For five decades, Walter Hines has been a staple of Trinity United Methodist Church in Lenoir City.
Hines recently celebrated his 50th year as organist for the congregation after starting to play one summer as a 15-year-old Lenoir City High School sophomore.
“The summer I started playing 50 years ago I thought I’d play for the summer,” Hines said. “The lady that had followed Ms. (Margaret) Hall was Natalie Curtis, and she played for like 30 years, and after I played the organ she continued to play the piano. She’s one of the people that I really want to lift up because I just wouldn’t have taken the organ seriously had it not been for others who really encouraged me. Real good musicians.”
With help from Curtis, church singer Barbara Easter, First Baptist Church in Lenoir City organist Joyce Waller and Central United Methodist Church singer Doris Prater, Hines honed his craft. He had some experience playing piano and organ growing up but those women helped mold him into the player he is today.
“Ms. Curtis was a graduate of the Cincinnati Conservatory, and see I just took music here on Kingston Street,” Hines said with a laugh. “She saw a potential in me, Ms. Curtis did, and so she helped me so much in areas that I just wouldn’t have had any opportunity to know about. … When you’re a kid you felt like you didn’t want to disappoint people and I felt like I’d disappoint Ms. Curtis and I’d disappoint Ms. Waller. Then, too, I began to realize what I didn’t know that they were helping me to learn and I guess I didn’t want to give that up.”
Looking back, he doesn’t feel like it’s been 50 years.
“In a larger sense you’re to give your talent to the Lord wherever you are,” Hines said. “But this is my, you would say, home church. My family located here in the 1890s, so this was just always home. You naturally have to consider that as one of the reasons that you just continue on, but that’s not as important as — you’re to serve the Lord in any capacity you can using whatever talents you have.”
Hines also serves as church caretaker.
Jo Alison Cortez, church member, has known Hines since she came to to Trinity UMC 11 years ago.
“While you’re also being a full-time teacher and an extraordinary one,” Cortez said. “He’s a very beloved retired social studies teacher from the Lenoir City middle school. As I said, he conducted for 32 years the trips that the kids did when they went to Washington. You see that he had lots of things going on, but he was always our organist — and a very fine one. He’s an excellent organist.”
Despite his busy schedule, Hines had time to practice playing and serve the Lord through music.
“He loves his church very much and now as a retired person he actually has the oversight and takes care of our church as far as the cleaning and how it looks, everything out,” Cortez said. “He loves his church and he loves his God.”
He retired in 2016 and has more time to play.
“You just do what you have to do,” Hines said. “I do realize now that it’s more enjoyable what I do here because you have more time to devote to learning music. Back when you worked, I remember saying to myself, ‘That’ll do.’ So it is more fun now because you’re not pushed like you were working.”
Hines’ June 6 anniversary fell on a Sunday.
“Music has just always been a part of me,” he said. “It’s something that you just love.”