Monday, September 3, 2018

The Lehighton Boys and Girls Band

The nostalgia overwhelms me.
It’s been forty- years since I joined the band. 
Camp Blakslee - Lehighton Boys Band in 1911.  (All photos, unless otherwise noted, are property of the Lehighton
Boys and Girls Band.  Use of these photos is prohibited unless permission granted by the board.)
March 21, 1920 - Without hats here, with hats below.

Mel Hill is playing the saxophone, his posture exactly matching my memory of him.  He was of the second generation of the Lehighton Boys and Girls Band.  In Mel’s time it was only for the boys however.  The name and rules changed in 1980/1981.
Mel Hill playing the saxophone in a 1982
Big Band Ambassadors Concert in Lehighton.

(Paula Farkas, Gail Faust Rakos and Donna Ringeisen Maleski were pioneers.  By being the first females to enter the band in over 50 years, they took their share of abuse from some of the boys.)

I remember fearing Mel Hill.  Not because he was a robust veteran of the last Great War but because he ran a tight ship.  He had a long experience doing what he did, and he did it well.  It wasn’t long for this fear of mine to evolve into a deep respect.  That respect has grown stronger and more complete in my current memory.  Standing in this hall, I wish my current self could meet Mel all over again. 

The framed charcoal-sketch of the band’s chief benefactor, James I. Blakslee, the Fourth Assistant Postmaster General of the United States, appointed by President Wilson, still calls my attention.
James I. Blakslee's sketch as it hands at the band hall.
The benefactor of not only the Lehighton Boys and Girls
Band but in other Lehighton institutions as well.
After all he has done for Lehighton, perhaps it is
time that our town can set things right by
correctly spelling "Blakeslee" Blvd.

The hall is empty.  It is more or less exactly the same.  They’ve modernized the windows from the metal-frame, single-paned and glazed, drafty windows from 1957.  The walls are the same, but now painted a light blue.  The mission of the place is unchanged.

The echoes are still here.  I’m reminded of coming in for my weekly lesson. This shell has two modes.  Quiet and serene versus the punctuated echoes of notes.  The peace of the place always waiting to be filled with notes. 

Notes from beginners, a member of the preparatory “Prep Band” struggles through the weak, unintended side-toned squeaks of a clarinet during his weekly lesson.  The hesitant, clumsy beats of the drummer, unaware of his acceleration, is reined in by the director’s taps of the baton on the metal chair.

It cannot be escaped.  It was true for me then in a way that differs for me now.
The Sixth and Cypress Street location of the hall as it was being
built c. 1957.

The same scents are in the air, though less prominent.  The years of dances, spittle from the horn section, and floor wax, all mingle to form the hall’s unique scent.
This photo from c. 1960 shows then director Charles Fronheiser
giving weekly lessons to five trumpet players.  Fronheiser was a graduate
of the band and so was his son Charles Jr.  It looks like Lynn Solt is closest
to the camera.

The Lehighton Boys and Girls Band’s existence is a saga.  Independent notes of effort from many, blending their talents into a sometimes cacophonous harmony. 
The hall as it looked after its completion in 1957.  See the end notes
for a picture of the dedication from that day.
Membership used to be 75 cents per week.  That bought your weekly half-hour lesson and one hour session with the whole band.  In my day, it was $2 per week.  
A c. 1976 picture by Bob Fatzinger.

Current director Alyssa Schoch was a 5th grade student of mine.  She took over the reins of the band in January of 2016. 

Blakslee was the self-made man of Asa Packer’s nephew who had an ability, energy, and foresight to start projects worth working on and seeing them through.  He became secretary of the state democrats during a factious time of restructuring, endearing him to then New Jersey Governor Woodrow Wilson.

Blakslee did the things he saw needed doing.  He was fond of the phrase, “Everyone has their own row to hoe.”

But as legend has it, before leaving town for his new duties in the Wilson administration, he asked the band hall to return $500 to him.  Not because he needed it.  The money could only have been a fraction of what he shelled out to start the band.  He asked for this because it was his way of saying “I gave you a hand up, not a hand out.”  

