Music in the Park marks 25th anniversary season one year later
Although a global pandemic sidetracked plans by the Rugby Lions to mark the 25th anniversary of Music in the Park in 2020, conditions in Ellery Park were perfect for a celebration a year later.
As a few puffy clouds floated overhead in the evening sky June 9, spectators set up lawn chairs or took seats on picnic benches. Many headed to a table where Lions Club members served up scoops of chocolate-chocolate chip or birthday cake flavored ice cream.
Lions Club member Kathy Kirchofner, who since 1995 has coordinated the event and booked performers, said she was happy about the turnout for Music in the Park’s first night of the season.
“I’m happy that it’s not raining between seven and eight o’clock. We’re praying for rain, but not between seven and eight,” she said with a smile.
“See?” Kirchofner said, pointing to the sky as she turned to speak with residents of Haaland Estates, who had taken seats in the park’s gazebo. “The good Lord listens to me most of the time.”
The Haaland residents smiled.
“Just for Music in the Park,” Kirchofner added, smiling back at the residents. “He understands that it’s not just for me, it’s for all the people.”
Kirchofner said she felt “different” during the summer of 2020, when the pandemic shut down Music in the Park’s anniversary season and all other public gatherings in North Dakota and worldwide. “It was a totally different feel,” Kirchofner added. “And we’ve all felt the same way. We’re ready to try to be back and I hope most people are going to be good about (following health guidelines for public gatherings).”
“Nobody was happy about last year,” said one Haaland Estates resident sitting in the gazebo.
Kirchofner said she was glad to see a crowd of smiling faces eager to enjoy an evening of ice cream and fun music performed by Gordy “Crazy Fingers” Lindquist.
The Wednesday performance kicked off the delayed 25th anniversary season and celebrated the return of musicians to the stage after more than a year.
Kirchofner introduced Lindquist with a speech recounting how the Rugby Lions had put up the gazebo in Ellery Park to provide an area for musical performances in the program’s early years.
“Mark Carlson asked if we could consider giving out free ice cream and maybe start some music and away we went,” Kirchofner said.
The idea to host outdoor musical performances on summer evenings came from Carlson, former publisher of the Pierce County Tribune. Carlson had been an active Lions Club member for years before he died of cancer in 1996.
Music in the Park grew in popularity over the next two decades. In 2019, the Rugby Park Board constructed a wooden stage, making it easier for audiences to see performances from a wider area.
“We didn’t know it would still be going at this point, 25 or 26 years later,” Kirchofner told the audience June 9. “We usually do a fundraiser in the spring and sometimes we also do a fundraiser at the golf course in the summer. Other than that, our Rugby Park Board helps sponsor this program and this year, because of so many events costing a little more money because it was our 25th anniversary, we got some more income from other areas.”
Kirchofner thanked Otter Tail Power Company for making a donation to keep the program going.
“It does help us,” Kirchofner said, adding the program is “here every Wednesday from June through the middle of August.”
Lions members placed buckets on picnic tables near the stage area to collect free-will donations for the program. Another bucket sat near the stage to collect used eyeglasses. The Lions Club International has a long-established tradition of refurbishing glasses to help people unable to afford them worldwide. Kirchofner said the Lions Club has also begun collecting and refurbishing hearing aids to help people in need.
Kirchofner, who co-owns Rugby Homes with her husband, Gary, said Rugby Homes and several other local businesses have boxes for collecting used eyeglasses and hearing aids as well.
When Lindquist took the stage, he encouraged the crowd to give Kirchofner a round of applause.
“This lady right here has done so much,” Lindquist said, adding, “It’s been a difficult year trying to book people and having to cancel so many things.”
Lindquist, who lives in Bottineau, said of the Rugby Lions Club, “They do so many wonderful things. The Metigoshe Lions Club is (also) an active club and they do so many great things.”
As he spoke to the audience, Lindquist wore novelty glasses shaped like treble clefs to help him “read music better,” he said.
Lindquist kept the audience laughing with his piano performances sprinkled with one-liners, wisecracks and plenty of props.
The gag glasses were just the beginning of a performance that incorporated props such as a bed sheet he called “Norwegian sheet music,” and a shaggy toupee fastened to a visor.
Lindquist’s nimble fingers danced across the keyboard for lively ragtime tunes and then slid from note to note for Floyd Cramer’s “Last Date.”
The tunes kept coming, even when Lindquist put oven mitts on his hands and played upside down while lying on the piano bench.
Kirchofner smiled as audience members enjoyed the evening.
“We’re looking forward to all of our acts for Music in the Park,” Kirchofner said. “They’re all going to be good. We’re looking forward to a good season.”
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