Raised on ‘country sunshine,’ Black Hammer group finds harmony

By : 
Jan Lee Buxengard

“I was raised on country sunshine, green grass beneath my feet; Running through the fields of daisies, wading through the creek…….,” were lyrics of a song co-written and recorded by American country music artist Dottie West in September 1973. 

Sharon (Morken) Auna, explained that “Country Sunshine” was the name chosen for their singing group from Black Hammer. “This song was playing at the time. We were raised on country sunshine. The lyrics fit us.” 

As high school students – ages 15 to 17 years old, Kari Rud, Sharon Morken, Kris Bauer, Lola Rostad, Laurie Ike and Maribeth Alstad were all members of the Black Hammer Swift Scooters 4-H Club, and started singing for 4-H meetings and activities, at church and for other programs. Sharon added, “We sang wherever we were asked to sing. 

“We knew how to read music from having been in band and choir in school. We’d listen to a song and figure out the harmony – made our own parts. Our three-part acapella harmony included soprano, second alto and alto, and we all could harmonize well.” 

Along with vocals, Lola played bass guitar, Laurie and Maribeth played guitar, and sometimes Sharon played flute and Kari the clarinet. Performances included maracas and other percussion effects, but there was no piano accompaniment.

“With time and practice it became easy and fun,” Lola (Rostad) Guillien added.

“On Sunday afternoons we would practice at Tilford and Hilda Morken’s basement. Grandpa Tilford would make us popcorn, and we had Spring Grove Pop,” Sharon recalled. 

The group wore red dresses with tiny print, and trimmed with white lace at the V-neck and sleeves. “We got the material in Winona,” Lola recalled, adding, “Every one of us knew how to sew. Our mothers may have helped.” 

For out of town performances, two sets of parents would have to transport their daughters and sometimes they had to stay at a motel. 

Among the farther away performances were: singing two years on the Eagle’s Cancer Telethon in Rochester, and two to three times on the Gopher Band Shell at the Minnesota State Fair. 

The group entered a country music contest at the Pla-Mor Ballroom in Rochester, won and went on to compete at Glyndon, Minnesota. 

The biggest event was when Houston County Ag Extension agent Russ Krech invited the group to perform at the national county agent convention in Milwaukee. “They paid for us for travel and our hotel. And, Kari, Kris and Sharon flew home because they had to get back to college classes,” Sharon stated. 

Another experience was campaigning for Arnold Onstad when he ran for State Senate. The girls made and wore red, white and blue dresses. “We made up songs and slogans and rode in parades with him,” Sharon explained.  “It rained during the Caledonia Founder’s Day parade, and the Argus published a picture of us on the front of the newspaper!”  Kari (Ike) Rud shared the newspaper picture of the drenched girls. Uff da!

During their career, the group also performed at banquets, ice cream socials, churches, county fairs, weddings, anniversaries, and much more. “People saw us and asked us to sing,” Lola commented. 

Bus, plane, train, yacht trips, lost amps, zoo visits, drive-ins, floods, strange and friendly people, laughter and tears have made their experiences interesting and rewarding.  

Vernon Lewis took posed pictures of the group. Laurie (Ike) Scherf has a scrapbook that was kept of the singing group’s experiences.

Listen to one of their songs on You Tube. Go to “Black Hammer Country Sunshine Girls – Minnesota” 

Lola relayed, “One of the best things was being together and doing what we love, and seeing people enjoy what we do. It was an experience none of us will forget.” 

And, music was in their families, as some of their mothers were in the singing group “Black Hammer Sextet”, including Shirley Alstad, Mildred Halverson, Catherine Norgaard, Helen Wiste, Luella Ike, Joan Ike, and accompanied by Lois Morken.

The two ladies singing groups were among those on “The Grove Rings,” a record album produced for the Spring Grove Syttende Mai bicentennial celebration and released in 1976. On the album, Country Sunshine sang “Minnesota” and “When Will I Be Loved?”  The Black Hammer Sextet sang “Wedding Banquet” and “Patriotic Medley.” Other performers on the album include the Spring Grove High School choir, the Bill Sherburne Orchestra, Spring Grove Old Timers, the Hayshakers, Susan Wold, Valheimers, Country Boys, Eric Mathsen, and Jesse Thompson.