When you walk into a certain older part of the shop, you first notice the huge pile of wood chips surrounding a drill press. Nearby you see dozens of thin boards recently pierced with hundreds of holes of varying sizes. Adjacent is a very large workbench piled with thicker boards that are likewise riddled with holes. They have burned countersinks that give the place a smoky smell. The placement of the holes and their sizes on all of these boards appear almost random, even chaotic. Return in a few days, however, and order reigns: rackboards are neatly joined to toeboards, and pipes are planted on them, straight, tall and recognizably organ-like. The floor is tidy. Welcome to Meridith’s area.
Meridith Blanchard was raised in the scenic southeastern Minnesota river town of Winona. She attended Dr. Martin Luther College, a Lutheran teachers college in nearby New Ulm. In those days, Meridith, like every DMLC student, was required to study organ for a period of time, since graduates would be serving parochial schools and would also be expected to play for church services. While in school she met classmate Robert Sperling, a New Ulm native, who was already fascinated by pipe organs. Meridith taught for one year in Menomonee, Wisc., and in 1960, she and Bob were married.
In 1961, after a brief stay in Milwaukee, Bob and Meridith moved to Highland, Illinois, where Bob’s brother John was a voicer at the Wicks Organ Co. In 1965, Bob left his voicing position at Wicks, and the family moved back to New Ulm. While Bob commuted, working for Hendrickson Organ Company in St. Peter, Minn., and Dobson in Lake City during the 1970s and ’80s, Meridith raised the children and later, when they were in school, worked as an optometrist’s assistant and a bank teller. Along the way, she assisted Bob in the tuning and repair of organs. In 1985, Bob decided to put an end to commuting, and moved Meridith and his two youngest daughters to Lake City. One of the trucks that had just delivered Op. 29 to St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., was put to use as a moving van on its return trip through New Ulm, when several of Bob’s co-workers packed up the family belongings on a truck that just the day before held thousands of organ parts.
Upon arrival in Lake City, Meridith soon was employed by Dobson and found her niche in the construction of windchest toeboards and the racking of pipes. This latter aspect of windchest construction, in which the pipes are carefully fitted so that they stand perfectly vertical, is very important: if they are not absolutely plumb, the pipes will soon lean and eventually collapse. Her aptitude for this work suggested other tasks, and in her 18 years in Lake City she has made windchests, assisted with pipemaking, prepared pipes for voicing and wrapped them for shipping, made and assembled console and key action components, releathered pneumatic windchest actions, and assisted in the restoration of historic organs. Meridith is a practical person, never afraid to get dirty or do work that isn’t glamorous. Frankly, she is the sort of industrious, all-around worker that we wish we could clone.
After Bob’s untimely death in 1999, Meridith decided to stay in Lake City and continue working at the Dobson shop. Her five children are spread out around her in every direction, most only a day’s drive away. Cindy is a ranger with the National Park Service, Sandy is a computer programmer, Randy is an electrician, Becky a veterinarian, and Sharon a construction manager. Each of them inherited Bob’s love of science and the natural world, and Meridith’s pragmatic nature and good humor. She enjoys traveling to visit her growing broodbut, of course, she would never think of spoiling the grandchildren.
Meridith has been active in her church, singing alto in the choir, serving on the Altar Guild, and filling several roles in the Sunday School including teacher and superintendent. The same talented hands that carefully craft organ parts serve her well in her free time. She enjoys sewing, knitting, crocheting, cross stitch, quilting, baking and gardening. The thought of her potato rolls, which she brings in for coffee break from time to time, is causing her biographer to salivate even as he types this.
Meridith represents the ideals of the shop: she is intelligent, skilled, industrious and agreeable. We are proud of her many accomplishments, and of her long-time association with us.
drawn from The Organbuilder, Spring 2003
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