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Worthington 150: City band's roots can be traced to 1893

In 1916, a hexagonal bandstand was built about 75 feet out on Lake Okabena at the foot of Third Avenue.

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The "Amazing" Worthington City Band performs in mid-June 2022 at the historic Chautauqua Park Bandshell.
Tim Middagh / The Globe
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Editor’s note: This is a combination of two articles that ran June 26 and 28, 1993, when the Amazing Worthington City Band celebrated its 100th birthday.

WORTHINGTON — The “Amazing” Worthington City Band has been around since 1893.

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First though, the Indian Lake Baptist Church, southeast of Worthington, had its own band following tradition from the German homeland. Otto Hotzler was the director.

A farmer, Hotzler was fond of playing his gold-plated, rotary-valve cornet imported from Germany, and he liked to direct the band. By invitation, the band played on the steps of the Nobles County Courthouse. People who came to the city to shop on Saturday nights often paused to listen and stayed in town longer.

Worthington businessmen noticed a social gathering had developed around the Saturday night concerts. When they realized it was good for business, they invited the band back several times.

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Joel Wood, a former Worthington High School teacher and band director, said sometimes the concerts had to be postponed.

“Too many of the lads were out girlin’,” he recalled.

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The 'Amazing' Worthington City Band performs in concert in this June 29, 2022 Globe file photo.
Tim Middagh / The Globe

Wood researched and wrote “The History of the Worthington City Band,” while working on his master’s degree at St. Cloud University. In that history, Wood included this sad note, “On this day of Otto Holzler’s funeral, his gold-plated cornet was stolen from his home.”

When Worthington organized its own brass band, the city hired Wilson Abbott as the first director. He played cornet and also gave private lessons.

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In a photograph of Abbott with his city band from 1909, the members — all male — wore dark green uniforms with white trim. Seven of the 26 played clarinets. The rest played brass instruments except for the lone drummer.

In 1916, a hexagonal bandstand was built about 75 feet out on Lake Okabena at the foot of Third Avenue.

“Colored lights were installed along the lakeshore and out on the pier,” said Wortington’s Ray Mork. “There were electric lights in the bandstand. The crowd of spectators sat along the shore. Kids sometimes ran out or sat on the pier. As I remember it, this was only used while Abbott was bandmaster. It was a beautiful location with the music coming in across the water.”

The hexagonal bandstand was removed from the lake and later sold to Rickbeil’s. It used the building for its annual exhibit at the Nobles County Fair, and then gave the building to the 4-H club.

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In 1968, when the city band observed its 75th anniversary at a summer concert, a director’s baton was presented to Glenn Evensen. He used it to direct some of the band members. The baton, carved by Wilbur Shore, was made from wood Rickbeil’s donated from the old band shell on the lake.

In the band’s 100-year existence, there were only a few directors. Vie Moeller, a clarinetist, replaced Abbott. Moeller had been a member of Abbott’s Worthington Concert Band.

The high school and city bands were one until Moeller separated them.

Russel Eikenberry, Worthington, played under Moeller’s direction in the city band from 1927 to 1940. During those years, the band played concerts on the wide sidewalk in front of the 1894 brick courthouse. Lights were strung in the trees. The band played there until the present shell was built.

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In 1941, the city band summer concert setting changed when the bandshell at Chautauqua Park was built by the National Youth Administration. The bandshell still stands on the shore of Lake Okabena, and remains the site of the city band’s summer concerts.

Eikenberry said the city band also played at the Nobles County Fair for many years.

“All three days of the fair they played a half-hour concert before the grandstand show and then also played for the entire show,” he said. “This meant playing for two and one-half hours twice each day.”

Women were allowed to become members of the bands in 1928. Doris Doeden, Mildred Nystrom, Edith Burnham and Vivian Rasmussen were the first to join.

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Moeller also started band instruction for fifth- and sixth-graders in 1935. Later that year, Worthington had two school bands for the first time.

By then, the city band was also growing. Weekly winter practices prepared the players for summer concerts. Some members played in both the high school and city bands.

Band was officially organized in 1953

Though it had functioned for years, the Worthington City Band officially organized on Nov. 7, 1935, with election of officers.

During the hard times in the 1930’s, Wood wrote that playing in the city band and attending the concerts were popular activities. He said the public found the concerts entertaining and relaxing, and the players “enjoyed the release they found playing in the city band.”

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Some city band members grew to be big time musicians. For example, Harold and Everett Edstrom organized a well-liked dance band successful in the Chicago area until World War II took several band members into the service. The Edstroms later established a music business, the Hal Leonard Publishing Company.

In 1946, Vie Moller was replaced as director by Jerry Niemeyer. He directed the city band and the public school bands until both he and his wife, Iva, were killed in a two-car crash in the fall of 1961.

Richard Larson, a first-year junior high school band instructor, finished the year as city, high school and junior high school band director.

Glenn Evensen was hired in August 1962, as city band and high school band director. He started something special, beginning each concert with the theme song, “Say it with Music,” and an arrangement of the “Star Spangled Banner.”

Other musicians and performers were featured at intermissions. Each half concert usually consisted of a march, an overture, a waltz, a poo tune, a solo and another march. Businessmen and other community leaders usually were chosen to serve as masters of ceremony of the concert.

On Memorial Day, 1988, Evensen conducted his last concert after 25 years of service as band director

Following in his footsteps was Galen Benton, then an instructor at Minnesota West Community and Technical College. Today, Mike Peterson leads the “Amazing” Worthington City Band.

Evensen added the word “Amazing” to the band’s name because personnel at the concerts was always different from the group at that week’s practice session, “yet they got through the music somehow.”

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