MIAMI — A key figure in the return of the magnificent Wurlitzer at the Coleman Theatre has died.
James (Jim) T. Peterson Jr. died Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017, at Fort Worth, Texas.
Peterson had purchased the decaying organ for $2,500 in 1975 from evangelist Billy James Hargis in Tulsa.
He then spent several years bringing it back to life, making it the centerpiece of a multi-million dollar restoration of the Coleman.
“We would not have the organ at all if not for Jim,” said Jane Osborn. She and her husband, the late Willie Osborn, were among a group of Miami civic leaders who were trying to locate the organ.
Peterson, who became a master organ builder following his professional baseball career, was contacted and asked if he knew where it might be.
Peterson responded: “I am looking at it right now.”
The wheels started turning and the organ was back in its old home, with Peterson providing the tender loving care needed.
“He really was a genius. He could have done anything,” Jane Osborn said.
Peterson played for the Ponca City Dodgers in 1952 and the team stayed at the Hotel Miami (now Miami Towers, according to KOM League historian John Hall.
“At that time, he never had any idea he'd return to Miami,” Hall said.
“He told me ‘I used to come over — I didn’t even buy a ticket — I just came in and listened between the movies to hear her playing.’ It’s just a wonderful story,” Jane Osborn said.
“He and Willie were so funny. They just went at each other all the time.”
Peterson played seven seasons in professional baseball and had a 60-58 career record. His best season was 1953, when he posted a 19-5 record at Shawnee.
“Jim and I hit if off from the start,” Hall said. “I visited with him on a trip to Oklahoma City when he was working on the organ. He told me of the history of the organ from its time at the Coleman to Billy James Hargis hauling it off to Tulsa.
“Jim was quite surprised I ever heard of Hargis and was fascinated when I told him that the first date I ever had with my wife was when I was in college at Bethany and we went to hear Hargis speak at a large venue in Oklahoma City.”
Hall said Peterson was the fifth youngest surviving KOM League member.
With his death, Jim Owens — who pitched for Miami in 1952 — takes over that distinction.
Services are Monday, Jan. 23 at the Genesis United Methodist Church under the direction of the Laurel Land Funeral Home of Fort Worth.
In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to the Genesis United Methodist Church Organ Fund.