When Linda Howard-Kloepfer first laid eyes on the Westhampton Presbyterian Church in 1970, she said she knew it was where she was meant to be. Unfortunately, they were not hiring.But after bouncing around from church to church over the next six years, the organist finally landed her dream job when the director of music ministry position opened up at the Meeting House Road house of worship.
She applied, got the job and has been performing at the Quiogue church ever since.
That is, until this past Sunday.
After 38 years as the organist and leader of the church’s choir, Ms. Howard-Kloepfer performed at her final service. Westhampton Presbyterian Church Reverend Doctor Charles Cary said Ms. Howard-Kloepfer’s departure marks the end of an era, concluding nearly four decades of work under the same roof.
“She’s just been there, she just shows up, she’s been reliable, she’s just been very, very dedicated to this local congregation and you don’t see that in everyone,” Rev. Cary said. “She started and ended in the same position, and you just don’t see that.”
Rev. Cary, who worked with Ms. Howard-Kloepfer from 1985 to 1999, and again from 2010 until this past Sunday, said most parishioners have never known another church organist, adding that Ms. Howard-Kloepfer’s tenure has been marked by her dedication to running the all-volunteer choir.
“It was always rewarding and very special things happened,” Ms. Howard-Kloepfer said this week. “We had rehearsals where things maybe didn’t go so well, then they’d come out during the actual performance and everything would sound incredible.
“It’s a symbiotic relationship,” she continued. “Everyone works together to help each other out. It’s sort of magical, really.”
Originally from Brooklyn, Ms. Howard-Kloepfer came to the Westhampton Presbyterian after attending Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia for her undergraduate studies and, later, SUNY at Stony Brook, earning a Master of Arts degree in liberal studies.
She was able to pass her love of music on to her three daughters, Jessica, Siri and Joanna, who grew up performing around Long Island as The Howard Sisters, and remain involved in performance as trained musicians and Broadway actors. All three attended Sunday’s service.
“I was absolutely overwhelmed, the outpouring of love and generosity of the church and the things people said were wonderful,” Ms. Howard-Kloepfer said. “I’m just overwhelmed, it’s a wonderful church.”
Ms. Howard-Kloepfer, who also taught music at Westhampton Beach High School from 1989 to 2009, said she was convinced that she’d die on the organ bench one day, adding that she and members of the choir would joke that they’d need to sweep her remains up to get her to leave. She is being replaced by William Roslak of Southold, who will take the helm on July 1.
The decision to leave was not an easy one, but Ms. Howard-Kloepfer said she and her husband, John, who is retiring from his post as reverend at the Community Church in East Williston this coming Sunday, wanted to travel while they still have the time and energy. The couple’s first stop will be Florida, where they will retrieve a mobile home that they recently purchased for their upcoming travels, before heading up to New Hampshire where they have a cabin on the Canadian border. From there they will embark on a trip across the country.
After returning from that trip, and once they get settled back into their Westhampton home, Ms. Howard-Kloepfer said she intends on still being involved in her local parish—this time as a member of the choir.
“That’s what made it bearable on Sunday, knowing that I will be with them again soon and it wasn’t ‘goodbye forever,’” she said. “If that were the case, I don’t know what I would have done.”