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Thorson's a seasoned veteran behind Tabor church keyboard

BAY CITY--One musical accompanist has served Tabor Lutheran Church in Bay City for the past 60 years.

Although 81-year-old Elaine Thorson modestly said Janice Torseth, who acts in a similar capacity at sister parish Svea Lutheran Church in Hager City, has been her back-up, Mrs. Thorson's son, Gary, could remember very few times when his mother wasn't the instrumentalist at Sunday worship services.

"I'm just very thankful the Good Lord has given me the ability to do it," she said Friday.

And Tabor's congregation appreciates her efforts. Her son said they're holding a dinner in her honor at the Eagle's Nest Restaurant in Ellsworth this Sunday, followed by cake and coffee to be served from 2-4 p.m.

Mrs. Thorson actually began as a fill-in organist for the church when she was a teenager, she said. Mrs. Arthur Peterson was behind the keyboard at that time; when Mrs. Peterson moved to Red Wing, her fill-in was promoted to full-time duty.

"We're a small church," she said, emphasizing the importance of everyone having a role.

She was unclear about her musical experiences while in school, though agreed with her son that she'd been a choir member during her two years at Ellsworth High School. But she's long enjoyed singing, too, she said, and has sang at many weddings and funerals. She often sings and plays at the same time.

"She had to...there really isn't anyone else (who can do it)," her son said, indicating he and most of the congregation are just average singers.

Mrs. Thorson said she took piano lessons for a few years from Arvid Vennverg as a youth. Her family had a piano at home because she'd saved the pocket change her father, Carl Edquist, gave her upon returning from his job at Red Wing Potteries, her son said. When her dad died after catching pneumonia, the aunts wanted that money to be used toward the funeral, but her mother, Marie, insisted it was hers to be spent on the piano she wanted.

Both of her father's sisters, Mabel and Lillian Edquist, were musically talented, so music was part of her early life at home, her son said. Additionally, as early as the 1930s, she played piano while Vennverg played violin and Chester Hanson played saxophone at occasional gatherings.

Tabor isn't the only church that's benefited from Mrs. Thorson's instrumental skills, her son said. For quite a few years, she was also substitute accompanist at the former St. John's Lutheran Church in Bay City. She'd play for that church's 8 a.m. Sunday service, then get to her family's church in time for its service at 9:30 or 11 a.m.

"My mother made us go to church every week it was held," she said, recalling her childhood.

Rev. Lindeau was the pastor then, she said, and Sunday School was a weekly event. Once in a while, a severe snowstorm would cause worship to be cancelled and calls to the members notifying them.

On the family farm, she got additional responsibilities after her dad died when she was 12-years-old, she said. Two brothers, Bob and Don, and a sister, Mrs. Carol Hallstrom, were expected to help with chores. Before graduating in Ellsworth in 1939, she attended school in Red Wing and at the Oak Ridge school, near Tabor church, which she could walk to from home and at which she remembered Miss Shanks was one of her first teachers.

The church has always had an organ, she said, recalling an old one, later replaced by a small pump model, which has since been replaced again. Most recently, she's played the piano there and enjoys both instruments equally. Among her favorite selections is "Beautiful Savior."

She's also had cataract surgery in both eyes.

"It was getting hard to read the music," she said.

Besides Gary, who farms, Mrs. Thorson's own family includes her late husband, Ed, and two daughters: Diane of the Twin Cities and Jean of Dousman. They're proud of their mother's 60-year musical accomplishment, matched at the two churches by Svea's former organist, Emma Lindquist.

As for how long she'll continue, she said, "As long as I can."