Chad Staten’s life story is full of setbacks and plot twists. Yet despite them, he has remained determined. And because of his determination, he is now living his dream.
Nobody would have thought nine years ago after a traumatic brain injury that Staten would independently take care of himself, fly commercially again, and also play as a guest organist at the Tabernacle on Salt Lake’s Temple Square.
He started dreaming about being an organist at age 8, when he sang with a children’s choir at the tabernacle in Logan, Utah.
“I sat between the pipes and the organ console,” he said. “My seat rumbled when the organ played. I was so impressed with everything. Afterward, when I went to the fabric store with my mom, I would pretend the spools of thread on multi-tiered displays were keyboards on the organ, which I would ‘play.’”
Staten started taking piano lessons when he was in fifth grade. But it wasn’t until his senior year of high school that he started taking organ lessons while living in Pensacola, Florida.
He attended Brigham Young University after his LDS mission to Taiwan and began as an engineering major, with plans to get his MBA afterward. His career counselors told him that if he wanted to get an MBA, he could major in whatever he wanted for his undergraduate program. Staten decided to double major in Organ Performance, Pedagogy and Mandarin Chinese.
Additionally, Staten had always wanted to be a Navy pilot like his dad, but when he graduated from BYU in 1993, the Navy wasn’t hiring. He moved to Colorado and took a job as a technical writer until he started graduate school in 1995.
“I planned to make it big in business and make enough money to buy my own airplane,” he said.
Staten attended the University of Denver and received his MBA degree in 1997. After graduate school, he took a job working for Jeppesen, an aviation company.
“In 2000 my parents came for a visit from Boise and my dad told me that if I didn’t fly now, I’d probably always regret it,” Staten said. He took his father’s advice, and took money out of his 401k to pay to complete his advanced pilot ratings.
In June 2001, he was a co-pilot for Great Lakes Airlines, a regional airline. A month later, a hailstorm wiped out half of the airline’s fleet and Staten was furloughed. Then Sept. 11 hit, and he went back to work full-time for Jeppesen.
Unfortunately, Jeppesen laid off many employees right before Christmas that year.
Undeterred by this unfortunate series of events and determined to stay in the aviation industry, Staten took a job working the ramps, loading boxes onto airplanes for SkyWest. He later took a job working the ramps for United Parcel Service. Struggling to make ends meet, he took a second job working as a cashier/supervisor for Target, making $8 per hour.
Staten got called back to work for Great Lakes Airlines as a co-pilot in July 2002. He eventually became a captain for the regional airline. However, due to low pay, he moved his family from Denver to Ruby Valley, Nevada where his wife’s family had a ranch. Staten had to drive to Elko, then catch flights to Denver, to start his shift.
In January 2004 he got a job with SkyWest as a co-pilot.
In early 2008, Staten and his wife felt strongly that they should sign up for long-term disability insurance. A few months later in April, Staten had a tragic accident that almost altered the course of his life. He was working with a horse on the ranch and that’s the last thing he remembers.
“My daughter came outside and saw me lying on the ground,” he said. “I was life-flighted to IMC where doctors told my wife Heather that I sustained a severe traumatic brain injury. The nerves connecting the two different sides of my brain were almost completely torn apart.
“The doctors told my wife that I’d never fly again and would be lucky if I could take care of myself again,” he said.
Heather Staten initially had to bathe her husband. He spoke with a slur and struggled to walk without falling over. He also struggled with his coordination and the ability to eat, due to a swallowing disorder.
Staten spent a week in the hospital, a week in rehab, and was then sent home to recuperate from his injuries. Heather Staten had to drive him 3.5 hours each way to Murray, Utah on a weekly basis for occupational, physical, speech and cognitive therapies.
While at home Chad Staten played card games, Sudoku — anything to get the logic flowing. But, he said, the thing that helped the most with his rehab was playing his harpsichord.
Miraculously, eight weeks after being discharged from the hospital, Staten was cleared to fly again. The doctors were amazed at his progress and said there was no medical explanation for it.
Staten’s first post-accident flight was on July 4, 2008.
In October 2008, he moved his family to Tooele to be closer to his job. In March of this year Chad began working for Southwest Airlines as a pilot. Meanwhile, his passion for the organ had continued all along. For the past 32 years, he said, he had played the organ in every single church congregation he’s lived in.
Since moving to Tooele, Staten developed a hobby of collecting random pipes and other parts of organs. This interest led to the creation of what he calls his “Frankenorgel.”
The “Orgel” is German for “organ” and “Franken” comes from Frankenstein. His organ is a combination of various electronic organs, since owning his own new pipe organ was financially out of reach.
“With the cost of a decent, custom-built home instrument easily touching $150,000, a new one was absolutely out of the question,” Staten said. “Pipe organs — even used ones — are expensive and take up a lot of space. Eventually, it became apparent that my desire for a pipe organ was nothing more than a pipe dream.”
Staten paid $200 for an organ from the LDS church on Utah Avenue. In addition, he acquired an organ from his prior LDS church in Ruby Valley. He combined the two to create his “Frankenorgel.”
The top two keyboards, pedals, console shell and speakers are from the organ on Utah Avenue, while the bottom two keyboards are from the Ruby Valley organ. After building the organ console, he converted it into a digital organ, purchasing different sample sets that can make it sound like various cathedrals around Europe.
Staten practices 20-plus hours per week. In 2013 he applied to be a guest organist at the Tabernacle at Temple Square, but was rejected the first time. He practiced for another year, then applied again in 2014. He was accepted in September 2015 and had his first recital Dec. 6, 2015.
Staten has recitals approximately every six weeks. The recitals are 30 minutes long. Part of every recital includes an arrangement by the organist of the Pioneer hymn “Come, Come Ye Saints.” He has played in both the Tabernacle and the Conference Center. He prefers the acoustics in the Tabernacle to those in the Conference Center.
“There is an old saying: ‘The room is the most important stop on the organ,’’’ Staten said. The stops on the organ are the various button settings for different sounds. His interpretation of the saying is that “acoustics play a huge role in the sound of an organ. Even a great organ in a bad room will sound bad.”
Staten has faced many unexpected obstacles in his life. Yet, with grit and determination, he has shown that major setbacks can be overcome. Through perseverance, one can overcome the odds and live their dreams.
Like a highly experienced commercial pilot, Staten handles both turbulent and smooth air of his life’s journey with respect and determination. He offers a piece of advice to those who have hit hard times.
“There are so many clichés about determination,” he said. “‘When life hands you a lemon,’ ‘slow and steady,’ ‘good things come.’ What it all boils down to is this: Set a goal and stay focused. The road to success may be windy and rough, and, sometimes the real reward is the journey itself.”