Generations SPRING 2021
156 years between them
LONGTIME CITY STAFFERS HEAD INTO RETIREMENT
• CELEBRATED BAND LEADER, GENE GAFFNEY, REFLECTS ON A LIFE WELL PLAYED • AT 79, ROGER LEE IS STILL INSPIRING THE NEXT GENERATION OF CURLERS
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Melissa Swenson, Publisher Marie Johnson, Editor Viola Anderson, Circulation Manager Jamie Hoyem, Tasha Kenyon, Magazine Design
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‘It’s what you leave behind you when you go’: Longtime curler Roger Lee
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‘It’s what you leave behind you when you go’ During his 33 years of curling, Roger Lee has inspired high school athletes, made lifelong friends and delivered the occasional unfathomable curling shot By Michael Achterling | For Generations
oger finally caved. His neighbor had been bothering him for years to give it a try, and finally, after finding some time between refereeing basketball games, Roger agreed. Roger Lee, 79, started his curling career at the Lakes Curling Club in Detroit Lakes in 1988, at the ripe young age of 47. He was hooked almost immediately, and when it became time for his second season in the cult-like winter sport, he formed his own team; something he has continued for the last 33 years.
Lakes Curling Club was chartered in 1980, but most of the old guard is gone, Roger says. Remembering back to his first season on the ice, he recalls, “I had a veteren skip and then three new guys, that’s the way we started. Basically, I was trying to figure out, what is going on in this game? I can make a shot, and it looks good, and it slides on through, then I miss the broom … but the more you practice it, the luckier you get.” As he sat in the lounge area of the curling club on a recent Wednesday night, he started pointing out
everyone who came through the door for their 6:30 draw times. It seemed like he had a story for each former team member who arrived, and they all knew Lee well. “Here comes another kid I had,” Roger said. “I had him two years, then he went to college, played football, Concordia football, came back into the Herzog roofing business, and as soon as he gets back, he starts curling again.” Roger was raised on a farm in Geneseo, N.D. He moved to Detroit Lakes in 1973 with his wife, Jan. This summer, the couple will be enjoying
Detroit Lakes curling veteran Roger Lee releases a stone during a draw at Lakes Curling Club this past February. Michael Achterling / Generations
6 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
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that have continued curling.” He describes Roger as a patient man, but competitive. He also adds that Roger is very interested in the lives of his teammates and in helping out this community. “It’s sustainability for the club,” he says. “Roger is that guy that you like to curl with because he’s competitive and he’s the guy you like to sit around and talk with, or play cards with afterwards, because he’s a great guy to sit and talk with.” Roger actually fields two curling teams each year. One team is composed of veteran curlers and the other is made up of three novice curlers who are new to the sport and club. This year, he’s also teaching Detroit Lakes High School student athletes all about the sport.
Roger is that guy that you like to curl with because he’s competitive and he’s the guy you like to sit around and talk with, or play cards with afterwards. – RYAN TANGEN
Zack Oistad, left, Roger Lee, and Logan Lund, right, smile for a team photo. Not pictured is Will Knoop. Michael Achterling / Generations
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their 60th anniversary together. They have three adult children, two girls and one boy, who are all married now. The Lees also have seven grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Roger was an elementary school principal for 26 years in the public school system and worked at Lincoln, Washington with Callaway added, and Rossman Elementary schools. “I never did Roosevelt,” he says. As more people arrive at the club, Roger calls out to them: “Cole, did I get you started?” The young man nods. “Is that Ryan Tangen over there?” Roger asks. He explains how he met Ryan, and his wife Rory, at church and convinced them to join his couples curling team in 1998. “You’re not going to find anyone else here who has affected more people than Roger,” says Ryan. “Doesn’t seem like it was that long ago.” He says his son, a then-high school senior, curled with Roger last year and had a great time. “Now don’t let (Roger) fool you, he’s also an expert in curling,“ Ryan says. “So not only is he getting a lot of people into curling, the guy really knows what he’s doing.” He enjoyed curling with Roger so much during that first year that he ended up curling three nights a week with him. “That’s what he does,” Ryan says. “He brings them in, he gets them set up. He’s an expert in the sport, so he’s teaching them to be lifelong curlers. It’s amazing. I’d like to know at some point in time, how many people he has introduced to the curling club
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My wife and I have learned that the only value we have is what we can leave behind, and what we can leave for our community. It’s a Randy Travis song: ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world (behind you), it’s what you leave behind you when you go. – ROGER LEE
“I spent 46 years on the chain gang in football, so I worked the sideline with the players,” explains Roger. “So I have contact with the kids and the coaches, and I find out who is not going to have a winter sport.” He then approaches these winter sport-less student athletes and makes a deal with them. “All I ask them to do is, to promise me they’ll give me one night a week for four months,” he says. “That’s all it costs them. They get to curl for free, I get a team sponsor, and the club doesn’t charge high school dues.” The high schoolers have minimal curling experience, if any, but Roger
outfits them for equipment and gets them on ice. He also officiated basketball, volleyball and softball games for 42 years locally, but he says teaching kids how to curl has been a passion of his since he began forming his own curling teams. “Born on a farm, our recreation, if we had a rainy day, was to maybe go fishing at the lake,” he says. “Just didn’t have much opportunity. But with (curling), I still feel like a kid.” One of Roger’s high school teammates this year is Logan Lund, 18, a baseball player for Detroit Lakes High School who is also a first-time curler.
