Chapel holds memories of music, love

Lois Wilkinson Sieben ’38 remembers the thrill of her first glimpse of King Chapel as she arrived on campus in 1934.

“Now I’m going to be part of that,” she thought.

Lois Sieben Lois Wilkinson Sieben '38

She had intended to be a nurse, but her brother, Paul Wilkinson ’35, encouraged her to come to Cornell for a music audition. When no other organists showed up, she earned, by default, an organ scholarship of one lesson a week, and thus happily became part of the close-knit campus family.

King Chapel became the place she would most call home, studying piano and organ. To this day it holds memories of music and love. In the era of required chapel, Lois faithfully sang the college song each day. She gave three major organ recitals in King Chapel and in her senior year often filled in for Eugene Devereaux, her instructor and the regular chapel organist. Her first organ instructor at Cornell, Horace Alden Miller, composer of “Cornell, Greater Be Thy Name,” dedicated one of his arrangements to her.

In April of her senior year, her beau, Dale Sieben ’37, rode his motorcycle back from graduate school in Wisconsin for her birthday. That night the couple snuck into King Chapel, where Dale gave Lois her present: a diamond engagement ring. Lois went on to be a church organist and pianist, providing music at hundreds of weddings and funerals.

She also taught hundreds of students to play as well, and considered them her kids. Many continue to keep in touch with her in Geneseo, Ill., where she lives in a retirement village and, at age 92, still plays when she can.

Her brother’s wife, Genevieve Greenwood Wilkinson ’37, was a cousin of her husband Dalel. And her nephew , David Wilkinson ’64, and his son, John Wilkinson ’90, are Cornellians too. With such fond memories and family connections, Lois was moved to help fund renovations to the King Chapel organ and for King Chapel work in general.

“I’m just glad I can help with keeping the organ alive,” she said.