Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Thursday in the Park with George (and William and Joy)

My dad and I are booked to give a presentation about G. Oliver Riggs next month at St. Cloud's historic Barden Park.  The offer to pay us in free root beer floats certainly was an incentive.  But mostly we're excited to have the opportunity to discuss the connection between the park and G. Oliver (the G. stands for George), who conducted summer concerts there throughout his almost 20 years as director of the St. Cloud Municipal Band and St. Cloud Municipal Boys' Band.

We will give a 30-minute talk Thursday, July 22, beginning at 6:45 p.m., before the St. Cloud Municipal Band's 7:30 p.m. concert.  Mark your calendars now; the concerts are always a fun, family friendly event!

Sebastian, Elias and Louisa inspect the fountain in front of the bandstand at St. Cloud's Barden Park in May 2007.

Barden Park, originally called Central Park, has served the residents of the city's South Side/Barden Park neighborhood for more than 150 years.  It also holds a special place in the history of the Riggs family.  My dad and his two siblings grew up a block from the park, next to St. Cloud State University (formerly the St. Cloud Teacher's College).  My grandfather Ronald Riggs took a job in 1940 as the college band director, and eventually became a political science professor at the college.

Sebastian poses with the Harry Clay Ervin "A Citizen of St. Cloud" monument, in the park where my dad used to play.

From about fourth grade through his college student years, my dad lived in a house at 311 8th St. S.  In the 1970s, after my grandfather had died, the house was relocated and the property was turned into a parking lot for the expanding university.  When my brother and I were kids, my dad drove past the park and showed us the site of his childhood home.  I was glad to learn that he hadn't actually lived in the parking lot. 

The park's distinctive octagonal granite bandstand that I noticed as a child is still there.  It's been there since 1925, two years after a group of businessmen enticed G. Oliver to leave Bemidji and move to St. Cloud to direct the city band and form a boys' band.   As director, G. Oliver instituted a program of weekly summer concerts that rotated among the city's parks, including Central (renamed Barden in 1938).  He continued to direct these summer concerts through the 30s and early 40s; he retired in 1944.

I discovered this morning, while looking at old concert programs, that my dad and I give our presentation almost exactly 74 years after the day that G. Oliver and his younger son, Percy, co-directed a concert at Barden Park.  Percy was visiting from South Bend, Indiana, where he was director of the Riley High School Band.

This article about the concert ran in the July 24, 1936 issue of The St. Cloud Daily Times.

The July 23, 1936 concert featured a solo by Pullman "Tommy" Pederson, a student of G. Oliver's who became a famous Hollywood trombonist.

Another piece on the program was Karl King's "Barnum and Bailey's Favorite."  Unfortunately, we don't have a recording from the 1936 concert, but you can watch a YouTube video of the St Cloud Municipal Band playing that peppy King march at an Aug. 13, 2009 concert at Barden Park.

I've been to Barden Park twice in the past couple of years: in May 2007, when Steve, the kids and I stopped there on the way to a St. Cloud Municipal Band concert at the Paramount Theatre; and again in August 2008, to hear my dad play with the band at its circus-themed concert.  Both times, I was impressed with how inviting the park looked.  Thanks to the efforts of neighborhood residents like Juliana Elchert, chair of the Barden Park Committee, the park has benefited from $500,000 in improvements over the past several years.  The bandstand, designed by St. Cloud architect Louis Penault, has been restored.  New lighting and pathways have been installed.  And just last week, four 6-foot granite columns were installed to mark the corners of the park.  The project was explained in a recent St. Cloud Times article.

I'm grateful to all those who've had a hand in preserving this wonderful park for future generations.  I hope that a century from now, people will still visit a lovingly maintained Barden Park to enjoy the simple pleasures in life, like a drinking a cold root beer, and listening to a live band.

3 comments:

  1. I love this. How cool that you have all of those newspaper articles. I love it. And I wish we could be at the concert!

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  2. Granite in Calgary: Thanks!

    Kate: Thanks; I wish you could, too! Bet your girls would like the music. Also, I wanted to tell you that it was fun to see the write-up about you in Minnesota Parent. :)

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