News Articles

Childhood love of music leads to 76 years as church’s organist

BRATT, Fla. (BP)–Believing at a young age that God could do anything, Lonie Dockens prayed, asking God to help her learn to play the piano.
“I loved music more than anything,” she recalled. “I asked God to help me learn music and that I would always use it for his glory. I’ve never forgotten that.”
Lonie, now 89, was born in Bratt, Fla. Her mother — who had been a pianist — died when she was two-and-a-half months old, leaving her and her brother to be cared for by their father. Lonie’s father, who worked for a local lumber company, felt he could not bear the weight alone and asked the grandparents for help raising the youngsters.
When she was 9, Lonie’s uncle gave her a pump organ. “I cleaned the church for $1.50 a week at that time,” she said. “I would take my $1.50 to pay for lessons. I could only afford three. When I couldn’t do the lessons anymore, I bought music books and practiced until I learned it.
“My grandmother said that I could be playing outside and start thinking of a song, and run inside and play it until I knew it, then run back outside and pick up where I left off,” Dockens added.
At age 13, Lonie began playing the pump organ for services at First Baptist Church in Bratt. “I remember my legs being so short that I couldn’t reach the pedals. … I would go home after church and cry my eyes out, because my legs hurt so bad,” she said.
Lonie’s grandfather became acquainted with Sidney J. Catts, governor of Florida from 1917-21. Catts began to stay with the family when he was in town “politicking,” Dockens recalled, and he would ask her to play her pump organ for him on each of his visits. Seeing the 17-year-old’s talent, he asked her grandfather’s permission to send her to a music conservatory.
“Mr. Catts told my granddaddy that I would be worth a million bucks if he’d let me go. My grandfather told Mr. Catts that I was already worth a million,” she recounted. “I still wonder to this day, what if my granddaddy would have let me have gone to school. Where would I be?”
Dockens may never know the answer to that question, but she knows where she has been — at the pump organ, piano and now electronic organ of First Baptist, Bratt, for 76 years. She continues to play every Sunday morning.
She says she can play only Christian music. Forget honky-tonk. Her fingers just can’t do it. But after all, she did tell God she would always play for him.
“As long as my fingers can move, I want to play,” she said. Her testimony is given each time her slender fingers touch the keys of the organ.

Cooper is a correspondent for the Florida Baptist Witness.

    About the Author

  • Janet Little Cooper