“Roger gave me a call because Mr. Meyer from the high school didn’t get back to him, so I was like, ‘Yeah, I think I can find a few friends,’” Logan says. After a few text messages, he found two others to join him on Roger’s team. One of those text messages went to Zack Oistad, a 6-foot, 6-inch basketball player for Detroit Lakes High School who is also curling for the first time this season. Zack says the most difficult thing for him has been balancing himself while sliding in a lunge on the ice. “I get the kids and I tell them, ‘Here’s the way it’s going to work:
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we’re going to lose, lose, lose. Eventually, we’ll be making some shots, and then we’ll start making more shots, and then we’re scoring.’ Last week we scored on four ends,” says Roger. “But we still lost.” He fields a novice team, he says, because that is the only way the curling club can grow, and he enjoys teaching student athletes the right way to play a game that they might never have tried before. “I know these guys will graduate, go off to college, but ... eight to 10 years from now, they’ll be settled in, working somewhere, and they’ll find a curling club,” Roger says. “I know they will, and some will come back here and curl.” Roger has three principles that he tries to teach all of his young curlers: Courtesy, respect and etiquette. The other thing he enjoys exposing his student athletes to is the fact that there is no referee in curling; something they usually don’t see in their primary sports. “I’m just honored to just get good young kids, watch them develop and
Lee awaits a stone delivered by one of his teammates. Michael Achterling / Generations
learn the game,” Roger says. He also enjoys competing with, and against, young people, because curling levels the playing field. “I’m a living example — old people
can do it and compete with young people,” he says. He and his team of veteren curlers won the Vern Turner Memorial Bonspiel in 2018, a tournament with more than 24 teams from around the region and Canada. Even after 33 years of experience, Roger says, he is still trying to learn the game. During a recent Wednesday night draw, the high schoolers made, and missed, their fair share of shots, but were able to help Roger put points on the board with well placed stones to keep the score close. The match was tied 6 to 6 going into the eighth and final end. His team held the hammer, the last stone to be delivered in the end, giving their team the advantage. Roger delivered the first of his team’s final two shots of the game and he knew it wasn’t where he wanted it to go. The stone was heading straight for one of the opposing team’s guards, a stone in front of the scoring circles to provide cover for a stone in the house.
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He screamed at Zack to sweep, which would hold and extend the stone’s line. Zack muscled his broom back and forth in front of the stone, which collided with the opposing team’s guard, but the stone struck the guard at the precise angle that sent it toward one of Logan’s stones in front of the house. The opposing team’s guard struck Logan’s stone and sent it slowly into the scoring circle before coming to rest near the center of the house for shot rock, the stone closest to the center from which points are given. The skip from the other team had one chance to move the shot rock out of the center, but it was delivered wide, leaving Roger and his high schoolers with the point and the game. “We call it ‘getting Rogered,’” says Ryan. “Because Roger can make any shot, and for some reason when he misses a shot, somehow it turns into a better shot. So we always say, you could be sitting as solid as Sears and somehow he’ll come down and it’ll end up sitting as the score.
