Many organ builders knew early on that they wanted to make this vocation their life’s work. For some, the calling comes later. Though he grew up in the area, Dean Heim had no idea what went on at 200 North Illinois Street in Lake City, and he hardly knew anyone who worked there. He certainly wouldn’t have imagined that he would someday be employed there, working on projects all over the United States.
Dean was born in Carroll, Iowa, the fourth of five children, and grew up on the family farm in rural Auburn, Iowa. After graduating from the local Catholic high school, he studied at the Spencer School of Business in Spencer, Iowa. A serious stomach ailment forced him to leave college, and after recuperating from surgery at home in Auburn, he went to work for Bowie Manufacturing in Lake City, a manufacturer of fiberglass components for truck bodies. Here he worked primarily as a mold maker, a job that required precision woodworking skills. Although he enjoyed the work, after thirteen years he was ready for new challenges.
A former Bowie co-worker, Bill Picht, had left Bowie to work at Dobson in the early 1980s. When Bill retired from our shop in 1988, Dean asked whether Bill’s position might be available. He was hired, and was soon at work making rollerboards, wind system components, and other parts of the instrument. He also took over the finishing and lacquering of the woodwork, a frequently intense and demanding process at the end of the organ’s construction. Since 1995, he has been the shop foreman and a member of the management team, and his duties have consequently shifted to more administrative roles: managing personnel and schedules, ordering materials, and overseeing the maintenance of the shop buildings and equipment.
Among his most significant achievements, Dean cites the installation of our Op. 75 at Los Angeles’ Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels. This 57' foot tall, 40 ton instrument is located 25' above the floor, which required that every part of the instrument, including full-length 32' façade pipes, be hoisted into place. He spent fifteen weeks on site in the first four months of 2002, directing a project that brought us into collaboration with many different contractors and other professionals, and which required months of advance coordination.
In 1977, Dean married Chris Schaffer, a Lake City native who worked for a number of years as a beautician. She is now employed as the receptionist for Rock-Judisch Vision Clinic, a local optometry office. They have two children: their daughter Casey, a dietician at St. Luke’s Hospital in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and son Jon, a financial planner in Des Moines.
In addition to his responsibilities at the shop, Dean is active in his church, and is now in his 20th year as a volunteer fireman with the Lake City Fire Department. Although he does less of it now, he has also put his knowledge of fiberglass to work by repairing boats and farm equipment.
Even when relaxing, Dean is rarely idle. Several years ago he completely remodeled his house. Gardens occupy a significant part of his yard, and gardening a significant part of his time during the warmer parts of the year, when he can frequently be found tending his vegetables. He is an avid outdoorsman, enjoying all types of fishing and hunting with his black powder rifle. A self-avowed meat and potatoes man, he regularly fires up his grill, even during winter weather. During fairer weather, he can be found chasing a dimpled little white ball around the grounds of the Lake City Country Club.
In all the romance associated with our art, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that everything stops if someone is not ordering lumber, arranging schedules, and maintaining tools. Doing this well is an art in itself, and Dean’s business schooling, practical background and natural inquisitiveness make him the right man to keep things on schedule or find some odd piece of hardware. Though he might never have imagined it years ago, Dean has become an integral part of Dobson Pipe Organ Builders and contributes greatly to our success.
drawn from The Organbuilder, Spring 2006
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