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Love Stories: Musical connection holds strong through the decades
Cindy Hval The Spokesman-Review
October 12, 2016

Ken, left, and Carol Fuller sit at their respective instruments at First Church of the Nazarene in north Spokane on Sunday, Oct. 9, 2016. The couple play traditional church music for the second service at the church. The two met at an organ teachers’ workshop and have been married 57 years. Ken is sitting in front of the century-old Wurlitzer organ.
(Enlarge photo)

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Love Stories celebrates relationships that are strong and enduring. Whether you’re dating, recently married, or have passed the 50-year mark, let us tell your tale. Email your suggestions to correspondent Cindy Hval at dchval@juno.com.

Not many musicians can boast a letter of recommendation from the great Louis Armstrong, but Ken Fuller can. His accordion skills caught Satchmo’s attention, but it was his talent at the organ that led him to the love of his life almost six decades ago.

Ken grew up in Seattle and started playing piano at 4.

“My mother trained at Findlay Music Conservatory,” he said.

A car accident cut short her musical career, but she fanned the spark of talent she saw in her son, who was born with perfect pitch.

At 5, Ken became entranced by the accordion.

“I saw a blind man playing at the corner of J.C. Penney,” he said. “We got to know him to the point where my mother would leave me with him while she shopped.”

An accordion was purchased and lessons commenced.

Ken’s playing led him to many appearances on local radio shows, and at 14 he met Armstrong.

“He was playing at the Palomar Theatre in Seattle and we went to see him,” Ken said. “We talked to him after the show and my mother told him how wonderful I was, and he invited me to play with him the next day. My mother had plans for me to be a classical accordionist, but of course I got hooked on jazz.”

At 18, he was invited to play with the Sun Valley Trio, and off he went to make his way in the music world. Unfortunately, he’d already picked up some bad habits.

“I was drinking,” he said. “And I was let go.”

His parents had moved to Colfax and his mother was dying of cancer. He stayed there until her death and then moved to Spokane in 1958 to sell organs at Murphy’s Piano and Organs.

While still in Seattle, he had fallen in love with the organ. He’d go down to the Wurlitzer store and play for hours. He saw his stay in Spokane and stint at selling organs and pianos as temporary.

Meeting Carol Keller at an organ workshop hosted by Murphy’s changed his view, and he quickly abandoned his accordion dreams.

Carol had attended the workshop with her mother. Lunch at the Hedge House restaurant was included, and over lunch Ken chatted with Carol’s mom.

“Her mom liked me,” Ken said. “I sold her an organ and she arranged a date with Carol for me.”

Unfortunately, she did this without her daughter’s knowledge or consent.

Carol, a 1956 North Central graduate, was attending the Spokane Conservatory of Music and spending time with a fellow who had his master’s degree in music performance.

“He was helping me with my studies,” she said.

So when she came home from school one afternoon and her mother told her to get ready because she had a roller-skating date with Ken, the news did not go over well.

“I said, ‘Absolutely not. I am not going.’ ” recalled Carol.

Ken grinned. “Then she locked herself in the bathroom.”

However, her mother prevailed and a grudging Carol went off with the organ salesman.

“After roller skating, he said he was hungry, so we went to Casey’s for supper,” she said. “Then he invited me to the store to play the piano.”

Music streamed through Murphy’s that night as Ken played the organ and Carol played piano.

“That’s where the team was born,” he said.

They lost all track of time and when Carol looked up and saw the street lights flashing, she panicked.

“Even though I was 21, I still had to be home by 11.”

But instead of trouble waiting for her at home, they found her mother smiling.

“She invited me for dinner the next night,” Ken said. “Eight weeks later Carol and I were engaged.”

On June 1, 1959, they married at First Church of the Nazarene. Shortly thereafter they became the church’s pianist and organist – positions they’ve held all their married life.

Ken shrugged. “I took the pastor bird hunting, and he told me the church board had decided to ask me to be the organist, so I came home and told Carol.” And she replied, “Well, if the church board voted you have to do it!”

Her grandparents had founded the church and her mother was the church pianist – a position Carol eventually took over.

Son Scott arrived in February 1960. He was a preemie, weighing 3 pounds, 6 ounces. Much of the first year of his life was spent at doctor’s offices and hospitals.

“He really is a miracle,” Carol said.

Daughter Carrie completed the family in 1964.

Music has been the foundation of their home and work lives. Carol, 79, started teaching piano while still in high school and continues to teach private lessons in her home and at Music City.

“My youngest student is 6 and my oldest is 93,” she said.

Ken, 80, began working at Music City in 1962 and became a partner in 1984. He was bought out in 2001 but still works as many hours as he can at the store, along with their daughter, who has worked there 17 years.

This summer their church honored their years of service by sending them to the American Theatre Organ Society Convention in Cleveland.

Theater organs long have been a fascination for Ken. In 1972, First Church of the Nazarene acquired the 1914 theater pipe organ from the old Liberty Theatre in Seattle.

These instruments were designed to play scores for silent movies and come complete with sound-effect options like thunderstorm and gunshots.

The trip was an adventure of a lifetime for the pair. And their love has lasted a lifetime, too.

“It’s matter of commitment – for better or worse,” Ken said.

Carol suffered a serious back injury awhile ago and reinjured it on Labor Day, which has limited her range of motion.

“There’s things she can’t do, so guess what? I do them for her and I don’t do it grudgingly. It’s part of that commitment.”

His wife smiled at him across the table in their North Side home, and said their marriage is much like their music.

“We’ve done it so long, we think together.”