The band evolved out of Blakslee’s involvement with Lehigh Engine #2.  The Lehighton Boys Band was originally the Lehigh Engine #2 Company band, started in 1910.  There was also a time when there was a separate Lehighton Girls Band as well.  (See the pictures of both boys and girls in the picture at Saylor’s Lake.)
The Lehighton Boys Band encampment at Saylors Lake - 1913

The Lehighton Boys and the separate Lehighton Girls Bands stayed for 10 days at a time at Saylor's Lake to perfect
their craft in the summertime in the style of camp as well as being the "house" band to perform for other guests at the resort.

From the Morning Call, August 1927.
Though the band’s impetus began with Blakslee, it fell to numerous others to hoe many hard rows for Lehighton’s young musicians.  Much musical fruit was borne of the efforts of the Board of Directors and the Ladies Auxiliary.   They made civic pleas for financial aid from the community.  The directors held bank notes to keep weekly dues at a minimum to ensure nearly everyone in town could afford to join.

I think fondly of A. Henry Reiss, a man I never met.  He was the band’s first musical director.  He couldn’t have been paid very much.  The papers liked to mention how he came from New York, as if that added extra value to his efforts.  To know the man’s gifts is to know the true measure of the man.

Despite what I assume was low-pay, it surprised me how content he looked.  He was obviously doing something he loved.  He looks solid, as if he were composed of solid brick and mortar.  Born in New York, Reiss arrived in Lehighton in 1911 from his job in a music store in Richland County, South Carolina at the age of 35. 
This undated photo, most likely at a concert at same Pocono resort or lake is from the 1940s when the band wore
blue capes.  The director is Charles Kuebler of Jim Thorpe (Mauch Chunk).
The Lehighton Boys Band in 1914 with their first director A. Henry Reiss-
Seated (l to r): William Frantz, Harold Rex, Walter Frederick, Harold Oswald,William Heberling, Warren Thamarus, Herb Fritch, Peters, Herbert Kresge, Wesley Shaffer, Randall Brassee, Harold Hontz, Thomas Bryan, and Donald "Toots" Bryan.
Standing: Floyd Trainer, Floyd Harleman, William Smith, Norman Ronemus, Ritter, Howard Blank, Delroy Rehrig, Reed Brower, Harold Stermer (front), Paul Radcliff, Clifford Fenstermacher, George Ashner, Earl Snyder, Warren Ronemus, Ray Moulthrop, William Hontz, Ervin "Irving" Young, Daivd Roth, and Harold Rehrig.

Board of Directors 1976
Front (l to r): Robert Fetterman, Carl Hochberg, Larry Markley, Paul Gross, Walter Hoover, and Mel Hill.
Middle: Richard Ashner, Carmen Hill, George Markley, Elliot "Sammy" Markley, Chester Kleintop, and Ed Christman.
Back: Paul Smith, Mel Everett, Franklin Fisher, Bruce Begel, and Ed Mertz.
The directors of the band had rich backgrounds.  Taking over after Reiss was Arthur Guimes, a Greek-born graduate of Boston Conservatory.  His obituary in 1922 described him as “a musician of note and one of the most widely-known bandmasters of this region.”

I remember playing in both the Prep and the Senior band at many cake walks.  Sometimes at church festivals and sometimes on the band hall grounds itself for the annual fundraising block party with games of chance, funnel cake, and bingo games inside.  I do not recall getting expelled.  My recent research led me to that realization.  And now a reckoning with either a forgotten or foggy past.

1976 Ladies Auxillary - Front: Unknown.
Middle: Unknown, Melba Gross, Mae Markley, Unknown, Florence Kresge, Florence Fronheiser (Director Fronheiser's wife).
Back: Virginia Hill, Maureen Markley, Unknown, Anna (LaRose) Everett, and Gloria Reichard.
(Please help identify these ladies by contacting me through Facebook or at  
Unfortunately we do not know any of these ladies from the Ladies Auxillary. 
Please help by contacting me on Facebook or at

Director Kuebler at the grand opening of the Windsor Store, First Street Lehighton, 1942.
(Photo Courtesy Paula Kistler Ewaniuk)

The Prep band would play for the cake walk in the afternoon, followed by the Senior Band, and sometimes the Dance Band or pieces of Mel Hill’s Big Band Ambassadors would entertain the evening crowd.

