Kaukauna parishioners join Hall of Fame
Tom Kersten and LaVerne Forster honored
for performing arts
By Joanne Flemming
For Tom Kersten, liturgist/music director for St. John Parish in Little Chute, music is the best way to praise God.
"When I find a hymn the whole congregation can join in on and the church is full of song, that is a wonderful experience," he said.
The sense of enjoyment he brings to his job is the same sense he brings to musical activities he is involved in throughout the Fox Valley. The Kaukauna resident has been rehearsal accompanist for the Kaukauna Community Players and this fall he was musical director for Xavier High School's production of The Wiz in Appleton.
This fall, he and LaVerne Forster of Holy Cross Parish, Kaukauna, were inducted into the Kaukauna High School Performing Arts Hall of Fame.
Forster has sewn and/or coordinated costuming for eight Kaukauna Community Players and Kaukauna High School productions.
Inductees must have graduated at least 10 years ago from Kaukauna High, or be former or current district faculty and community members. All nominees must have made "exceptional contributions to the continued liveliness of the performing arts for a minimum of five years. Forster graduated in 1948; Kersten, in 1971.
Alice Huss of Kaukauna, who inducted Kersten, described him as a "dedicated musician who takes his job very seriously, a perfectionist."
Huss, a member of St. Mary Parish in Kaukauna, said she knew him as a child and that he comes from a musical family.
One of the sisters gave him accordion lessons when he was a student at St. Mary Schooland also encouraged him to study organ and then piano.
Kersten accompanied the St. Mary choir while he was in high school and sang with it when extra male voices were needed, Huss said.
He continued his musical involvement while attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and while working around the country for the food service industry. He returned to the Fox Valley in 1993 and resumed accompanying the St. Mary choir and began playing for the one at St. John, Little Chute.
He still works with both, at times dashing from Little Chute to St. Mary. "He comes flying in and sits down," Huss said. "You think he's been sitting there all morning. You know he's hurried, but not by the way he accompanies you."
St. John hired Kersten as liturgist and musical director in 1997. As musical director, he works with four choirs, schedules cantors and accompanists and selects hymns.
His favorite is the folk choir. Last year he directed that group in a Christmas CD. He has helped individuals such as Huss make CDs for family and friends.
"He's big-hearted," Huss said. "He's generous with his time. If you need help with anything, he's right there."
Kersten became involved with the Kaukauna Players in 1997 and has been rehearsal accompanist for Annie, The King and I and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat.
Rehearsals take up "an intense whole month of Mondays through Thursdays from 6 to about 10 p.m.," he said. "I have to be there pretty much the whole time."
Huss said Kersten arrives early and stays late, "He is very, very, very dedicated. He never misses a beat. He takes people through things. People just feel like everything is together when he's there."
Kersten was accompaniest for Attic Theater's production of Charlotte's Webin 1999.
Forster said what she likes best about working on costumes is improvising and adapting them to the cast members or the scene they are used in.
Forster said she doesn't like to follow patterns and considers herself a "crafty" person.
When inducted into the Performing Arts Hall of Fame, she was cited for her willingness, like Kersten, to be present for every rehearsal and to fix costumes immediately if problems arose.
Forster is a member of Holy Cross' finance committee. Several years ago she helped coordinate a youth choir there.