City Club Orchestra popular in area for decades

The City Club Orchestra
By : 
Mary Jo Dathe

The City Club Orchestra shown in the accompanying photograph was one of the most popular “bands” in the 1940s, '50s and '60s.  It had a steady gig on Saturday and Sunday nights at Wykoff in the Quonset.  It was fondly referred to as the Sheep Shed by the folks who flocked there to dance the night away.

Merle Week, whose daughter Carolyn Davis shared this photo, grew up in a musical family.  Her mother, Meta Nash, had attended a school of music in her youth.  She taught her daughters, Allene and Merle, to play the piano at an early age. Merle related that when she was only 16, she was hired to play the piano at the local theater to accompany the silent movies.  She watched the screen and suited the tempo and mood to whatever was happening — perhaps lively music for cowboys and Indians or slow and romantic for love scenes, etc. 

Merle related that when she was sick and could not play during the City Club Orchestra years, her sister was recruited to fill in.  Although she had no musical training, Allene  "played by ear" but the other musicians were grateful for her participation and happily followed her along.

Week was pianist and organist at the Congregational Church for most of her adult years.  She also gave piano lessons to eager beginners, sharing her remarkable talents.  (I was one of them.)  In 1937 a notice appeared in the Spring Valley paper noting "Mrs. Carl H. Week and William Roberts of Minneapolis had their song, ‘Gathering Dreams’ published, and it is now for sale.  Mrs. Week composed the music and Roberts wrote the lyrics."

Hubert "Bum" Bumgarner played the drums for the orchestra.  He was usually the driver, toting musicians and portable instruments in the back of his little coupe.  The piano, and usually the drum set, stayed in place at the nightclub.

Art Larson was in the Navy during World War II and came to Spring Valley to start the Culligan soft water service.  He was in that business for about 25 years until selling it in 1972 to Dick and Lucille Daggett, who continued the business for another 15 years.  

A dedicated musician, Larson and his brothers had a band at one time, and he was equally skilled with his saxophone and clarinet.  His rich tenor voice often crooned the lyrics for the orchestra's tunes.  Larson was also a member of the Spring Valley's state champion bowling team of 1949 with Ervin Besterfeldt, Chet Kvale, Harold Morem and Dr. Vince Jarnot.

The orchestra not only played in Wykoff, but was also in great demand in Spring Valley for dances at the VFW, Legion Club, and the Masonic Hall.  In later years Larson and his musicians entertained folks at the hospital, nursing home and Hillside Apartments, sharing their delightful music with delighted listeners. Some folks must recall dancing to their music on other occasions!  Fun times.

You will find the Methodist Church Museum open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. every day following Memorial Day. See you there.