I remember the annual bus rides to Dorney Park, chaperoned by Mel Hill and sometimes Chester Kleintop and Elliot “Sammy” Markley.  (Yes the same man who patrolled LaRoses skating rink with his whistle.) 
The 1978 Lehighton Boys Band Board of Directors - Front (l to r): Mel Hill, Jerry Reed, Mel Everett, George Markley, and
Elliot "Sammy" Markley.  Middle: Paul Smith, Paul Gross, Chester Kleintop, Carl Hochberg, and Dale Burnhauser.
Back: Larry Markley, Paul Gombert, Ken Leffler.

Here is a list compiled by someone in the band hall listing all the
graduates of the band who have gone on to continue their life in music.
Both men were regular fixtures around the hall.  We boys were unaware of all their hard work.  At one time, the band hall held Friday night dances with live music.  The hall of course was built for this.  It had bandstand risers at one end and spacious room for dancing on its hard wood floors.  

The risers look handmade.  They are unchanged since before my youth.  I can imagine a Saturday afternoon when members of the board, ever careful with each dollar, pitched in to construct them.  I can say this because though they are sturdy and long lasting, they are far from the perfection of a seasoned wood-worker.  These were made with love, not for profit.

The ladies Auxiliary sold cookbooks with recipes donated from members and friends of the band hall.  These fundraisers were essential to keep the dues at such a low rate of $2 per week.  The hall still holds Sunday night bingo each week.
Late 1950s/early 1960s- Lehighton Memorial Day Services - Saluting those
fallen at sea with the Lehighton Boys and Girls Band in the background on
the Weissport bridge..

We members of the band were always busy each Memorial Day weekend. We'd drive all around, conveyed by some old rickety bus from Rehrig's transportation.  Had you asked me then, I'd have sworn they invented these places just to make our days all that much longer.  

But there's something my current self draws from that today.  It has drawn me closer to the significance of  Memorial Day ever since, a sensation that grows stronger with age.  It cannot be explained.

We'd play music at both small and intimate ceremonies around small family plots of graves and in the main Memorial Day Parade in town.  This tradition continues today.  

And of course there were the many other parades: Halloween, Veterans Day, and Firemen’s parades too.

Looking back at the dedication and what it meant to be in the band is what strikes me now.  I delayed my own entry to the band through my own reluctance.  (Perhaps ‘reticence’ would be a better word?)

My two older brothers played the trumpet as our father did in the band.  Though I consider myself quite dependent on my love of music today, I really had little enthusiasm to join as a 10-year-old. 

After a year of putting off my mother’s urging, I finally agreed to make some noise as part of the percussion section, certainly this agreed with my sense of fulfilling my parents’ wishes and appeasing my desire to invest as little as possible (i.e. I wouldn’t even have to learn musical notes, just beats!)
The 1948 Prep Band Spring Concert - Director Fronheiser

My dad left the band when he entered the Marine Corps in June 1948.   After Parris Island he was accepted into the Marine Corps Divisional band.  At that time, the Marine Corps was able to send only fifteen cadets from the entire nation, into the Navy School of Music in Washington DC.  My dad and his cousin Nuny got two of those fifteen spots, mainly because they had been members of the Lehighton Boys Band.  (To read more about these men, click here.)

Many former Lehighton Boys Band members went on to careers in music and particularly in the service bands.  When my dad arrived at the school, the director greeted him and his cousin Raymond “Nuny” Rabenold with enthusiasm, as the band’s reputation had preceded their arrival.  Nuny’s father Raymond was the longtime secretary of the Board of Directors with his mother Edith on the Ladies Auxiliary Board.
Finally earning your jacket, and moving from the Prep band
to Senior band was a big occasion.  Here Donald Getz gives his brother Neil
his jacket while Director Charles Fronheiser looks on.
(Morning Call - 25 April 1955)
Here Director Daniel Troxell hands the ceremonial jacket to Donald Fisher.  From Troxell: John Hanosek, Keith Holland, Kristen David, Duane Heydt, Amy Lobien, Ryan Behler, Allison Leffler, Steve Figura, David Carpenter, and Michelle Gombert.
November 1941 -Veterans Day Parade

