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Homer Johnson (1913-1997)

In Memory of Homer R. Johnson
A tribute to a grand Jonas Nordwall

Homer R. Johnson, a long-time member of the Puget Sound Chapter and lifetime devotee of the organ, passed away on August 4 at the age of 84. Homer and Jane McKee Johnson were synonymous with organ music in Tacoma and Puget Sound. I had known Jane since the early 1960s through Rodgers and ATOE but did not know Homer as well until I was invited to play at their wedding in 1972 on a Saturday morning at First Methodist Church. Looking back, their bachelor/bachelorette party was the Rodgers concert I played at Jane's store the evening before.
Homer and Jane were family to me, my wife and our children. They were unknowingly great role models of quiet modesty. Homer's passions were his love and devotion for Jane and their families, the Methodist Church (especially First Methodist Church with its G. Donald Harrison Aeolian-Skinner), Masonry (he was a 32nd Degree Mason) and organs and organ music of all kinds.

Homer had a remarkable memory. He could vividly recall live performances in great detail of a variety of the earlier twentieth century organ virtuosos such as Marcel Dupre, Alexander Schreiner, Virgil Fox, both Albert Hay and Stanley Malotte, Henry Murtagh and his personal favorite, Oliver Wallace. He was fond of the Wurlitzer sound, especially the cleanliness of the New York Paramount's theatre and studio organs. When he and Jane had the opportunity to play the Wichita-NY Paramount organ, it was a thrilling experience of which he often spoke. No matter what brand or condition of the organ, Homer would say something positive about the instrument. This special quality also applied to his comments about people.
In addition to his primary occupations as a sheet metal fabricator and projectionist, Homer was respected as an excellent pipe organ technician and builder. As a projectionist, he had access to most theatre organs in Tacoma and knew them well. Until his death he still maintained several church organs in the Tacoma area with the same meticulous care that earned his reputation. His magnum opus was a clever rebuild and upgrade of the unique 4 manual Reuter in Tacoma's First Presbyterian Church. Homer had also rejuvenated the 2/9 Kimball in the Temple Theatre and was always eager to have the public hear the organ, especially when played by Jane. The organs in the Temple Theatre, Tacoma Pizza and Pipes and their residence were recorded by Jane in the 1980s.
Homer and Jane's residence organ was clean, musical, never abrasive and spoke with eloquence, just like its creator. Homer became the local curator of the Wilcox 4/48 Wurlitzer, located directly across the Tacoma Narrows from their home. This organ especially delighted both Homer and Jane, who were very long time friends of the family of this instrument's creative genius, Ed Zollman.
His devotion to Jane was equally returned. They would always attend musical events together and even prepared some organ/piano duets for special occasions. Homer's great admiration for gifted and skilled performers introduced him to Jane in the late thirties when she was broadcasting from the Music Box Theatre in Tacoma. After their marriage, Homer was always assisting Jane with their store operations and would frequently be with her when she played her weekly shift at Tacoma's Pizza and Pipes. With Jane's untimely passing last year, Homer carefully masked his great loss with his dignified manner and ongoing enthusiasm for the organ.
He is survived by his son, Robert L. Johnson of Flagstaff, AZ., daughter, Gayle Krause, stepson Richard Powers, both of Tacoma, five grandchildren and two great grandchildren. Homer will be greatly missed as a family man, friend, gifted craftsman and a true gentleman.
Our sincere thanks to Jonas for sharing these touching personal memories.

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