Gretchen Rohlf Pike

 1942 - 2009

Gretchen Pike, an amateur church musician, played piano and organ in a number of churches for nearly thirty years. She had a special interest in pipe organ and particularly enjoyed playing that instrument when possible and hearing notable organists.

Born in St. Joseph, Michigan, to Earl E. Rohlf, Sr., and Ruth Borgen Rohlf, Gretchen spent her early years in Oregon and Duluth, Minnesota. While living in Culver, a few miles north of Duluth, she started piano lessons at age eight and continued until age twelve.

When she was thirteen, her parents moved to Minneapolis, where she attended Minneapolis Junior Academy for one year and became acquainted with Wava Anderson, a music teacher who became a pivotal person in her life and musical training. She would later observe,

Although I had studied piano before I took lessons from Wava, she taught me more in the one year I had with her than I had learned in all of my previous study. I found her to be an encouraging and caring person at a critical time in my life. I think one exceptional quality she had regardless of how many people she knew, was a special love in her heart, put there by God, that caused each person to feel they were special to her.

For one short year she was my teacher, but in that time she made an impact on me that over forty years has not erased. Shortly before her death, she told me that when we get to heaven, I was one of ten persons she wanted to play piano with. I was honored by that remark and took it as an ultimate compliment.

Gretchen continued her music study at Maplewood Academy, where she studied piano and voice with Dwight Rhodes and also learned to play the clarinet. After graduating in 1960, she enrolled at Madison College in Tennessee, where she took the pre-nursing course for a year and also studied organ with George Walper. By this time, she was very interested in organ and when her parents moved to Oregon in 1961, she applied to attend Walla Walla College, now University, where she planned to pursue a major in organ.

Although accepted by WWC, Rohlf, uncertain about her ability to eventually make a living in music, decided to go to Porter Hospital in Denver and take a one-year Licensed Practical Nurse course, which she completed. During this time she studied organ and was able to take one of her lessons on a pipe organ in an Episcopal Church, a deeply moving and inspiring experience. In 1960 she also heard a seven-manual pipe organ in Atlantic City while attending a Seventh-day Adventist American Youth Congress, and in the early 1960s attended a concert in Denver presented by noted organist E. Power Biggs. Both were memorable experiences.

Rohlf returned to Oregon in 1965, where, following completion of a one-year secretarial course in Salem, she worked in medical records at hospitals for the next eleven years. During this time, she held her first position as a church organist, playing for the East Salem SDA and West Salem Methodist churches, and also served as a volunteer organist for a nearby hospital. She also joined the American Guild of Organists.

In 1969 she married Dannie Lee Pike in Salem, Oregon. For the next three years, they lived in Portland, where she was one of several organists for the Oregon City, now the Gladstone Park, SDA church. Following a three-year stay in Pendleton, Oregon, they moved to Beatrice, Nebraska, where she served as substitute organist and Sabbath School pianist for the SDA church and played occasionally at nursing homes in the area.

Pike later served as organist for the Holland, Nebraska, SDA church until the onset of arthritis made it impossible to continue. In spite of the inability to continue playing, her passion for pipe organ and the music written for it continued unabated. While living in Nebraska, she found it inspiring to attend the College View Church (Union College campus church), where she heard organists Mel West and Robert Murray play its two-manual Rieger pipe organ on numerous occasions.

The Pikes were residing in McMinnville, Oregon, when she died at age 66.


Sources: Interview, 2008; Autobiographical letter with extensive detail from Gretchen Pike, 1 May 2008; obituary, Macy and son Funeral Home, McMinnville, Oregon, May, 2009, forwarded to IAMA, Summer 2014.