Thanks to the generosity of Baylor alumni and friends, the thrilling sound of a booming organ will soon return to Waco Hall.
Before Waco Hall opened in 1930, Baylor Chapel services and musical events made use of a small, secondhand pipe organ housed in a shed next to the large frame building used as a temporary chapel.
This small organ was transferred into Waco Hall and used for instruction, but Baylor music professors and alumni decided that such a grand structure deserved an appropriate instrument. Dedicated volunteers worked to raise money to purchase a new organ, despite the challenges posed by the Depression.
A large 100-stop pipe organ was installed in Waco Hall and dedicated on May 30, 1937. It was named in memory of the late Baylor President Samuel Palmer Brooks, AB 1893, who had dreamed of one day bringing a large pipe organ to Waco Hall.
The Brooks Memorial Organ gave good service for decades, tended faithfully by Dr. Robert Markham, AB '24, Baylor's longtime organ professor and husband of Enid Eastland Markham, AB '23, author of the modern lyrics to "That Good Old Baylor Line." Over time, however, it was all that Dr. Markham could do to keep the organ operational in its home underneath the Waco Hall stage.
"It was a horrible place for an organ. Since Waco Hall was built on a flowing spring, the organ shared space with a giant sump to collect water. That moisture served as a prime cause of the organ's continuing deterioration," says Dr. William V. May, BM '69, dean of the Baylor School of Music. "In the 1960s I remember seeing Professor Markham emerging from the darkness under the stage, carrying tools and wearing a miner's light affixed to his forehead, after seeking to keep that organ in working condition."
Following many years of deterioration the Brooks organ fell silent and was eventually removed. But recently a Houston couple, Dr. John W. Herndon, BS '50, MD '53, and his wife Roblyn, BA '54, provided the funds to purchase a new Walker Four-Manual Organ for Waco Hall. Roblyn Herndon, the daughter of the Markhams, says the new organ will honor her parents.
"Plaques commemorating one of my mother's contributions to Baylor -- the lyrics of "That Good Old Baylor Line" -- were placed in the newly refurbished lobby of Waco Hall, and a small plaque on the new organ will recognize my father for his work making the original organ a reality," Herndon says.
Funds to install the organ were provided by the Sunderland Foundation of Kansas.
"I have two daughters enrolled at Baylor, and our founder had a sister who was an organist," foundation president Kent Sunderland says. "Our trustees thought it would be a nice gesture and would fit well with our mission to see a new organ come to Waco Hall."
The Walker organ is scheduled to be installed this summer and be in use by the end of the fall 2010 semester. It will have no pipes, but will make use of sounds sampled digitally from some of the finest organs in the United States. Dr. Joyce Jones, Baylor's organist-in-residence, is excited.
"Students need to hear an organ and experience singing hymns to its glorious sound," Jones says. "I think having a new organ in Waco Hall will provide another dimension to our music program and will be something special for both Baylor and the Waco community."