The request was simple and straightforward: Find a song from 1921 to commemorate the fast-approaching 97th birthday of Sister Lauren Weinandt, Mayo’s oldest and longest-serving staff member. No pressure. “I was having trouble thinking of songs that would work properly,” Austin Ferguson, Mayo’s enterprising carillonneur, tells us. Ferguson would play the chosen tune in his final concert before temporarily closing shop for a serious restoration of Mayo’s 56-bell carillon. As he continued through his song library, it hit him. “I pretty much slapped myself on the forehead, because I’d forgotten that I have a very nice version of ‘The Bells of St. Mary’s,'” he says. “I’m a sucker for puns, so I thought, ‘That just might be perfect.'” (Ding, ding, ding.)
Ferguson ran the idea past John Murphy, friend of In the Loop and member of Mayo’s Community Engagement team. “I added ‘Happy Birthday,’ and a few other songs to round out what was going to be the last concert before the restoration work was to begin. I thought that would be a pretty fitting send-off,” Ferguson tells us.
To make the timing work, a surprise birthday lunch was arranged. Sister Lauren and a few of her close colleagues and friends — including her fellow Sisters of Saint Francis, Mayo surgeon Robert Cima, M.D., and associate hospital administrator Ken Ackerman — gathered at an outdoor table on the patio of the Kahler Hotel’s Grand Grille restaurant. As they ate and conversed, Ferguson’s notes began to fill the air. We’re told Sister Lauren and her fellow Sisters sang along as Ferguson played tunes that rang a bell. He opened and closed his concert with a special rendition of “Happy Birthday.”
“I’m simply overwhelmed,” Sister Lauren said after the concert, Murphy tells us. “I thought I’d seen and heard it all in my 62 years at Mayo Clinic. I never imagined a concert played in my honor and in honor of the carillon. This takes the cake.”
With Sister Lauren’s birthday concert in the books, Ferguson tells us he’s focused on prepping the carillon for its first major restoration and refurbishing since it was installed inside the Plummer Building on Mayo Clinic’s Rochester campus 90 years ago. “We’re basically scrapping everything but the bells and starting over,” Ferguson tells us. “We’re reinforcing the structure, improving the sound, and basically updating everything to modern industry standards.”
Ferguson is pretty jazzed about the changes, to put it mildly. “All of this is going to make the instrument much easier to play and make it very comparable to other world-class carillons,” he tells us. “I couldn’t be more grateful or excited.”
Barring any unforeseen hitches, Ferguson says the carillon’s two-phase restoration work will begin Oct. 8 and should be completed in a few weeks, with a concert held “shortly thereafter.”