Lee, right, with one his teammates, Detroit Lakes High School senior Zack Oistad. Michael Achterling / Generations
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‘Getting Rogered.’” Both Zack and Logan were happy with the way the match turned out. It was their second win in the first nine weeks. “It sure is fun to come out and get a win with Roger and Logan here,” says Zack. “Roger is always coaching and telling us things we can improve on and what we need to do to see better results.” Logan says winning is definitely better than losing, but the
entire season so far has been a learning experience. “I used to play hockey, and I always thought it was going to be like skating, but it’s nothing, nothing like skating on hockey skates,” he says. “Roger is always pushing us and wants us to do our best.” Roger enjoyed the victory with a drink in the club lounge as he said his goodbyes to his high school teammates.
Upon reflecting on his long career, he said: “Well, the title of your magazine here is Generations, so I think my wife and I have learned that the only value we have is what we can leave behind, and what we can leave for our community. It’s a Randy Travis song: ‘It’s not what you take when you leave this world (behind you), it’s what you leave behind you when you go.’
Making friends in your golden years
aking friends as a child, or as a parent to kids who are in school, is relatively easy. Classrooms and school functions facilitate the building of friendships. Work helps, too, as many adults become friends with their coworkers. But once children have moved out and careers come to an end, friendships often get harder to maintain as people relocate or do more traveling. Older adults may aspire to make new friends, but they may not know how. According to Irene S Levine, Ph.D., The Friendship Doctor and contributor to Psychology Today, it is not unique for seniors to want to make new friends. Age can be a barrier because there are stereotypes that pigeonhole people of certain ages. But Levine notes that state of mind and physical ability is not directly tied to chronological age. Making friends is possible at any age. These guidelines can help along the way. • Explore online connections. A 2016 study published in the Journal of Gerontology found seniors (even those in their 80s) who stay connected with friends and family using social media report feeling less lonely and better overall. Connected seniors also demonstrated higher executive reasoning skills. There are plenty of ways to meet new people online by joining social media groups that cater to your interests. In-person meetings in particular cities or regions of the country also can make for great ways to make new friends. Exercise caution when meeting people in person after contacting them online. Bring another person along, whether it’s a spouse or an adult child, to ensure that you are safe. • Volunteer your time. One way to meet new people is to get involved with causes or activities you love. This serves the double benefit of getting you outside and active and puts you in touch with people who share your passions and interests. • Attend alumni events. If you have an interest in getting in touch with someone from your past and
Making friends is not just for the young. Men and women over 50 also can find ways to build new friendships. File Photo
reconnecting, make the time to attend school reunions and other alumni activities. It can be fun to reconnect with friends from high school or college. • Join a gym. The local gym isn’t just a great place to get physically fit. Group exercise classes also can be ideal places to meet other people who enjoy working out. Strike up a conversation with another class participant you see on a regular basis. Once you develop a rapport, schedule lunch dates so your friendship grows outside of the gym.
GENERATIONS SPRING 2021 | 11
It’s been fun to watch the city grow. It’s not just been one thing, it’s been a conglomeration of a lot of things. It’s been a great ride. – MARCI HUTCHINSON, accountant
Utilities Billing Clerk Linda Riebe, Electrical Lineman Donald Goetz, and Accountant Marci Hutchinson, left to right, have all worked for the City of Detroit Lakes for 36 years or longer. They, along with longtime Street Supervisor Terry Stiegel, not pictured, have recently retired, or soon will be. Marie Johnson / Generations
156 years between them Four longtime, influential city staffers head into retirement By Marie Johnson | For Generations
our longtime city employees with a combined 156 years of experience have either recently retired or soon will be. Utilities Billing Clerk Linda Riebe, Lineman Donald Goetz, Accountant Marci Hutchinson and Street Supervisor Terry Stiegel have each worked for the City of Detroit Lakes for 36 years or longer. Goetz and Stiegel retired from their positions in January; Riebe and Hutchinson will be retiring in April and July, respectively. Utility Services Coordinator Steve Hanson, who’s a longtime city employee himself and has worked with the four recent or soon-to-be retirees in some capacity during his 12 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
Linda Riebe, center, with her family during a holiday get-together. Submitted Photo
Goetz and Hutchinson; Stiegel declined to be interviewed for this story.
