by Tom Neal
Dear Pioneers, After more than a quarter century, I am turning over the reins of the Pioneer-BQPA organization. At present, a steering committee has been set up with Jack Martin as Chairman. Other members are Rex Touslee, Lee Ischinger, Herb Langthorpe, Rosie Rosenthal, and Tom Jewell.
In the beginning: In 1982, it was obvious that things had changed in the barbershopping arena. I mailed out four separate letters to approximately 600 men that I knew would be interested in an old-style barbershop quartet convention. Having been a very active member of the Society since 1951, I knew many of them personally. Others I had never met. They all had one thing in common...they were all quartet guys, most of whom were talented woodshedders, and, in most cases, knew a lot of old songs.
The first convention was scheduled for the Peabody Hotel in Memphis, Tennessee for Sept.9-12. We had no idea how many would attend, but by late afternoon on Thursday, we had a huge crowd assembled. And what a crowd it was! Pete Tyree was first in the door, shortly followed by the tenor of the very first International Champions, the Bartlesville Barflies! George McCaslin was his name. He went to our conventions every year until he died in the mid-80's.
In 1983, we still believed that the convention could be held in a different city each year, so we went to Kansas City, and held our meeting at the home of barbershop, The Muelbach Hotel, where Owen Cash and Rupert Hall met on that fateful day in 1938.We had a good time there, and decided to stay for a while. We had the next four conventions there, but the Hotel had fallen into disrepair. Also, I arrived on Thursday in 1986 to find that Geraldine Ferrarro, VP candidate for the Democrats, had preempted my suite. Reagan I wouldn't have minded.
We decided it was time to move the convention to Chicago in 1986, and we remain there to this day. In 1997, we decided the time had come for a second convention in the Western US. I had built a home in Boulder City, only about 35 miles away from Las Vegas, so we held the convention there.
In 1999, barbershopper Earl McDougald and his son Don suggested we hold the convention at his beautiful wedding resort in Fallbrook, CA. It worked very well for the next five years, but Earl's palatial resort was losing about $50,000 over our convention weekend in lost wedding revenue, so we decided to return to Boulder City in 2004.
Two more years there, and in 2007 we held the ill-fated convention in Albuquerque in conjunction with the BHS. We put on a great traditional barbershop quartet contest, much to the delight of the attendees at the convention, who packed the halls twice. But...not good enough for the BHS who canceled the event for 2008. So, by popular request of a broad majority of our members, the convention again returned to Boulder City in 2008.
And now the real story of the Pioneers.....the people who have attended. I'll try to categorize them. First, some of the wonderful quartets who graced our Saturday night shows over the years. The Midstates Four.. 1949 Champs, Mack, Mendro, Haynes, Hanson (Art Gracey d.) The Four Hearsemen.. 1955 Champs, Heiny, Watson, Eliot, Gifford The Vikings..1953 Champs, Mauris, Conover, Lindley, Livesey The Sun Tones..1961 Champs, Cokecroft, Franklin, Wilson, Wilson (Bill Cain d.) The Gala Lads..1962 Champs, Panther, Keehan, Lees, Cockrell The Rural Route 4..1986 Champs. Revival..1998 Champs, Ferguson, Spencer, Lawton, Myers. Chicago Natural Gas, Henders, Edson, Hauldren, Schwartz (appeared many times) Village Idiots.. Shramo, Keener, Neal, Kapes (Who)?
Chordiac Arrest, The Arbors Barber Q Four.. Bossing, Mulberger, and McKnight, Haeger, Watts; O C Times, Metropolis, High Fidelity, Stardust, Salty Dogs (A.K.A The Hut Four) Plaisted, Dykstra, Hatlestat, Hanson (often wondered about their mental state), The Chordettes, Three Past International Champs..Sweet Adelines, Harmony Inc Silver and Gold, Countdown, Perfect Gentlemen, A Great Bunch of Guys, Special Feature, And....at least 40 others from the Chicago area (thanks Lynn Hauldren) and another 20 from California (thanks Marchita and Virgil Pletcher) Too many to remember all the names.
This partial list is of the famous quartet members who attended over the years. I'm sure there were many, many more. George McCaslin.. Bartlesville Barflies 1939 Champs, Roy Frisbee..Elastic Four 1942 Champs Huck Sinclair..The Four Harmonizers 1943 Champs Butch Hummel..Doctors of Harmony 1947 Champs Tom O'Malley, Tommy Palamone..Pittsburghers 1948 Champs Hershel Smith (original baritone)..Buffalo Bills 1950 Champs Jim Schmitt..Schmitt Bros, 1951 Champs Don Lamont..Four Teens 1952 Champs Pete Tyree..Orphans 1954 Champs Carl Wright..Lads of Enchantment 1957 Champs Buzz Haeger,Jim Foley,Tom Felgen,Joe Sullivan..Renegades 1965 Champs Jerry Fairchild..Sidewinders 1964 Champs Fred King..Oriole Four 1970 Champs Don Barnick..Grandma's Boys 1979 and Keepsake 1992 Champs Hank Brandt.. " " Ken Hatton..Bluegrass Student Union 1978 Champs Dick Kingdon.. Chiefs of Staff 1988 Champs Drayton Justis..Gentlemen's Agreement 1971 Champs Ray Henders. Tom Felgen....Chicago News 1981 Champs Hal Bauer..Clef Dwellers Medalists 4 times Lloyd Steinkamp.. Desert Knights Carroll Pallerin..Forest City Four Joe Ripp..Cardinals Ron Starling.. Four Chorders Medalists 4 times Dick Faas Gil Stammer..Singcopates Medalists Bob Tilton.. Villageaires, Fortissimos Medalists Rex Reeve ..San Diego Serenaders Medalists Chuck Brooks..Colonials Medalists Dave Mittlestadt.. Playtonics Medalists Elwood Davidson..4 more Jay Hawkins..Interstate Rivals, Marquis Champs Tom Taylor..Kippers Joe Salz..Desert Knights Carl Hancuff..Salt Flats Dan Jordan...too many to mention.
