John Dressler Children Present Program for the NAC Historical Society

October 26, 2012

The North Alabama Conference Historical Society held its fall meeting on October 13 at Sylacauga First UMC. A presentation of the history of the church was given by church historian Bettye Lessley, and the  life story of Johannes "John"  Dressler was given by his three children with the help of the Sylacauga Church Choir, under the direction of Chris Phillips.

Theo Dressler began with an introduction to his father's birth and boyhood until the time his native Austria was overrun by the Germans. He was drafted into the German army by the Nazis. Due to this musical talent, he was assigned to play in the military band.

Doris Dressler Clark, John's oldest child, took up the story there. She told how John went back to his native Vienna after the war, where he studied music and formed a band. Some of his music was popular and made it to the top of the hit parade in Austria.

At this point in the program Chris Phillips, Minister of Worship and Arts Sylacauga First, sang two of Dressler's most popular selections of secular music in German. Dressler's family was noticeably moved by this music and later remarked that it sounded much as he had sung it.

Doris continued the narrative by recalling how her father accepted the position of Minister of Music in Sylacauga and how this family made it to America and Sylacauga in 1958.

After World War II, Rev. Dan Whitsett, pastor of Sylacauga First, attended a World Methodist Conference in Europe. There he met a minister of a Methodist Church in Austria, and through their conversations he learned that the minister had a son-in-law who was a talented musician. Sylacauga First Methodist happened to be in need of a musician. 

After much preparation including a bill by Congress, the family was able to migrate  to the United States.

Doris told about the trip and their arrival in Birmingham. Two cars met them at the train station and drove them to Sylacauga. This was the first car ride the children had ever had. In Sylacauga they were driven  to their new home which was fully furnished with many items they had never had.  Many members of the church were there to welcome them.

The Dressler family spoke only German and a few English words John had learned on  the trip. Music broke the barrier. John had his family sing, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" in German and the Church group sang it back to them in English.

At the close of the meeting Saturday, Doris, Theo and Renade Dressler sang this song in German and the Historical Society joined in with the English.

Doris continued by describing her father's music ministry there. She told how "Brother Dan" Whitsett was proud of his little Austrian family and arranged for them to sing in many places and settings. The Sylacaga First UMC choir presented two of Dr. Dressler's arrangements which the choir had sung while he was Minister of Music there. They were "Jesus Shall Reign" and "Sing Praise to God."

Theo added to the story by describing how in 1963 Dressler accepted a position at Peachtree Road UMC in Atlanta, one of the largest Methodist churches in the country. In 1976, he moved to Montgomery First UMC where he also formed and directed the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra. From there he moved on to Delaware where he spent the rest of his ministry until his death.

Dressler's youngest daughter, Renade Howard, talked about growing up in the Dressler family. She paid tribute to her mother and talked about how her parents seemed to have an ideal marriage.

The program concluded with the choirs rendition of one of Dressler's favorite arrangements, "Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho."

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