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Legend & Lore: John and Helen Keil

Jan 09, 2012 10:55AM ● Published by Erik Dittmann

Gallery: Swan Park in the 1940's [2 Images] Click any image to expand.

By: Jim Dittmann

Publishers note:  This column was originally inspired while at the “shack” (our up north get-away place) with my father, listening to those curious stories of legendary family members, friends and acquaintances, recollections of days gone by - mostly factual yet dependent on memory.  This column is a continuation of those conversations – enjoy…

December 2011

In the sun-filled kitchen with Beaver Dam natives John and Helen Keil – John says, “So what’d ya got goin’ here – what do you want to talk about?”  I describe my idea for this new magazine as John and Helen listen quietly.  Suddenly John chimes in, “Well I’m a third generation Beaver Dam resident – Helen is fourth – ever hear of Roller Avenue? – Roller, that’s Helen’s grandfather.  Want some coffee – so, you want to hear about Ray Patterson?”

“Well sure, but I also want to hear about what you’re passionate about.”  Basketball happens to be one of John’s passions.  John has played since he was a very young man and must have possessed some pretty good shooting skills.  (If you know John, he’s never going to be the tallest guy on the team.)  John did win the city free throw championship when he was in the 6th grade.  Although John may have quit competitive play some time ago – he knows the game, he’s been officiating for 56 years…

“Sure you don’t want some coffee?”  Helen asks.

“Well okay,” I say.

“And here’s some cookies.  Help yourself.”

John continues, “Ray was a really good player at Wayland Academy – and involved in many things besides sports.  Ray excelled at music – drama – student government etc.  He went on to the University of Wisconsin – captained the basketball team.  Ray was my coach when he returned during semesters of the 1948 – 49 school year.”

“My step mom was the voice teacher at Wayland – yeah – Era – she had a twin sister Vera; they grew up in Horton, Kansas.  My real mom died when I was only two years old.  I don’t remember too much about that – unfortunately.”

Helen teases his memory and adds, “Era had a really good voice.  She loved to sing the Indian Love Call.”  I glance at Helen, curious, a question on my face – not recognizing the song - “Well you know - it goes something like this,” and as Helen begins to sing – she giggles…  “Era would get all dressed up for the Tuesday night band concerts at Swan Park.  She had this huge collection of beautiful really heavy formals that she wore for the Eastern Star banquets – she was just this tiny little thing with a marvelous voice.”

“Yeah,” John chimes in, “little bitty thing.”  She would entertain the concert crowd with her loud rendition of  “Indian Love Call.”  Era was also very involved with the “Order of the Eastern Star.” The heavy formals were a part of the pageantry; she was Worthy Grand Matron of the Wisconsin Chapter of Eastern Star from 1958 - 1959 during what the chapter called it’s “Era of Harmony.”

During those days the park was alive with activity – concertgoers were treated to wonderful music, as well as animated water fountain light shows engineered by Orin Hofferbert.  “He was kind of a wizard with that stuff – water fountain lights were even right in front of the band shell,” notes Helen. “The lighted fountain shows were really cool.”  Yes - Orin was the engineering “wizard” responsible for the show.  Orin also designed the floodlights at the athletic field on De Clark Street.  Orin made possible the very first night time football game in Beaver Dam!

Our conversation returned to John’s passion for basketball.  Ray Patterson became Headmaster of Wayland Academy in 1953.  He oversaw expansion of the south campus following Wayland’s purchase of the fair grounds property after many of the buildings were destroyed by fire.  A new field house was constructed in 1966 – Ray remained passionate about basketball.  In 1968 Ray became the first president of the then NBA expansion team called the Milwaukee Bucks.  That same year John purchased two lots from Ray and they built homes next door to one another.  Following their inaugural season, Milwaukee went on to win the coin toss for the right to select the top pick in the NBA draft – Ray picked UCLA’s Lew Alcindor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar).  The next year Ray recruited Oscar Robertson – and the Bucks went on to win the 1971 NBA championship, their first and only.

As soon as I got back home I looked up “Indian Love Call” – first written for the 1920’s Broadway Musical Rose-Marie, the longest running musical of the 20’s.  Nelson Eddy and Jeanette MacDonald performed the song as a duet in the 1936 film version.  It was a hit and remained a signature song for the two throughout their careers.  Legend has it - the song was a favorite of Dwight D. Eisenhower…

There are thousands of other great stories and we want to share them here – contact the editor at LocaLeben to share yours, as well as your memory may serve you. 

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