Apache accompanists have 130 years of experience
Maxine McKnight taught piano lessons for 50 cents each. Melva Sechrist took piano lessons for 50 cents each, with no time limit. And now, more than 50 years later, the ladies were honored for their faithful service at the organ and piano by Apache, First.
McKnight, who is 88, has been playing the piano or organ in churches for 76 years. She said she began on a “beat-up” piano at Seminole, First when she was 12.
Someone came into the Junior Sunday School Department and asked if anyone could substitute for the pianist who was not there that day.
“The person next to me raised my hand, and I’ve been playing in church ever since,” said McKnight.
She said the first hymn she learned was “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and it is still her favorite today.
While working on a music education degree at Oklahoma Baptist University, McKnight served as pianist for a lot of “preacher boys.”
“They would call and say they were going to a revival and would be by in 30 minutes,” she recalled. “I slammed clothes in a suitcase and took off.”
She remembers one of the preacher boys asked her to marry him, but since he didn’t like her lace hose, she told him “no.”
Sechrist, 67, who was born in Blanchard and grew up south of Apache, also started playing the piano in church when she was 12.
She remembers that her family was poor and didn’t have a piano. However, her aunt had one, and when Sechrist and her sister visited, they ran to see who could get to the piano first. Later, their parents bought Sechrist’s aunt’s piano for their girls.
Sechrist said there are so many things she can’t do well, like speaking or praying in public, but she can play the piano.
“I always start to cry when I speak or pray, but at the piano, no one can stop me,” she said.
Sometimes, when things are bad, Sechrist said she goes to the church on her lunch hour and plays the piano. Her favorite song during those times is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” although her favorite hymn in general is “Just a Closer Walk with Thee.”
Both ladies said they feel one has to be “called” to be an accompanist.
“You have to have it in your heart,” said McKnight. “It is my life. Not a day goes by I don’t sit down at my piano.”
Although she plays the organ at church, McKnight said she really likes the piano best.
“You can bounce around on those piano keys, but on the organ, it’s just the opposite,” she explained.
The ladies have served for several staff members over the years. Music minister at Apache, First currently is Bob Nunn, who is bivocational.
Pastor Leon Shade said he appreciates the ladies because they are so adaptable.
“Nothing ever surprises them,” he said. “They are able to play whatever is needed and make it look easy.”
He also said they set a great example by always being there, and making guest musicians feel at home.
“It doesn’t matter what we do, they are always serving,” he commented. “They play for revivals, weddings, funeral, whatever.”
But the thing he is most thankful for, he said, is their Christian walk.
“These are ladies who truly represent Jesus Christ,” he noted. “I am so thankful for their testimonies. They are an example and an encouragement.”