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Wetumpka organist, pianist honored for 50 years of servicecomment (0)

February 15, 2007

By Susan Chaffin Goggins

When Bonnie Strickland and Joe Allen Turner became accompanists at First Baptist Church, Wetumpka, “I Love Lucy” was America’s favorite television show and Elvis Presley was a rising music superstar. Fifty years later, black-and-white television shows are relegated to reruns and Presley’s records are collector’s items. 
But Strickland and Turner are still playing away. 
“Their talent is tremendous,” said Chason Farris, minister of music and worship at the Elmore Baptist Association church. “They have continued to play into their 70s now, and they are as sharp as ever.”
The two accompanists crossed paths in November 1956 when Strickland, newly married and attending First, Wetumpka, for the first time, was asked to accompany the choir on piano during its rehearsal. That led to her joining in the Sunday services with Turner, who had been playing the organ since that October. They have been playing together ever since.
“The No. 1 thing is we can always count on them,” said Pastor James Troglen. “We’ve actually become spoiled by the fact they’re always going to be there with that high level of talent.”
Both Strickland and Turner began their musical careers as children, devoting hours of practice to hone their craft.
Strickland’s mother woke her at 5 o’clock on icy Michigan mornings to practice the piano. “I would drape one arm sleepily across the top of the piano and play scales with one hand, then the other hand,” she said. “Soon Mother would call downstairs, ‘I’ve heard enough scales; let’s hear some music.’” 
Turner began piano lessons in the third grade, but the organ soon caught his fancy. “I was fascinated by the footwork,” he explained.
Turner’s piano teacher was also an organist for First, Wetumpka, serving there from 1917 until 1950. Turner is amazed he surpassed her service record. “I thought she was old when I was taking lessons. Now look at me.”
Johnny Kilgore, minister of music and senior adults at Ridgecrest Baptist Church, Birmingham, in Birmingham Baptist Association, served as minister of music and youth at First, Wetumpka, from 1973 until 1981. He described his service with Strickland and Turner as a time of special teamwork. “They always gave their best, did their best and they were the best. As a young man starting out in the ministry, I was blessed because Joe Allen and Bonnie made me look good because of their skills as musicians and the faithfulness to their calling.”
Strickland said of her years of service that “this was something I could give to the church and I enjoy it.”
Turner now plays only for the morning traditional service at First, Wetumpka. Although the organ is growing less popular these days, he believes it gives a church service dignity and reverence. He noted that he has been able to stay faithful to his job all these years because of the lack of organists and quipped, “I didn’t have a substitute.”
The church honored Turner’s and Strickland’s work Feb. 4 with a special service and luncheon.

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