In 1885, just 15 years after founding Bethany Lutheran Church, its members raised $5,000 to order a pipe organ. Today, that would be like raising $300,000! It must have represented quite a sacrifice for such a young congregation in those pioneer days of Ishpeming! The organ they ordered from the Schuelke Organ Company of Milwaukee was a good sized organ, a two-manual, 22-rank tracker (mechanical) action with the distinctive Schuelke built oak console and soaring gothic pipe case topped off by a trinity of crosses at its peak.

Born in West Prussia, now Poland, about 1849, William Schuelke had learned pipe organ building in Germany before emigrating to America with his parents in the late 1860’s. By 1875 he had moved to Milwaukee and soon after started his own pipe organ company. During his lifetime he built 160 pipe organs and, after his sudden fatal heart attack Dec. 6, 1902, his two sons continued the Schuelke tradition until 1945. Wm. Schuelke represented the best of the small organ builders of the ending of the 19th century. His company not only did its own woodwork but built most of its own metal pipes as well with Schuelke, himself, as pipe voicer. Schuelke organs showed more variety than other builders yet always maintained the principle ensemble as its backbone of sound. In 1873, Schuelke had patented a unique tubular pneumatic action for organ, yet most of his organs were built as trackers, especially those of any distance from Milwaukee that he could not service too often. Mr. Schuelke’s obituary mentions his musical talents as well as mechanical. On at least one occasion, he played the dedicatory concert on an organ he had built for a Milwaukee church.

Bethany’s Schuelke organ was dedicated in June of 1886, number 44 of Mr. Schuelke’s 160 organs, and a strong testimony to the importance of fine music to the worship life of this young Swedish congregation. The organ was installed in the church balcony until building instabilities necessitated remodeling in the 1930’s and moving the organ to the front of the sanctuary. By 1956 it was apparent that the building still had problems and Bethany would have to relocate. At the same time, the organ’s aging had brought on problems that to replacing it with an electronic organ while building plans developed. In 1963 the congregation dedicated a new parish education building and moved, with the electronic organ, into its fellowship hall for worship.

Along with these changes, the old church was scheduled to be razed. At the last minute a group from the congregation decided to save the old Schuelke organ pipes and moved them to the attic of the parish education building. A new sanctuary addition was dedicated in 1970 but due to its costs, the electronic organ was moved into the sanctuary and people began to forget about the pipes. When a new organ was needed in 1981, fears of a downturn in the local economy meant another electronic organ was purchased.

Pastor Lee was installed as Bethany’s pastor in October of 1994 and Mrs. Lee hired as organist. She was informed that the electronic organ "had problems" and was appointed chair of an Organ Committee formed in January of 1995. In meeting to discuss new organ options, a committee member mentioned that she believed Bethany had some pipes from its old pipe organ stored somewhere in the attic. The end of March, when weather permitted venturing into the attic, Mrs. Lee called for help in exploring this possibility. Four men from the men’s coffee group showed up to help. One of the men led the way through a jumble of 32 years of debris and boxes to where the ends of several gold gilded metal pipes showed. While some went for more lights, another started moving things to get where the pipes lay. As the men began uncovering the 19 pipes that had been in the front of the old organ’s pipecase, Mrs. Lee’s curiosity sent her further into the attic where much to her surprise she came upon two 5 to 6 ft stacks of wooden organ pipes from 4 to 16 ft long! When called the men were amazed too – they only thought these piles of dismantled steps or risers! The discovery led to an all day search and rearranging of the entire attic until enough rough wooden cases were unearthed (thought to have been more old lumber piles or risers!) that it took two more days to unpack! Pipes were stored inside other pipes, inside other pipes, etc., until the attic space was used up. Pipes were lugged into adjacent hallways and even the council meeting room! Amazement turned into shock; Bethany had "some organ pipes?" After three more days of attempting to decipher pipe markings to catalog the pipes by stopnames and octaves. Mrs. Lee guessed Bethany had at least 18-19 ranks of an old organ, over 1,000 pipes!

Since al the old church records were written in Swedish, a stoplist of the old organ has yet to be found, but from old photos and anniversary books, the year, price, and builder were discovered. The W.S. engraved on the metal pipes stood for William Schuelke. In contacting various organ companies, most of whom discouraged the value and reuse of the pipes, the organ committee came upon Levsen Organ Company of Buffalo, Iowa, who not only builds new pipe organs but has experience and interest in restoring old ones. Mr. Rodney Levsen, Sr., founder of the company, not only reconstructed a probable stoplist from Mrs. Lee’s rough catalog, but being active in the Organ Historical Society of America, found that Bethany’s old organ was registered with the Society and was an old treasure thought to have been destroyed!

The Organ Historical Society lists only twelve of the 160 original Wm. Schuelke organs still in existence today. The oldest and largest still in use in unaltered form (except for an electric blower) is a two manual 24-rank organ in St. Boniface Catholic Church in New Viena, Iowa. Mr. Levsen arranged a visit for Pastor and Mrs. Lee in June to see and hear the organ as its stoplist is almost identical to the probable stoplist of Bethany’s old organ. From this organ, Levsen Organ Co. has a pattern to draw up plans to reconstruct the famous Schuelke console and for any pipes missing from Bethany. Since the present Bethany Church sanctuary does not make it possible to restore the organ as a tracker, the organ committee is recommending that it be slightly enlarged and restored according to today’s standard’s. Levsens has come up with a design for beautiful modern adaptation of Bethany’s old exposed pipecase that will fit one wall of the present sanctuary, and along with the design for a reconstructed Schuelke console says, "I’m a historical organ, but I’m ready for the 21st century."



8' Principal 61 Pipes
8' Viola D'  Gamba 61 Pipes
8' Melodia  61 Pipes
8' Salicional Swell
8' Voix Céleste Swell
4' Principal 61 Pipes
4' Flute D' Amour 61 Pipes
2 2/3' Quint 61 Pipes
2' Octave 61 Pipes
III Mixture 183 Pipes

8' Trompette

61 Pipes
16' Bourdon 61 Pipes
8' Geigen Principal 61 Pipes
8' Gedeckt 61 Pipes
8' Salicional 61 Pipes
8' Voix Céleste 49 Pipes
4' Fugara 61 Pipes
4' Flute Harmonique 61 Pipes
2' Piccolo 61 Pipes
16' Bassoon 12 Pipes
8' Oboe 61 Pipes

4' Zink 

12 Pipes


32' Resultant 32 Notes
16' Principal 32 Pipes
16' Subass 32 Pipes
8' Octavebass 32 Pipes
8' Violoncello 32 Pipes
4' Choral Bass 12 Pipes
III Pedal Mixture 96 Pipes
16' Bassoon Swell
8' Trompette Great
4' Zink Swell




Back to Top   ·   Back to Opus List

Levsen Organ Company  ·  PO Box 542 Buffalo, Iowa  52728  ·  (800) 397-1242  ·  FAX (563) 381-1257  ·  LevsenOrg@aol.com