Meet the Willmar Area Symphonic Orchestra



Music Director/Conductor

First Violin
Lisa Zeller, concertmaster
Frank Lawatsch
Barb Swanson
Michelle Suter
Brenna Wordes
Adam Stiff

Second Violin
JoEllen Kimball, principal
Stephanie Hendrickson
Rhonda Kuechle
Emily Nadolny
Tina Magner
Sofia Carlson

Josh Pierskalla, principal
Bridget Revier

Jeremy Pierskalla, principal
Jacob Loerzel
Tina Lamberts
Derrick Johnson

Meghan Weiss, principal
Jane Rossmeisl

Barb Holmgren, principal
Karissa Poe
Lorie Skaro-Johnson

Oboe/English Horn
Raye Eyrich
Bob Whitney

Heather Shumaker, principal
Joel Gronseth

Bass Clarinet
Molly Shumaker

John Mack

French Horn
Susann Karnowski, principal
Bonnie Hauser
Kit Grode
Mary Pieh

David Nelson, principal
Paul Woolverton

Tim Pieh, principal
Dennis Benson
Gary Lauinger

Marlyn Orson

Andrew Benson

Kristine Benson
Matt Reich


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.