39 years there, had good things to say about all of them: “Linda has served the city well and I wish her the best in her retirement,” he said of Riebe. “We will miss the knowledge she takes with her. The knowledge she has in her head is astounding. Ask her a question and she will give you a history of that utility customer.” Hutchinson, he said, “is one of the best workers I have ever known.” The two would work together when it came time to evaluate assessments, and sometimes figuring out old assessments took some extra work, “but we always had fun getting them right.” And while he didn’t work as directly with Goetz and Stiegel, Hanson said he always enjoyed catching up with Goetz when they did cross paths, and he appreciated the way Stiegel “always wanted to make sure the correct decision was made and in the city’s best interest.” Following are three featurettes about the work and lives of Riebe,
Linda Riebe: After 45 years, she’s ‘a walking archive of information’
When Linda Riebe moved to Detroit Lakes and took a job with the city right out of high school, she thought it would be just a temporary summer gig. Forty-five years later, she’s about to retire from what ended up being a lifelong career. A point of contact for the public for decades, Riebe has met or at least spoken to just about everybody in town — and she has an uncanny knack for remembering them, by their names and even, in some cases, their home addresses. Her excellent memory has not only helped her create meaningful relationships with residents over the years, but has also made her the go-to person in the office whenever someone has a question. “Linda is a walking archive of information,” states a city
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newsletter from five years ago, when Riebe was recognized for 40 years of city employment. “If we need information on prior accounts, she either has it off the top of her head, or knows exactly where to go to find the information. That type of inherent knowledge is what makes her so valuable.” “I can honestly admit — and I’m not bragging — I can name threefourths of the people in this town by their first name,” Riebe said in a recent interview. “I think that’s my asset, is my memory for people. Recognizing who they are.” Riebe started in October 1976 as an Accountant II. She then went on to work a number of different jobs with the city over the years — including filling in as the municipal liquor store manager sometimes, among other roles — until returning to her original position, which is now titled Utilities Billing Clerk. “I’ve done a lot of everything,” she said. “I made that full circle, that 360-degree circle, and then ended right back where I started.”
Marci, Linda, onnie & Terry -Wishin you a life of success and happiness! Thank You for all of your years of dedication!
Detroit Lakes Public Utilities GENERATIONS SPRING 2021 | 13
Riebe takes care of the billing, filing and other administrative duties for the Public Utilities Department. She works with the city’s utilities customers every day, in person as well as over the phone and computer. In 2008, she was recognized for her great customer service with the local Chamber of Commerce’s Super Service Award — a recognition she’s especially proud of. She’s seen a lot of progression and change over the past 45 years, she said, both in terms of the city’s overall growth and the types of technology used on the job: “Everything has moved forward. When I first started, the utility office was where the police department is now, and...everything was done on paper. Meter readers would go out...and then bring all the books back to me.” “It used to all be done by hand,” she added. Now, everything is “automatic and computerized.” Riebe grew up in Pelican Rapids and used to visit Detroit Lakes as a kid every Fourth of July. But she
didn’t really get to know the community, she said, until she started working here. It didn’t take her long to love it — “the community, the public, the people and the area, it’s a wonderful town,” she said. She raised three boys in the area, and has no plans to leave after retirement. In fact, Riebe wants to become a local hospice volunteer after she retires in April. She said she’ll also continue to be active in her church, Bethlehem Lutheran, and will keep up with her hobbies of sewing (quilts, especially) and making personalized paver stones for friends and family. Retiring after all these years, she said, is “bittersweet.” “My life has been this place; it’s like a second family. It’s all I’ve known for 44-and-a-half years,” she said. “I’m going to miss it — the community, the people, the customers… I have really loved doing what I’m doing.”
Donald Goetz: For 39 years, he kept the lights on in Detroit Lakes
Up and down Highway 10, throughout downtown, and really, everywhere in Detroit Lakes, for nearly four decades, the lights were kept on — and kept up — by Donald Goetz. A Lineman for the city until his retirement January 8, Goetz’s main responsibility was to install and maintain the town’s street lighting. He also put up all those “Welcome to Detroit Lakes” banners that hang from the lights, helped new homeowners get set up with electricity, did service upgrades, and trimmed tree branches away from power lines. Then there were the middle-of-thenight emergency shifts, when downed trees or bad storms would take out a power line and leave people without electricity, resulting in Goetz and the rest of the team rushing to the scene in an “all hands on deck” effort to help, he said. They’d work through all sorts of weather conditions to make repairs and get people’s lights back on.
