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Andrea Hunter Halgrimson, Published May 08 2011

Halgrimson: The music of some old prairie boys remembered

My father, Gerald Wilson Hunter, was born in Osnabrock, N.D. on May 9, 1908. He was raised by his mother in Golden Valley, N.D. For more than 40 years, he was an obstetrician/gynecologist at the Fargo Clinic. But before that, he had another career.

When I came across a scrapbook put together by my dad, I found that they pertained to my father’s time as a musician, which begin in 1926 when he was 18 years old.

Though many of the newspaper stories taped on its pages were undated, which made figuring out what the story was more difficult, the first clipping is dated Sept. 3, 1926, the headline – “GOLDEN VALLEY BOY MAKES GOOD.” It is probably from the Golden Valley American, published between 1917 to 1936 in Golden Valley, Mercer County, N.D. And in the stories from that time, the men in the news clippings were always referred to as “boys.”

The story tells of the Ralph Law Orchestra’s intention to tour the Western states and lists Law, who played coronet, as the leader. Other members of the band were Albert Hoener, of Mandan, saxophone; Leon Richardson, Mandan, banjo; Wendell Sanders, Bismarck, saxophone; Carl Burdick, Mandan, sousaphone; Roy Larson, Fargo, trombone; Christian Bjornson, Mandan, traps; and Jerry Hunter, Golden Valley, piano.

Another clip, undated, is a letter written by my father to his half brother, Joe Halbeisen. The headline says: “GOLDEN VALLEY YOUTH TO MAKE ORIENT TRIP.” While the story tells of the theft of Law’s car and his decision to return to Mandan with two of the band members, it goes on to say that the remaining five members have been hired as the band on the

S. S. President Madison of the American Orient Line to begin in September. Engagements in Japan and China as well as playing on the ship, were planned.

In the letter, Dad tells Joe that he had his first glimpse of the ocean and went swimming and what a thrill it was. He adds that he hopes to make enough money to pay for his first year at Northwestern University Medical School. A letter from the school, also in the scrapbook, tells of his acceptance and asks for the first quarter’s tuition of $35.

A story in the Mandan Daily Pioneer, March 2, 1927, after the group returned, says that when the band reached the Orient after a 13-day trip crossing the ocean, their first stop was Yokohama, where piles of debris remained after a disastrous earthquake. They went on to Tokyo, where they played in a tent hotel which had been erected on the site of a hotel destroyed by the earthquake, and Kobe, where they played at the Imperial Hotel.

They saw preparations for an elaborate funeral of the late Japanese emperor, Yoshihito, father of Hirohito, who was emperor from his father’s death in 1926 until his own death in 1989. And while en route to Tokyo, the band members also witnessed Mount Fujiyama during a volcano.

I’ll save their adventures in Shanghai and Hong Kong for another column, maybe for Father’s Day. But it must have been quite an experience for five “boys” from the prairie.

Dad’s birthday is tomorrow. He would have turned 103. Happy birthday anyway, Daddy.


Readers can contact Forum columnist Andrea Hunter Halgrimson at ahalgrimson@forumcomm.com