Joan Swartz is one of the best piano players in the world — at least in my opinion. She can play hymns and other songs that make you cry with the emotion she puts into each stanza. She’s a lovely lady inside and out. This article appeared in the last issue of Sr. Living/ News-Banner.
Joan Swartz of Bluffton has played the piano at the First Church of Christ in Bluffton for 70 years. Born in Garrett, Indiana, in 1929, she began playing at age 12 when her parents, Tressie and Ralph Zimmerman, moved to Wells County for employment.
“The congregation wanted to sing the hymn ‘Living for Jesus’ and their pianist could not play it,” she said. “Someone told them I could play it. I’ve been playing the piano for church services ever since.”
At that time the First Church of Christ, founded in 1921, was located in the 100 block of West Cherry. The Zimmermans were among the handful of members who attended regularly. Today, the church is located at the corner of Spring Street and Clark Avenue.
Even though Joan Swartz’s public musical talent began at age 12, she had exhibited a natural desire to play at age five by creating songs on her family’s piano. “People told Mom I needed lessons,” said Swartz. During the next 12 years, she took piano and accordion lessons, the latter being another musical instrument she enjoyed playing. “One week I had a lesson on the piano, the next was a lesson on the accordion,” she said. Later, after taking four organ lessons, she added that musical instrument to her repertoire. With no organ at home to practice, Swartz practiced on the one belonging to the church.
Even at a young age Swartz was unafraid of playing for groups. “I have always loved to play piano,” she said. “I feel like I’m doing it for God.”
At age 17 Swartz graduated from high school and married Ervin Jr. (“Tootie”) Swartz whom she had met on a blind date. They lived in Bluffton and became parents to three daughters. Ervin worked at Bluffton Grocery on West Cherry Street (this later became Food Marketing in Fort Wayne, then SuperValu). Joan stayed home with the children until the last one started school. Then she worked at Caylor-Nickel Clinic as a receptionist for 34 years. She retired at age 62. Joan and Ervin had four granddaughters and several great-grandchildren. Sadly, Ervin died in May 2011.
Joan continues to use her musical talent for weddings, funerals, community events and church services. At the last she plays the organ while Evelyn Sprinkle plays piano.
She also plays in area nursing homes. “That has brought me more joy than playing the piano in church,” she said. She plays songs from the 1930s and 1940s, as well as gospel. “It seems to bring a small amount of joy to the lives of the residents,” she said. “They really like old hymns.”
Some of Swartz’s favorite hymns to play are ‘Great is Thy Faithfulness’, ‘I’d Rather Have Jesus’, and ‘I Don’t Know about Tomorrow’. “Sometimes I’ll get up to play a song in the middle of the night and that will be my favorite song for a while,” she said. “I love songs with beautiful melodies and words.”
While Swartz doesn’t feel her talent is great, she does feel she has a responsibility to use it to serve others. “I think God gave me this talent and it gives me joy to use it for what he created me. Everyone should use their talents for the Lord.”
Joan Swartz has created three CDs of her piano music that are available for purchase. ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Love and Joy’ contain music from the 1930s through 1950s and gospel. The third is a 2-disc set, comprised of one CD of gospel and one CD of 1930s through 1950s tunes. The CDs sell for $7.00 or 2/$10.00. Contact Swartz at 824.3669.