Museum celebrates Miller's life, music

Glenn Miller, a retired Rochester interior designer, and his wife, June, have been longtime fans of Glenn Miller, the most famous band leader of the Big Band era of the 1930s and '40s.

In fact, June, remembers dancing to the Glenn Miller Orchestra with her high school friends when the band appeared at a dance pavilion in the Rochester area in the early 1940s.

Miller, the musician, was born in 1904 in Clarinda, Iowa, in the southwestern corner of the state and about 340 miles from Rochester. For more than three decades, Clarinda has celebrated Miller's birth with the four-day Glenn Miller Festival every June, which attracts thousands of the late musician's fans as well as musical groups and bands from Iowa and beyond.

The celebration's central focus is the home where Miller was born. The home was restored by Miller's daughter, and tours are now offered.

This year, the celebration was more noteworthy than usual. It marked the grand opening of the new Glenn Miller Birthplace Museum , a $500,000 project that displays memorabilia and other features of the musician's life and music.


Miller served in the Army Specialists Services during World War II with the rank of captain, taking his music to the troops. He disappeared when his aircraft failed to arrive in Paris from a flight from England. The plane encountered bad weather over the English Channel, and neither the plane nor Miller's body was ever found.

The museum's grand opening was what prompted Miller, the interior designer, and his wife to make the trip to Clarinda from Rochester.

"We had talked about going to the festival for several years, but for one reason or another we weren't able to," June Miller said. "But this year, with the dedication of the museum, we decided we would go and how glad we were that we did."

The event drew some 4,000 visitors — almost overcoming the town of some 5,600 and only two motels.

"We met so many people there — like us, longtime fans of his," Rochester's Glenn Miller said.

Attendees were of all ages and were dedicated to Miller the band leader's life and music. They came from various foreign countries, including Japan, where his life is highly revered.

There were many contributors from Japan to the fund that paid for the museum construction, Rochester's Miller said.

Because Clarinda's motels were overbooked, many of the residents of the town opened their homes to festival-goers.


"We were very lucky to get a nice comfortable room in a farm house two miles outside of town," Miller said. "There were many events during the festival, but the highlight was a tour of the museum. It is very well done — lots of interesting photos, a bronze statue of Miller and artifacts of the era.

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