Thursday, July 19, 2007

The Prince of Music ~ Laverne "Vern" Clark


Band Photo ~~see larger picture at bottom of page~~
Back Row ~ Elmer Johnson, Chick Peyton, drums Hank Phillips, and bass Kenny Hendrickson
Front Row ~ Marv Palmer, Vern Clark, Dan Murray, and piano Bernadine


Feature written and compiled by Yvonne Hendrickson

Deadwood's admired and beloved Band Director, Laverne Clark (Vern ) passed away on Nov. 18th, 2001 with few realizing he had spent his entire 32 year teaching career in the Deadwood and Lead School Systems. It is our privilege to fill you in on events in his life you may have missed. (We invite you to add your comments at the end of this feature, as we are sure many have stories they would like to share. Vern had a way of making everyone feel you were one of, if not his best friend.)

Vern was born in Lead in 1923, raised in Lead and graduated from high school in Lead in 1941. In school he met Doris Nelson and they did have one high school prom date. Doris saw little of Laverne after graduation as he soon left to attend school at the University of Wyoming for a year and a half until drafted into the U.S. Army. Vern's education and any further romance with Doris was put on hold while he served his country in a tank battalion in the Rhineland and Central Europe for 3 years. (In later years, attending many 717th Tank Battalion reunions, Vern and Dory visited all but two of the United States). The army discharged Vern in 1946 and he returned to the University of Wyoming , to continue his education. After a year, he transferred to Black Hills Teacher's College in Spearfish. One could ask if transferring had anything to do with Doris . While attending college in Spearfish, Vern taught in the Deadwood School System and obtained his Master's Degree in Instrumental Music.

Almost 8 years after that high school prom date, Laverne and Doris (Dory ) married in 1949 and remained so over 52 years. The marriage produced one daughter Vicki, who with her husband lives in Seattle (Vicki has been a part of Seattle's renown Pike's Place Market for many years, making and selling her own jewelry line of copper, brass and sterling silver.) Vern retired in 1985 and the couple continued to reside in their long time home in Lead until 1993 when they moved to Spearfish, where Dory still lives.

Vern was an exceptional teacher and musician. He taught in and out of school. One adult he taught continued to play with Vern until his passing and now owns and plays the US made Martin tenor sax once owned and played by Vern. Bob Heller is proud to be the new owner.

Many of the students Vern taught went on to play with him in various bands. Kenny Hendrickson came to Deadwood High from California and played the bass fiddle. Vern stuck him on the tuba in band. Kenny was a skinny kid and the tuba is big... but it worked out. Kenny did get to play his bass with Vern on weekend dance gigs. One job was playing The Spearfish Pavilion at the college every Friday night, summer and winter. (see band photo) Sometimes the pavilion was so cold on arrival the musicians would have to warm up their horns over the wood stove before they could play. Kenny was sorry when he left the area in 1955 to no longer be part of the group, but always kept in touch with Laverne and considered Vern and Dory good friends.

Duane Palmer was another Deadwood student who played with Vern. His brother Marvin, although graduating in Lead, joined Vern in many gigs with his alto sax. Perry Casteel, another Deadwood Grad who played in bands with Vern , has fond memories of doing so. The one remark you always hear when friends speak of Vern is how kind he was, didn't have a temper, easy going and fun to play with. Students say he made learning fun. He was a great guy who loved his music and got along with everyone. Vern had one long standing gig that lasted 14 years, at Dave's Supper Club in Central City, on Saturday nights. During his career the gigs were numerous and so were the locations. Playing with chicken wire around the stage may have been common at times. He was very active in the Northern Hills Community Band and the Black Hills State University Band. After retirement, Vern and Dory spent winters in Corpus Christi , Texas . Vern found a group of musicians to play with and was never idle.

Many of the great musicians Vern played with, like Vern, have passed on. During their time, music lovers in the Black Hills were privileged to dance to and enjoy the music of some of the best. They are all remembered, especially Vern who blew a sweet clarinet and sax. If I had to bet on anything, it would be they are together again, doing what they love to do best, playing for a new audience. Photos from Bear Log and Yvonne.

10 comments:

Perry Casteel said...

What a great idea to do this for Vern Clark. I did play with Vern in the Henry Phillips Dance Band. We played dances all around the Hills area. Lead, Rapid City, Piedmont, Spearfish, Belle Fourche are some that I remember.

I do not remember taking lessons from Vern. I began playing in the 6th grade in Oregon. We moved to Deadwood midway through the 8th grade, I suppose he did give me lessons.

I really liked Vern and I spent most of my study halls with him down in the band room. I'm sure he could play many instruments, however in the dance bands he played clarinet and sax.

Carlyle Richards said...

Vern Clark wanted me to learn to play the saxophone. It is a large regret in my life that I did not take him up on that. He was a good musician and a great guy!

Jene Melton said...

Vern was an OUTSTANDING tenor sax man. He played from the soul. He was truly a musician's musician. I really enjoyed playing together with him for so many years.