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Making that happen, he said, was one of his favorite things about the job. “There is nothing like the satisfaction of getting the power back on,” said Goetz. He also enjoyed “the camaraderie of working together as a group to get the task of that done — it’s not just done by one person, it’s a group effort.” “We have such wonderful customers in Detroit Lakes,” he added. “You’d think you’d just get ripped up by people, but people are pretty kind. We have a few customers that aren’t very gracious, but 99% of the time, people are really good about, and appreciate, our reliable power. Detroit Lakes — especially after what you just saw in Texas — is pretty reliable.” Texas suffered major, widespread power outages this winter that have contributed to the loss of many lives and renewed the country’s focus on the importance of reliable power. Goetz said his long career with the city wasn’t something he originally
There is nothing like the satisfaction of getting the power back on. – DONALD GOETZ, lineman
Donald Goetz always enjoyed going up in the “bucket” as a Lineman for the city, he said, doing electrical work and trimming tree branches away from power lines. Submitted Photo
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planned on. A native of Wadena, he came to Detroit Lakes in 1982 for what he thought was going to be a seasonal job. He was on a break from college and wanted to make some money to pay off his school debt. “I got a pilot’s license at UND (University of North Dakota) but didn’t know if that’s what I wanted to do,” he said. Having previously worked as a tree trimmer for Carr’s Tree Service in Ottertail, the city of Detroit Lakes hired him to trim trees away from the town’s power lines. He did that for eight months, then became a boiler engineer when that opportunity opened up, “just to get out of the trees for a while,” he said. After about a year, he came back to the trees — and that time, stuck with it. He liked the work, plus he’d gotten married around that time and wanted a job with steady pay and benefits. After a few years, he took some courses and training at the tech school in Wadena to get certified, and when a lineman position opened up in Detroit Lakes, he moved into that role. He stayed there for the remainder of his career. “It’s really, for the most part, like a bunch of different families getting together,” he said of what he’s liked best about the job. “All the different departments… I like working with everybody.” He also liked working outdoors — except in the extreme cold, he admitted — and he always loved “going up in the bucket.” The city’s tree trimmer “is the highest aerial device they have,” he said. He’d go 50 or 60 feet up in the air and look out over the whole city — soaking up a view he never tired of. Though his days in the bucket are behind him now, Goetz still gets to view the city from on high as a frequent skier and volunteer member of the ski patrol at Detroit Mountain. He plans to continue those activities in retirement, he said, and will also stay active with his church. When the weather warms, he said, “my summer job will be to fix up 16 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
I can honestly admit — and I’m not bragging — I can name threefourths of the people in this town by their first name. – LINDA RIEBE, utilities billing clerk
the house, do updates and such.” After that, “we’ll kind of just see how things, as far as future plans, go… and see what life brings my way.”
