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Playing in a band before going to war

Kay Vasilakis
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Chad Spangler Post Independent
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GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado ” Dick Ryman can talk all day about his adventures and his collections. He could write a book about his life and probably have it turned into a movie.

Every square inch of his office, or as he put it, the “nerve center,” is filled with medals and memorabilia from the U.S. Navy, The Eddie Garner Orchestra, Arapahoe Basin, local races, family photos and American Indian artifacts.

The Glenwood Springs 82-year-old man learned to play the drums when he was 14 years old. At 15, he was performing with The Eddie Garner Orchestra, a popular nine-piece “territory” band that traveled a 400-mile radius of Lincoln, Neb.

All the band members were 15 years old in an era when the draft was taking musicians who were a little older. Band leaders found it hard to find players, so they recruited young musicians.

“Eddie would pick us up after school five or six nights per week in a Packard limousine, sometimes putting a board across the jump seats so we would all fit,” Dick said, laughing. Their instruments were placed in a trailer towed behind the limousine.

They played to packed houses in dance halls such as the Corn Palace in Mitchell, S.D.; the Surf Ballroom of Clearlake, Iowa; and the Frog-Hop Ballroom in St. Joseph, Mo. The dance halls held 700-800 people, all dancing to big band dance music performed by the territory bands.

“Sometimes we’d get back just in time for school,” he recalled. “We’d play 20 to 25 nights per month, and we made more money than the high school principal.”

He did OK with his schooling until his last year. He only had two classes, typing and boy’s cooking. Because he performed so much, he flunked typing and had to go back in the fall to take it again, but he did graduate.

Then band members were drafted and fought the good fight in World War II. He has plenty of stories about being a torpedoman on the USS Wilson Destroyer in the Philippines and Okinawa. The ship had 11 battle stars, and was one of the most heavily decorated destroyers in the war.

After the war, the band was organized again, playing for another three years to make some money while they were in college.

Dick has a great deal of respect for his former band leader, who later founded the successful Garner Tool and Dye Company, in Lincoln.

“Eddie was the most wonderful man I ever met,” said Dick. “He was like a father to all of us, because most of us didn’t have fathers. He kept eight teenagers from getting into trouble.”

The band members did not use alcohol or drugs, all of the young men graduated from the University of Nebraska and all were very successful in their endeavors after graduating.

Forty years later, the band members got together for a reunion at the Holiday Inn in Lincoln, which was a great surprise to the band leader. The friends spent two days reminiscing about old times and touring Eddie’s factory. But nobody brought their instruments.

Dick’s drums were packed and stored for fifty years, but now they are set up in a shed. He uses the same sticks when he practices at least five minutes every day on the same original Slingerland drums he played before the war. And he can still toss a stick into the air and catch it, too.


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