75 years at the organ

Mary Atkinson · Thursday, August 22, 2013
As of last Sunday, Geraldine Ruess, West Liberty, has been giving people the gift of music for over 75 years, and she shows no signs of stopping.

Ruess, who played the organ at Sunday services for St. Joseph's Church in West Liberty, said she believes everyone has a God given talent. Music is hers.

"Other than having a way to celebrate the glory of God, it also was my way of giving back," she said.

Ruess's love for music began with her parents, Ollie and Kate Wissink, who immigrated here from Holland and settled in Nichols.

"Music was their outlet as they adapted to their new life in a new country," she said. "My brothers and sisters were surrounded by song growing up. I had two brothers who had a small band and played for barn dances in the area."

Ruess learned to play the piano at a young age, when she was 12 she began playing on a reed organ at St. Mary's Church in Lone Tree after their organist retired.

While attending high school in Lone Tree she also was a piano accompanist for soloists, song groups and glee clubs.

Later she married Bob Ruess, who encouraged her to stay home and raise their children as well as concentrate on her love of music.

"I gave piano lessons out of our home for probably 30 years," Ruess said. "Even though we had a busy life raising seven children and farming, Bob always encouraged me to continue teaching and playing for Sunday mass as well as weddings and various services in the community."

Terry, Ruess's son, said his mother encouraged all the kids to play piano.

"She felt that music was important," he said. "She said if you don't learn to play or give it a chance than someday you are going to regret it."

He said all of them were encouraged to participate in everything musical growing up, his parents never missed a function, even if it was sport activities.

He also played the organ in the church for a couple years. His brother, John, has been on Broadway for 20 years.

"She instilled music in all of us." He said. "We all can sing fairly well."

Ruess's daughter, Kate, recently became a member of Iowa City's "Sweet Adelines International," a chorus group that sings a cappella in four-part harmony barbershop style.

This was something she said her mom had been encouraging her to do for years, but she had a bit of stage fright until now.

"I love to sing," Kate said. "It makes me happy and it makes other people happy and it's all because mom and dad were so supportive."

Even though their father, Bob, died over ten years ago, both Terry and Kate said he was just as encouraging about music as their mother, this has stayed with them.

"He was very proud of mom." Kate said. "She is such a strong lady."

Despite having broken her hip earlier this year, Ruess completed the Bix 7 race in Davenport this summer with the help of her daughter, Kate, and, at one point, a wheelchair, in honor of her husband and Kate's father.

The family's musical inclination has not stopped with Ruess's children. Her grandson, Nate Ruess, is the lead singer in the popular band, Fun, and even did a music video singing duet with Pink - a grammy award winner of rock and pop music.

"All the grandchildren keep me up to date on contemporary music." She said.

Although the family still gets together to sing and play the piano, Terry, himself has not played the piano in a while.

"It's good way to express yourself and be able to relax," he said. "I wish I would've kept playing the piano and now I regret it. I had to work at it,  but I loved being able to just sit and play something."

Ruess said it is natural that the kids in her family would love music.

"I do believe the great-grand children will carry on this passion." She said. Ruess has 18 grand-children and 12 great-grand children.
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