Samuel E. Keeney, a professional musician who owned the former Organ & Piano Center Inc. in Spry and donated many of his instruments to cash-strapped churches, died Saturday at his Jacobus home. He was 71.

His sister Mary Markey said the cause of death was unknown, but he died peacefully in his sleep, she said.

And that's how he would've wanted it, according to his lifelong friend Barbara Paules.

"We used to talk about how, when our time would come, we hoped we'd peacefully slip away in our sleep," she said. "He got his wish, but it was just too soon."

Keeney was never married, but he leaves behind family and a close group of friends who will never fill the void left by his passing, they said.

"We were as close as anybody could be without being family," Paules said.

She remembered her friend as the kind of person who never said no to anyone.

"And when he was asked to do something, he was asked to do much," she said.

Paules credited Keeney with being the glue that held together the York Organ Club, he served several churches and nursing homes in the area with his music, and as a business owner he often provided even more.

Keeney was known for giving away expensive instruments to churches that couldn't afford them, ensuring they could have music during worship hours and holiday concerts, his friends agreed.

"If ever a man was sure to go to heaven, it was Sam," Paules said.

Keeney was as humble as he was kind, according to Donna Lerew, a pianist who for 12 years played alongside Keeney at Codorus Church of the Brethren.

"He and I both played every Sunday. It was very lonely yesterday," she said Monday.

Lerew said she's not a professional musician the way Keeney was, but he never made her feel that way.

"He never made me feel inferior or that he was the one who knew everything," she said.

But Keeney sure knew a lot, his peers said.

Not only could he read music well, he could also play by ear. When the choir was recently stumped by a new version of "Away in a Manger," Keeney knew what to do and knew how to play to its ability.

"He could play without music. He had a marvelous ability of being able to do that. If people were flat or off key, he knew that too. His mind was like a computer," Lerew said.

Everything involving music came naturally to Keeney because music was his biggest love, said lifelong friend Don Yost.

Yost worked for Keeney and called him a friend for more than 40 years, he said.

As a boss and business owner, Keeney was a fair and honest man, he said.

"He always went out of his way to help anyone he could. We sold things for cost most of the time," Yost said.

Ed Rossman bought his first organ from Keeney in 1976 and continued as a customer until the store closed in 2009. Even after the shop closed three years ago, he said, the two kept in touch and met for breakfast sometimes.

"He was always ready to help anybody. He was a good person, a good human being. There are not many like him," Rossman said. "I didn't know anyone who didn't like Sam Keeney. I'm going to miss him."

Not only was Keeney a good man, he was a good brother, Markey said.

"He was always there, and I'm truly going to miss him," she said.

Like his friends, she recognized his talent.

"Music was his true passion. He devoted his life to it," Markey said.

In addition to his sister and brother-in-law Ronald E. Markey of Loganville, he is survived by three nephews and their wives.

He was preceded in death by a brother, James T. Keeney, and his parents Leonard C. and Esther B. (Hartman) Keeney.

His family first moved to Jacobus in 1945, where he attended grade school at Springfield Consolidated School before graduating from William Penn High School in 1959.

Viewings will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday at Life Tributes by Olewiler & Heffner Funeral Chapel & Crematory, Inc., 35 Gotham Place, Red Lion, and 10 to 11 a.m. Thursday at Codorus Church of the Brethren, 1129 Dunkard Valley Road, Dallastown.

A funeral service will follow the final viewing at 11 a.m. Thursday at Codorus Church.

- Candy Woodall can also be reached at