ST. CHARLES - Jim Shaffer knows The Arcada Theatre's pipe organ inside and out.
The 77-year-old has spent the last 30 years maintaining and repairing the 16-rank organ, he said, describing it as a labor of love.
"I'm more into it to make sure the organ stays alive," Shaffer said.
Shaffer, a retired railroad employee, said a love of pipe organ music led him to join the Chicago Area Theatre Organ Enthusiasts nearly 4 decades. Although he initially got involved to hear the music, he said, he got talked into helping with organ upkeep.
"That's where I learned," he said, noting the club especially needed volunteers to help with time-consuming leather work.
Although CATOE members maintain pipe organs throughout the metropolitan area, including the Pickwick Theatre in Park Ridge and the Tivoli Theatre in Downers Grove, Shaffer said most of his time has been spent at the Arcada.
The original pipe organ was installed in 1926 and had 10-ranks, but it was enlarged to 16 ranks a few years later, Shaffer said.
"That's close to 1,000 pipes," he said.
From the console, Shaffer said, the organist can control all kinds of noisemakers, including drums, symbols, bells and chimes. There is even a button to make dummy bells swing in the bell towers on the side of the walls, he said, noting chimes are hidden behind the bells.
Until a few years ago, Shaffer didn't know how to play the instrument. He has an electronic organ in his house, said he took a few lessons and kept playing that until he got better.
"I finally thought I would love to play that big organ up there," Shaffer said. "I kept working on it until I could do it."
Shaffer doesn't consider himself the greatest organist in the world, but he does play it before and during certain events at the Arcada.
Romi Herron, director of development for Onesti Entertainment Corporation, said in an email that Shaffer has been a treasure at the Arcada Theatre.
"He is a central part of the warmth that patrons experience during the grade school tours, concerts and special occasions when he shares not only his pipe organ passion, but his delightful personality and pleasant demeanor," Herron said.