Smith: So long, ‘Music Man’
When the phone rang on Saturday, I glanced at the caller ID, saw “Berg” and thought my friend Larry was calling to talk about the upcoming band concert season.
It wasn’t, it was the sad and numbing report that Larry had died. I found myself battling back tears as I thought about the tremendous loss the community had suffered. But more difficult for me was the loss of a friend.
Larry was definitely Bonner Springs’ “Music Man.” Even last week he was busy preparing for the upcoming summer band season. On Memorial Day, with his son Brian, he played “Taps” at the community Memorial Day observance. Thursday morning he presented the program at Kiwanis Club about the new season and that evening conducted the first practice. He and I discussed the programs and plans. Then, on Friday, he was at City Hall making copies. Up to the last day, he was working to make sure all went well for the concert season. Larry said many times that next to his family, his second love was music.
In fact, music was his life. He played in several area city bands and was always willing to work with young people to help them understand and love music. I remember once I was asked to take part in a patriotic service at Sacred Heart School. I agreed and then was asked if I knew a trumpet player to perform “Taps.” All it took was a call to Larry and he went with me to the service. Yes, Larry was always willing to share his talents and love of music.
Larry and I go back more than 30 years. He was working to raise money for new band uniforms at Bonner Springs High School. Since I had a daughter in school I agreed to serve on the committee. I remember we sponsored a country and western show and Larry asked me to be the announcer. That was the first of literally hundreds of times that Larry and I worked together at programs. I even announced his halftime shows at the high school football games.
The biggest collaboration started in the summer of 1981 when Larry became director of the fledgling Bonner Springs City Band. The concerts were held at South Park. The band had about 20 or so members and the audience wasn’t much larger. Larry asked me if I would announce the concert and I agreed. The next week I agreed to do it again and before long, Larry and I were a team. Until last year, I don’t believe I missed more than a dozen concerts.
Larry did a super job in building that small, struggling band into one of the larger and most respected programs in the metro area. One of the unique aspects of our band is that it accepts players of all ages and ability levels. Larry spent countless hours recruiting musicians. He was instrumental in the building of a permanent home for the band. He collaborated with Dick Burns and Mayor Reece Kuhn to build the bandstand at Kelly Murphy Park.
Larry was a vital and integral part of the entire community. He served as president of the Rotary Club and Kiwanis Club. He was Kiwanis scholarship chairperson. He was active in the school foundation and was director of YouthFriends for several years. He served on the Bonner Springs City Council and, earlier in his career, on the Oskaloosa City Council. His passing has left a huge leadership void in many areas of the community.
Yes, the city band will continue. Larry took steps to insure its future with the appointment of Aaron Hall as assistant band director and Bill Turley as associate director.
Yet it won’t be the same for me. I will always miss seeing Larry at the podium, as well as at Kiwanis Club meetings and dozens of other events. I offer my sincere condolences to Larry’s wife, Elaine, and his son, Brian and family. He will be greatly missed by the entire community.