50 years of music, fun and fellowship

Mary Davidsaver
The Bishop Hill Hi-Society Band has been a part of local events for five decades, including last month’s Bishop Hill Old Settlers Day, as seen here. The band is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2008.

Fifty years of music, fun and fellowship. That’s what the Bishop Hill Hi-Society Band has brought to the area.

Since originated in 1958 by Rev. D. V. Charlson of Messiah Lutheran Church in Galva, the band has hosted many members and provided countless hours of entertainment for half a century.

Alan Ericson of Galva is the only original musician still playing with the group. According to him, charter members were: Rev. Charlson, Dale Whitman and Albert Gearhart on trumpets; Lloyd Hobley, clarinet; and Wayne Nordstrom and Ericson himself on trombones. They rehearsed marching music in the church’s Sunday school rooms and soon acquired new members.

Tom Cain joined as a drummer and Vernon Nordstrom as a baritone or bass horn player.

When Rev. Charlson moved on to another church, leadership of the group fell to Nordstrom, who lived near Bishop Hill. That’s how the name evolved.

Over the years, the band has played for many events, including ice cream socials, queen contests and a wedding reception. It is known for its parade presence and its association with the Bishop Hill Old Settlers’ 1896 band wagon. Whether it’s pulled by horses or a tractor, the red wagon’s a piece of history that makes an impression.

Former Illinois Governor Jim Thompson got a chance to ride in that wagon with the band after the 1987 ground-breaking ceremony for the Bishop Hill Museum, the state historic site built to house the Olof Krans collection of Bishop Hill Colony paintings and other artifacts.

As it has many times before, the band played at this year’s Bishop Hill Old Settlers Day, held Sept. 13 inside Bishop Hill Community United Methodist Church. The program started out with “Toot, Toot, Tootsie,” the group’s theme song.

Other marches and songs were selected as personal favorites by various band members. Tributes were played for former members Vernon Nordstrom and Ted Myhre, both now deceased.

Playing in the Hi-Society Band has become a tradition for a few families. When Paul Collinson introduced band members at the Sept. 13 Old Settlers program, he proudly noted that Dave Ericson is the son of Alan Ericson and Olof Collinson is his own son.

There are no third generation musicians as yet, but that may be just a matter of time -? the next 50 years or so.