--BANAT--Items of Interest"

Keck traces love of music to immigrants’ era.

By Linda Sailer.
Dickinson Press
Sunday, April 23, 2000

[Reprinted with permission]

Joe Keck, 76, a life-long farmer and musician from Lefor, has fond memories of the Easter Monday dances that were part of local traditions.

"We always waited for Easter Monday and New Year’s Eve dances. It was lots of fun," he said.

Lefor, a community of German-Hungarian immigrants, was well known for the bands that played throughout the region.

Keck, who now lives in Dickinson, played the bass horn (Susa horn) and concertina with Lefor Band No. 3. "When we started it was all brass," he said.

While this band never played Easter Monday dances, they did play for numerous church fairs and church celebrations.

Keck was a young man when he played with Lefor Band No. 3. He recalled playing for free pop, candy and food but no money. "We loved to play. It was for enjoyment."

During the 1930’s and 1940’s, the musicians were paid $2 each for playing all evening and far into the night. "Later in the 1940’s they got paid $5 a piece. My dad thought that was good."

The bands were strictly all men," he said. I learned from my dad (John) when I was six years old on a tuba,:" he said adding "We had band practice twice a week, even during Lent. We practiced in the school house. We damned near froze to death it was so cold. There was no electricity."

Keck added, "We wore white sailor outfits. John Lefor (director) was strict with us. When we didn’t listen, we caught heck once in a while."

A highlight was when Gov. Bill Langer invited bands from Lefor, Dickinson, and New Rockford to play for his inauguration.

Many of the dances were held in St. Joseph’s Verin Hall at Lefor. "It was one of the bast hardwood floors around," he said, adding "When Easter Monday came, it was packed."

He added, "Liquor was sold in the basement. The women stayed upstairs and sat on benches. They’d come down sometime and the men quite often caught hell."

Dances were also held in graineries (sic) and bars throughout the area. Locations that stand out in his memory were the Goetz farm, the Mayer barn, and the Bohemian Hall in Dickinson.

The farming families worked hard, but knew how to have fun on the weekends, even during the middle of winter. Before the invention of antifreeze, he recalls how his dad drained the radiator at the start of the dance. At the end of the evening, the radiator was filled and they made the trip to the farm six miles northwest of Lefor.

Keck’s musical interest has led him to document the bands that performed in North Dakota.

Today Joe Keck has seven albums full of pictures and names of bands that existed from the immigrants’ time to the present. He estimates having about 400 pictures of bands from six states in his collection. "I was interested in bands because I was a member for so long," he said.

Several bands from Lefor are part of his historical collection

  • John Lefor, Jr. organized three bands. Lefor Band No. 1 started in 1905. Lefor Band No. 2, a group consisting of young boys, started in 1918. Lefor band No. 3 started in 1934.

    Keck pointed out that the Lefor bands had many musicians. The first Lefor band had eight members, while the second and third Lefor bands each had 18 members.
  • The Lefor Dance Band played during the 1920’s and 1930’s. The band played old-time music such as the waltz, polka, and schottische.
  • Bill’s Gang, under the direction of Bill Dassinger, was considered one of the best bands in the Lefor, Gladstone and Dickinson area.

    Bill’ Gang played for Joe and Eleanor Keck’s wedding on July 24, 1944 at the Bayer Hall. "They knew how to put out old-time music," Keck said.

"I played with the Lefor band from 1934 to 1944. I got married and that ended a lot!" he joked.

Keck believes that only five Lefor band musicians are still living: Frank Bayer, Ray Schroeder, and Ed Schroeder, who reside in California; Steve Schroeder who lives in Texas, and Joe, who lives in Dickinson. (see footnote)

Keck said the style of music varied with the ethnic background of the musicians. One of his favorites was the Elmer Robinek Band from Bismarck. "He called himself a Bohemian. There were big crows, standing room only in the Beyer Hall."

Each ethnic group had its own beat. Keck enjoyed the waltzes of the Czech bands, and the fast paced polkas of the German-Russian bands.

The heyday of the big bands ended when the boys were called to world wars or moved away. However, Keck has continued his love of music.

[footnote: It should be noted that John Herold, one of the band members is alive and well and living in Lefor, ND.]


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