Joel and Karen Johnson have a collection of stories full of life together, the final chapter of which concludes with their retirement from Falcon Heights United Church after 54 years of service in a music program as music director and organist.
They both started in 1966 and served until the outbreak of the pandemic, when church services went online.
Both graduates of McAlester College, the couple started at church around the same time that former McAlester professor was stepping down as music director. Joel and Karen helped develop and transform the music program and choir in the church during their time there, while working in other music positions in cities and New Hampshire.
“It takes commitment to be serious musicians, and we feel like the custodians of great music,” Joel said. “We felt we had to keep the tradition.”
Outside the church, both Joel and Karen were educators. Joel worked as a high school choir director at Roseville High School, and Karen worked as an elementary music teacher at Central Park Elementary, but had to help Joel in high school for part of the day.
They also participated in the New Hampshire Music Festival for 50 years, where Joel conducted a 120-voice symphony choir and Karen was a librarian, pianist, organist and harpsichord player, according to an article from Falcon Heights Church.
“Everyone influenced each other very strongly,” Joel said. “The three different jobs we had, this church was good for us because even though we worked at a higher level, we needed something the same size and it was perfect for us. They built the organ and continued to invest in music, and here we are. “
Karen added, “We’re so lucky to have everything that fits and one enhances the other.”
After 54 years, they decided it was time to resign and let someone else take charge.
First they quit teaching, the festival in 2013, and now the church. Karen called this ending their final chapter.
Two of them are planning to go on a trip to see their children and grandchildren when they can. Karen also works at the Sister Cities Opera Guild as a teacher.
Karen said it was an emotional ending for her.
“These people are still our best friends. We had a good time together. “
The Church has yet to find substitutes for their roles as they are still slowly being released from the constraints of the pandemic. The two said they agreed to play occasionally and continued to help the church throughout the pandemic.