NISSWA - She's a lady who wears many hats.
Judy Koep, 63, Breezy Point, is the only full-time employee at St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Nisswa. If anything needs to get done, she is the one to do it. From inviting a newcomer to the church to making sure all the music is taken care of, Koep takes charge.
Koep began volunteering at the Nisswa church 30 years ago. The priest at the time was Father Gabe Brennan, who asked Koep to play the piano for Christmas. She happily obliged.
A nun taught Koep how to play the piano when she was a child. Koep said she grew up on a small farm in Millerville and her parents paid for the lessons with milk and cream.
"I think the nuns liked the milk and cream about as much as I liked the piano lessons," said Koep with a laugh. "Taking piano lessons was something I had to do. I didn't begin liking the lessons until one of the nuns played the violin with me. I liked how the music came together."
Koep attended a parochial school in Millerville, where she met her husband, who attended a parochial school in Urbank. The two met at a dance. Koep married the well-known Marv Koep, former owner of Koep's bait shop in Nisswa, in 1961. The two have three adult children and six grandchildren.
Judy Koep plays the organ at Mass every weekend at St. Christopher's Catholic Church in Nisswa.
Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
The Koeps moved to Nisswa from the Twin Cities to live in a smaller community. They bought the bait store, which they sold in 1992.
Koep said working at the bait store helped prepare her for working at the church. Working at a tourist retail store meant working a lot of weekends, and the church's busiest time is on weekends.
After 10 years as a volunteer at St. Christopher's, Koep was hired as a part-time employee. Seven years ago she began full-time work.
"I grew up with the congregation," said Koep.
When she began volunteering the church had about 25 members. Today, St. Christopher's has between 500 and 800 members, depending on the season.
Favorite religious song: "The Blessing Prayer." "I love it. I love the words and how the music flows ... I like any high energy, spirited song."
Favorite holiday: Christmas.
Favorite holiday memory: "When my kids were small we all got dressed up for Christmas Eve dinner. The girls would wear long dresses and it was nice."
Favorite part of your job: "The atmosphere of the church. The smells and sounds that surround you."
Favorite Christmas treat: German chocolate.
Favorite coffee flavor: Hazelnut.
Motto to live by: "Just to be yourself and to acknowledge the simple things in life."
If you were stranded on a deserted island what would you bring: "A source book for planning."
Koep said her two most important roles at the church are scheduling the liturgy and the music. The liturgy includes scheduling readers, musicians, communion ministers, altar servers and Children's Chapel leaders for Saturday night and Sunday morning Masses.
St. Christopher's has 35 readers and 40 altar servers to choose from. However, Koep said scheduling the liturgy has gotten tougher through the years because people are busier now than they were in the past. Many people go on vacation for a week or more or are out of town and can't fill in for their part of the liturgy, she said.
"I love church so much and it always comes first," she said. "These days people are just so much busier."
Koep said the church also has to find greeters, ushers and a person to write prayers of the faithful. Volunteers at the church coordinate people for these roles, she said.
Every piece of music the congregation hears at every Mass is chosen by Koep. She organizes all the music and the musicians who perform at the church. The musicians usually practice right before Mass.
"The technology has sure made it a lot easier," said Koep. "Many times we have a CD of the music and people can practice by themselves at home. It's so much easier to learn things."
If a musician calls in sick or can't make it, Koep has to find someone to fill in at the last minute or try to fill in for the person herself. Koep usually plays the organ so it can be tough if someone cancels.
Koep also decorates the church for the seasons and changes the banners. Currently she has to get the church ready for Christmas. She tries to stick to traditional decorations and adds a few new things each year. The main traditional decorations include cutting down a Christmas tree and collecting fresh garland. Red banners and gold trumpets soon will be found at the church.
Setting up the Sunday rolls and coffee schedule for church members is another of Koep's duties, and she works with other volunteers on parish projects, such as landscaping around the church for the day camp.
People who don't attend St. Christopher's may recognize Koep. She is involved in music in other ways outside of the church. Her son-in-law is a mortician and she plays music at visitations and funerals. She has played at several community events, such as the Festival of Trees and for the area chambers of commerce.
Koep said she has been blessed over the years with wonderful volunteers who help coordinate all the details of the church. She said for the first time last year she actually took a three-week vacation.
"Before I left I organized all the music," said Koep. "Holly (a volunteer) then took care of the rest. I feel very confident in the people here that they can take over."
JENNIFER STOCKINGER can be reached at email@example.com or 855-5851.
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