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The heart of the choir

Mother-daughter music team retires from choir
Dorothy Stewart is presenting Ilene Wettergreen with a memory when she regifts a broken pair of earmuffs. During a Christmas performance at the Western Development Museum, choir members were supposed to put on their earmuffs at the same time, but Wettergreen's were broken. Stewart had the foresight to hang onto them until an opportunity, such as the tea, presented itself.

Dorothy Stewart thought it would only be temporary when she volunteered to be Third Avenue United Church's choir organist, but two choir directors, seven ministers and 27 years later, she wouldn't trade a minute of it.

"I sure wouldn't give those days up for anything," she said. "They were wonderful."

This is especially true of the last 17 years, when Stewart's daughter, Karen Nichol, joined the choir as accompanist.

"Ilene Wettergreen [the choir director] felt that one of the anthems they were going to be doing needed a piano," said Nichol. "The rest is history; I just stayed and stayed and stayed and 17 years later I retired."

Wettergreen has been choir director for 21 years, although she first met Stewart "quite a long time ago" when she moved to North Battleford in 1975 and began attending Third Avenue United. Although Stewart has been the full-time organist since 1983, she actually served as the supply organist, stepping in when the regular organist was sick or on holiday, starting in 1967.

"It's just been a most delightful experience," said Wettergreen, of the years they've performed together.

The three performed together at several events, including cabarets and Christmas concerts and even the funeral of Stewart's husband, a performance that is featured on the church's website. Stewart and Nichol also played several duets at various events.

"We could read each other so well," said Nichol, who, along with her three siblings, took piano lessons as a child, completing Grade 8 Royal Conservatory exams.

Nichol's three children have all taken piano lessons as well.

Nichol attributes her musical ability to her mother, who in turn attributes it to her mother.

Stewart said her mother's family was very musical and although they lived on a farm, she always made certain there was an instrument in the house.

"My mother, she must have had some wonderful foresight, because she made sure we all had musical education," said Stewart of her siblings and herself.

June 27, Stewart and Nichol performed their last Sunday as the mother-daughter team the church had come to love and were each presented with a dozen long stemmed roses.

"They must have loved what they were doing because they have no idea how much joy they've brought to us," said Wettergreen.

A well-attended retirement tea was held at the Wesley Hall Sept. 25, which saw Nichol accompanying the choir one last time.

Special guests included Jack Carr, who was a minister at the church in the 1970s, Sheila Osborn, a former choir director, and Stewart's two sons, who sang with the choir at the event.

"It was such fun afternoon," said Stewart with a smile.

Stewart said she's made many great memories over the years and will definitely miss playing the organ.

When asked what she's learned during her time with the choir, she was quick in saying, "to expect the unexpected."

But above all, Stewart will miss the people the most.

"The choir is something special," she said. "They're like family to me."

Although officially retired, Nichol takes part in the Jubilation Handbell Ringers and it wouldn't be a surprise to see Stewart sneaking her way into the risers for a song or two.