Thoughts and dreams of a symphony orchestra began when string players were accompanying the Austin Oratorio Society in productions of "Messiah" and "Elijah" in 1946. During the next eleven years, a group of musicians would occasionally get together to play for fun, perhaps putting on small concerts in the high school orchestra room. After one of these concerts, violist John Madura asked "Why can't we have our own symphony orchestra?" And so it began. Incorporation papers were filed on October 17, 1957 and a twenty-one member board was chosen to oversee the organization. Paul Heltne, music coordinator of the Austin High School, was appointed symphony conductor with John Madura as its first manager.
On November 25, 1957, Mr Heltne gave the downbeat to "Fledermaus Overture". And thus began the Austin Symphony Orchestra. Mr Heltne's strong leadership caused the symphony to grow and mature during his tenure, which lasted until his retirement in 1972. Selection of a new conductor followed, while guest conductors Donaldson Lawhead and Richard Larson each took their turn directing concerts, with Larson chosen to succeed Mr Heltne. Under his direction the symphony expanded the scope of works performed to include opera, ballet and great choral works, as well as to serve as the accompanying group for internationally famous artists.
In 1982, following the 25th anniversary of the symphony, Mr. Larson moved to a new position in Colorado, and David Jordhal began a six year tenure as symphony conductor. His expertise as a violinist was instrumental in improving the tone quality of the orchestra strings, and his concerts were described as "assured and skilled". Resigning to pursue other interests, Philip Burkhart became the fourth conductor. He continued to lead the orchestra in exciting rehearsals and great choral and symphonic works, introducing a unique chorus of Elementary School Students in 1992.
In 1994 Mr. Burkhart resigned to devote more time to his regular job as high school orchestra director. The search began for a replacement, which was found in Stephen Ramsey of Minneapolis. Under his guidance, the orchestra has striven for artistic excellence in every composition it performs, and has also reinstated the Monday morning Young People’s Concerts for students in grades 4 – 6.
Stephen J Ramsey | Conductor
Stephen Ramsey, well-known conductor in the Twin Cities metropolitan area, is beginning his 22nd year as music director/conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra. He is the founding music director and conductor of the Dakota Valley Symphony and Chorus, and also directs the Dakota Valley Summer Pops Orchestra and Chorale and the Health Sciences Orchestra of the University of Minnesota. Ramsey earned his Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Missouri--Kansas City Conservatory of Music, and has studied with Leonard Slatkin, Max Rudolph and Maurice Jones.
Board of Directors
Morgan Dickman - President
Morgan Dickman is an Elementary Teacher with Austin Public Schools. She earned her Elementary Education degree with Special Education and Reading endorsements from Wartburg College in Waverly, IA. In Austin, Morgan is involved in many musical events including the Austin Symphony Orchestra, and Riverland & Summerset Theater Productions. In her spare time, Morgan loves to watch movies, try out new restaurants, and play with her two dogs.
Jim Herrick - Vice President
Lorene Strobel - Secretary
Paul Wahlstrom - Treasurer
Paul Wahlstrom is our Financial Manager & Treasurer. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in 1967 as a Metallurgical Engineer and worked for 20 years in the taconite industry in Silver Bay, MN. A downturn in the steel industry brought him and his family to Austin in 1987 as an insurance and financial representative for Thrivent Financial. He later worked as a Financial Analyst in a financial planning office in Rochester for several years. Paul is a regular with the symphony chorus, but his contributions to ASO are currently more administrative than musical!
Terry Dorsey is a retired Austin Public Schools science teacher. He taught for 35 years in physics, 8th grade, environmental studies, and chemistry. He has served on the Symphony Board of Directors for 25 years, including one year as president. He is currently serving on the Board's executive committee and formerly acted for two years as its co-chair. He and his wife, Diane, have been strong supporters of the Symphony ever since their son played in the ASO while in high school.
Marv Repinski has been a United Methodist Pastor since 1964. He is currently retired, but often fills in for area churches in both Methodist and Lutheran denominations. His undergraduate education has included North Central University (Minneapolis), Augsburg College, University of Minnesota, and Luther Seminary. His graduate work (M.A.) includes St. John's University, as well as Yale University, where he was appointed to a Research Fellowship. He has been an Adjunct Professor at Riverland Community College, Board Chair and member of the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Association (HRA). He has served on the Austin Symphony Board of Directors for the last several years, since moving to Austin from Buffalo, MN in 2002. He is also a member of the Horticulture Society, and Mower Refreshed. For at least ten years, he has been a judge for the Midwest Independent Publishing Association (MIPA), and frequently writes articles and reviews for area newspapers.
Dr. Tim Rietz works as a Family Practitioner at Mayo Medical Systems - Austin. He went to school in Devils Lake, ND where he started playing the cello in 5th grade under Kenneth Stanford. He graduated from Concordia College and enjoyed playing his cello for musicals there. He graduated from the University of Minnesota in medicine and did an internship in Spokane, WA. After serving as a medical missionary in Madagascar, he did his residency in Family Practice at Hennepin General in Minneapolis. He came to Austin, MN in 1979 with his wife Bonnie and their three daughters. After putting his cello aside for several years, he joined the Austin Symphony Orchestra and has enjoyed playing cello ever since.
Richard Smaby is a retired college biology teacher who taught at Riverland Community College for 30 years. He grew up in a musical family, as his mother was a piano teacher and church organist and his father a singer. He has been on the symphony board for a number of years and enjoys Big Band, jazz, and classical music.
Anna Hall Reese
Susan Fell Johnson
*Principal. Other personnel listed alphabetically.