My Ancestors

I’ve attached a letter my Uncle Tony wrote about life growing up on the farm in Poplar Bluff, Missouri. (The letter and the article referenced below are included in my Porch Swing Storysite – I just left the images here to remember I have them…) My grandfather, who I called Bobo, took a risk by traveling from “the old country” to the United States when he was young.  This was shortly before the start of World War I. The mortality rate of young men from that area of Austria in the war was extremely high. Bobo’s courage to make the journey may be the reason I’m able to write my story. Had he stayed, he may not have survived.

I’ve also attached an article out of the newspaper, the Potwin Ledger I presume, about Bobo.  It sounds like I wasn’t the only one who thought he was a great guy.

My favorite memory of Bobo, was joining him for lunch in Bobo’s shack, a three-room house Mom and Dad built for him behind Dad’s appliance store in Potwin.  He would make me “zoup” (that’s Austrian for soup) and would break open a can of Vienna sausages. I would have been four or five at the time.

When I had grandchildren, I encouraged them to call me Bobo, in honor of the young man who had the courage to travel to a new country to provide opportunities for all of us.



Writing Songs

A Gift for Father’s Day

When I was a sophomore or so at KU, Father’s Day was rolling around and I realized I hadn’t gotten Dad a gift. I thought back on all of the things I’d gotten for him in the past, and decided I’d write a song about it. (“And I tried…Shirts and socks and underwear, cologne and clip on ties, billfolds and pajamas, dress shirts and Levi’s, boxer shorts and bathing suits I tried along the way, but I am at a loss again for a gift this Father’s Day.”)

I sang it for Dad on Father’s Day at Bob and Marilyn’s house in Topeka and Dad really enjoyed it. (In a real compliment to a song, I heard Bob signing it to himself later that day…)

Then, I basically forgot about the song for about 30 years.  For whatever reason, it came to mind when I was 58 and living in Kansas City.  I was sitting on the ottoman, playing the guitar and it came back to me. I sang it to the grand kids later that day, and it was an instant hit.

“Shirts and Socks and Underwear” has become a staple whenever we’re all together and the guitar is out.  The little ones love dancing to it and yelling “underwear?!” during the chorus. James has learned all the words.

I think Dad is smiling as he watches all this…

“Too Far Away”

Jayme and I dated quite a bit the first summer of my work in Oklahoma City.  Peat Marwick would let you bank overtime as extra vacation if you used it in the summer, so I had a total of five weeks vacation that summer.  Myron Klaassen’s dad had some rentals that needed to be fixed up, so I would work on those or my dad’s rentals with Jim Ledgerwood during the day, and hang out with Jayme, the guys, or both in the evenings.

As the fall came, I headed back to Oklahoma City and Jayme, back to K-State.  It was difficult dating from six hours away. We used the Greg Mertes idea of calling at 11 p.m. when the rates dropped.  We would meet back at Potwin/Towanda on weekends when we could. As busy season hit in January, I had to work the weekends and late at night, so the opportunities to visit or chat went down.

I wrote “Too Far Away” one evening, lamenting the distance.  (“Let’s make a run for it, if they find us we will say, we were too far away…”)

“It’s All Been Done Before”

I was in college at KU, and had recently seen The Deer Hunter, a movie about the Vietnam War.  I don’t remember what was going on geopolitically at the time, but I remember thinking that if a few things happened, I could end up, like my brothers, wondering if I would be going to war.  I thought that, while I wouldn’t be too excited about it, there’s no reason for a lot of sympathy or drama—it’s all been done before. (“And I know it ain’t the first time, that a man has gone to fight, Lord knows this ain’t the first war.  And I will kill my fellow man for a cause I think is right, like it’s all been done before.”)

“An Answer for Today”

Within a few months after I’d learned to play, I realized that most of the good songs are written in the same four or five chords.  This gave me the courage to take a shot at it. “An Answer for Today” was a sixteen-year-old’s shot at saving the world, one song at a time.  It’s about a young father who hears his children sleeping in the next room, but realizes the world is messed up and he needs to do something about it.  (“So he gets the urge to write a song, of peace and love and life, and leaves it with a farewell note for his children and his wife. He says he’ll try to be back soon…”)

I played it for my guitar teacher, Terry Unrein, who was student teaching at Remington that year.  He said it had a Christian message, and that the central character basically took the same approach that Jesus did, going to where the people were.  (“Playing in the nightclubs and the bars…”)





My Dad

Dad was raised one of 13(?) kids in Poplar Bluff, Missouri.

