Company History

Bill (Alphonse William) Thurmeier began his profession as an organbuilder under the guidance of David McDowell, owner of McDowell Organs in Tucson, Arizona, USA.

 

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David McDowell, Organbuilder (deceased)

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This photo was taken in May, 2009. Dave was 91.

Dave came from a family with a long tradition of organ building. His grandfather worked for many years for the Roosevelt Organ Co. and then moved to Colorado and set up his own business. Dave first learned pipe voicing and tuning and other skills working in his grandfather’s shop. He was subsequently hired by Ernest M Skinner and Son Organ Company in 1938. He worked for a time in their plant making glue, later organ pipes, then in the erection room, and finally in tuning. After some time at the Methuen plant he was sent to study organ building in Germany. His study was cut short by the war and Dave returned to live near his father in Tucson, Arizona. After serving in the army during the war, Dave was hired for a time installing organs for the W. W. Kimball Organ Company and finally as a representative for the Rueter Organ Company, working out of Tucson for some years. Finally he went independent and began building his own instruments. His opus list totals 82 instruments.

My work for him covered almost every area of organbuilding except the making of pipes which he had discontinued because of a bout of lead poisoning he had just recovered from. Some of these activities are as follows:

  • Assistance in making additions to two electropneumatic organs (Aeolian-Skinner in Christian Science Church, Tucson, Arizona, 1974 and McDowell Organ in a Lutheran church in Tucson, Arizona, 1974).
  • Servicing and tuning of many organs including McDowell, Austin, Rueter, Wicks, Kilgen, Aeolian-Skinner, Mòˆller, and many others.
  • Releathering and building of electropneumatic and direct-electric windchests, reservoirs, and shutter mechanisms.
  • Wiring of consoles and switching systems.
  • Training in voicing and tuning of both flue and reed pipes.
  • Assistance in building of 10 rank electropneumatic organ (First Presbyterian Church, Casa Grande, Arizona, 1975).

Bill also studied Electronics Technology at Pima Community College, working for an Associate of Sciences degree in Tucson, Arizona. When his family moved to Albuquerue, New Mexico, he attended the Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute and completed a diploma in Electronics Technology. Working for almost a year as a television technician at Ed’s TV and HIFI, Bill left to attend the University of New Mexico, working toward a Bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering. The department let him enter the second year of engineering in lieu of his previous work in an Associate of Sciences program. After one and a half years, Bill decided to discontinue his studies and complete the building of his Opus 1 so that he could leave New Mexico and enter religious life as a Benedictine monk. Opus 1 (see Opuses which should really be ‘Opera’, but most people wouldn’t understand that) was completed on February 6th, 1980 and sold to Christus Victor Lutheran Church (the church is now owned by a branch church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).

Bill then flew to Muenster, Saskatchewan to begin a new life in a monastery. When the monks built a new church, there was discussion about the organ. They were using a Rodgers Columbian 700 which Bill had been tuning and servicing but were looking for something better. They considered buying a new Allen organ. The Allen rep, Ken Dirkson was kind enough to provide a demonstrator digital model for the monks to use for a month. Bill was not happy with the sound and offered to build the monastery a real organ. This project began in 1989, shortly after Bill returned from the Toronto School of Theology doing graduate studies in Pastoral Theology. The project went over a long stretch of time because of Bill’s other, numerous, monastic duties.

In 1996, Bill left the monastery for Winnipeg on a leave of absence. There he worked with Jamie Musselwhite (Musselwhite and Associates) in pipe organ and piano rebuilding and servicing work. During this time Bill started his own business and named it Golden Eagle Organ Company because he had been given the nickname ‘eagle eyes’ as a result of his eye for detail and because the fourth gospel (John) is his favourite and the evangelist John is traditionally characterized by the eagle.

On his return to the monastery at the end of 1996, Bill received his dispensation from Rome and returned to the lay life. Opus 2 became a full time occupation at this time. In 2000 Bill moved the business from the shop he had been using at St. Peter’s Abbey, to Saskatoon. Opus 3 was soon to follow, then Opus 4 and finally Opus 5.

In 2007, Bill was recommended for and accepted as an associate member of the American Institute of Organbuilders (AIO) at the Philadelphia convention. This followed with his recommendation and acceptance as a full member at the Montreal convention in September 2011. Membership in the AIO offers many possibilities for advancing oneself in the art and science of the trade with convention educational seminars and other training sessions offered throughout the year, plus the very informative ‘Journal of American Organbuilding’ and online technical articles written by some of North America’s best builders.

Employees

Golden Eagle Organ Company has had many employees and volunteers over the years, several of note are:

Frank Thurmeier (my father), Bro. Wolfgang Theim OSB, Fr. Bernard Stauber, OSB who were immeasurable help in the building of the organ for St. Peter’s Abbey (opus 2) and who became affectionately known as the “Three Musketeers”.

Elena Tenorio-Ruiz who, together with her husband Enrique, have been doing most of the secretarial and bookkeeping work since their arrival from Peru in 2001.

Gordon Woznica who has done general help on a part time basis since 2003.

Henry Wichert who worked as a volunteer from Zion Lutheran Church for the last year of that project and helped in many areas, including the building of the oak casework (together with Jim Hopkins and Bob Hamilton) not least of which was friendship and moral encouragement.

John Botari who came on staff in 2009 after early retirement from Environment Canada and whose passion for the Hammond tone generator organs and Leslie tone cabinets has really expanded that part of our business.

Musical Training

Bill began piano lessons in Saskatoon at the age of 7 with Louise Schulte up to grade 9 Toronto Conservatory including basic theory and harmony. He studied flute for two years with his mother Catherine Thurmeier, then two years with Professor Abramson of Saskatoon. After graduation from high school in Tucson, Arizona, he took classical organ studies for two years with Dr. Mary Francis Fest, then a doctoral candidate at the University of Arizona. Then he studied with Dr. Roy Johnson at the University of Arizona for one year. Later, while studying electrical engineering at the University of New Mexico, he studied organ as a minor, with Dr. Wes Selby. Later, he studied music theory, composition, and harmony with Zita Maier at St. Peter’s College, Muenster, SK and Gregorian chant accompaniment and harmonization with Fr. Norbert Schwinghammer OSB (St. Peter’s Abbey, SK), Sr. Cecile Gertken OSB (St. Joseph’s Priory MN), and Dom Christophe Chapuis OSB (En Calcat Abbey, France). Bill has been a church organist for most of 34 years.

Bill is a member of the Royal Canadian College of Organists. He also performs on the organ occasionally for various events and sometimes teaches.

Education

1973-1976 Pima Community College, Tucson, AZ Undergraduate work Electronics Technology
1975-1976 University of Arizona, Tucson, AZ Fine Arts Organ Performance
1976 Albuquerque Technical-Vocational Institute Diploma Electronics Technology
1977-1978 University of New Mexico, Albuquerque Undergraduate work Electrical Engineering
1981-1982 St. Peter’s College, Muenster, SK Undergraduate work Philosophy
1982-1984 St. Anselm College, Manchester, NH B.A. Philosophy
1984-1985 St. John’s University, Collegeville, MN Graduate work Theology
1985-1988 Collegio S. Anselmo, Rome S.T.B. Theology
1988-1989 University of St. Michael’s College, Toronto Graduate work: Pastoral Theology
     
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Playing Opus 4