The brand new Lehighton High School was dedicated on September 4th,
1918.  On September 4, 2018, the Lehighton Area School District opened
its brand new elementary center to students 100 years to the day later.
“Back in the day,” in the early days of the band, music was everywhere.  There was no large public gathering of people without it.  The fair, church festivals, parades, private parties, building dedications, ad infinitum: people danced and cake walked to live music.  Digitized sound has supplanted the live musician.

Lehighton’s first generation of band hall musicians begins with A. Henry Reiss and Hontz’s Pirates.  Reiss was the first director.  Passing onto the second generation, under the direction of Charles Kuebler, we have the “Lehighton Boys Band March,” written by Kuebler in the 1930s.  

Within those first generations of musicians under Reiss and a Greek-born director Arthur Guimes were Charles Fronheiser.  First as musicians themselves and later to conduct the band.  Fronheiser and Hill combined to lead the band from 1946 up to 1980. 
Not only did the Lehighton Boys and Girls Band stay and play at Saylor Lake, but so did former band hall student Ervin "Irving" Young.  (See the circle above.)

One of Ervin "Irving" Young's first bands, here at the stage of the Lehighton High stage in 1920s - L-R: Frank Drumheller, Robert Montz, Ervin Young, Floyd Harleman, Harold Oswald, and Frank Whitman. 
Ervin "Irving" Young's "Peerless Sextet" in Lehighton in the 1920s.  (This photo courtesy of the Young Family.)
Busy Summer- Ervin Young's band had plenty of
work in the summer of 1921.  This ad from July,
the next one lower right from August.

The national music scene was reflected within our own bands.  Ervin “Irving” Young’s first band in the 1920s was the “Peerless Sextet.”  The men plainly doubled on more than one instrument, but it featured Irving on drums, a trumpet, trombone, saxophone, piano, and two xylophones. 

The piano, drums and guitars were considered part of the rhythm section.  In the Big Bands, there were these same essential pieces, with the addition of an expanded brass section of 3 to 6 saxophones, trumpets, and trombones.  Tubas were in fashion early, but exchanged later for the stand-up double bass. 

This was reflected in Ervin’s later band, “Irving Young and his Californians."  From 1925 through 1926, Young’s band toured extensively with vaudeville and film star Frank Farnum, who was known as an “eccentric” dancer of the Charleston.  
Ervin and a bandmate have fun showing their
high billing in the newly built Earle Theatre
in Philadelphia.  It was the most lavishly
decorated and expensive decors of all
city theaters at that time.

Ervin was also known to play for cruise ship bands.  One ship, known as the “Evangeline” was based in New York City.  The Irving Young and his Californians played extensively on this ship in the early, pre-WWII, 1940s.  He also played around Lake Hopatcong in New Jersey.

However, in the era of my family, it was the Hill family that meant so much to Lehighton music.  

Melvin Hill directed the band from 1962 to 1980.  Brothers Carmen and Maynard were also part of Mel’s various musical endeavors.  Claude and Esther Hill were a five star family during the war.
The 16 Masters of Music at Flagstaff, Summer 1948 - Maynard Hill (at mic), Mel Hill (center saxophone), and Carmen Hill on piano.  Mahlon Kistler Jr., of Lehighton Hardware is back row, right trumpet.
Ervin "Irving" Young and his band in St Louis - February 1926

June 1947 Morning Call.
After the war, the Hill brothers started a big band known as the “16 Masters of Music” (the number was sometimes 15).  

It featured Maynard Hill on vocals, Carmen on piano (part of the rhythm section) and Mel on saxophone.  They played regularly at Flagstaff Moonlight Ballroom in the summer of 1948.
Ruth Franks, mother of Lehighton artist and designer
Ruth Bush provided vocals to the Big Band
Jazz Ambassadors in the 1980s and 90s.

Maynard had gone to Penn State during the war for training and became involved in music there.  He had Miss Frances Andrews as his instructor.  