Poplar Bluff was a small town in the “boot heel” (southeast corner) of Missouri.  His dad (my Bobo), John, brought his young wife to America from Austria, just before World War I took the lives of most of the young men of that area.  If it weren’t for that decision, and Bobo’s bravery, I might not be here today.

Dad’s mom passed away within a few months of having her last child.  The older sisters took active roles in taking care of the younger ones.  Bobo was an enterprising man, and ran a welding shop in addition to running the farm.  Dad and his twin brother Rudy were among the younger ones; I believe they had nine older siblings.  Bobo’s work ethic and many talents allowed their family to be relatively well-to-do. There was a car that the kids could pile into to go to school.  They usually had a little cash due to Bobo’s welding. But they all worked hard. There were chores before and after school, and summer days were sometimes sun up to sun down.  They farmed, gardened, and butchered for their meals. Trips to town were for Sunday church.

I’m not sure what Dad did right out of high school, but before long, he and Rudy (they didn’t separate twins) were sent to World War II.  Dad and Rudy served in the European theater, and dad was injured toward the end of the war. Both dad and Rudy headed to California shortly after the war to find their fortunes.  Dad worked at an aircraft plant.

Shortly after, Dad’s older brother Dan moved to Whitewater, Kansas, to open a car dealership. Dad moved to Kansas also, to Potwin, eight miles away, and opened a gas station.

The kids had grown, and Bobo no longer needed to work long days farming, so he moved to Potwin to live with Al.  According to Dad’s stories, which I believe, they hand dug the foundation to the filling station in Potwin, and people helped them lay the bricks.  With Dad repairing cars and Bobo, in his Austrian accent asking the locals, “How’s your has?” (that’s Austrian for “how’s your gas?”), and not much overhead, they did well.  Before long, Dad was selling appliances out of the filling station. Not long after that, they needed to build on.

Potwin, Kansas, after the war was a growing place, and everyone needed appliances.  You may not have thought you needed a refrigerator until your neighbor got one. Radios were a staple, and televisions were arriving—first black and white, then color. And always bigger.  Fortunately for Dad, they broke down a lot, and Lew Whiteside knew how to fix them. Lew would show up at your house with a specially-designed box of vacuum tubes and other parts, and before he left, you could watch your programs again.

As the Vickers refinery grew, Potwin needed more housing.  The city built a road for “the new addition”, and Dad started building houses.  He sold most of them but kept a few to rent.

He fell in love with Beth Elkins.  Beth’s husband, Raymond, had died of a stroke. leaving her with two young boys.  Dad adopted Bob and Bill, had a daughter Kathie, and a few years later, me.

Dad didn’t sit still much.  The government needed Post Offices to better handle the mail.  Dad built Post Offices in Potwin, Whitewater, and Towanda and rented them to the government.  He built or bought 10-15 rental houses and maintained them. He ran a growing business and was active in the community.  He made a lot of friends. He and mom traveled the world with General Electric because of all the ranges and room air conditioners he was selling.

Dad wasn’t your typical small-town business man.  Potwin was 15 miles away from El Dorado, a town of around 15,000, and 40 miles away from Wichita, a city of 250,000, the largest in Kansas.  Dad did his best to get folks from these bigger towns to travel to Potwin to get their appliances. As I understood from him, my siblings, and Dad’s fellow GE dealer friends, Dad would buy train car loads of appliances if he could get a good enough deal.

He was clever with his advertisements: “Al Potwin from Resnik, Kansas” and “The Little Bitty Man with the Big Deals.”   He was a character when you would go see him in the store. It was an adventure. He would go through your wife’s purse.  He would ask the well being of your “hoodly doodly.” He always made you feel special, and believe that you got a great deal.  There really wasn’t any reason to buy appliances from anyone else. You would spend time with a great guy with a sharp sense of humor who would get you a good deal, and Lew would come to your house and fix it if it quit working.

Dad would set you up on payments, Mom would mail you a bill each month.  There were “counter checks” out front in case you forgot your checkbook. And oh yeah, you need a toaster.

Dad had a lot of energy, and a huge love for people.  He was extremely generous.

In one of Jayme’s favorite stories, we were at Mom and Dad’s house and the doorbell rang late one night.  A young mother was there to tell Dad her husband had left her, she was headed to Oklahoma to be with family, she would have to move out of the rental house, and she couldn’t make the rent payment.  Dad’s reaction was to give her the cash he had in his pocket for gas money, and grab several items out of the refrigerator to give to her kids who were waiting in the car. Others would have been angry that they didn’t get the rent.  Dad emptied the fridge. I saw similar instances, too numerous to count. He was a great guy and I miss him dearly.