Plus..many Senior Quartet Champion members Even though we are all dyed-in-the-wool quartet guys, we also played host to some great choruses who opened our Saturday night shows..San Diego, Pal Pac (Vista, Ca.), The San Diego Sweet Adelines (Kim Hulbert director), The Las Vegas Chapter, and ..The Westminster Chorus! They tore the place up.
Also....such notable woodshedders as Chuck Oliva, Jerry Noda, Jim Hickel, Lefty Parisson, Robbie Neal, Bob Valle, Bill Fick, Herb Ives, Emmett Bossing, Jerry McFee. Ah.....I could just put everybody's name down here...we were all woodshedders. Too bad Jim Poindexter wasn't alive to be with us. The Arrangers.. Walter Latzko, Rex Reeve, Bob Haeger, Buzz Haeger, Lyle Pilcher, Ruby Rhea, Bud Pickard, Fred King .....and the man who defined our position in a 1974 Harmonizer article...Val Hicks! The Kenosha Brass...Hugh Ingram, Daryl Flinn, Joe Liles, Ed Watson. Todd Wilson, Bill Otto et.al.
We literally received hundreds of letters and emails of encouragement from members far and wide. Vern Reed, Buffalo Bills (He loved what we did) Judge Charles Merrill and Gil Lefholz, both past Int'l Presidents, Bob Holbrook, 1941 Champs, The Chordbusters, Verne Laing, and even from a man named W.O. (Bill) Palmer. The last man alive in 1982 who attended O.C.Cash's first meeting in Tulsa, April 1938.
Reading all these wonderful expressions of support from the people who built SPEBSQSA into what it was made me more than sure that our determination to preserve traditional barbershop quartet singing was, indeed, the most noble of all causes. One day, I intend to publish them all. They tell a compelling story.
How about our Masters of Ceremonies? The greatest of all time! Tom O'Malley, Bob Haeger, Bob Leclair, and Ray Henders. Any one of them could have made it in show business. They brought us a lot of joy. Also, it was always a pleasure to watch old timers who had given up on barbershopping come back into the fold. Invariably they would say.."Hey..this is just like it used to be ". They were right..it was.
Ginny Janis was very special to the Pioneers. She was, of course, the founder and tenor of the world famous Chordettes. She said the Pioneers was the most fun she ever had in her long career. She loved singing with the guys. She never missed a convention until she died a few years ago. Our Friday Night Quartet Contest is named in her honor.
Now to all those who helped me along the way. My dear friend of 50 years, Joe Shekelton, became our first President, and continued in that capacity until he handed over the gavel to Bill Gallagher in later years. Chuck Oliva, Gerry Carroll, Dick Robins, Jennifer Schwartz Bek, and Lynn Hauldren were responsible for making the Chicago Convention run smoothly, and what a great job they did. Well, Gerry Carroll did a pretty good job.
In California, our all -stars were Virgil and Marcheta Pletcher. They always made sure we had only the best quartets sing for us. How she ever talked all those guys to come great distances at no charge is something I'll never know. They also serve as the official treasurers for the Pioneers. They have recently moved to an 8000sq. ft. home in Beverly Hills. She and other nice ladies (many over the years) served as the check-in desk handlers..a thankless job..but it was perfect.
Special thanks to Shirley Shandle for all her help at the registration desk as well. Dick Johnson has done a great service for us by handling all the communication chores. He told me he loved doing it. He must..the volume of emails he handles is staggering. If you never noticed, Dick believes very strongly about our position of preserving the art. Woe into the uninformed "Harmonet" denizen who writes anything derogatory about us. Good for you Dick! Dick learned his skills from the Barry Goldwater and George Patton School for political correctness.
Finally a word about Jackie Neal. She raised my children, manages the finances, is active in the Republican Women's organization, is Co-President of the "Clipped Wings", the United Airlines retired stewardess charitable group, is active in the church, helped me build Hot Springs Spa and our new venture, Phase Change Technology, a Company dedicated to solving the electrical power shortages in this country. She has always worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make sure everybody had a good time at our conventions. I don't think she has ever made an enemy. I make up for that part. She is an angel.
So, it's up to others now to preserve the art. We know for certain that we are the only ones who will. I'll see you all as usual, but just as a singer. That's why I got in to barbershopping in the first place. Good luck, and.... "Thanks for the Memories"
Tom Neal Founder of The Pioneers and the BQPA Inc.