Meet the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra


Stephen J. Ramsey
Music Director/Conductor
Barb Swanson
Music teacher, 30 years with WASO
Barb Holmgren
Frank Lawatsch
Retired health care administrator, member since 1998 Benson, Mn
Lisa Zeller
Orchestra Teacher
Paul Woolverton
Retired United Methodist Clergy
Jordan Wrobleski
Brianna Johnson
Accounting Assistant
Karissa Poe
Volunteer for area ministries
Kate Hansen
Occupational Therapist
John Mack
Robert Whitney
Whitney Music, 30 years with WASO
Michelle Suter
WHS Orchestra Director
Stephanie Hendrickson
Raye Eyrich
Oboe/English Horn 
Kit Grode
French Horn
Joshua Pierskalla
Licensed Associate Marriage and Family Therapist
Paula Ulicsni Halvorson
1st violin
Bridget Revier
2nd violin/viola 
Engineering Manager
Susann Karnowski
Civil Engineer
Bonnie Hauser
WHS Elementary Teacher
Erin Nielsen
Full-Time Spanish Teacher at NLS HS
Timothy Pieh
Mary Pieh
Piano teacher retired music therapist     
Marlyn Orson
Adam Lietzau
Adam Lietzau
Lietzau Taxidermy
Devin Veenstra
Music Teacher
JoEllen Kimball
Grandmother of 10
Lorie Skaro-Johnson
Joel Gronseth
bass clarinet
Dennis Benson
Piano Technician
Helene Doring 
Matthew Reich Brian Pearson
Retired Music Teacher
Ben Anderson
String Bass
HS Math Teacher
Lisa Nordberg
Kaylee Helgeson
Percussion WSHS
Mathematics Teacher
Heather Shumaker
Paraprofessional at NLS
Clarinet and Percussion
Tim Pearson
Faith Bierma
1st grade teacher
Kristine Benson
percussion, piano, keyboard
chemist, teacher
Andrew Benson
Sarah Cady
Learning & Development Lead
Rick Berg
Organist/Choir Director

History of the orchestra

The Willmar Area Orchestra began in March of 1957. In the beginning the orchestra met in the home of its co-founders Dr. Lawrence Opsahl and his wife Margaret. A few friends got together to try some simple string ensemble pieces. In a few months there were both strings and winds getting together on Sunday evenings for musical sessions in the Opsahl living room.

Over the years the orchestra has had three different names and six conductors. From 1957-1964, it was known as the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra. Dr. Opsahl is quoted as saying, "We decided to put our tongues in our cheeks and settle for the name Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra, which had a pleasant ring to our ears, even though it might give our audiences some reason to wonder."

In 1964, the new Willmar Community College brought in Chet Sommers to organize its music department. A collaboration between the Willmar Philharmonic Orchestra and the college began and the orchestra was renamed Willmar Community Orchestra. Chet Sommers directed the orchestra until May 1997, a period of more than 30 years. Robert Whitney stepped in to fill the void left by the retirement of Chet Sommers. He recruited members from surrounding communities and it was decided that the name of the orchestra should become the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra.

After Robert Whitney, Steven Eckblad was brought in and conducted the orchestra for ten years, stepping down in May of 2013. The 2013-14 season was a year of transition with a yearlong audition process.

Sergey Bogza led the orchestra for two seasons from the fall of 2014 to the spring of 2016. In the fall of 2016 we welcomed Stephen J. Ramsey to the podium. A position he continues to hold. Much like the group of friends that met in the Opsahl's living room in 1957, today's orchestra members volunteer their time just because they enjoy getting together to make music.

Stephen J. Ramsey (Music Director/Conductor) is the founding music director of the Dakota Valley Symphony. He is in his 31 st season conducting the Symphony and the Summer Pops Orchestra. He is also in his 23rd season as Music director/Conductor of the Austin Symphony Orchestra of Austin, Minnesota. After assisting James Riccardo on several occasions with his duties as the founding music director of the University of Minnesota Health Sciences Orchestra, Ramsey has been pleased to serve as its music director for the past six years.

A well-known conductor in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, Ramsey has led performances at many area colleges, concert halls and churches. He has served as music director and conductor for Lakeshore Players and Applause Community Theater. He has held the positions of Director of Ensembles for Hamline University and Conducting Associate for the St. Paul Civic Symphony. At various times, he has also been the music director for productions by Chimera Theater, Anoka-Ramsey Community College, and the Minneapolis Jewish Community Center’s Chamber Orchestra, mixed chorus, women’s chorus, and their Genesis Theater Company.

Ramsey is an active guest conductor throughout the upper Midwest, and has led the Greater Grand Forks Symphony Orchestra, the Bloomington Symphony, the Minnesota Youth Symphonies, the St. Paul Jewish Community Center Orchestra, Kenwood Symphony Orchestra, Linden Hills Chamber Orchestra, the Central Chamber Orchestra, the Suburban East High School Orchestra Festival, and the Des Moines Junior High School Music Festival Orchestra.

Ramsey holds a Master of Music degree in orchestral conducting from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music. He has studied with Leonard Slatkin, William McGlaughlin, Dr. Glenn Block, Dr. Lee Humphries, Max Rudolph, Dr. Maurice Jones, Dr. Samuel Jones, Harold Farberman, Kirk Muspratt, Dr. Eph Ehly, and Dr. James Sample.

Steve is so very pleased to have the opportunity to serve the members of the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra, it’s very active board of directors, and its tremendously supportive audiences. Please welcome him into the Willmar community and tell him what you would like to hear!!!