More than 80 years ago, Bob Olsen was playing music and directing at band concerts in John C. Fremont City Park.
This weekend, the former Fremont High School instructor will continue his decades-long tradition with music when he directs the Dixieland-Jazz band show during the John C. Fremont Days festival.
The public is invited to the free show, starting at 11:30 a.m. Friday, July 14, in the Chautauqua Tent in the park. The show, which includes an intermission, will last an hour and 15 minutes.
As in past years, several musicians in the 10-member band are Olsen’s former students.
They include Paul Haar, associate professor of saxophone and director of jazz studies at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln; Loy Hetrick of Indiana on trombone and Ryan Marsh of Malcolm. Danny Sodomka, son of former student, the late Norman Sodomka, will play the tuba.
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Olsen’s niece, Judy Redlawsk, a commercial jet pilot who lives near Hershey, Pennsylvania, will have a piccolo solo during John Philip Sousa’s “Stars and Stripes Forever.”
Other Fremont area residents will join the musical ensemble as well. Fremont Mayor Joey Spellerberg will play drums. Justin Eisenmann, 13, an eighth-grader from Schuyler, will play the button accordion at the show.
Bob Yanike, a retired Fremont High School vocal music teacher, is set to sing a song Olsen wrote called, “Don’t Be Ashamed of Your Age, Boy.”
Age is something that’s never hampered Olsen, now 95.
“I arranged or wrote all the pieces the band is playing,” Olsen said.
Olsen said he will play along on trumpet on some of the songs. Tom Adamson, who has written songs with Olsen, will serve as master of ceremonies.
The show will feature a patriotic medley and veteran Rollie Otte will announce the military songs. Otte will have other veterans and military personnel stand when songs representing the different branches of the service are played.
Other songs featured in the show include: “At the Jazz Band Ball,” Fireman’s Polka” and “Come to the Fair.”
Olsen appreciates Fremonter Mike Semrad for coordinating the show, which should provide memories for many attendees.
“Nothing can bring people together like music,” Adamson agreed. “This will bring memories for a lot of them, particularly those with the connection to the military.”
For Olsen, the upcoming concert produces many memories.
His dad, Walter, taught instrumental music at Fremont Public Schools for 38 years. Walter Olsen also led the city band, which played weekly concerts in JCF City Park in the 1940s and 1950s.
“At one time, Fremont had a symphony orchestra and he was director in the ’40s,” Bob Olsen said.
Bob Olsen followed in his dad’s musical footsteps.
“I played – in that same city park—weekly band concerts, when I was in the fifth grade. I was in the city band and I both played and directed when I was in the fifth grade,” Olsen said.
Bob Olsen was in sixth grade when he played his first professional job. He went on to perform with various bands, playing for radio shows in New York City and Chicago. Then — after his dad retired — Bob taught instrumental music at FPS for 35 years.
In his later years, he taught instrumental music at the Masonic Home-Eastern Star Home for Children in Fremont. He and Adamson collaborated to write many songs. Olsen composed the music and Adamson, who taught business for 29 years at Midland University, wrote the lyrics.
“We’re hoping to have a show with our original Olsen-Adamson songs in them,” Adamson said.
In the meantime, Olsen believes people will benefit by attending the show on Friday in the city park.
“It gives them an opportunity to hear music of the past that they wouldn’t get a chance to hear,” he said.
Looking back, Olsen never thought he’d still be playing music in the park eight decades after he first performed there.
“I’ve led a very full life,” Olsen said. “I’ve accomplished all the things I had set up as goals, met lots of good friends and the music brought us all together—music the common language.”