Music and Me

Music has been a part of my life since my earliest memories.  I remember sitting on the piano bench with my mother while she played and I sang “You are my Sunshine”.  I get so much pleasure out of that now looking back on my musical life and I’m sure that she got a lot of pleasure out of knowing that her son could carry a tune and even more that I loved to sing.  I don’t think she could’ve ever dream’t of how important music would be in my life.

I really enjoyed grade school music and I played Tom Sawyer in the six grade play and I remember that I had a couple solos and that I also sang in the church school programs.  My first experience with stringed instruments was my 5th grade music teacher who was from the Phillipines.  He played the Uke during music class, and I bought a plastic one that year and learned to play it myself.

Here’s the story of the 1923 sterling silver and gold inlaid King Silvertone trumpet. My grandfather bought this trumpet from Norm VanBrocklin’s (Quarterback for the NY Giants) father who owned a jewelry store in Griswold in the 30s. He was going out of business and that’s when my grandfather up purchased this beautiful instrument. My dad played it and he and the band traveled all over the United States.  The plaques that they won are displayed in the Griswold Museum.   My grandmother I understand made most of the uniforms that they wore.

In fifth grade you are able to start band we all took an aptitude test and I remember how excited I was because I scored perfectly on every part of it.  I couldn’t wait to play that trumpet so I took the aptitude test home and I was crushed when my Dad said that fifth grade is too young to start band and I had to wait a year. This frustrated me.  However, I really had the desire and wasn’t afraid to teach myself anything, so whenever I was alone in the house I got out the trumpet and taught myself to play.  The next summer Dad (who wanted to show off this prize trumpet) took me to my first lesson and after telling the band director the story of the trumpet, the director told me to try and blow a note.  So  I took the  beginners book flipped it to the back page and played the song straight through.  The director said that he guessed that there will be more added to the history of that trumpet.  And there was.

I started playing in the high school band when I was in Jr. High and as soon as I got to High School I played 1st chair.  My favorite memories were of playing solos in the jazz band and almost every concert I had a solo with the selections.

My brother Chris started the guitar saga.  We saw a guitar for sale in one of  the downtown store windows.  Chris bought the guitar for $13.  He tried but couldn’t play it. I bought it from him for nine dollars worked on the bridge and made it playable and sold it back to him for $11.  I took that money and added $9 to it and bought a flat top folk guitar from a pawnshop in Des Moines. I loved it and really played it, but then I wanted an electric and so I bought a red, electric, Harmony single pick up single cutaway hollow body guitar that I still have. I also bought are used Fender 12″ tweed covered tube amp. I wish I still had that amp.

In 1964 I decided that we needed to get a band together and the first band we had were called the Rogues. Our first gig was in Grant Iowa and we split $20 we only knew about  10 songs and we just played them over and over again. Sad thing was the next night two of the band members were killed in a car accident. We lost another one to a car accident about nine months later and I’m the only one left alive from that first band.

I then decided to start a band with Chris he played bass I play rhythm guitar Terry Drake played lead and Scott Erickson played drums. We called ourselves the Gude Tymz IV . We were pretty good and had fun practicing in our garage I wonder if the neighbors are enjoyed it as much as we did. I can’t believe my Dad allowed all that much noise on a Sunday afternoon.  We played a few gigs around the area there is a dance every Saturday night every little town and the most we ever got paid was 75 bucks

Our claim to fame was in 1967 at my senior prom the band didn’t show up and So I went home got my brother out of bed and we played the night it was pretty exciting and I attached a picture of that night I’m not sure what I thought my date thought of it but I was out of sight excited to play the really great news was that we got $150 which they would’ve paid the other band and that was the most we ever received

After high school I never played in a band again but I played a lot of folk guitar at the fraternity on our serenades of the sororities

I continue to play often on throughout my life until finally contemporary worship entered the churches and I started the first contemporary worship at Grace Methodist Church and Spencer in 1995. I really loved playing even though it was hard to put together a band but we did the best we could.  When I left the Methodist church we went to DaySpring Assembly and  I played guitar and then the piano we had fantastic worship music there Barb VanWyk was the leader and it was a good band. My claim to fame there was that I broke two strings on the grand piano I guess I played a little too hard. I’ve continued to play in church bands from there on I believe if I had the opportunity I would play every day if that was possible because I think I get the most joy out of doing that more than anything else.