While studying a list of members of the first boys’ band G. Oliver organized in St. Cloud in 1923, I noticed the name Theodore Papermaster. Cool name! I thought, and filed it away in my brain. An hour later, I was looking at a newspaper article about a piano recital given by G. Oliver’s wife, Islea, in 1924 and noticed the name of one of her students was – you guessed it – Theodore Papermaster. I then checked the list of members from the 1930 boys’ band: yes, there again was Theodore Papermaster.
Who is this Theodore Papermaster, I wondered? He would have to be almost 100 years old – is there any chance he’s still alive? Through an online search, I discovered that he’d been a pediatrician in the Twin Cities for many years, he’d served in World War II, and he had a daughter living in the Twin Cities. I contacted her at work, and the next evening, I heard a strong, clear voice on the other end of the telephone saying:
“I was very well acquainted with G. Oliver Riggs. He came to St. Cloud in 1923, when I was 9 years old, and I was the No. 5 clarinet player in a band of 240. ... The two bandmasters – no, three – that followed him, they were not very satisfactory, so they hired him back. He directed another generation of the band, and I was among that, too.”
|St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ Band, 1924|
I didn’t want to miss out on an opportunity to learn more, so on the day before Thanksgiving I visited Ted at his nursing home in the Twin Cities.
He told me he joined the boys’ band with the support of his father, Herman, who played clarinet in the adult municipal band. Herman was a tailor and had a dry cleaning business at 20 Sixth Ave. in downtown St. Cloud (the site is now part of Herberger’s); for a time, Herman rented the building’s upper floor to the city for use as a band rehearsal hall. Ted’s younger brother, Ralph (who died in 2001), later played in the band, too.
|From left to right: Dick Strobel, Ted Papermaster, and Ted’s buddy Sidney Kaufman, in 1925.|
|In this 1930 photo, Ted is in the front row, the first clarinet to the right of the drums.|
Music was an important part of Ted’s boyhood. He took piano lessons for many years from G. Oliver’s wife, Islea, although he never knew her first name. “She was a lovely, lovely lady, a good performer and a wonderful teacher,” he said.
|Islea Graham Riggs, an accomplished pianist and teacher|
|A photo of Ted as a flight surgeon in World War II|
Although he lost track of Percy after he left St. Cloud, Ted knew that my grandfather Ronald had twin grandsons – my cousins Scott and Brent Riggs – because he was their doctor for a short time after they were born. I was so surprised to learn this – it is indeed a small world! I told Ted that Scott has twin boys of his own now, and that Brent named his younger son Griffin Oliver after G. Oliver (the G. stood for George). Ted was delighted.
I had to end our visit because Ted was getting tired, but I hope to see him again. It’s hard to put into words how meaningful it was to meet him and hear him say, “The happiest days of my life were when I was playing in the band.”
I came away from the interview feeling more convinced than ever of the need to tell the story of the St. Cloud Municipal Boys’ band in a book. So, this week, I’ll be back at the writing desk!