Musical tribute paid to local 'Piano Man'

Roger Thiesen, who played at the Fair & Frontier Days and the former mall at Christmas, died earlier this year.

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COLLEGE PLACE -- Friends and family of Roger Thiesen, a local musician who died in January, filled the Walla Walla University church sanctuary to remember his life through a musical memorial service.

Thiesen lived in College Place and was a popular musician in the Valley, playing piano weekly at various locations for years. Fans of his piano playing watched him play at various assisted living facilities and retirement centers in the area. He also played at the fair during the summer and in the former mall at Christmas.

Longtime lady friend and fellow piano player, Ellie Prusia said, "He was an incredible musician, that was number one. He felt he had a God-given gift and he wanted to share it."

Those who listened to Thiesen's music remember his ability to recall hundreds of songs from memory. Many of these local listeners refer to Thiesen as "The Piano Man," a man able to remember their favorite songs from their favorite eras.

In his eulogy, Neil Biloff, a cousin of Thiesen, said, "He would play the music of the people."

"He was happier playing the piano more than anything else," Prusia said. Thiesen practiced two or three hours each day, valuing his nimble fingers, his gift and the music.

Thiesen is also remembered by loved ones for his ability to ride the unicycle. It was his form of exercise and he wouldn't leave home for more than a day without it, said Prusia.

Another thing Thiesen is remembered for is his contributions to people in need. Prusia said Thiesen was dedicated to helping students complete their education. He was also involved with Blue Mountain Television and other businesses in the area, offering his expertise with audio equipment and funding for projects he believed in.

"I think he gave most of his money to other people ... that was the kind of person he was," Walt Meske said in the homily during the memorial.

The memorial was put together to honor Thiesen's musical ability on the piano and his passion for music. Over 250 people were in attendance.

Thiesen's final project before his death was a recording of the Walla Walla Choral Society singing Handel's "Messiah." For his memorial, the group sang the "Hallelujah Chorus" in his honor.

Other musicians who were a part of the memorial service include the band Hand Picked, Ian Field and Allison Field, Kraig Scott, Johnny Waterbrook, Jamie Lund, and a men's quartet with Roger Baltrusch, Carl Sullivan, Neil Busby and Darl Wallace.

Jennifer Jorgenson can be reached at jenniferjorgenson@wwub.com.

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