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Remembering the days of ballrooms and bands

When it comes to great ballrooms in southeastern Minnesota, how are your memories?

You need to be of a certain age to recognize the following: The Pla-Mor and Valencia in Rochester, the Trianon south of Pine Island on U.S. 52, the Rainbow south of Eyota, the Skyline Ballroom south of Red Wing, the Terrace at Lake City, Whittes Pavilion in Kellogg, the Wyattville Ballroom west of Winona and the Terp in Austin. Some of you danced at the Kato Ballroom in Mankato, the Surf at Clear Lake, Iowa, the Prom in St. Paul, the Oaks Supper Club at Minnesota City, Oak Center Ballroom, the Millville Legion and the Lake City VFW.

Some of these were recalled by Wes Prescher of Elgin, who started playing in bands at Elgin High School in 1954. Director Bob Schulth encouraged the lads. Their first professional job was at Viola Town Hall for the Gopher Count Festival. Wes and Cactus Stoehr did that fireman’s dance when union scale was $10 a night per musician. Cactus Stoehr and the Jolly Bohemians are called the Jolly Brewers today and play great old-time music.

Kendall Heins, now 92-plus, played in two small bands with clarinet and saxophone. One band was Jack Joker and His Aces. After World War II, Ken played with the Otto Stock Band for three years starting in 1945. He told me the Surf at Clear Lake often held 600 to 700 couples on the dance floor.

When it comes to big bands locally, there’s one that’s a real veteran, starting in the late 1940s — the Notochords under the direction of Dr. Larry Greene. He was the piano man and the organizer, starting out entertaining at Mayo Clinic Christmas parties. I had a visit with Dr. Philip J. Osmondson, now retired. His trombone was part of the 16-piece band.


The Notochords played many times in Rochester and in Albert Lea, Chatfield, Pine Island and Winona. They played several times at the Eagle Cancer Telethon and at the Pla-Mor, Valencia and the Kahler’s Heritage Hall for Mayo medical meetings.

Young Les Fields added a trumpet to the Notochords in the late 1950s and early 1960s before the Turkey River All Stars started in 1969. The "Turkeys" played before four presidents, Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and both Bushes.

Kendall Heins stopped playing in bands and became the secretary of Local 437 from 1952-56 and again from 1968-80. He retired from the union position in 1983. He remembers the closing number for so many big bands: "Good Night, Ladies." He told me the Surf was frequented by the bands of Glenn Miller, Benny Goodman, Russ Morgan and others. During the 1940s and 1950s there were hundreds of dance bands across the United States.

Wes Prescher remembers the Jules Herman Band often playing at the Terp in Austin and the Valencia on U.S. 52 North, across from Hillcrest Shopping Center. The Valencia, Trianon and Skyline at Red Wing all went up in smoke. Jules Herman’s Band played four nights a week at the Pla-Mor in Rochester for a time. His dance music flowed on Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights.

Leo Lentz is now retired from Peoples Cooperative Services, where he was an engineer. He played an accordion with the Stan Hyland Band of Hayfield, old-time at its best. He also was a member of the Zumbrota band "Art Fitch and the Polka Dots" for 40 years.

Now 80, Leo played in bands from 1947 to 2005, playing in 336 places in 159 towns. He experienced 43 bands and played 63 New Year’s Eve parties. He also played the keyboards and the tuba.

We must not forget the Kuhfuss Band with Garfield Kuhfuss. It was renamed Gardy and the Gay Heines. Leo also played with the Kuhfuss band, the Six Fat Dutchman from New Ulm and Svensy’s Band under the direction of drummer Archie Dieter. Another fine small band was the "Pal Thede Orchestra." Kenny Stock was his drummer when Pal Thede was the house band at the Valencia Ballroom.

Beautiful Twin City ballrooms were the Medina and the Marigold. Oh, the memories.


Next week: The festivals and fairs season is here again.

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