Nonagenarian keeps on playing - Word&Way

Nonagenarian keeps on playing

By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer

“I remember Mother used to sing crazy little ditties.”

No doubt Harald Keltner can play the “crazy little ditties” he heard his mom sing many years ago. But when Keltner mounts the stairs to the organ loft at First Baptist Church, Carrollton, and places his fingers on the keyboard, praises to his Savior emanate from the instrument’s pipes.

At nearly 98 years old — his birthday is in August — Keltner is still First Baptist’s organist, a post he has held almost steadily since he was a high school student.

Two other church members, whom Keltner described as “ahead” of him in experience, played for most worship services. Then the Sunday School superintendent asked him to play for the opening assembly. “I have played ever since,” the retired Carrollton postmaster said.

Keltner “officially retired” as organist three years ago — complete with a retirement party that featured an appearance by the mayor, an open house reception and a retirement clock.

But when the organist who accepted the position developed cancer, the church asked Keltner to step in again, although he only plays for the Sunday morning service.

The nonagenarian laughed when he related that he almost gave up serious music study until he was challenged with a little competition.

He played piano at home before he started taking lessons as an eighth grader. “My parents used to get on to me about not practicing,” he admitted.

Then he got into a class in which one student played by ear and a couple of others could play well. “I decided I wanted to play,” Keltner said.

His playing wasn’t limited to Sunday School. Organized in 1921, the Lions Club in Carrollton included a male chorus. When the regular pianist decided he didn’t want to play all the time, the choir director asked Keltner to step in. Only 14 years old when he accepted, Keltner was finally old enough to actually become a Carrollton Lion seven years later. He still plays the “old ditties” and Lions Club favorites 84 years later.

The organist started his music career on piano. “When I was a kid, I sang in the choir. We had a lady organist. I just got so interested in watching how she played,” he said.

The oldest of six children, Keltner said that he has “just adapted” to changes in music styles through the years. But he admitted, “I don’t care for modern music at all.”

“I call Harald a ‘Bach man,’” laughed Keltner’s wife, Pauline.

And Keltner adapted to the music ministers who have served First Baptist through the years. “He just loves music,” Pauline said.

Although Keltner worked for the U.S. Postal Service for more than 50 years, his life centered on Christ. His parents took him to church practically from birth, and he met Pauline there. His parents homesteaded west of Carrollton, while hers settled to the east.

The couple held on to their strong faith when their only child, Rose Marie, died at 15 in an auto accident in 1953. “She could sing,” Pauline said, describing Rose Marie’s involvement in the high school choir.

Keltner sees his musical role as an outreach ministry. His greatest reward, he said, is seeing people accept Christ. “We have had some people come [to worship services] who said they came to hear me. I think I’ve been part of conversions,” he said. “I hope it [the music] draws people.”

Recently, a member called to thank him for his ministry.

He plans to continue playing until someone else steps up to do so because “evidently the Lord wants me to.” (07-13-05)