CLARK, NJ- It was the summer of 1946...Harry Truman was president, the Frazer automobile was introduced and Walt Miklas played his first church service as organist.
Fast forward to today. After a 72-year career, most of it at Zion Lutheran Church, Miklas, 86 is leaving the organ bench. Some quick math reveals that Walt was a teenager of 14 when he began his long journey as a church organist.
How did Miklas' career as an organist begin? In the summer of 1946 Miklas, his parents and older brother Paul were members at Zion Evangelical Slovak Church in Newark, New Jersey. Paul was the church organist, and he decided to enlist in the U.S. Army. As he slid off the organ bench to serve his country, Miklas slid onto the organ bench to serve the congregation and continued to serve since that day.
Born to immigrant parents who valued musical skills, Miklas began to take piano lessons at the age of eleven. After he stepped in for Paul, he studied organ for four years. Over the years his skills were reinforced through structured practice times and a consistent role as organist for two or more services a week.
In the early years, Pastor Tuhy of Zion in Newark, would ask Miklas to join him at the Alms House where he conducted services for the residents. There Miklas used a portable foot-pumped organ. Through the years, he mastered three additional organ types: reed, pipe and electronic.
His talents weren't limited to church services though. He also played at a roller rink, dinner clubs, and entertained guests and family at parties. While Miklas served in the U.S. Army in Frederick, Maryland, he worked as an organist for congregations surrounding the military base. The same was true when he attended college at General Motors Institute in Flint, Michigan.
Through the decades of his service, Miklas has shared the bench at his current congregation, Zion Lutheran Church. Those who shared the bench include organists: Susan Dzurovcik, Jeesoo Kwon and the late Paul Miklas, Jr and Helen Kucharik. This sharing of the bench has allowed Miklas to serve as a substitute organist for other congregations in New Jersey; including different Christian denominations.
The love of music runs in the family with his wife of 57 years, Mildred, his three children, two sons-in-law, and five grandchildren all being involved in music through voice and instrument.
When Miklaswas asked what he will miss after playing all these years, he shared, "I will miss the simple joy of playing on a regular basis."
"He’s been such a fixture here for so long,” Pastor Nathan Grewe, Pastor of Zion Lutheran said. “I looked forward to sitting in my office at 7:20 a.m., and hearing him warm the organ up. His presence as a leader in worship was welcoming and warm. The organ and hymnody have been and continues to be such a valuable piece of Lutheran worship. It brings joy and high energy as we sing our Easter hymns. It brings us to our knees in confession in the minor key of Lenten hymns. It teaches us God's Word in a way that you sing it at Sunday brunch after worship. Walt Miklas is a part of the legacy of Zion Lutheran Church. Walt Miklas has been an inspiration to us for many years.”
With a twinkle in his eye, Miklas said that he didn't plan for this "early" retirement and is not quite ready for full retirement. He looks forward to filling in at church when needed. He also plans on firing up his personal electronic organ in his home for his personal enjoyment and to keep his fingers as limber as possible.
A Celebratory Service will be held at Zion Lutheran Church, 559 Raritan Road, Clark, NJ on October 13, 2019, at 9:30 am.