Miss Andrews also worked with the high school chorus in State College at the time.  Then the fate of a request from Rockview Prison, to Miss Andrews provide some music to the inmates, set up the meeting of Gay Brunner to Maynard Hill.   

Here is Gay Hill's story:

“Maynard came to Penn State with the Navy program.  He joined the college choir, directed by the same woman who directed the High School choir, Miss Frances Andrews.  The High School choir was invited to sing at the nearby penitentiary (Rockview State Prison).  Miss Andrews arranged for Maynard to sing solo as part of the program.  I was the tenth grade accompanist for the choir.  All went well.  Four or five years later, the sailor returned to the college campus.  He wanted to make a recording of songs as a Christmas gift for his mother Esther.  Perhaps he re-contacted Miss Andrews and once again she sent him to me.  And so I played for the record, and ultimately many more performances throughout my college years, marrying Maynard in 1951.” 

In those in-between years, Maynard had formed a band with his two brothers, Mel and Carmen.  Gay Hill remembers driving from State College to Flagstaff, in the late 1940s, on a date with Maynard so that he could sing in his brothers’ band.

(Maynard gained fame outside of music as well.  He was the first to develop a model plane to fly a trans-Atlantic flight from Nova Scotia to Ireland.  His experimentation was critical in developing drones within our military.  His work also was able to confirm and discover science heretofore unknown.  See the footnotes for more on this.)
The 1934 Lehighton Boys and Girls Band Spring Concert at the Lehighton High on Third Street.

Another first generation band hall player was Donald “Toots” Bryan.  Toots Bryan played trumpet in Fred Waring’s Pennsylvanians band in the 1930s.  It was the Fred Waring band where Les Paul first became well known.  

Les Paul had a trio within Warings Band featuring Chet Atkins’ older brother Jim.  Of course in the 1940s, Les Paul went on to perfect the solid-body electric guitar.

Waring’s band with Lehighton’s Norman Ronemus and Bryan produced wide-selling hits.  They were top-selling artists for Victor Records.  A foxtrot called “Dancing in the Dark” and “Smoke Gets in Your Eyes” are among their best.  Ronemus played with Waring for about 30 years, from the 1930s up to the late 1950s.

Click here to listen to Waring's Pennsylvanian's playing "Dancing in the Dark."

Tom Waring and his band were top sellers for Victor Records-
This ad is from April 1925.

In what might be known as the 3rd generation Lehighton Boys and Girls Band Hall player is Denny Seiwell.  He went on to become a renowned drummer on his own with Paul McCartney’s Wings.  He is featured on Wings’ signature piece, “Live and Let Die.”  

Seiwell’s brother Darrell was a long-time music and band director at Jim Thorpe High School and plays in a few popular local bands.  Denny visited with Lehighton Boys and Girls Band members in 2010. 

The Seiwells happen to be great nephews of “Irving Young.”  Both Denny and Erwin happened to be drummers.  Denny is the grandson of Clara Young, who was a sister to Ervin.  

(Denny Seiwell remembers visiting his great uncle Ervin in Brooklyn as a kid.  One of Ervin's sons played AAA baseball as a pitcher in the Dodger's organization.  That son later worked for the FBI.)

Director Fronheiser guided the band until his unexpected death in 1962.  His own son Charles was a musician in the band and went onto musician third class in the U.S. navy.
In 1957, Mel Hill guided the Lehighton (Mens)
Band, holding a joint concert with the Lehighton
Boys Band.  This bass drum is from the
Lehighton Band, est 1864.

Of course Blakslee wasn’t the only benefactor of the band.  A man from New York City, George Brandenstein, was given the distinction of lifetime honorary director.  

Brandenstein became acquaintances with the Merluzzi family in town by way of the garment industry.  Brandenstein’s family made infant-ware “Fancy Knit” clothing in Manhattan.  

Richard and Gordon Merluzzi of Lehighton were just getting involved in the garment business in the 1950s when Brandenstein became a mentor and friend to the Merluzzi family.

