Renowned organist and educator Dr.
Paula Romanaux shares quest to find Carnegie organs
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[March 10, 2020]
The Elkhart Historical Society presented a lecture by Dr. Paula
Romanaux Friday evening about her quest to uncover a unique part of
American history. Dr. Romanaux, who holds a PhD, is a world renowned
organist and educator. The lecture held in the Elkhart Christian
Church focused on American industrialist Andrew Carnegie and a part
of his legacy to the country and world that is not well known.
Dr. Romanaux grew up in rural Virginia, Illinois, the daughter of
the local funeral director. As such, she was introduced to the music
of the organ at an early age, and the magic of the sound never left
her. She began taking lessons at an early age at MacMurray College
and then later traveled to Vienna, Austria and Julliard to advance
her studies of the so-called ‘King of Instruments.’ Accompanied by
her husband William Furry, Director of the Illinois State Historical
Society, he said, “She had to learn German in order to take lessons
While in Virginia, Ms. Romanaux practiced on the Virginia Christian
Church’s organ. Little did she know about its wonderful history and
how it would eventually affect her life.
In her travels around the world playing the organ, Romanaux has
performed on an organ from the 1400’s and others that were played by
Johann Sebastian Bach, Mozart, and Franz Liszt. Her fingers were on
the same keys as these giants in the history of music.
“When I play the organ, I can feel the breath of the instrument
passing beneath my fingers, as if it is living. I have always been
inspired by the organ,” she said.
And what is the alternative legacy of Andrew Carnegie that Paula
introduced to the full pews in the Elkhart Christian Church?
Most know that he was the richest man in American in the late 19th
and early 20th century. He is also known as the ‘Father of Modern
Philanthropy’ in America. Perhaps his donation of his wealth to
build libraries in the United States is his most well known legacy.
But there is another aspect of his largesse that Romanaux discussed.
Andrew Carnegie donated funds to place organs in over 6,000 churches
all over the world.
“Andrew Carnegie believed that God spoke through the music of the
organ,” said Romanaux. “He also believed that it was the duty of the
wealthy to give away all of their treasure,” she added.
Romanaux is writing a book on Andrew Carnegie’s legacy of donating
organs. She has initially been on a quest to find all of the
remaining Carnegie organs in Illinois. She and her husband William
have found 207 so far. “We have put many miles on our car traveling
throughout the state seeking out these Carnegie organs,” she said
with a laugh. They are known affectionately as the Carnegie Hunters.
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One of her most fantastic discoveries in Illinois is the organ she practiced on
as a teenager in the Virginia Christian Church. It was actually donated by
Andrew Carnegie to the church.
Looking at the arc of Paula Romanaux’s life, she unknowingly learned her skill
on a Carnegie organ in her hometown and has now uncovered its history.
Central Illinois towns that have Carnegie organs are Petersburg, Havana,
Mattoon, Chandlerville, Divernon, White Hall, Roodhouse, and Virden. “Some of
these towns also have Carnegie libraries, towns that are doubly blessed by
Andrew Carnegie’s philanthropy,” said Romanaux.
And some of these organs were actually built in Illinois. Two well known organ
manufacturing firms were Hinners Organ Company in Pekin, and Wicks Organ Company
in Highland. Both firms began in the 19th century.
After her lecture on Carnegie donated organs, Romanaux gave a concert on the
organ in the Elkhart Christian Church. While it is not a Carnegie instrument,
the organ is a historic part of Elkhart. It was manufactured by Pilchers Company
of Louisville, Kentucky 134 years ago as the house organ for Governor Oglesby’s
mansion on Elkhart Hill. Her concert included compositions by Johann Sebastian
Bach, the first time that timeless composer’s work has been performed on it. “An
historic organ can be the center of a community such as the one here in the
Elkhart Christian Church. It can also provide a place for young people to learn
the instrument just as I did as a teenager,” said Romanaux.
The evening concluded with a special presentation in the church. A
representative of the American Guild of Organists, Dale Rogers of Springfield,
presented a certificate of appreciation to Elkhart Christian Church organist
Elizabeth Ann Anderson for her sixty years as the church’s organist.
The Elkhart Historical Society has a dinner and lecture series throughout the
year. Check their website for details of upcoming presentations.