The Paul McKissick Story

Paul  McKissick is the reason Allegheny RiverStone Center for the Arts has the marvelously restored Mighty McKissick Wurlitzer Theater Organ in Lincoln Hall. One can say that Paul has had the organ in his blood since childhood.

Paul’s grandmother was a church organist in Parker, PA, who had a melodion in her home, which Paul learned to play as a young boy. She taught Paul how to play Rock of Ages, and gave the organ to Paul upon her passing. When Paul was away in the army, the organ was put in the barn, where it was destroyed by rain and a leak in the barn. Paul only salvaged a couple of keys and stops from the melodion, but it was the start of his passion for collecting organs and organ parts throughout his life.

About this time, Paul teamed up with a friend of his mother’s who grew up in Parker, Stan McArdle, who lived here in Foxburg on Harvey Road next to the Golf Course and just happened to sell sold Hammond Organs.

Paul and Stan’s collaboration included making innovations to the organ. They created a music minder to hold music books open on the organ. Later Paul’s friend Stan left Hammond organs and became a sales representative for the Allen Organ Company. When a church bought a new Allen organ, Stan took out the Hammond organ and gave it to Paul. Paul’s new pastime was launched. He refurbished the organ and sold it. He repeated this process with other Hammond organs. Over the years Paul collected Hammond organs and then theater organs from all over the country. At one point Paul had 40Hammondorgans stored in three warehouses in Mercer, PA as well as pipes and parts for 5 theater organs. His wife Sally’s favorite was a natural wood organ with a beautiful carved bench.

Paul’s performances as an organ keyboard artist began when a friend of his who owned the night club The Airways Lounge in Franklin invited him to play the Club’s Hammond organ. Paul began playing standards on the organ to appreciative audiences. As he traveled for work and pleasure he sought out organs all over the country, and began to focus on the theater organ. He soon found vintage Wurlitzers, and he searched for just the right one to acquire, restore, and play at home. In 1988 his good friend Larry called him about a Wurlitzer being sold in North Canton,Ohio. Paul knew this one was it He bought it and brought it home to Lake Latonka near Mercer PA… For eleven years he painstakingly rebuilt the organ, housing it in an over sized garage, installing seats from an old movie theater, and occasionally parking his car.

Over the years Paul and Sally worked closely with the De Bence Music collection in Franklin and donated several of Hammonds to their museum. So in 1999 they began impromptu fund raising concerts for the museum on Paul’s Latonka Pipes as the organ was called inviting friends and neighbors to come and hear various theater organists. When Paul and Sally decided to downsize, on Sally’s suggestion he offered it to Dr. Arthur Steffee for Foxburg. As part of their agreement Paul included installation of the Wurlitzer in Lincoln Hall.

This painstaking labor, installing The Mighty McKissick Wurlitzer Theatre Organ in Lincoln Hall, took more than a year preceding the inaugural concert in September of 2006. Paul and Sally became part of the Foxburg community and his organ performances are still a delight to audiences in Foxburg on his labor of love, The Mighty McKissick Wurlitzer.

Paul also learned the Harmonica at the age of 12. He along with his father and brother formed a Harmonica Trio and for thirty years were the like local Harmonica Cats, playing at churches, schools, veteran halls and nursing homes. An educator by training, with a masters in adult education, Paul directed training for Joy Global. He has always been good with all-things electrical or mechanical and was an inventor of devices and hardware for the organ as well as for his company, Joy Mining (so named at that time). Paul invented, for the Hammond organ, a device that switched the presets from slot tone to elect tone and a mechanical key-transposer for Hammond organs, used until that process was done electronically. Paul invented a projected screen device used in training at Joy Mining and in presentations all over the world.

Paul and Sally now live in Cranberry with one Hammond organ, which Paul plays daily.

Paul McKissick introducing The McKissick Mighty Wurlitzer

Paul McKissick introducing The McKissick Mighty Wurlitzer

Paul McKissick playing The McKissick Mighty Wurlitzer

Paul McKissick playing The McKissick Mighty Wurlitzer

Sally and Paul McKissick

Sally and Paul McKissick

LtoR: Dr. Arthur & Patricia Steffee, Scott Foppiano, Sally and Paul McKissick

LtoR: Dr. Arthur & Patricia Steffee, Scott Foppiano, Sally and Paul McKissick

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