That's about it - Have a great day and play it cool !!!!!

Marvin Palmer said...

I considered Vern Clark a wonderful friend. We enjoyed many good times together. Vern had a sauna he built himself in his basement in Lead and sharing it brings back great memories. He was an excellent clarinet and sax player, none better.

I played alto sax with Vern in Henry Phillips Band , always at Spearfish on Friday nights. Vern also got me a job playing with him in the Johnny Simpson band in Rapid City , during a. period of several summers while I was earning my degree attending summer school in Spearfish. This was sometime back in the 70s-80s. We played at the airbase, Officers and NCO clubs. Johnny’s wife was a good singer and it was one of the best gigs we had together. There were other jobs too numerous to mention. All were great fun. Vern and I played together like two peas in a pod. Vern is missed as well as his music.

Bob Heller said...

SHORTLY BEFORE VERN PASSED ON, PHYL AND I STOPPED IN TO SEE THEM A COUPLE OF TIMES AND HAD GOOD VISITS. ABOUT 3 MONTH AFTER, I STOPPED TO SEE DORY AND ASK ABOUT HIS TENOR SAX. SHE SET A PRICE ON IT WITH THE HELP OF PAUL HEDGE AND I GOT IT AND PLAY IT NOW. ITS A U S MADE MARTIN, A REALLY NICE HORN. I DON'T DO IT JUSTICE BUT I FEEL VERY HUMBLE THAT I HAVE IT.

Bill Seals said...

VERN WAS A GOOD GUY.

I KNEW VERN FROM HIS EARLY MUSIC TEACHING DAYS IN DHS--ALTHOUGH I WAS NOT A STUDENT OF HIS , I DID PLAY IN THE DWD CITY BAND AND THE "CALIFORNIANS" BIG BAND WITH HIM. BESIDES BEING A VERY FINE REED PLAYER, HE WAS ALWAYS LOOKED UP TO AS A GOOD
MUSICIAN AND SOMEONE YOU COULD COUNT ON. THE ONE TRAIT THAT STOOD OUT (AS I RECALL) WAS THAT WHEN WE TOOK A BREAK --EITHER BIG BAND OR MARCHING/CONCERT BAND,HE WOULD LITE UP HIS PIPE AND GET A FEW PUFFS OFF IT BEFOR WE HAD TO PLAY AGAIN.

I GUESS THOSE REED PLAYERS HAD TO HAVE SOMETHING IN THEIR MOUTH ALL THE TIME (HA).

ALSO, IT MUST HAVE BEEN HARD ON HIM TO NOT BE ABLE TO SMOKE IN THE SCHOOL AND I AM SURE HE MADE A BEELINE FOR THE BOILER ROOM FOR A FEW QUICK PUFFS BEFOR THE NEXT CLASS."

Dick Dunwiddie said...

Even with shallow teenage thinking, I saw great virtues in Vern Clark and respected him as one of the greatest DHS teaching team anyone could have anywhere. I was a marginal trombone player but earned and paid for my own instrument as it was my prize possession. Mr. Clark still made me feel important in the face of little talent and I enjoyed my band experience with him. The yearly Band Day in Rapid City was a high point for all that attended. Mr. Clark made every musical experience memorable. I wish I could I could shake his hand today and say Mr. Clark you are one of the best of the best and I miss you.

Paul Snyder 53 said...

Yes, I have lots of good memories of Vern.

He was a great teacher and for our size school, he produced excellent bands. Besides skipping many private lessons scheduled during "study halls". I think the best memory of Vern was when we were preparing for a concert and we were going to play "Body and Soul". The song had a solo for the alto sax and I was having a terrible time with a part of it. I just couldn't get the right rhythm. Vern worked and worked with me on it and finally in practice I GOT it. Guess what? During the performance, I flubbed it but Vern being the teacher he was didn't say a word to me about it. I appreciated that and still today think of Mr. Clark as one of the best teachers I ever had.

Anonymous said...

I am so touched by people's remembrances of my father over the years of his long career. Of course I remember him as a man who loved music above all else a person could pursue in life and his family and friends as well. At any rate ,it's nice to hear so many fond memories. I remember him as the Dad who took me camping at Pactola Lake in those great summers in the 60's in the"vivace", the speedboat he won in Bob's Conoco contest back when I was just a little thing! He and my Mom were such good parents and that was a very good time. I wish life was as simple and wonderful as it was back then. But meanwhile,thanks for the memories...Vickie Clark Rafael

dpatchie said...

Just finding this website meant a lot to me. Vern was my Uncle, my favorite one and the only one on my Mothers side. Spending every summer in South Dakota, Vern taught me about many things, not only music.
He was my first woodwind teacher, my waterskiing instructor, after he won the boar from Bob's Conoco. I remember all of the weekends we spent at our cabin, that my Grandpa Charlie Clark built, and he and his son, Vern maintained.
First and foremost, he was my Uncle "Ba", a moniker I dubbed him with when I was first learning to talk.
Godspeed Uncle Ba, and thanks for the memories.

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