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Grinnell celebrates 25 years as Temple Beth Shalom organist

August 22, 2014
Special to The Breeze , Cape Coral Daily Breeze

Chuck Grinnell deserves to be honored for his lengthy and loyal services to Temple Beth Shalom. His background was more of a wonderlust, but when he finally settled down in Florida, he found a home where he is truly appreciated.

Grinnell started out in Creston, Iowa, and took up the piano at age 12. By 8th grade, he was already a church organist. In junior college and at the University of Iowa, he paid his way as an inspector at Purolator Corp., and as an assistant to a quadriplegic, which earned him free room and board. It also allowed him to buy a new Camaro.

At the University of Iowa, he majored in Chinese, making lots of friends who were Chinese students. His friends eventually convinced him to go to Taiwan to immerse himself and really learn to speak the language. They arranged for him to stay with a man who had three daughters; the girls were to learn English while he learned their language. He also met middle-eastern people who had come to Taiwan to learn electronics; but all the books were written in English, so he was able to earn money reading them the books that were written in Chinese and English.

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Temple Beth Shalom organist Chuck Grinnell.

He also taught English at local schools which earned him enough money in his four years in Taiwan to take a yearlong trip home via India, Turkey, Italy, France, England and Scotland.

Returning to America, Grinnell started playing piano in a group in New York,which got a gig at "Windows on the World," the restaurant atop the World Trade Center. Some U.S. State Department officials heard the group, found out that none of them smoked or drank, and so recruited all 10 for a U.S.O. tour in 1976, including Scotland, England, Italy, Spain, Germany and Ethiopia.

Upon returning to the states, Grinnell went back to Creston to be with his family until 1984, when he moved to Florida to find economic housing for himself and his widowed mother. He first moved to Matlacha, but then found the house he wanted in North Fort Myers. He worked his music magic at the Masonic Lodge, on gigs, got his real estate license and earned extra income selling homes.

Now he was settled, but when he drove back to Iowa to collect his mom, she passed away while he was en route.

He started playing at Temple Beth Shalom in 1984 under Rabbi Albert Cohen. The Temple had a "yucky old organ," which he was able to replace with a donated organ - the same one still in use. Four years later, while he worked at Fletcher Music, Grinnell got the donated piano that is also a Temple fixture. He also sold a piano to Unity Church in Fort Myers. When officials there heard him play, they also hired him.

Grinnell has been a friend of so many congregants for so many years he is almost a fixture in the Temple congregation. Besides music, he has always maintained his love of culture and of language and he truly sees no difference between people of different religions.

He is truly a renaissance man.



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