Like most Sunday mornings at First Baptist Church in Wetumpka, the sounds of the organ are expected to echo through the sanctuary during church service.
For 63 years church members have watched Joe Allen Turner, 88, sit down at the Zimmer Organ, slip on a comfortable pair of shoes to aid in working the numerous pedals at his feet and provide music for worship, weddings and funerals.
Sunday will mark the last day Turner will serve as the church’s organist. He has held this post since he was 25 years old. His first week of service began the first week of October 1956.
“Sundays come every week and for 63 three years, that’s a lot of Sundays,” Turner said. “I cannot realize it has been 63 years in one way. In another way it seems like it has been part of my life for a long time.”
His interest in music stems from his mother. He began taking piano lessons from Margaret Ruffin who played organ at the church from the time he was 7 years old until he graduated high school.
“I just always liked the piano and the organ,” he said. “I used to sit on the side of the sanctuary where I could watch (Ruffin) play and thought I could do that someday.”
After high school, he attended University of Alabama as a business major. As a university student he took organ classes as electives. Then he went into the Army and had the opportunity to play the organ during church services. He came back to Alabama and finished up his university studies after two years of Army service.
“I never thought it would last this long, really,” he said. “The years just kept adding up. Wetumpka has been my home my entire. I was going to be here so I just kept playing.
“The first eight years I played for the church I did not miss a Sunday. Then I got the traveling bug. I realized I could not stay here my entire life so I started travelling and made six trips to Europe with friends.”
As for the angelic sounds associated with church services, he is modest when it comes to thinking back about how music has touched church members.
“I hope I had some influence with people,” Turner said. “I hope they enjoyed my playing. I remember one service in the old building during Thanksgiving. Members were encouraged to share what they were thankful for on that day.
“Mary Thomas stood up and said, ‘I am thankful for the beautiful sunlight coming through those windows, reflecting on the fall leaves and the beautiful music we heard this morning.’”
Turner was asked by church pastor Dr. James Troglen to recall all the church pastors who served during Turner’s time. Turner has served under six pastors including J. Albert Hill, 1948-1962; Jackson R. Roberton, 1948-1972; J.M. Castleberry, 1972-1981; James R. Sexton, 1982-1989; Charles Hobson, 1989-2002; and Troglen, 2002-present.
“He’s always been part of the community,” Troglen said. “He knows all the history of the area. He knows everybody. That transfers over to his work here. He has a pride in the community, his church and his work. He has a tremendous mind.
“His manners are impeccable — the way he carries himself, the way he speaks. When Joe Allen is in a room the sophistication takes a couple of steps up by his presence and the way he carries himself.”
As for his future, Turner has no plans to slow down.
“I’m never bored,” he said. “I’m into genealogy so I’ll continue to do that; I’ll continue to play the piano; and I’ll start painting again.”
Beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday the church will host a reception for Turner in the fellowship hall located at 205 W. Bridge St. in Wetumpka. The church invites members of the public to come and go as they please. Light refreshments will be available.