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Korby's Connections: Stay on the band wagon

Shut your eyes, picture it's the Fourth of July or Labor Day in Cloquet. It's parade time. The veterans have passed by, now here comes the music. You recognize the familiar trailer, with its red, white and blue decorations. It's the Cloquet Community Band.

Cloquet has a decorated city band history dating back to at least the early 1900s. Even before World War I, according to "A Hometown Album: Cloquet's Centennial Story," Cloquet boasted "a first class city band and the local Finnish population also fielded an imposing brass band," with many of the musicians performing in both bands.

Cloquet still boasts an excellent city band - the all-volunteer Cloquet Community Band - which performs in area parades and local concerts throughout the year. Their holiday concert starts at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3 at Cloquet Presbyterian Church, 47 Fourth St. No admission except freewill offering, with refreshments to follow.

Current band director Lynne Putzke has been handling the job for a few years. She took over from Carol Risdon, who was in the leadership position for 20 years. During the workday, Putzke is an accomplished music teacher at an elementary school in Superior, Wisconsin. The Cloquet band is currently seeking musically inclined members.

"Some people considering the band say, 'Gee, I haven't played my instrument in 20 years. I might not remember how to carry a tune,'" Putzke said. "Once engaged, they're usually surprised at how fast they recall their playing skills."

It's a very successful, award-winning, and fun-loving group. The band practices 7-8:30 p.m. every Monday at the Cloquet Presbyterian Church.

"Before I joined the Cloquet Band, I had heard about the group and decided to check them out," Putzke said. "I came to listen to a Cloquet holiday concert, was totally impressed, talked to Carol Risdon, and joined shortly thereafter. I was excited to play my clarinet again. It's been great."

Jody Meyer has been playing the flute with the band for 20 years. She and a coworker at the Carlton County Land Department helped rejuvenate the city band at about the turn of the century.

"We practiced in Gene and Carol Risdon's basement," Meyer said. "We play, or have played, at senior living centers, the Cloquet Centennial, Fond du Lac College's summer music series, holiday concerts, parades, and other events. Musicians have joined right out of high-school-age to those playing in their 80s. It's a fun, diverse group."

I recently visited the Carlton County Historical Society building on Cloquet Avenue to find out more about Cloquet Band history. Director Carol Klitzke was very helpful in my quest. She kept bringing me more and more archived folders, books, and pictures. The band has an impressive history.

For the years 1916 to 1943, Louis D. Gerin was the celebrated Cloquet City Band director. What a story. The following is a brief summary, with much information gathered from a booklet written by Gerin relatives and also Cloquet residents Paul and Lisa Fahlstrom in 2008.

Gerin was born in Belgium in 1872. He studied music in Brussels and France and was gifted at playing the violin, cornet, and clarinet. His family moved to Illinois, surviving a shipwreck on their voyage to America while close to Ireland. In his youth, with his dad, he played instruments in city bands, for dances and early movies, and even with Ringling Brothers Circus. As an adult, he gave music lessons, led city bands, fixed and tuned instruments, owned a music store, and also taught French. His family moved to Michigan, and Gerin ascended to the top music position at Ferris Institute, part of the University of Michigan. During World War I, being too old to enlist, he joined the French and American armies in Europe as a trusted interpreter.

Duluth had long had the reputation as being a medical refuge for those with terrible hay fever. With Cloquet only 20 miles away, he accepted a job offer to be the City Band director and, hopefully, find relief from this disabling affliction. Gerin moved his family to northeast Minnesota and built a home adjacent to the town music hall ... right before the devastating 1918 fire. His family survived and rebuilt their home.

Gerin was a prolific writer of band marches while he was in Cloquet. He usually named them after significant local events or businesses - one is even named after the Pine Knot - but the following are two of my favorite stories.

In 1940, Gerin designed the bandshell overlooking the pond in Pinehurst Park. It was to be funded by mostly volunteer Cloquet businesses and individuals. Cloquet paper and wood products industry leader Rudolph Weyerhaeuser donated $500. When Gerin heard this, he wrote a special March called "Prince Rudolph." Weyerhaeuser was so touched by the news of the march that he upped his donation to $2,500 to complete the total project in a "first class way."

"Prince Rudolph" was the first piece played by the Cloquet City Band at the bandshell dedication. In 1976, at the U.S. Bicentennial Celebration, the bandshell was rededicated in Louis Gerin's name.

If you have ever played an instrument in a high school, college, amateur, or professional band and are interested in playing again, please consider joining the Cloquet Community Band. City residence is not required, just a willingness to practice and play.

Per Gerin, "it is a source of civic pride, desire for social advancement, and genuine camaraderie."

If you have questions, contact band manager Becky Dooley at 218-206-4441 or visit the Cloquet Community Band Facebook page for more information. Find more photos with this story online.

Contact Steve Korby with your story iedeas at [email protected]