KAUKAUNA — Jackie Van De Hey isn’t a professional musician, but she’s long had a talent for playing the piano. She started taking lessons when she was in first grade at Holy Cross School in Kaukauna.
“My mom and dad didn’t play piano, but we had an old piano at our house. Sr. Felicia (Pittz, a Racine Dominican) was my first piano teacher. My sister and I took lessons once a week,” she recalled. “I kept going, and when Sr. Felicia left, then I took lessons with Sr. Alvara (Rowen, also a Racine Dominican). When Holy Cross didn’t offer lessons anymore, I went for lessons with Sr. Rosaire (Pigeon, a Franciscan Sister of Christian Charity) at St. Mary’s School in Kaukauna.” When she was at Kaukauna High School, Van De Hey took a year or so off from piano lessons, but then resumed them through Lawrence University in Appleton. “That was a big sacrifice for my mom and dad, because that was not cheap,” she recalled. While in high school, Van De Hey played accompaniment for a school choir and singers, orchestra and band members for solo and ensemble performances.
“I was considering becoming a music therapist, so I took one semester of music when I was at UW-Madison but, when I changed majors, I was pretty much done (with music),” she said. Van De Hey earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Madison and a master’s degree in business from the University of Minnesota and went on to have a 27-year career at Kimberly-Clark.
Van De Hey and her husband, Bruce, who attended St. Aloysius School in Kaukauna, met in high school. When they were married in 1990, they moved to Menasha and joined the closest parish, Sacred Heart of Jesus in Appleton. Their family, which includes their daughter Dana and son Danny, have belonged to Sacred Heart for the last 31 years.
“It’s a very welcoming parish. People are very outgoing, friendly and sincere,” she said.
In 2001, a Sacred Heart parishioner discovered that Van De Hey could play piano and asked her to play for the Christmas Eve Mass to accompany a group of adults and children. It worked out ideally since her daughter, who was in second grade at the time, was a member of the group.
“At first, I was the pianist for the children’s choir. Then they started this Life Teen group with adults and teens and had Life Teen Masses with a band. It was like Christian rock. We would try to do it at one Mass on the weekends,” said Van De Hey. Leading the children’s choir and Life Teen Mass, while working full-time was a lot, so in 2006, Mary Kinderman began directing the children’s choir and started the adult choir, Hearts of Praise. “The Life Teen group rolled into Acts of Grace,” she said.
From 2008 to 2016, Van De Hey accompanied high school student singers, including her daughter. “They sang worship music, which was a little more modern. The hardest thing was getting time to practice,” she said. “I think the congregation enjoyed seeing younger parish members singing and it was fun. But, after eight years, I felt like it was the right time to step down.”
From that point on, she played when an accompanist was needed for cantors or the men’s choir, and at the 4:30 p.m. Christmas Eve Mass and the Easter Vigil.
After 20 years, Van De Hey played her last accompaniment at Sacred Heart Parish on Sunday, Nov. 21, 2021. She and her husband have retired and recently built a home on the lot where her childhood home had sat on the Fox River in Kaukauna. They still belong to Sacred Heart Parish, but now live only two blocks from Holy Cross Parish. It makes sense to switch to the closer parish, she said, but it’s not an easy choice since their family was so involved at Sacred Heart.
“Bruce was on the finance committee and buildings and grounds committee. He and Danny served Mass together,” she said. “Dana sang at church and Danny was a lector when he was in high school. I used to distribute Communion.”
Van De Hey and her husband were also members of the Sacred Heart Catholic School Booster Committee and volunteered at the annual parish picnic.
Playing the piano at church for 20 years is a long time to volunteer and not the easiest thing to do, said Van De Hey. “You have to get over the fact that you’re going to make mistakes. But most of the people would never catch them,” she said. “I also realized (that) when you’re up there (near the sanctuary), you see how many mistakes are made by everybody. It’s just the way it is because we’re not professionals, we’re volunteers.”
While she shared her talents with the parish, Van De Hey said, she received much in return.
“You really got to know people. If you go to church on Sunday and aren’t active, you don’t really get to know people like you do when you’re on the committees or when you’re working at dinners or bake sales,” she said. “Then you get to know the kids and the singers. They’re all really cool people. I was one girl’s confirmation sponsor and I played at her wedding. You build some nice relationships.”