Marci Hutchinson: 36 years in, she’s seen a lot of growth and change at the city
Marci Hutchinson joined the city of Detroit Lakes’ Community Development Office at an exciting time — just as they were developing the Washington Square Mall. Getting in on the development and growth of that major downtown project, she said, was a fun and memorable experience. That was in October 1985. After that, Hutchinson continued to work for the city planning department for about the next decade, and then shifted over to the finance department, where she still is today. She’ll be retiring on July 8, after 36 years of working for the city. “It was a good fit for me,” she said, describing what has kept her there all these years. “The people I started with back in ‘85, we had the same group of people for probably 25 years. It was just a well-built machine and there was no reason to leave. I enjoyed what I was doing, and it’s a great community to work for.” In her role as Accountant, Hutchinson takes care of the payrolls, invoices and bills for every city department, and helps with
street and utility assessments. She also oversees the city’s rentals, like the City Park Pavilion and shelters at Long Lake Park and Peoples Park, which the public can rent out for special events like weddings and family reunions. This past year has been a challenging one in regard to rentals because of the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, but in the past it’s always been a fun part of her job. She’s been doing it for years. “When I first started, the Pavilion was free and hardly used,” she recalled. “Now it’s booked up pretty much every weekend. It’s interesting to look back on how far that’s come.” She’s seen a lot of evolution over the decades, especially in terms of community growth and technology changes at the city offices. She remembers the grand opening of the Washington Square Mall and what a big community event that was. There was a similar feel when Kmart opened, she said. She also remembers major remodeling projects at the library, and the Pavilion. Plus, several housing developments and annexations have added to the city’s size and population in recent decades. “It’s been fun to watch the city grow,” she said. “It’s not just been one thing, it’s been a conglomeration of a lot of things. It’s been a great ride.” She remembers when she first started, the city had just recently purchased “fancy word processing machines… They were moving away from typewriters. We thought we had hit gold.” She recalls saving all the city’s files on floppy disks, and printing things out on a machine that was so huge it took up an entire room. These days, of course, the floppy disks are long gone, and the printers are much smaller. That room once devoted to the printer is now Hutchinson’s office. Hutchinson has worked with three different administrators, three different finance officers, five police chiefs and five fire chiefs over the
Marci Hutchinson, right, with retired former city employees Nancy Wichmann and Lou Guzek, in 2016. Submitted Photo
years. Since she does payroll for every department, she gets to know and work with people from every department, she said — and that’s been one of her favorite things about the job. “We’ve had a lot of fun over the years,” she said, and then added
with a laugh, “but I’m actually the oldest person here now, so it’s time to go.” Hutchinson’s plan for retirement is simply to do “whatever I want,” she said. She’s looking forward to having the freedom to do more traveling, especially to visit her grown
daughters, who don’t live in the area anymore. A native of the Benson, Minn., area, she moved to Detroit Lakes with her husband in 1979 and they raised their family here. “It’s been a great community,” she said.
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Leader of the band
Gene Gaffney has shared his love of music with generations of Detroit Lakes kids and community members By Vicki Gerdes | For Generations
hough Gene Gaffney has spent much of his life listening to, teaching and conducting music, the North Dakota native discovered his passion for it relatively late in his academic career, as a freshman in college. “I started Mayville State College in Mayville, N.D., in the fall of 1953, to play football and major in social studies, and hoped to someday become a football coach,” Gene recalls. He had been the quarterback of his high school football team in Cavalier, N.D. “One of my classes that fall (at Mayville State) was Introduction to Music,” he adds. “Because of that class, I quickly changed my major to music, and I was on my way.”
The beginnings of a band teacher
After that Intro to Music class, Gene joined the band at Mayville as a fledgling tuba player. “I played in the band and sang in the choir for all four of my years at Mayville,” he says. After that, he and his wife, Eloyce — who were married shortly after graduating college in 1957 — moved to Neche, N.D., where they were both hired as teachers. “We spent five wonderful years there,” Gene says, noting that the town was located about a half mile south of the Canadian border. Because Gene also had a minor in business, he taught not only band
but also typing, accounting and citizenship, all for an annual salary of $2,700. “I was also asked to teach high school choir and elementary music for an extra $100 — again, for the year — so I jumped at it,” he says, adding joking, “Hey, who wouldn’t?” It was as an instrumental music instructor that Gene would earn his first professional accolade. “I inherited a marvelous band,” he says. “We played ‘Egmont Overture’ (in Class 1 competition, the most difficult division) and received a No. 1 (state) rating. Not bad for a band from a town with a population of 600!”
I took a class called Introduction to Music, and I was hooked. – GENE GAFFNEY, on how he discovered his passion
This photo of the Detroit Lakes High School Marching Band was taken for a promotional flyer urging students to “Join the Band” at the start of the 1976-77 school year. Director Gene Gaffney had not led a marching band prior to the start of his tenure at Detroit Lakes in 1968. Submitted Photo
18 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
“I also directed a talented girls’ vocal sextet that landed a weekly appearance on the TV show, ‘Bo and His Bucheroos,’ in neighboring Pembina, N.D., that was hosted by Bo White,” Gene recalls. Three of the Gaffneys’ four children — Joni, Craig and Brian — were born in Neche. The fourth, daughter Lori, was born in Lakota, where Gene accepted his next teaching position. “In 1962, I was offered the band and choir position at Lakota, N.D. — population 1,100,” he says, adding jokingly that he and Eloyce were “moving up in the world.” He would spend the next six years there; in 1967, the Gaffney-directed Lakota High School Band was named “Governor’s Band of North Dakota” by Governor William Guy. “This was a huge feather in the hat for this small community,” says Gene. “Two performance highlights included the dedication of the Department of Transportation Building in Bismarck, and then the visitation of King Olaf of Norway at Island Park in Fargo. We had a huge caravan that
Gene Gaffney, at right, with his wife Eloyce and son Brian during a family outing in Chicago for a food walking tour. Submitted Photo
GENERATIONS SPRING 2021 | 19
followed our school buses from Lakota to Fargo.” The following year, Gene accepted an offer to direct the Detroit Lakes High School Band. “It was a good band and we had a successful year,” he says, “but the job included marching band, which I wasn’t too keen on or prepared for — so I resigned and decided to try a business venture.”
