Martha Jane Stone became the organist at New Union Christian Church when she was a freshman at Transylvania University in 1938, and she stuck with it until shortly before her death Wednesday at age 97.
Stone, who also played cello for decades in several Lexington orchestras and taught music at Transylvania for 33 years, died at Baptist Health Lexington two days after major surgery, said the Rev. Nancy Jo Kemper, pastor of the Woodford County church.
Kemper tried to get Stone listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the longest-serving church organist, but she couldn’t find enough documents to prove her 78-year tenure. Many records were lost when the church’s former building was demolished in 1962.
Stone had been a member of the small, 182-year-old congregation longer than anyone else, Kemper said, having been there through two buildings, three organs and five ministers.
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“Martha Jane lived a remarkable life filled with music and friendships,” Kemper said. “She was an excellent music educator, continuing to teach me — her one-time piano student at Transylvania — music theory nearly every Sunday as we went over the hymns together. We will miss her greatly.”
Stone grew up in Owensboro, Paducah and Pineville before moving with her family in 1933 to the Lexington house where she lived the rest of her life. She never married.
Stone graduated from Transylvania University with a degree in music and mathematics, which she said caused her to mistakenly get a draft notice after World War II began. Few women studied math in those days, she said, so the Army had put the names of all math majors into the Selective Service System.
Stone earned a master’s degree from the University of Kentucky in 1949 and later studied at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music. She taught piano and organ at Transylvania from 1947 to 1980.
Stone played cello with several local orchestras, including the UK Radio Orchestra in the mid-1940s and the old Lexington Symphony, before spending 42 years with the Lexington Philharmonic, where she performed on both cello and keyboards.
Stone’s funeral will be Jan. 3 at 1 p.m., with visitation beginning at 11 a.m., at New Union Christian Church, 400 Old Frankfort Pike at Browns Mill Road. Burial will be at Lexington Cemetery.