April 16, 2010

Gerald Buck celebrates 40 years
as organist for First Presbyterian Church

You may know him best as the man who plays the calliope in the Racine Fourth of July Parade, but Gerald Buck is known at First Presbyterian Church as Jerry, and is the only organist most of the member have known. This May the historic pipe organ at First Presbyterian Church will ring with Buck’s talent as he celebrates over 40 years as the church organist. To mark the event, Buck commissioned an organ composition by Janet Linker, a well-known composer of organ hymn tune variations and bell choir selections.

Buck is known for playing hymn variations to match the opening hymn for the services and he commissioned Linker to write variations on “Lift High the Cross,” a vigorous hymn beloved by the congregation and not tied to a specific time in the liturgical year. Buck will play several of the Linker variations during the prelude, offertory and postlude during the May 2 service.

Buck is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin and Marquette University with degrees in physics. He had a 45-year teaching career in physics, musical acoustics, and chemistry. He spent 23 years at The Prairie School, where he was also science department chair.

In addition to the pipe organ, Buck also plays piano, saxophone and woodwinds. He played oboe in high school, college, and military bands. Since 1994 he has maintained and played the calliope in Racine's July 4th parade.

Buck’s family is filled with musicians. His wife, Nancy, directs the hand bell choir at First Presbyterian and two of their children have careers in music. Daughter Jennifer teaches strings in the Mesa, Arizona, school system and is a freelance cellist; son Peter is a jazz drummer, composer and college instructor in Los Angeles.

First Presbyterian's organ has quite a history of its own, with some of it dating  back 143 years.

It's a 3 manual., 33-rank pipe organ.  The church's original pipe organ was a 2 manual instrument built by the Johnson Organ Co. of Boston and installed in 1867 in the balcony, between the pillars.  In 1885 it was moved to the front of the church.

The instrument was completely rebuilt in 1935 by the Besch Co. of Milwaukee, reusing several ranks of pipes from the original Johnson.  The middle part of the case, housing three groups of pipes, is the original Johnson case.  That this case survives is noted in a history of the Johnson organs, published by the Organ Historical Society.  In 1971 several ranks of pipes were added, and in 1988 a new console was installed. More recently, coinciding with the rebuilding of the chancel, the console was rebuilt and moved to the side, permitting the full stage to be used by performing groups.


  1. Jerry is wonderful. Such a blessing to First Pres. and the community.

  2. 40 years?!? That's amazing.