Norton — Nearly every week for the past 45 years, Eloise Hawk has been a fixture behind the organ at St. Francis of Assisi Church. The service to her parish, which included playing the organ and directing the choir, concluded this month when she and her husband, Fred, moved to Wichita to be closer to their children and grandchildren.
Originally from eastern Kansas, Hawk developed her musical talents first by playing clarinet and bass clarinet in her high school band. She had taken a few piano lessons but taught herself to play her parish’s pump organ. The skills she developed on that old organ came in handy when she and Fred moved to Bird City after marrying where Fred worked as a teacher. During their time there, Hawk began serving as a substitute organ player at St. Joseph Parish. “I filled in more and more there, and when we moved to Norton, the word started getting out that I played,” she said.
Over the next four and a half decades, Hawk directed the choir and played the organ for everything from weekend and Holy Day Masses to weddings and funerals. She also provided accompaniment at area churches and funeral homes.
“I only missed one Christmas that I can remember,” she said. “But even then, we recorded the music on a tape player and the choir sang along to that!”
Working with the choir is what Hawk said she’ll miss most about her roles in the parish. “My core choir consisted of about five people,” she recalled. “They were there when I started and then we had others who came and went, but that core group was still there when I left.”
As she and Fred begin a new chapter of their lives in Wichita, Eloise isn’t looking for a new choir director or full-time organist role, but she said she’ll continue to play, perhaps for Masses or events at the Spiritual Life Center, or at a nursing home. Regardless of where she plays, she is confident that her long-time parish in Norton will be in good hands. “We had some junior high and high school girls who started playing and eventually one of the girls and I took care of the weekend Masses,” she said.
“We’ve always had music at St. Francis of Assisi, and they’ll continue to have good music.”