Reflections on my mother, Joy Culbertson Huttar (1930-2015; organist at Grace from 1978-2005)
The Joy Culbertson Memorial Recital will be on All Saints Day, Sunday, November 4 at Grace Church with guest recitalist, Mr. Al Fedak. Joy holds the record for being the longest serving staff member in the history of Grace Church. In her role as organist and faithful member, Joy impacted generations of Grace with music, kindness, humor, a steady presence, and amazingly good food. As we celebrate Grace’s 150th anniversary, her daughter, Julia Huttar Bailey, was asked to write this piece about Joy. Join us this Sunday for a celebration of All Saints Day at 8:15 and 10:30 am and the Memorial Recital through which we give thanks for Joy Culbertson Huttar, one of the many saints of Grace at 1:00pm.
My Mama, Joy Huttar, became the organist here at Grace suddenly, when her predecessor quit but didn’t tell anyone. When he didn’t show up that Sunday, Mama was asked to fill in on the spot, since she could play the piano. But she really didn’t know anything about the organ. She found a book of organ music left by Marian Voetberg, and thought that the pieces where Marian had written “swell” and “great” meant that they were especially good ones. (In fact, “Swell” and “Great” are the names of the manuals on an organ. Marian was simply marking which keyboard to play on.)
Well, my mother decided that if she was going to be the organist, she ought to know what swell and great actually meant, so she’d better take organ lessons. She figured that she should learn a little more about music in general too. This led to the enormous privileges for me of being in Freshman Music Theory class at Hope College with my mom in there too, teaming up with her we me as choir director while she was organist at Grace, and her earning a second bachelor’s degree. She worked hard, and it proved what I always believed: My Mama, Joy Huttar, could do anything she wanted to, if she just set her mind to it.
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I loved growing up in our big family, and our family was always expanding to include whoever needed a home away from home. My mother would say, I’m already making dinner for 9, what’s a few more? It was common throughout my growing up for people to just happen to drop by near dinner time, so of course we would set another place. Or for someone who was going through some difficult time to be invited home to dinner after church. There was a period when we had Sunday dinner for 15 people week after week. I also grew up with a love of hymns. We were always singing in our family. So on those Sundays after we ate, I would sit down at the piano and play a hymn. A sister or two would come and sing, and pretty soon we were all gathered, calling out hymn numbers. We didn’t realize this was such a regular thing until Mary Meade answered the after-church invitation: Well, I would love to come for dinner, but I have a big test tomorrow and I wouldn’t be able to stay for the hymn sing!
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At the end of her life, all seven of her children gathered round for a holy time, keeping vigil, singing, sharing stories and memories. It was not her most flattering moment, lying there in the hospital bed. But my father saw through the eyes of so many years of love. Taking her hand, he said: “Oh Joy, here we all are, admiring you.”
I join with so many people who greatly admired her, and give thanks for her remarkable life.
Submitted by Julia Huttar Bailey