Upon Brandenstein’s death in 1973, his will stipulated bequeathing $1,000 to both the Gnaden Hutten Hospital and the Lehighton Boys Band.  The rest of the money was given in $1,000 increments to about 8 New York City area charities, and $10,000 went to his family.   He also gave $1,000 to his dear friend Richard Merluzzi.
This photo of George Brandenstein, honorary life-time
director of the band sent this photo to Charles Fronheiser
in September 1948.

In my time at the band in the late 1970s (3rd or 4th generation perhaps?), a few people stand out to me as being extremely talented and dedicated.  There was Duane Reichard, a natural on drums, who still serves the community with the Lehighton Band, formerly the Lehighton Mens’ Band founded in 1864. 

And of course there is Bradley Cressley.  His early love of music was first honed at Sixth and Cypress Streets.  He went onto the Lehighton Band too, married the conductor of that band’s daughter, Paul Smith’s daughter Beth and has now become the conductor of that other of Lehighton’s veritable music traditions.  

Cressley is also active with Zion’s U.C.C. and directs the Zion Opera Workshop, the yearly theatrical production still set to live music.
The Lehighton Band, circa 1925, in front of the Lehighton High.  John Hill, the uncle of Mel, Carmen, and Maynard
Hill is behind the young calrinet player at the bass drum.

Then there was another musical person I always admired from the band hall: Dave Mantz.  Dave on trumpet to me was always the best.  Up until recently he was the go to trumpet for “Taps” at memorial services for the Lehighton Band.  In our youth as well, he often was the one to retreat behind the main mausoleum at Lehighton Cemetery to play the “echo” repeat of the song.
The 1964 Spring concert was enshrined onto vinyl.

His own father was a founding member of Mel Hill’s Big Band Ambassadors.  He was also a member of the Lehighton Band and Perseverance Jazz band.  

Don Mantz died at the age of 46 in 1988.  A skilled clarinetist, Don was playing at a band performance at the Kreidersville Church when his heart gave out.

The Big Band Ambassadors started out in 1978 as the Carbon-Lehigh Big Band.  Two of the men were from Lehigh County (Eric Schlosser and Don Trainer were from Slatington) along with Lehighton’s Mel Hill and Mantz.
November 1, 1982 - Morning Call - Mel Hill's Big Band Jazz Ambassadors

A 1981 article from the Morning Call stated that Schlosser had “traveled throughout the world and has performed with numerous area bands.” 

Mel Hill was the oldest of six children from Claude and Esther (Berger) Hill.  

At first a molder for Lehigh Stoves in Lehighton, Claude supported his family by painting and paperhanging.  They were a Five Star Family during the war.  Mel served in the army and play in the divisional band. 

Carmen trained in desert warfare for the army. Gerald was in the combat engineers in the army while his twin sister Geraldine trained as a Navy nurse.  And second youngest brother Maynard who turned 18 in February of 1943 joined the naval reserve and received V-12 training at Penn State (where his met his wife Gay Hill).  

Born in 1932, the youngest Hill sibling, Lamont, was not old enough to serve.

More than Music –

The 1975 Senior Band - Mel Hill, director
Row 1 (L to R): Brian Eckert, James Markely, Robert Fatzinger, Bruce Ruch, Kevin Blauch, George Harris, James Snyder, Kim Berger, David Krum, Brad Markley, Jeff Bauchspies, Allen Graver, and Tim Koch.
Row 2: Kevin Steigerwalt, Richard Ashner, Bruce Edwards, Kevin Koch, David Zellner, Robyn Williams, Gary Hill, Brian Hoffner, Harvey George, Cornelius McHugh, Larry Miller, Russell Cunfer.
Row 3: Philip Latzgo, Layne Roberts, Tim Beers, Thomas Markley, Jeffrey Miller, Steve Neihoff, Tim Nothstin, Tom Nothstein, Richard Heine, David Shellhammer, Nik Millen Cameron Yanero.
Row 4: Walter Freundt, Tim David, Paul Gombert, Randy Rabenold, Craig Bredbenner, Todd Begel, Scott Young, William Freundt, Mark Beers, Donald Grow, Steven Schneider.
Row 5: Todd Campbell, Craig Mertz, Mark Bruker, Dennis Rodgers, Robert Ronemus, Drew Everett, William Getz, Thomas Swolenski, Duane Elsasser, Dennis Green.    

