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Shekina Glory was a mix of Boone and Story County IA residents. They were one of the first groups in Boone County performing what became known as “contemporary Christian” music. The idea for the groups name came from Al as it indicated "the light and power of God and His presence on Earth". The groups initial spark was when Al Ruechel, then a weather man at the local ABC affiliate - WOI-TV Channel 5, and Brent Larson met each other during a Telecommunicative Arts (TCA) Summer class at Iowa State University in 1974. In 1971, while Al was filling the position of camp counselor at Riverside Lutheran Bible Camp in Story City, Iowa, a very close friend had died by drowning. Al, along with several other counselors at the camp, came to faith — or were saved/born again — at the funeral for this friend. In Al’s words “I was hit by the Holy Spirit like a ton of bricks. . .”. Brent had been active musically having played with Jesus is Life, a Christian oriented group. This colored the meeting of Brent and Al in the TCA class.
That fall Al and Brent were roommates, living in a house off-campus while attending ISU. It was a mutual idea to form some sort of performing entity more than likely as a result of rooming together. Al had a good lead vocal capability and song writing skills. Brent had what was needed to hold down his end of things along with a small Peavey sound system. Members were added through invitation. Instead of formal auditions, Al and Brent met with folks presenting their idea for the group. If that appealed then a trial run was done to see if they could come up with a “sound” which might be “effective in drawing people to come to Christ”. All of the members were known either by Brent through past band associations or Al from his work at Riverside. When the band was complete it consisted of Al (guitar & lead vocals), Brent (bass, vocals), Dan Dobell (drums), Laurie Hoifeldt (flute, vocals), Russ Musilek (guitar, vocals), Joan Whipple (keyboards, vocals) and Jim Crowder who ran sound for the group.
Shekina Glory did a 50/50 mix of cover tunes and original songs written by Al and, perhaps, some by Russ. Some of their influences were Love Song, The Way, Paul Clark & Friends, Lamb, Larry Norman, Phil Keaggy and Honeytree. No doubt the songs they covered were from such artists. Opportunities to perform came about through Al’s connections with area youth ministers along with other members’ connections to area coffee houses. Shekina played at a variety of venues including large regional youth gatherings, a few festivals and several coffee houses and college gatherings. Transportation to the venue was done separately many times due to work/school schedules. They tried to caravan whenever they could to make getting to the venue easier. Brent owned a van at the time and he hauled most of the gear for the group. The band used CB radios to guide late arrivals to the locations if they were not traveling together.
In general the group was well received, but the style of music was an issue at times. Christian rock was still new territory on the local level. Acoustic guitars were considered edgy by some of the mainline denominations. Electric instruments were way beyond edgy. Shekina learned where they could go without a ton of push back and avoided the issue by playing for venues where they would be welcomed. The group’s main focus was evangelism through music and they stayed true to that focus. Most of the time compensation for performing was in the form of gas and a meal with extra dollars being poured back into gear. Free will offerings were also taken if the aforementioned arrangements were not made in advance. For gigs farther away from “home base” the group would ask the venue to arrange a place for the group to stay, meal and gas money. At the time they received between $50 and $500 depending.
The group recorded what is now a notable album, “Have You Considered?” (STLP-33152), in Spring 1976 on the IGL label. The album was done over a 2 day stretch at Iowa Great Lakes Recording Co. (IGL) located on the corner of 9th St. and Highway 71 in Milford, Iowa. Milford is home of the mythical University of Okoboji and is located at the southern end of the IGL area in Dickinson County. IGL was one of only 2 known studios in the state in 1965 when it opened. Over 200 records were recorded there from 1965 to 1980. The group considered it a natural progression of what they were called to do. Another contributing factor was Al’s original tunes. The group had more than enough to fill an album with ease and no worries about copyright issues doing other people’s music. The first day they recorded the instrumental backing tracks with vocals being done the second day. As far as is remembered Al, along with IGL’s engineer, did the production on the album. The album cover itself was done by Al and Brent’s roommate, William Chilton. IGL offered a package deal which included the studio time and the pressing/fabricating of the album itself. The group paid a flat fee for the package and then sold the resulting album themselves to support the band’s efforts. Over the years “Have You Considered?” has gained some notoriety among folks who are fans of garage/psych/Christian music. Sites like Popsike and Heavenly Grooves (now defunct) along with a review by Ken Scott in his book “A Collector’s Guide to Vintage Vinyl Jesus Music 1965–1980” have lent to the album’s popularity among folks who like this style of music. The album has sold at auction for as much as $1025 (in ’05) and as little as $237 (in ’09) according to Popsike which follows sales of rare and/or desirable music.
Along with playing out and recording an album, Shekina Glory also took part in a TV program in May 1976. The program was for a post graduate class Al was taking at that time during his senior year at ISU. The project was totally Al’s with the full support of the rest of the band. Shot on a mix of 16mm film and videotape, the group had around 2 hours to record the program in WOI’s studios with a budget of $200. Al directed, shot the film and came up with the concepts that were used in the show. Prior to the 2 hour session at WOI, the film portion was shot in various locations—Ames, Des Moines, outside the house Al and Brent lived in and in Jewell IA. The result was aired at least once on WOI as a public service program. At this time, projects like this one were aired on Sunday morning around 10 or 11 am. The main reason for the band coming to an end was due to Al taking a new job which moved him to an anchor position at a TV station in Albany, NY.
Al remained involved in music ministry and youth group work. He currently lives with his family in Largo, FL. After leaving Shekina, Brent played in a number of groups both in this area and outside it also. Among the groups he played with are the Gwynne Burke Band, Dove and several church “house/praise” bands in Iowa and Minnesota. Joannie moved toward songwriting and recorded at least one instrumental album that was released in December of 2000. Russ and Laurie also performed in other groups doing a similar style of music with a Christian focus including Lion of Judah and Second Chance which each released a cassette album at the time. Russ, now living in Boulder CO, plays with the Rhythm All-Stars. Dan continued on also, playing in other bands along with songwriting and recording his own songs hoping to turn that effort into something bigger. In 2019 he had been involved in administration at Cayuga Community College in Albany, NY.