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History of the Red River Theatre Organ Society (RRTOS)

RRTOS's parent organization, the American Theatre Organ Society, was organized as the "American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts" (ATOE) in Hollywood, California on February 8, 1955. In 1969, its name was changed to the "American Theatre Organ Society" (ATOS) and it is now comprised of over 83 chapters in the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia.


On March 16, 1965, the Red River Theatre Organ Society was organized and chartered as an ATOS chapter at Bud's Roller Rink in Moorhead, MN. Its original name was "Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Enthusiasts" and in 1969 it became "Red River Chapter of the American Theatre Organ Society" following the name change at the national level. In November 2019, as part of a rebranding effort, its name was changed to the "Red River Theatre Organ Society." RRTOS has been a 501(c)(3) organization since March 1978, and it was incorporated in December 1992.

RRTOS was initially organized by fourteen charter members, some of whom included Lance Johnson, Phil Felde, Lloyd Collins, Pat Kelly, Hildegarde (Usselman) Kraus, Harvey Gustafson, Dr. George Schulte, and Don Geiken. The first officers of the chapter were Lance E. Johnson, Chairman; Donald Geiken, Vice Chairman; and Pat Kelly, Secretary-Treasurer. Today, the chapter officers consist of a President, Vice President, Secretary, and Treasurer. Since its founding, the membership of RRTOS has comprised of organ enthusiasts, organists, and technicians from the Fargo/Moorhead area.

The small, 3-manual Barton organ at Bud's Roller Rink in Moorhead was the first theatre pipe organ to which RRTOS had access. Aside from chapter members serving as organists to provide music for patrons of the rink, the chapter also hosted concerts, workshops, and other such events to promote the theatre pipe organ.  This organ was removed from the rink and sold in the 1970s, right around the same time a new instrument came into the chapter's midst.

In August 1973, RRTOS was granted access and permission to maintain and enlarge the 1926 Style E 2/7 Wurlitzer at the Fargo Theatre, which had lain silent since March 1948. Full ownership of the instrument was acquired by RRTOS on June 28, 1983, and over a 45-year period, the instrument was expanded to its present 4/32 size. All but one of the original 1926 Style E ranks are playable, including the organ's original percussions, and plans to reinstall the original 1926 Concert Flute 8' are underway.

The first annual Silent Movie Night event was held in November 1974. For about twenty years following, this event was held each spring and fall, with four total shows per year. Currently, the event is held on a Saturday during the middle of each October.

In 1980, RRTOS purchased a 2-manual Wurlitzer console from Buffalo, NY, and over the next two years, installed it along with seven ranks of pipes in the Glasrud Auditorium of Weld Hall on Minnesota State University Moorhead campus. This instrument was expanded to be 3/9 in 1995. It was used regularly for various events until it was removed and dismantled in May 2023 when the university began preparing for renovations to the hall, and space for the organ was not included in the renovation plans.

In 1979, the annual tradition of Holiday Pipes began at the Fargo Theatre. This series occurs the week before Christmas and noon-hour organ concerts are given, usually concluded by a sing-along on the last day of the series.

In 1983, the Fargo Theatre ceased as a commercial operation and a firm bid was placed on the property so it could be demolished to make room for a parking ramp. In June 1983, RRTOS held a special meeting, assumed the lease for the theatre, and organized and incorporated  the "Fargo Theatre Management Corporation" (FTMC) to manage the theatre and ultimately save the building and organ. At this time RRTOS also acquired full ownership of the Fargo Theatre Wurlitzer organ. In 1991, RRTOS pulled back from its involvement with the theatre's management and the FTMC continues to own and operate the theatre, with RRTOS still being responsible for all things organ within the theatre. 

In 1999, RRTOS helped organize the now-defunct Central Minnesota Otter Tail Chapter of the ATOS, after a 3/12 Wurlitzer was installed in A Center for the Arts, Fergus Falls, MN in 1995. RRTOS has held various events here over the years and this organ became a chapter instrument in October 2023.


Currently, the RRTOS produces an annual Silent Movie Night, the Holiday Pipes noon hour concert series in December, concerts, informal performances, and outreach events throughout the year.  The RRTOS also provides house organists for movie prologues and special events at the Fargo Theatre, which includes the annual Fargo Film Festival.

In October 2018, the RRTOS released a strategic plan outlining its goals to stay relevant and active for many years to come. Some areas of focus include developing youth outreach programs, increasing the frequency of public events, introducing the pipe organ to new audiences, operating with a professional non-profit mentality, and continuing our restoration efforts on our instruments.

In December, 2023, RRTOS announced the commencement of a $500,000 capital campaign, in an effort to give the Fargo Theatre Wurlitzer organ a much-needed restoration.

Please click on the buttons below for a general history of the theatre organ and the national American Theatre Organ Society

RRTOS Historical Highlights
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