May 31, 2016

Intermittent clouds

Jammin’ at the center

Senior Living Editor

MEDINA — A little ripple of music threaded its way around the dining room at Medina County Office for Older Adults Senior Center. People sitting at the tables sported St. Patrick’s Day shamrocks and sipped green punch, waiting expectantly as the Jolly Jammers warmed up.

Thirteen musicians revved bass and brass, banjo, violin and uke, fiddling with tuning pegs, running a few test scales on their instruments as they prepared for their first performance as a group. Bruce Kink, of Liverpool Township, added a drum roll to the jumble of sound. Josephine Pietro of Middleburg Heights sat at the piano, notes popping like kernels of corn in a hot skillet as she waited.

“We’re a mixed bag,” said Leo Swancer, who invited musicians to come and jam for fun at the senior center once a month, at 1 p.m. on the second Thursday. He plays the tonette, “gut bucket” and ocarina. “We’ve only had four practices, and it seems like we gain another person each time.”

“Little by little we’re attracting people,” said Bob Stegkemper of Medina, a professional trumpeter who played with big bands at the Aragon and Columbia ballrooms. He nodded at Swancer. “He resurrected me.”

Stegkemper began to play at clubs, like the Merry Go Round Bar above the Palace Theater on Main Street in Akron, when he was 17. He jammed with musicians at “Little Harlem” and saw the likes of Sally Rand performing her fan dance.

Pietro, 80, started to play when she was 6 years old.
“My dad was a musician and played for weddings. I learned to play by ear. I had to take lessons to learn to read music. They were 25 cents an hour.”

“One lady told me ‘we’re just playing around,’ ” said Jenny Kiousis, the center’s activity coordinator. “But they sound good.”

It grew quiet for a moment as the group raised their instruments, then swung into the lively “Has Anybody Seen My Gal?” Several people in the audience started to sing the lyrics, “Five foot two, eyes of blue, but oh, what those five feet could do … ”

With a slight rustle of sheet music, they sailed into “Margie” and “My Wild Irish Rose.”

And as they swung into “Roll Out the Barrel,” Jo Becks and Jackie Bohl, who had been standing at the door, started to dance. Even state Rep. William Batchelder, R-Medina, in the building for a meeting, was drawn by the music and stopped to dance with Becks and Bohl for a moment.

“I can’t sit still once the beat starts,” Bohl said. “My feet start going a mile a minute.”

The group took a break when the center’s kitchen staff served lunch, but Jack Ashie of Medina Township willingly shared his ukulele story before digging into corned beef and cabbage. The uke once belong to Betty Coe, who used to sing and whistle with a group Ashie belonged to. She began teaching him uke chords, and he invested in a few “Teach Yourself” books. He treasures the uke.

Stegkemper said he took “words of wisdom” from an 85-year-old woman he met as she pushed her shopping cart to her car: “ ‘You gotta keep going,’ she told me.”

Words they’ve all taken to heart as they pick up their instruments after the break and start to play.

Totts may be reached at 330-721-4063 or