually would head the college's music department.

Shortly after they moved to town, they wanted to find a Lutheran church for worship, and ended up at St. John's. There were several organists in those days, Lucille said, but the pastor was receptive to the couple since Roger played the trumpet. Lucille was in the rotation of organists.

Husband dies in 1992

Roger and Lucille raised a growing family in Moline — the couple had two sons, and they adopted five Asian-American daughters. There now are 13 grandchildren.

Roger worked at Black Hawk College, retiring just three weeks before he died, in 1992, of heart disease complicated by diabetes.

Lucille continued to learn, getting an associate's degree at Black Hawk College, and a bachelor's degree at the former Marycrest University, Davenport.

She was teaching organ, going to college and raising seven children. "I went to school between washloads," she said.

After Roger died, Lucille decided to go after a master's degree in organ from the University of Iowa. She earned that degree in 1995.

She also decided to leave St. John's church.

Nine years at Calvary

In the 1990s, Lucille became the organist at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church in Moline. Calvary, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Churches of America, or ELCA, was different from St. John's, which is part of the Missouri Synod Lutheran Church.

"I played at Calvary Lutheran for nine years," she said. "They were very lovely people there."

A family situation caused her to quit and not work for a while. Eventually, she returned to St. John's Lutheran, because of the pastor, Umbarger.

"Pastor Umbarger is a really cool, neat guy. I thought I'd do the job for five years, but that turned into 16 years," she said.

Lucille figures she's played the organ at a church for 64.75 years, but said it's time to quit. "You'd think I could play for a few more months, to 65, right?" she said.

Important sacred music

Music is part of leading the church in the worship of God, she said. "Dear Lord, the music is important. The music, the music, the music!"

While the text in a liturgy service is critical, the music is at a different level. "I think the music is as close to heaven as you can get, here on Earth," she said.

Umbarger, the pastor for 22 years at St. John's, agreed. Lucille has shown a depth of knowledge in sacred music, he said, and offered "an uplifting spirit in working with various musicians in the community."

She has a wonderful sense of humor, he said, and she uses that in her work with all the musicians she knows.

Much as she loves the music, Lucille also loves her family and she is going to see them, starting this month.

Family members live around the country; she has two daughters and a brother in Texas, and sisters in Florida and South Carolina. "I want to be able to catch up," she said.

Going to need a fix

Lucille's church duties required her to be free on Wednesday nights for choir practice and Saturday nights for services. While that worked most of the year, it became an increasing problem as she tried to take longer trips. "It's very difficult to get a substitute organist," she said.

Retiring means an end to deadlines but Lucille plans to stay busy. She will sing in community choirs, and is part of the Handel Oratorio Society. "I'm not a singer but I can sing in a choir," she said.

She loves to read, and take walks with her dog, Petra.

She has offered to be on the substitute list at St. John's and also will have some use of the church's pipe organ. The organ was new when St. John's was built in 1971 and was refurbished in 2008. It includes 24 ranks, or sets of pipes, for each note.

"I do love playing and I will be allowed to practice on that instrument," she said. "I'm going to need a fix, you know."

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