Jackson County

Ida Mae Cumbest, 95, has had a tough year — and she lost a record

Ida Mae Cumbest, 95, is still the longest serving church organist in the world, at 74 years and counting, even though she has had a tough year physically.
Ida Mae Cumbest, 95, is still the longest serving church organist in the world, at 74 years and counting, even though she has had a tough year physically.

Ida Mae Cumbest, 95, has had a tough year.

She broke a hip and had a stroke, but she has made one comeback after another to play the organ at Caswell Springs United Methodist Church in east Jackson County and keep her Guinness world record.

She is going strong and has her health again, but the title is gone.

She had been the longest-tenured church pianist and organist in the world, according to the Guinness World Records of London. It’s a distinction the record-keeping company established because of her. In 2011, she had 69 uninterrupted years as an organist at a church.

But earlier this year, Alice Gurney Eitle took the title, proving she has played for the Union Pisgah United Methodist Church in Attica, Ohio, for 80 years.

The Coast’s own Ida Mae was working on her 75th year in April when she fell and broke her hip.

Back from a hip replacement, she had resumed her place at the front of the church for a couple of months when she suffered a stroke. Even though things looked grim, the church held her job open, awaiting her return. She finished rehab and told the church this week she would return again to play Sunday.

“I never cease to be amazed at my Mom,” Mark Cumbest posted on Facebook on Nov. 1. “In October, she suffered a stroke. Tonight on her piano she played for me the old gospel song ‘Where Could I Go’ from memory.”

Mark Cumbest admits things didn’t look good after the stroke. Her right side was very weak and she couldn’t speak coherently, he said. But a hospital stay and intensive rehab worked.

Her record tenure had been based on the length of time she has been employed as the church’s organist and pianist. The organist bench remained empty during her recovery, and the church pianist carried the load on Sundays.

An organist at a Catholic church in the Philippines had at one point challenged Ida Mae Cumbest, “and she defended her crown,” Mark Cumbest said. “He was close, but she had him by about five years.”

But the Ohio organist had what it took.

A lot of paperwork and evidence had to be presented to have Ida Mae Cumbest certified for the Guinness World Records. Mark Cumbest said the paper work, evidence and documentation was like preparing a court case.

In an interview with the Sun Herald in 2011, when she won, Ida Mae said, “I just think it’s a blessing that I’m able to still play and have a sound mind. I enjoy it. It’s not something I feel like I have to get up and do on Sunday morning. ‘I’ve got to go,’ doesn’t enter my mind.”

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