Bob “George” Ronemus was in the Senior Band in the mid-1970s.  He recalled a time when the band was asked to perform at Lehighton’s Legion Post #314.  The audience was largely WWII veteran couples who were out to enjoy a night of big band style music.  

Ronemus said:
“I was a drummer in the jazz/dance band…We named ourselves ‘Mel’s Marauders,’ after our leader Mel Hill (I thought it was cool because my dad, Dr. Roy Ronemus, was a field medic in Merrill’s Marauders during the war.)  I remember playing that night…we were punks playing big band music from their time.  The audience was thrilled and we got several standing ovations.  After 40 years I still remember that night like it was yesterday.  Mel was a great leader and a great man.”
I can remember when Mel’s persona first began to soften for me.  His mother Esther lived across the alley from my grandmother who lived at Ninth and Mahoning.  Mamie was widowed in 1950 and Esther lost Claude in 1970.  The widows had become close friends. 

It was around 1978 or 79.  I was cutting Mamie’s yard when Mel asked me if I’d cut his mother’s grass. 

I remember how grateful he was for me to do it for $7 per week and how careful he was to teach me lessons I hadn’t yet realized, namely how not to fill the gas when the engine was hot.  

His instructions were less about the quality of the work than they were about watching out for me.  My fear of Mel began to fade.

All of us who have been associated at the Hall have had their lives enriched in some way.  For me it was less about building musical talent as it was in lessons in life.  I do have an amplified appreciation for music today.  

We almost never know from where the positive influences flow while in our time.

Lehighton was lucky to have Blakslee in its life just as I am grateful to my parents, my aunts and uncles at Haas’ Store, and people like Mel Hill.
Charles Kuebler was band hall director from
1933 to 1945.

Blakslee had a vision of how he could positively impact his adopted hometown of Lehighton, determined to make an impact on each voting ward, Blakslee oversaw the construction of All Saints Episcopal Church in the Third Ward and he was a benefactor in construction of Lehighton’s Engine Company #2, building a new building there in 1917 for the Second Ward.  

He purchased the former Lewis Graver homestead with a mind’s eye into turning it into Lehighton’s first hospital for First Ward.  However his unexpected death in 1926 brought an end to that dream.  His widow instead donated the home to become the current American Legion Home.

As my years begin to flow by, I think of that first generation of the band, and I feel a measure of their existence on my own life today.  

I think of Henry Reiss and his life in music.  Though in his later years he relied on work as a barber, his love for music never faded.  

By the 1950s, both he and Addie (Cox; born in Ohio) were living in the Tampa Bay area. 

There is nothing more true than music and there is no joy more pure than what it brings to our lives.  

These are undeniable facts.

Hontz's Pirates at Saylor Lake 1913 - Sitting(l to r): Harold "Pat" Oswald, Donald "Toots" Bryan, U.S. Hontz, David Roth, and Floyd "Tarp" Trainer.  Standing: Delroy Rehrig, Herbert Fritch, Wm. Hontz, Floyd Harleman (great uncle to one time director Dale Harleman), Warren Ronemus, Earl Snyder, Thomas Bryan, Harold Hontz, and Ervin "Iving" young.  Ervin Young was a brother to Lehighton's legendary "Young's Bakery."  To read more about their story and how they arrived in Lehighton click here.

With my return to this hall, I have found my memories encapsulated in resin and amber.  The toil and the dread I once felt here is now tempered with joy.

Uylsses Hontz of Lehighton, among others,
 was a dedicated person for the band.

I think of U. S. Hontz and how he took more than ten days off to cook for the band at Saylor’s Lake (See the 'Hontz's Pirates' picture above).  

It fascinates me that so much effort was undertaken to get the band out to Monroe County in the 1910s and 1920s.  

Surely it was mostly dirt roads between here and there at that time.   (1911 was the year the U.S. postal service ended a stage coach run between Lehighton and Kresgeville.  A private firm re-established the run three days a week.)

