ST. CHARLES, Minn. -- Just outside the small Minnesota town of St. Charles, there is a church. And in that church there sits an organ. And sitting at the bench of that organ is a man who's been sitting at that bench for 70 years. "Well I started playing for Sunday School when I was 14. That was on a piano. And then when I was 16, I started playing the organ."
And 86-year-old Donald Benedett has been playing for Berea Moravian Church ever since. "My mother was the organist before me."
Born in a house just down the road, much of Donald's life has played out within these walls. Baptized, confirmed, even married here... "You met here? Yes. Yes..."
He's outlasted more than a dozen pastors. Spent 70 Christmas', 70 Easters leading his congregation in song. But don't let his many years fool you. "When you see Donald, you realize he's elderly and you make some assumptions about elderly organists which are definitely not true here. For example, you might think that Donals would play very slowly. Wrong! No, no. He plays at a good tempo for the song. So no assumptions can be made when you see him the first time!"
This former farmer knows hard work. So it probably won't surprise you to learn that even though he has played literally thousands and thousands of hymns, he still spends every Saturday at church preparing for the Sunday ahead. "I come out here about 1:30 until about 3:00. I have to pick out a prelude and offertory and I date them so I don't pick out those pieces for another year. I just feel better after I practice."
"I know people will say 'Donald, you've played all these years, you don't have to practice.' And he says, 'you don't know as you get older you make so many more mistakes, your fingers aren't as limber.' He says, 'you have to practice more!'"
He's soft-spoken about this milestone. For Donald, playing all these years has provided the perfect bridge between his love of music and his faith in God. "His faith is quite, just like he is. But it's there."
"Donald never performs. He worships. And that's an entirely different type of music than someone who performs. I think people who live on the farm and are close to the land are also close to the lord in ways that I will never understand."
"It must be strange that you never get to just sit down and enjoy church. Well I do enjoy church. Sitting on the organ bench."
"I enjoy his music and I'm very proud. If I had been disgusted or angry with him, I couldn't be by the time the service was over!"
"I don't know what his retirement date will be, that's between Donald and God. And lord may I please be retired myself before that happens!"
If the walls of this church could speak, they'd probably have a lot to say about Donald Benedett. But first and foremost - I think they'd whisper, 'thank you old friend for filling this room with song.'