Organist Ken Yates recognized for 70 years of service

Kenneth Yates, a lifelong member of First Baptist Bonifay and organist, received recognition for 70 years of service on June 23. 

When asked what it meant to him to be the organist at First Baptist Bonifay, Yates expressed a simple desire to serve others. “To be a part of the music, serve like others have, not seek the limelight – just be one of many,” he said. Fellow parishioners report that Yates’ playing, along with numerous other pianists, has brought many to the throne of God and prepared hearts for pastors’ messages.

Yates has been named by friends and family “keeper of the organ” as early as 1954. Born and raised just a couple blocks from the church, he has been involved with church activities since childhood, taking an interest in the organ as a young teenager and learning to accompany Dianne Smith for Sunday night services. The original pipe organ was purchased from First Presbyterian Church of Pensacola for $400 in 1954, with an additional charge for installment. Church historians state Yates, along with other church figures, were essential in the instrumental purchase that still serves First Baptist Bonifay. 

Barton calculated how many church services, practices, weddings, and funerals for which Yates has played, with the estimated total coming to about 51,000 performances. He has been considered an asset to seven different music ministers and nine pastors. At the recognition service on Sunday, Yates shared with full pews and choir that he was just as dedicated to the organ as he was to his career in education. 

First Baptist Bonifay members state Yates has impacted the lives of many through the instrument, but also as an administrative figure. 

After coming home from enlisting in the National Guard, he attended and graduated from Chipola College and Florida State University, followed by a postgraduate degree, eventually becoming principal within the Holmes County School District.

Music ministry leader Jennie Goodman shared at the service, “Each Sunday, we gather in our churches to worship and thank our Lord, but today we gather again in that vein, but we come also to celebrate one of His true servants, Ken Yates.”

First Baptist Bonifay member Marianne Barton contributed to this report.

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