Great State: One Church, One Organist, 70 Years

OKEENE, OKLAHOMA — Churches are full of symbols.

You can find them on steeples, in stained glass, and statuary.

They are the permanent fixtures, in Catholic churches especially, that remind audiences of where they are and why their here in the first place.

“There’s 52 Sunday’s and 7 or 8 holy days, and I love it,” says another church fixture Betty Osmus.

In the town of Okeene, Betty has held her spot at the organ for 70 years of Sundays, filling St. Anthony’s church with a sound all her own.

“I’ve got to kind of jazz it up just a little bit,” says Betty of her self-taught playing style.

Betty was 16 years old when she played her first Mass.

She never had lessons except from her grandmother on the piano.

Osmus didn’t know a thing about foot pedals for her first two years.

“They made noise as far as I was concerned,” she says.

She was nervous at first.

But Betty stuck with it.

Pretty soon she discovered her gifts diverged from the notes in those stuffy hymnals.

“I’ve always said, it must be a gift from God because I don’t have enough sense to read notes and stuff like that,” she chuckles.

Betty took over the choir.

She moved the piano she learned on into the sanctuary.

She kept playing through marriage and family life.

When a new priest showed up she taught him the St. Anthony velvet ropes.

Osmus recalls, “When Father Natzahari from Oklahoma City, when he first came here he said, ‘Betty. When do we pick out the songs for Sunday mass?’ I said, ‘We do not pick them out. I pick them out.’”

‘Just a Closer Walk With Thee’ is her favorite hymn.

It’s her own version of course, less reverential and more full of life.

That’s Betty’s style, a fixture in sound that stretches back a lifetime, and that stretches forward too.

St. Athony’s held a big party for Betty when she reached her 70 year milestone in August.

She cautioned the gathering that it wasn’t her retirement party.

She’ll be playing mass this Sunday as usual.