Each time she plays the Casavant pipe organ at Boulevard Presbyterian Church, Mary Ann Stephens feels part of an ongoing legacy.
Stephens is the seventh person to serve as church organist since the instrument was installed in 1965 at the church, 1235 Northwest Blvd. in Grandview Heights.
She has been Boulevard's organist and music coordinator for 15 years.
"To me, I'm sharing in the continuing stewardship of this instrument and the responsibility of maintaining it so it can serve our musical legacy for many years to come," she said.
That's why she's leading an effort to raise funds to make the first substantial repairs to the organ since it was installed more than a half-century ago.
The church's Building the Legacy project is seeking to raise the funds needed to make necessary repairs to the organ.
"It was the vision of the people in the church in the 1960s that they wanted to place a magnificent music creator -- this amazing instrument -- in that space so that wonderful music would resound in our sanctuary," said Cindy McKay, a member of Boulevard's worship committee.
"This project is our responsibility and our honor to maintain the organ and carry on their legacy," she said.
Boulevard contracts with Peebles-Herzog, a Columbus-based firm, to maintain the organ.
"They've told us we're lucky because the components of our organ have lasted longer than usual," Stephens said. "Over time, the materials in a pipe organ -- things like the rubber and leather -- are going to start to deteriorate. It's inescapable.
"That's what's starting to happen with our organ," she said.
The upcoming project will include replacing nine regulators, which maintain the air pressure that causes pipes to sound when the organ is played.
The leather on the regulators is degrading, and that's causing air to leak, Stephens said.
"We've been able to patch them a bit, but they've outlived their life- span and really need to be replaced," she said.
The organ's swell engine also needs to be rebuilt, Stephens said.
"It's what allows me to gradually play louder or gradually play softer," she said.
The leather and rubberized components of the swell engine are degenerating, Stephens said, which has caused a dilemma for her.
"I can either play loud or play soft, but I can't do both," she said.
"I've chosen to play softer because there are some things I can do" to help boost the volume.
Some components of the organ's console also need to be rebuilt, Stephens said.
The project is expected to cost about $21,650; Boulevard began its fundraising effort on Palm Sunday, she said.
"We've set various giving levels for donations (from $50 up to $1,000 and above)," Stephens said. "We've also just introduced something for the summer where people can request their favorite hymn to be incorporated into a service and hopefully include a contribution along with their request."
The project is expected to get underway in October and be complete in time for the start of Advent in December, she said.
The organ itself looks nice, and most people can't tell there are issues from the sound it makes, Stephens said.
Boulevard's organ has 43 ranks and more than 1,000 pipes, Stephens said. A rank is a set of pipes producing the same timbre for each note.
"A new organ to replace ours would cost hundreds of thousands of dollars if not a million," she said.
In a notice about the fundraiser in a recent church newsletter, she said, she compared the organ to a vintage 1965 Mustang.
"Imagine you have this beautiful baby-blue car with white interior, and it sure looks good," Stephens said.
"But when you turn the key and start it up, it just doesn't run right. The parts inside need to be replaced because they're impacting the car's performance.
"That's where we're at with the organ."
Contributions toward the Building the Legacy project can be sealed in donation envelopes provided by the church and placed in the offering plate during worship, dropped off at the church office during regular business hours or mailed directly to Boulevard Presbyterian Church, 1235 Northwest Blvd., Columbus 43212.