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The Wadena Citizens Band through the years

There is an old saying or song, "There is nothing like a home town band," which has pertained to Wadena for more than 130 years.

The first mention of a citizen's band is in a Nov. 13, 1879 issue of the Northern Pacific Farmer which said, "The Wadena Cornet Band will give a grand ball and oyster supper in Luce's Hall as soon as completed of which notice will be given next week."

In 1880, a grand ball was held for the benefit of the Wadena Cornet Band directed by Professor Presson, assisted by Professor Peardon, the accomplished cornetist.

In the early years, a Professor Folsom was the band leader for several years and was succeeded by William Ebner 1904. Over the years the Ebner family contributed much to the city band, with Will and Frank participating and later Frank's sons, Maurice, Paul and Ralph, participating.

The John and Harry Miller families also contributed much.

Will Ebner played trumpet and directed the band from 1904 to 1924, when Merrill Skalman took over leading the band for many years until 1956.

In 1924, when Merrill took over, he organized a boys' band to assure a future supply of players. Merrill had been trained as a pharmacist, but his first love was music. After working as a pharmacist for a few years he eventually got into the music business and opened a music store which he operated for many years very successfully, later including his son Warren - until his tragic death in a car accident -- and his son Paul.

In 1946, the voters of Wadena decreed that a tax levy should be made for the benefit of the City Band, not to exceed two mills. This proved very helpful in that it provided for the purchase of music, special instruments and a small stipend for band members. This was discontinued many years ago.

In 1916, John Dower, the president of the Dower Lumber Company, built and donated the band stand next to the Burlington Northern Depot. This of course was beautifully restored in 2010 through the efforts of the city of Wadena and the Partners for a Healthy Wadena Region.

In the early years the band performed at public functions, played concerts, usually in one of the intersections on Jefferson and serenading well known Wadena individuals at their homes. Later after World War II, the Thursday night summer concerts were well attended along with appearances in neighboring towns for some events. Also appearances at the county fair were an annual event. Another annual event was marching in the Memorial Day parade from the band stand to the cemetery.

In early years their rehearsals were in what was known as Tuxedo Hall, which was the upstairs in what is now the Rex McDonald Studio. Later rehearsals were held in the upstairs of the old city hall, now Grunst Chiropractic.

My experience with the band began in 1946 when I got out of the service and continued until Merrill's retirement. It was a fun time. Ralph Naylor who played first trombone started in the band about 1910 and Bernie Burch on the snare drum had been with the band since just after the first World War. Carroll Kingsley, first on coronet and later the saxophone, was another old timer. Roy Storvick and his sons Olin and David, on clarinet, were members for several years.

During my time in the trombone section we would each year take a young man from the high school band and have him play for the summer. Among those I recall were Sandy McDonald, Charlie Kennedy, Warren Hartman and Ken Krause and doubtless others I don't recall.

After Merrill's retirement, local high school band directors assumed the directing responsibilities and they accepted girls into the band. Glenn Evenson and Jim Wheeler were subsequent directors.

The summer before John Lindlief started teaching and directing the high school band in Wadena (1967) the citizens' band was led by the band director at New York Mills. Jim had moved to Austin and John worked at National Music Camp in Interlochen, Mich. that summer. The band apparently died during the summer; when John arrived on the Wadena scene in the fall, there was no mention of it.

In 1985, Helen Scheer started an effort to revive the band. There was a man who worked at Homecrest - Ken Hayes - who became the director until he moved away. In the following years there were a number of directors who were members of the band. John Lindlief was approached in 1995 to assume the leadership and he has directed the band since that time.