My Story: Phil Judkins
The year was 1936 and thirteen-year-old Harlan Judkins took his four-year- old brother, Phil, to see his first movie.
In the darkened Ritz Theater in downtown Tulsa, Oklahoma, they waited for the movie to begin when suddenly a blue spotlight focused on the orchestra pit. To the sounds of Deep Purple, they watched the theater pipe organ rise up from the orchestra pit. Young Phil sat in amazement, as the movie took a back seat to the sight and sound of that magnificent organ. Phil Judkins was hooked.
Beginning that day, he looked for any opportunity to hear a pipe organ played, whether at the Ritz, Orpheum, Rialto or the Majestic. Wherever an organ sound could be heard, Phil would be present. Not only did he want to hear it, Phil wanted to learn to play it.
Harlan became Phil’s greatest supporter in making it possible for him to have access to an organ and learn how to play. In 1941 Phil got his chance to play. Harlan was hired as an announcer for a radio station in Coffeyville, Kansas. In a movie theater next door to the radio station, Harlan found a pipe organ that had not been played for years. Harlan invited Phil to stay with him in Coffeyville over Christmas vacation with the intention of working on the organ. Their goal was to make the organ playable. Neither had any experience repairing pipe organs, but that didn’t deter a 9-year-old and an 18-year-old from the task at hand, and they succeeded.
Phil could play the keyboard part of the organ, but he had no experience with pedals or stops. Harlan had an answer for that. The radio station broadcast live organ interludes in the afternoon, and the station’s organist gave Phil some instruction on how to play the organ. During the remainder of his visit with his brother, Phil spent most of his time at the theater. Opportunities for Phil to practice in Coffeyville ended when Harlan joined the Army in 1943 and served during WWII.
In 1946, Harlan became a broadcaster at KTUL Radio in Tulsa, and there was a Hammond organ in KTUL’s studio. Practice opportunities resumed.
During the last week of his Senior year at Central High School, Phil met a fellow senior, Laura Worden. He fell for this lovely young lady, and they married in June, 1952.
Phil attended TU, and Laura began a career in banking which lasted until her retirement from BOK in February, 1995.
After serving in the Army during the Korean War, Phil returned to Tulsa and finished his degree. He also resumed organ playing. The downtown theaters allowed him access to their pipe organs. The Ritz Theater’s professional organist even gave Phil a few tips, including how to work on the organ and tune the pipes. He became proficient in repairing the organ and started servicing the organs at other theaters as well as area churches.
Phil was employed as an insurance claims adjuster which left him with limited time to work on organs. Still he continued to repair and play pipe organs. Phil has worked on most organs in Tulsa.
During the late 1950’s Phil and Laura joined the American Theater Organ Society, and the members became aware of his abilities to repair pipe organs. This led to Phil’s employment by the Wicks Organ Company as its Oklahoma representative. He traveled throughout Oklahoma servicing Wicks and other pipe organs.
Phil decided he needed his own pipe organ. In 1961 he purchased a 1928 theater organ console, and several years later purchased the electrical components and pipes. Phil’s brother, Harlan, as always stepped up along with some friends and helped him construct a large electronic organ.
That pipe organ is now installed in the Judkins’ family room. When Phil and Laura designed their home, they included a designated room in the basement that houses 9 ranks of pipes. Another room contains the blower that provides pressurized air to the pipes. Large openings on each side of the organ console allow the sound from the pipes in the basement into the family room.
When Phil retired as an insurance adjuster, he increased his pipe organ work time. He has worked on organs in churches in all over NE Oklahoma. Phil continues to be involved with theater pipe organs like the one that originally enthralled him that long-ago day in the Ritz Theater.
Phil’s remarkable talent and ability to learn to play an organ and to repair an organ from his early youth is an amazing accomplishment. Phil’s brother, Harlan, taking him to the theater as a tiny boy and the amazing attraction to the music that day set his future in motion.
Phil made a great contribution to the city of Tulsa when he rebuilt the organ in the famous Circle Theater in Tulsa. He also rebuilt the organ at the Orpheum in Okmulgee.
Phil’s involvement with FUMC’s Parriott Organ began in 1992 when Richard Doverspike, the Curator of the Parriott Organ, asked Phil to help with that organ. In 2004, Richard Doverspike became Organ Architect, and Phil became the Curator of the Parriott organ.
Today, Phil spends an average of 16 hours a week maintaining the Parriott Organ. As his workload increased, Phil needed an assistant. That position was filled in February 1995, when Laura retired from her career with Bank of Oklahoma. Her very first day after retirement, she accompanied Phil to St. Paul UMC in Muskogee and helped him unload a semitrailer full of organ pipes. Laura has continued to assist him wherever she can.
Laura and Phil have 2 daughters, Linda Jane Klingmann (Ashland City, TN) and Karen Marie Hanisch (Maui, Hawaii), 6 grandchildren, and 6 great grandchildren.