George Rice didn't like being in the limelight. He enjoyed the behind-the-scenes work of repairing theater organs.
“He was the backstage worker,” said one of his two daughters, Barbara Vanecek of Kansas City, Mo. “But the place didn't run if the backstage worker wasn't there.”
Rice died Thursday after a stroke. He was 92.
Shortly after moving to Omaha from Minneapolis in 1962, Rice began repairing the Wurlitzer pipe organ in the Orpheum Theater. Rice and two friends spent an estimated 4,000 man-hours repairing the organ, Vanecek said.
“It's part of what kept the Orpheum going,” said daughter Kathy Rice of Omaha. “They saw maybe it wasn't worth it to tear the Orpheum down.”
Rice, a chemist, became interested in organ repair while doing work for someone in Minneapolis, Kathy Rice said. The man was installing a theater organ in his home. When he discovered Rice had played the organ since he was 15, the man got Rice involved with the project.
“That was his passion,” Kathy Rice said. “He said 'It's a beautiful instrument. Just because it's old doesn't mean it doesn't work anymore.'”
Rice repaired and maintained organs at the Bellevue Little Theatre, Scottish Rite, the Rose Theater and others.
George Rice retired from Creighton University Medical School's Department of Physiology and Pharmacology in 1991.
He was generous, his daughters said, and always helped people in need. If he couldn't help them himself, he found someone who could, they said.
“He was unbelievably giving of his time,” Vanecek said.
Rice was active in many organizations, including the River City Theatre Organ Society, American Theatre Organ Society, Scottish Rite of Freemasonry, Bellevue Little Theatre and others.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Helen, and brother Bob.
Besides his daughters, other survivors include sons David Rice and Steven Rice, both of Omaha; a sister, Roberta Rice; a brother, Bruce Rice; and six grandchildren.
A 10:30 a.m. memorial service is scheduled for this morning at St. Paul United Methodist Church, 5410 Corby St.
Kathy Rice said the service will end with the song her father played to test each organ he worked on: “Popeye the Sailor Man.”
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