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St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
614 Main Street
Racine, WI 53403
Life Story / Obituary
Marilyn Kay Stulken Rench – organist, teacher, recitalist, author, and genealogist – died at the age of 80 at Ascension SE Wisconsin Hospital in Franklin, WI, on Tuesday, December 28, 2021.
Marilyn was born on August 13, 1941, in Hastings, NE, to Leon and Lenora (Katzberg) Stulken. Raised on a farm, she attended grades 1 through 8 at a one-room country schoolhouse down the road from the family home. She was comfortable operating farm machinery, even at a very young age. Marilyn had a life-long love of cats; when she was bedridden with rheumatic fever in ninth grade, her mom made an exception to the rule of “no cats in the house” to allow Chubby the cat in to keep Marilyn company. She credited a good teacher of the two tailoring courses she took as the reason she was able to sew so many beautiful clothes for herself and others – including the wedding dress she made for her sister, Imogene. She had a decades’-long fascination with genealogy, sharing with her siblings the exciting results of recent “finds” or DNA matches. She was talented, spirited, and loving, with a generous laugh.
Marilyn studied organ and church music at Hastings College in Hastings, NE, 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 at Ingleside, NE. At Eastman School of Music in Rochester, NY, 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.
Marilyn held a number of church positions, including organist and choir director at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Pittsford, NY (1966 – 1973); organist at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Cedar Rapids, IA (1975 – 1979), director of music at Trinity Lutheran Church in Kenosha, WI (1979 – 1985), and organist at St. Luke’s Episcopal Church in Racine, WI (1986 to the time of her death). In addition, she taught at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, IA; the University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA; Carthage College in Kenosha, WI; the University of Wisconsin-Parkside in Kenosha, WI, and Concordia University Wisconsin in Mequon, WI.
On December 27, 1984, in Omaha, NE, Marilyn married Tom 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. Her recitals were imaginatively programmed, offering music other than the standard recital repertoire. After Tom installed a pipe organ in the family room of their home, the instrument was used not only by Marilyn for practicing and selecting music but also for teaching students. When her MS precluded her from any longer 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.
Marilyn 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 on “Hymnody from German, Scandinavian and Finnish Sources” to The New Century Hymnal Companion (1998), and an article on “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 the With One Voice Reference Companion (2000). She prepared numerous articles and reviews for many musical journals.
Marilyn 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 was predeceased by her parents, by an infant brother, by an infant sister, by her husband, and by her stepson, Evan Rench. She is survived by her stepchildren Alan (Mary) Rench, Eric (Bobbie), and Kari (Jeff) Eschmann; by her grandchildren Michael (Kierstin) Rench, Amy (Justin) Willis, Anthony Rench, John (Wendy) Rench, Linsey (Tim) Wermeling, Robert (Sarah) Eschmann, and Riley Eschmann; by her great-grandchildren Peter Rench, Jacob Rench, Madelyn Rench, Piper Rench, Dylan Jurkiewicz, Marek Wermeling and Garrett Wermeling; by her siblings Jeanette (Tom) Searson, Imogene Stulken (Bruce Brolsma), and Don (Carol) Stulken; by nephews and nieces Tom Searson (Denise Hegarty), Mike Searson, Stephanie (Jim) McGowan; Scott Stulken (Tara Marsh), David (Meagan) Stulken, Laura Stulken, and Kerstin Brolsma; and by grand-nephews Miles Stulken and Magnus Stulken-Marsh.
Services will be held later in the spring and will be announced.
Memorials may be sent to St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 614 Main Street, Racine, WI 53403.