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Len Berghaus dead at 84

January 30, 2023
Leonard George “Len” Berghaus
Leonard George “Len” Berghaus

Leonard George “Len” Berghaus died January 10, 2023, in Bloomingdale, Illinois. He was born July 16, 1938, in Cleveland, Ohio. Growing up, his interest in pipe organs began at his grandparents’ Lutheran church where he would stand by the console and listen to the organist play the postlude. He took piano lessons and then began organ lessons in high school, where his clarinet study led him to involvement in a Bach cantata, introducing him to Trinity Lutheran Church in Cleveland. Built by Rudolf von Beckerath of Germany, Trinity’s organ piqued young Len’s interest in organbuilding, and he spent many hours watching the installation of the instrument, memorizing all the mechanics of the action.

Berghaus attended Concordia Teacher’s College (now Concordia University Chicago) in River Forest, Illinois, from 1957 until 1961, preparing to teach in Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod schools and minoring in music education. During this time, he discovered the 1888 Jackson Pipe Organ Company tracker organ at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, Chicago, and began a self-taught course of restoring the instrument to playing condition, unknowingly laying the groundwork for a career in organbuilding.

Between 1961 and 1967, Berghaus was a fifth- and sixth-grade teacher at Grace English Lutheran School and Jehovah Lutheran School in Chicago, all the while continuing his involvement with pipe organs and becoming a representative for the Casavant Frères, Ltée., of Canada and servicing instruments between Fort Wayne, Indiana, and Des Moines, Iowa.

In 1967, Berghaus resigned from teaching and embarked on his organbuilding career full-time. He worked and apprenticed with Paul Jochum and Fred Lake early in his career. These craftsmen imparted the German master organbuilding tenets of slider chest and mechanical-action building along with tonal finishing on Berghaus and created the foundation for his career in the trade. Berghaus in turn imparted his knowledge to many a young organbuilder.

The first instrument he built was an electric-action organ for Christ Lutheran Church in Cleveland, Ohio (1969), but Opus 1 is considered to be the 1971 tracker at O’Fallon United Church of Christ, O’Fallon, Illinois—still in use to this day by the congregation. In 1973, the company relocated from the Berghaus residential garage to Bellwood, Illinois, as Berghaus Organ Company, and again in 2000 to a larger facility. The firm was known in the early years for building neo-Baroque tracker instruments and evolved with changing tastes to build American Classic instruments and to become Berghaus Pipe Organ Builders. Highlights include rebuilding the Schlicker organ at Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest, Illinois, in 1986 as well as new instruments at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in 2003 and Queen of All Saints Basilica in Chicago in 2005. Since 1967, the company has built or restored over 225 instruments from Arizona to Maryland, primarily in the Midwest. Berghaus was a member of the Chicago Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, the American Institute of Organbuilders, the Organ Historical Society, and the International Society of Organbuilders, and his company is a member firm of the Associated Pipe Organ Builders of America,

Berghaus retired from full-time organbuilding in 2005 and pursued his other interests more fully. A longtime member of Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, he sang bass in the choir for many decades. His other pastimes included model train building and entertaining guests at the family’s Detroit Island house in Door County, Wisconsin.

Leonard Berghaus is survived by his wife of 58 years, Judy, and his children Debbie Conley, Todd (Margie), Brian (Collene), and Sue Hempen (Michael), as well as six grandchildren. A memorial service was held February 11 at Grace Lutheran Church, River Forest, Illinois. Memorial contributions may be made to Grace Lutheran Church (graceriverforest.org), The Bach Cantata Series at Grace (bachvespers.org), or Concordia University Chicago (cuchicago.edu).


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