I think of all the times Mel Hill and all the others could have found perhaps something less aggravating than teaching reluctant students like myself.  They all gave much of themselves.  And in that time, those of us lucky to have been part of this band hall, had moments when we lived in truth, in something pure. 

Music is always about something bigger than ourselves.  

I am personally and forever grateful to them for how my experience within the band hall has enriched my life.  I feel so fortunate that I am able to have this experience of reflection on what this hall has meant to me.

In combing for information on Reiss, I discovered a letter he wrote to the Tampa Tribune in October 1954.    Read Reiss’s own words here, starting at "Attention, Music Students.":

It would be wonderful to think that Reiss found at least one student to devote his talent to in his latter years.

For Reiss, the music never stopped.  And he never stopped sharing his gift.

There is a universal, transcendent gift of music.

There is something grand to be felt by all of this that words cannot express.

Thank you Lehighton Boys and Girls Band.

You are the most genuine of genuine organizations.  

You look toward tomorrow without even trying.

Everyone should have had this in their life.  

I am a lucky man.  Blessed.


Please re-visit this post as not all the supporting documents have been uploaded yet.  Names of band members will also be updated when time allows.

1957 Building Dedication

Maynard Hill - Aviation Record Setter - Member of Hall of Fame:
December 1972 - The Daily Journal
Click here to read more about Maynard Hill's aviation accomplishments in the Washington Post.
September 2003 - The Ithaca Journal

Band Photos - (There are plenty more pictures to be posted soon...The following is just a start...Please be patient.)

1950s Band Graduates

1966 Mel Hill Prep Band Spring Concert

1979 Senior Band graduates with Mel Hill.
Front (l-r): Scott Berger, (Bierman ?), Mike Sanguiliano, Doug Edwards.
Middle: Bert Rex, Samuel Reichard, Rick Rabenold, Steve Hoats, & Steven Rhoads.
Back: Randy Bollinger, Todd Laury, Brad Cressley, Maynard Ahner.

The 1981 Dance Band above and Senior Band graduates below. Mel Hill's Dance Band - Row 1 (L-R): Rob Moyer, Dan Putkowski, Darrell Arner, Tim Schnell.  Row 2: Damien Walck, Robert Strohl, Sam Reichard, Maynard Arner.  Row 3: Brad Cressley, Scott Berger, Bierman, Duane Reichard, David Mantz, and Unknown. 
Bottom photo with Ken Leffler: Row 1: Hanosek, Mary Cox, Bill Person, Hanosek.  Row 2: Ron Rabenold, Tim Schnell, Paula Farkas, Chris Gaumer, Gerald Tkach, Kevin Snyder.  Row 3: Ockenhouse, Gail Faust Rakos, Russell Young, Ockenhouse, David Carpenter.  (I greatly apologize for not know these names better.  I know many people on FB have told me who is who, but I've had some trouble keeping up.  Please keep after me if I do not get this labeled better soon.) 

1982 Senior Band - Ken Leffler, director

Sadly, I was the only person I knew who was ever expelled from the Band Hall.  I continued on good terms with Mel Hill, cutting his mother's grass (Esther Hill) across the alley from my grandmother's home on 9th and Mahoning Sts.  And I still consider Ken Leffler as a friend now as adults.  It is a rather complicated tale as to the why and how it happened.

1980 Preparatory Band with Mel Hill -
Front: Unknown, Unknown, Ockenhouse, Ockenhouse, Bill Person, Mike Noll, Unknown, Hanosak, Hanosak, Mike Heery, Trevor Walck, Frank Lorah, Roth, Klotz.
Second: Unknown, David Carpenter, John Claypoole, Tim Cobal, Robert Strohl, Wad Hydro, Dave Brobst, Mahalko, Unknown, Ron Rabenold, Rehrig, Cressley, Ron Roth.
Third: Unknown, Tim Schnell, Unknown, Unknown, Unknown, Damian Walck, Chris Gaumer, Darrell Ahner, Jan Elsasser, Unknown.
Fourth: Rusell Young, Mike Strohl, Kerry Graver, Keith Mooney, Kurt Hansel, Unknown, Rob Moyer, Unknown, Ockenhouse, Ockenhouse.