He's got the music in him: Church honors Wolters for 45 years of musical ministries

Paul Wolters was honored at a recent service to mark his 45 years of music ministries at Rantoul American Lutheran Church. Friends, family, past students and the ALC congregation celebrated his accomplishment. He also formerly headed the music department at J.W. Eater Junior High School.

RANTOUL — Paul Wolters can thank allergies for his career choice of music rather than following in the footsteps of his father.

Wolters grew up on a farm near Steelville, about 85 miles southeast of St. Louis.

“My original goal was to take over the family farm,” Wolters said. “Then when I was 7 years old, I had a really (bad case of) the measles and nearly did not survive. After that I had serious allergy problems.”

Wolters said he couldn’t walk into the barn “without sneezing or coughing.”

His father insisted he go to college.

The Rantoul resident went on to teach music to countless numbers of students and has played the organ at thousands of services at American Lutheran Church. He continues to teach music, and when he does have some down time his hobby is, you guessed it, music.

Wolters was recently honored at a service for his 45 years of playing the organ at the church. He and his wife, Marianna, have three children — David in Switzerland, KristiAnn in Little Rock, Ark., and Beth in Urbana. All three attended the service.

“He’s a fabulous musician,” said Chris Briggs, who chaired the committee to plan the service.

But Wolters isn’t solely focused on music. Briggs said he has served on several committees in the church. He is also a former president of the Rantoul Exchange Club, among other activities.

At age 87, Wolters said he practices the organ every day — partly because he enjoys it and partly because “the longer I live, the more I have to keep my fingers limber.”

“I can’t straighten my fingers entirely any more. Of course when you play piano or organ, they’re bent anyway.”

Wolters said he is “an orchestral person originally.”

For two years, he served as director of the orchestra program at J.W. Eater Junior High School back in the days when Chanute Air Force Base was open and enrollment was a great deal larger than what it is today. After two years, he was promoted to music supervisor at a time when the school had 12 music teachers.

Wolters took his father’s advice not to pursue farming and majored in music education at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale. He chose music because of his admiration for his great-uncle who was an organist and choir director. Wolters earned a master’s degree in music composition.

He taught music for two years at Webber Township High School in Bluford, where he also taught algebra, geometry and physics.

Wolters spent a stint in Japan during the Korean conflict and volunteered to play the piano during a Sunday morning worship service. He ended up being the organist for the large chapel service.

Wolters became friends with a Catholic chaplain’s assistant. The assistant wasat a conference at the University of Illinois when he learned of a music teaching opening at Eater and told Wolters, who applied for the post and was accepted.

“I rather believe it was the hand of God,” said Wolters, who has no plans to discontinue his service to American Lutheran Church any time soon.

He started at American Lutheran in 1974. When he first came to the church, there was just one Sunday service in the morning. Now during the winters, there are three services — one Saturday evening and two Sunday morning.

Wolters plays for the Saturday evening service and one on Sunday.

When he first started attending American Lutheran, he initially directed the junior choir and substituted about once a month for the regular organist. She then moved away when her husband, an Air Force colonel, was reassigned elsewhere. Wolters took over as full-time organist and has been doing it ever since.

Wolters long ago retired from teaching at J.W. Eater but continues to teach music part time at St. John’s Lutheran School in Buckley, gives private lessons in his home, plays bassoon in the Parkland College Community Band and directs the Martin Luther Men’s Chorus, which is composed of singers from 12 area churches.