An unexpected encore
That brief foray into the business world did not pan out, however — and the following winter, two of Gene’s former band students, the late Ellen Hendrickson and Sue Wething, placed a huge ad in the local newspaper saying, “Thank you, Mr. Gaffney, for a wonderful year.” Gene believes it was that advertisement that prompted his next door neighbor — who happened to be on the school board at the time — to ask him if he’d consider applying for the job a second time, as it was once again vacant. His response? An emphatic, “Yes!” Once again, he got the gig. Still needing some background in how to direct a marching band, though, Gene decided to take a weeklong workshop on the subject at Bemidji State College. “It was something I have never regretted,” he says of that experience, adding that because of it, “The DLHS marching bands produced halftime shows at every home football game for two decades.” Those marching band performances also included an eight-member rifle squad and a 16-member flag squad.
20 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
Detroit Lakes High School Band Director Gene Gaffney, at lower left, with his musicians at an April 20, 1985 performance during the All-American Festival in Washington, D.C. Submitted Photo
Besides marching band, Gene’s second stint as a DLHS instructor also included the added responsibility of directing the school’s vocal music program, which consisted entirely of a 22-voice girls’ choir — at least, to start off the year. “A very interesting thing happened that fall quarter,” Gene recalls. “Our football team was allowed to begin their practices during the 7th, or last, period of the school day. Well, the football season ended two weeks
before the fall quarter ended, so their coach, Del Mollberg, approached me about having his team take a shot at singing.” Mollberg thought his players would benefit from taking vocal music lessons rather than a last-period study hall, and Gaffney agreed to take them on — in fact, he says, “I jumped at the chance.” His new all-male ensemble undertook the challenge of learning three songs, each of them in two-part
harmony — and Coach Mollberg wanted to show off his players’ hard work, so he arranged for a student assembly at the high school. Near the end of that assembly, the coach shouted to his players, “Hut! Hut!” — and they tore out of the bleachers and onto the choir risers that had been set up, where they performed their threesong repertoire, receiving a standing ovation at the end. “The best part of this story is that 20 of these young men registered for choir for the winter quarter,” Gene says. “Our girls’ choir was transformed into a mixed choir.” As a result of Gene’s efforts, a vocal music instructor was added to the school’s roster for the following school year — and he would continue to lead the instrumental music program for the next 28 years, retiring in the spring of 1997. He credits his colleagues at the elementary and middle school levels, Roger Johnson and Dave Hanson, with nurturing the spark of talent in his future students. “We had a program based on trust, cooperation and coordination of
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teaching methods,” he says. “Before I arrived, they had already developed a system of teaching rhythms that was out of sight. By the time I saw these students, they were capable of playing some of the most difficult and advanced rhythms imaginable.” Under the leadership of these three men, the district’s instrumental music program grew to nearly double its original size. “I started with a band of 55 that fall, and it gradually grew to 115,” Gene says. “So that we could all fit in the band room, it was necessary to divide that band into two.”
