WAVERLY – Twenty years ago, a group of young jazz musicians traveled to Branson, Mo. for a trip they’ll always remember.
Under the direction of Ron Dalton, the Waverly High School jazz band opened for the Lawrence Welk Orchestra at the Champagne Theater in the Ozark resort town.
It was part of the On Stage Live program sponsored by the theater, and it was the first time that the Waverly band had been asked to perform in Branson.
To raise money for the trip, the band started a tradition that has carried on ever since – playing big band music at the Jazz Band Dance. This year, the tradition continues on March 27 at the Waverly Middle School.
Dalton hopes as many of the 25 original band members as possible will attend the dance to reminisce about the fun they had on the trip and in jazz band, and at the same time enjoy the songs played by the current group of musicians.
“If they have a night off, why not show up and show support for the band,” he said.
The reunion was suggested by a former student Dalton ran into on a hospital shuttle bus in Lincoln. Another student walked by a few minutes later and repeated the idea.
Since then, Dalton has called a few of the parents to try and help round up the band. He hopes this article brings more to the reunion.
“We’re trying to get in contact with as many as we can,” he said.
Dalton remembers the trip to Branson well. He said they were accompanied by 12 sets of parents, a larger-than-normal number of chaperones for a field trip. Another 10 to 16 parents drove down on their own to watch the performance.
“We had tremendous support,” he said.
The band played for the orchestra and afterwards were given a clinic by some of the musicians, including the legendary accordion player Myron Floren, who played with the orchestra on Lawrence Welk’s TV show for 30 years.
Later, the high school musicians played a 30-minute set to open for the orchestra. In the wings, the famous Lennon Sisters and other performers were watching with interest.
“I could see them dancing,” said Dalton. “It was just an awesome thing.”
In an article published in The News following the band’s return from Branson, Dalton recalled that Janet Lennon, one of the sisters, said the Waverly band was “the finest group that she had heard” since the On Stage Live program had begun.
After finishing their set, the Waverly students got to listen to the professional musicians do their thing. Dalton said it was a treat.
“What a group of musicians,” he said. “Those guys played jazz like you wouldn’t believe.”
The band started raising money for the trip in 1999, a year before they traveled to Branson. One of their fundraisers was a dance where the music was supplied by the jazz band. They played songs from the 1940s in the commons area of the high school.
The dance was a big hit, and the next year Dalton moved it to the Waverly Intermediate School gym. They created a prom-like atmosphere with lights strung to the ceiling and a shiny silver backdrop lit with colored spotlights. Tables were set up like a jazz club.
“That night was probably the highlight of my career in jazz bands,” said Dalton.
The band played for four hours, which was a challenge. Most high school performances last about an hour, so the students were not used to playing for such a long time, Dalton explained. But they rose to the occasion.
“What a learning experience for them,” he added.
Dalton retired from teaching in 2001, a year after the Branson trip. He had spent 15 years in Waverly, and 18 in Wayne before that. His wife, Mavis, was the elementary physical education teacher in Waverly for many years.
His successor was Jim Kucera, who remains the band instructor at Waverly. Kucera kept the Jazz Band Dance going, and has watched it grow over the years. He credits Dalton with coming up with a great idea.
“All I did was try to take it forward,” he said.
Over the years, parents and other family members have been integral to running the dance. This year, Theresa Delahoyde is among those volunteers. She said over 200 people attended the dance last year.
Before the dance, a meal will be served. Delahoyde said tickets must be purchased in advance for the meal. They are being sold by jazz band members or online at https://www.signupgenius.com/go/9040c48aaae22a31-whswms until March 19.
Tickets for the meal and dance are $12 for adults and $8 for children 11 and under. For those just wishing to attend the dance, the tickets are $5 for adults, $3 for children.
This year, the middle school and high school jazz bands will share the stage, with the older musicians taking two sets while the younger players perform for one set.
Kucera himself will also perform, breaking out his accordion to provide some polkas, backed by his students. The old-fashioned music is a hit not only with the parents, but also with the students, he said.
“They wish we played more so they could dance more,” he said.
Dalton and his wife recently battled cancer. She lost her battle in July. He survived bone marrow cancer, but his fight has showed him the value of making the most out of the time you have. So he is hoping the reunion is a success.
“We may not get another chance to do something like this,” he said.