Milnar’s Organ Company
By Marissa Laschi
Looking around Dennis Milnar’s office it is clear he has two obsessions: his family and pipe organs. The walls are covered with photographs of his family and of the organs that his family-owned business has been building, repairing and servicing for more than 50 years.
Milnar Organ Company is nestled in the countryside of Eagleville, surrounded by a herd of cattle that is a side business. The smell of wood shavings flows through the building built by Milnar in phases over the past decades as the company expanded.
Milnar, 76, started his company in Nashville in 1968, but several years later he moved the company to its current location in Eagleville. Since his unique company has established a reputation for skilled craftsmanship as the company has been called on to repair organs around the world.
His love of pipe organs began when he was 18, living in Buffalo, New York. As a young father looking for work, he went door to door to find a job, any job that could support his wife and growing family.
“There was a blizzard, I couldn’t even see some of the names of the companies,” says Milnar about a day when he was still looking for work. That day, Milnar knocked on the snow-covered sign of the Delaware Organ Company.
Milnar was originally hired for a couple weeks to assist in holding keys while the pipes were tuned on church organs right before Christmas. The job was just as it sounds: holding a key down while a technician tuned the sound coming from a particular pipe. However, the temp job became permanent when Milnar’s mechanical skills caught the boss’s eye. Soon he was offered an apprenticeship where he learned every aspect of organ making.
A pipe organ needs to be tuned a few times per year. Factors such as type of wood, location, and weather can change the sound and they often need to be corrected. Organs are made to be durable and the leather used in pipe organs can last for around 15 years but eventually need to be replaced.
After several years of apprenticing, Milnar was deemed a master organ mechanic. He was encouraged by his boss to start his own company. Down south would be a good place, he was told. At the time, the south had an excess of churches with pipe organs but a scarcity of organ repairmen.
Taking his boss’s advice, Milnar moved his family to Nashville to begin building and repairing organs. Milnar and his wife ran the company out of their basement for a few years until moving to their current location in Eagleville.
Milnar started his sons in the shop when they were young and home from school on summer break. “All of our kids started with a broom,” says Milnar of how his four sons followed in his footsteps to become master organ makers themselves. His sons are now equal partners in the company and run most of the day to day activities of the company.
From its humble beginnings, Milnar Organ Company has grown into a world-famous company over the last 50 years. However, this success came with its challenges.
Milnar’s first big break in Tennessee also brought a large obstacle. The job was to build an organ for what was then called Tennessee A & I University, now Tennessee State University. Even though Milnar had signed documents from the state to build the organ, he wasn’t able to secure a bank loan to get the materials he needed to finish the project.
A good natured, wealthy friend Milnar met when he moved to Nashville, called his banker and secured Milnar the loan, officially establishing Milnar as an organ marker in the south.
Since then, Milnar has grown his company to now service over 200 churches regularly.
Milnar Organ Company is more than just a company, it is a family built on 50 years of hard work and care.