Awards and accolades
Some of the DLHS bands’ major accomplishments under Gene’s tutelage included: ► An invitation to perform at the Minnesota Music Educators Association (MMEA) Winter Clinic in Minneapolis, in 1976. ► A spring 1976 band trip to St. Louis, Mo., to compete in the “Six Flags Over Mid-America” band competition, where the DLHS Band was named Grand Champions. “Seventy bands competed in the festival, from at least six different states,” Gene says. “We had out-performed bands from Texas, Oklahoma, Missouri and so on. After we all got done cheering and crying, I called my parents, and then Dave Hanson and Roger Johnson. It was an unforgettable experience!” ► Another trip to Minneapolis during the summer of 1982, when the Laker Jazz Band was chosen to open the Kiwanis International Convention. ► A second invitation to perform at the MMEA Winter Clinic in 1984. Seven years later, at yet another MMEA Winter Clinic, Gene was named Minnesota Band Music Educator of the Year. He was the third director to ever receive the award. “It is a treasure that I share with Dave Hanson, Roger Johnson and all of our talented students,” he says of that 1991 accolade. The following year, Mayville State University gifted him with the Distinguished Alumni Award, and for the first time, Gene says, he was asked to speak in front of a group of peers and well-wishers in a dinner setting. “Man, was I nervous,” he says. “I believe I even thanked my sister, 22 | GENERATIONS SPRING 2021
It was very difficult keeping our buttons from popping off that year. – GENE GAFFNEY, on how he and his Detroit Lakes Schools band department colleagues felt after three former students were named principal first chairs of their college bands
Marguerite — who lived in Mayville — for doing my laundry. I don’t believe I even tasted the meal that night.” It was not the last award that Gene would receive from his alma mater. In the fall of 2013, he was named to Mayville State’s brand-new Performing Arts Hall of Fame — as one of three alums to receive the honor. “This time I was ready for my acceptance speech,” he says. “I basically said that I came to Mayville State knowing I wanted to be a football coach and teach social studies. I then took a class called Introduction to Music, and I was hooked. If I had been at a larger school, I would have had to take a piano proficiency test, and possibly a music knowledge test, and I would never have passed. I told them that I was so grateful to be where I was and that if I had been at a larger school, my life in music may never have happened.” Gene helped many of his students earn accolades, as well, during his 29-year tenure at DLHS. While Detroit Lakes had typically produced one or two All-State musicians each year, for several years under Gene’s direction, as many as six DLHS students — the maximum allowed by MMEA for a single school district — were being sent to All-State. Being named a member of the Minnesota All-State Band, or Orchestra, Gene says, is “probably the greatest individual honor for a (high school) musician.” Gene has kept in touch with many of his former students over the years, as well as tracking their accomplishments. He recalls one year when three former students were named as principal first chair for their sections of the Concordia College Band, and the
Concordia Orchestra. “It was very difficult keeping our buttons from popping off that year,” he says of himself and his colleagues in the Detroit Lakes district’s band department. Another band to lead Though he retired from his position at DLHS in 1997, Gene was not quite done conducting. In the summer of 2006, one of his former students, Rick Olson, approached him about a project he was working on. “He explained that he had 22 musicians who wanted to form a community band, and asked if I would be interested in directing it,” Gene says. At the time, however, Gene was working as a regional representative for Schmitt Music, spending a lot of time on the road, and wasn’t sure he would be able to give the new band the leadership it needed. “Two weeks later, I decided that I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity,” he says — so he called Olson back and said he’d take the job: “We had our inaugural concert on Nov. 18, 2006, with a band of 34 members.” Fourteen years later, the band is still active, and has grown to an average membership of about 60 “remarkably talented” musicians, drawn from 20 different communities around the region. “There is a trust in each other, plus such a feeling of togetherness, that it is truly a joy to experience,” Gene says of leading the Lakes Area Community Concert Band. “Mostly, they are there to express themselves through their love of music. They enjoy coming to Detroit Lakes to perform because this community turns out to hear them and support them.” “It is so satisfying and rewarding to take a work of music that none of us have ever seen and solve all of the intricacies, such as rhythm, phrasing, balance and dynamics, to make it come alive and then share it with others,” he adds. “It is truly a joy.” Though they are presently unable to get together for practices due to COVID-19 safety restrictions, Gene says he is looking forward to the day when they can begin holding live rehearsals again — hopefully very soon.
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156 Years Between Them: Longtime City Staffers Head Into Retirement Also Inside: • Celebrated Band Leader, Gene Gaffney, Reflects on a Life...
Published on Mar 30, 2021
156 Years Between Them: Longtime City Staffers Head Into Retirement Also Inside: • Celebrated Band Leader, Gene Gaffney, Reflects on a Life...