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Marilyn Stulken Rench dead at 80

January 12, 2022
Marilyn Stulken Rench
Marilyn Stulken Rench

Marilyn Kay Stulken Rench, 80, organist, teacher, recitalist, author, and genealogist, died December 28, 2021, in Franklin, Wisconsin. She was born August 13, 1941, in Hastings, Nebraska, and studied organ and church music at Hastings College in Hastings, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1963. During this time, she had several piano and organ students and from 1962–1965 served as organist and program director at All Faiths Chapel, Ingleside, Nebraska. At Eastman School of Music, Rochester, New York, she studied organ performance and church music, earning a Master of Music degree in 1967 and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in 1975. One of her positions while in Rochester was as a sewing therapist at Strong Memorial Hospital.

Stulken Rench held a number of church positions, including organist and choir director at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Pittsford, New York, 1966–1973; organist at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, 1975–1979; director of music at Trinity Lutheran Church, Kenosha, Wisconsin, 1979–1985; and organist at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, Racine, Wisconsin, from 1986 to the time of her death. In addition, she taught at Coe College, Cedar Rapids, Iowa; the University of Iowa, Iowa City; Carthage College, Kenosha; University of Wisconsin-Parkside, Kenosha; and Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon.

On December 27, 1984, in Omaha, Nebraska, Marilyn Stulken married Thomas R. Rench, a pipe organ builder. Marilyn often played programs on instruments that Tom had built or restored. As a lecturer and organ recitalist, she appeared throughout the United States and Canada, including ten recitals for national conventions of the Organ Historical Society. After Tom installed a pipe organ in the family room of their home, the instrument was used for practicing and teaching. When her multiple sclerosis precluded her from playing the pedals, Tom engineered the keyboard at St. Luke’s so that a note played by her left hand could sound that same note on the pedalboard.

Stulken Rench is the author of the Hymnal Companion to the Lutheran Book of Worship (1981) and An Introduction to Repertoire and Registration for the Small Organ (1995), and coauthor with Catherine Salika of Hymnal Companion to Worship, Third Edition (1998). She was one of three contributors who assisted in the preparation of historical notes on the hymns in The New Century Hymnal (1995). With Martin A. Seltz and others, she compiled Indexes for Worship Planning (1996), and with James R. Sydnor and Bert Polman, she edited Amazing Grace: Hymn Texts for Devotional Use (1994). She contributed an article, “Hymnody from German, Scandinavian and Finnish Sources,” to The New Century Hymnal Companion (1998), and “Hospital Hymnody as Transition Hymnody” to We’ll Shout and Sing Hosanna: Essays on Church Music in Honor of William J. Reynolds (1998). She is the author of With One Voice Reference Companion (2000) and authored numerous articles and reviews for musical journals. Stulken Rench was active in the American Guild of Organists, the Organ Historical Society, the Hymn Society of America, and, for a time, was the worship representative on the Southport District Cabinet of the Wisconsin-Upper Michigan Synod of the LCA (Lutheran Church in America).

Marilyn Kay Stulken Rench was predeceased by her husband, Thomas R. Rench, and a stepson, Evan Rench. (For an obituary for Thomas R. Rench, see the January 2016 issue, p. 8). She is survived by her stepchildren Alan (Mary) Rench, Eric (Bobbie) Rench, and Kari (Jeff) Eschmann; seven grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren; as well as two sisters and a brother. A memorial service will be held in the spring. Memorial gifts may be made to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main Street, Racine, Wisconsin 53403.


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