Immigrant craftsman cared for Oberlin’s renowned collection, launched his own company.
John G.P. Leek was an organ craftsman in his native Netherlands before relocating to America, where he served for a dozen years as Oberlin Conservatory’s curator of organs and later launched the organ company that still bears his name.
Born the youngest of 11 children, Leek was a cabinetmaker’s apprentice before his 10th birthday; by the time he turned 11, he was working in organ-building shops. He became an apprentice at the Bernard Pels & Sons Pipe Organ Co and rose to journeyman builder for several firms.
Leek immigrated to America with his wife Maria in 1961 and accepted a position with the Walter Holtkamp Company in Cleveland, where he worked for three years. From 1964 to 1976, he served as curator of organs at Oberlin, caring for the instruments at a time when the conservatory overflowed with organ students.
He left the conservatory to open the Leek Pipe Organ Co., which he operated until his retirement in 1992. After 39 years in its original location in Oberlin, the business moved to Berea, Ohio, in 2015. Leek remained a resident of Oberlin for many years and was active with Sacred Heart Catholic Church for a half-century.
In a tribute to Leek written for The Diapason magazine, former organ student John Bishop ’78 recalled how he found himself gravitating away from a life of performance and toward his first love: Leek’s workshop, where he served as a student assistant.
“My overwhelming memory of John was just how fun it was to be with him,” says Bishop, executive director of the Organ Clearing House in New York City. “He was perennially cheerful. And he taught me everything. His willingness to share what he knew and his pleasure in seeing me do something well was really important to me.”
Leek died November 15, 2019, leaving his wife of 59 years, a daughter, two sons, and four grandchildren. His son James now helms the family business.
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