Ray Wilder’s Dowagiac

Published 11:32 pm Monday, October 10, 2011

Editor’s note: Ray Andrew Wilder was born on Oct. 11, 1911.

Today is his 100th birthday.

The Trumpet Twins

Charles was born in Dowagiac in 1929 and had a lot of sickness getting through childhood.

Seemed to have a good relationship with Dad.

Being  nine years older than Charles, we didn’t have much in common, except we both had whooping cough at the same time in Colon, when I acted as “babysitter” for him.

In Three Rivers I got him into a series of piano lessons, from which he later made his musical career.

In 1925, Dad was looking for greener fields and bought a store in Three Rivers.

We moved the Colon store stock and I recall driving Dad in the Model T four-door, with a load of stuff, most of the summer.

The store was owned by a retired Civil War veteran and was in about the same condition as in 1865.

Dad eventually modernized completely, and later moved a few doors down the street to a better building.

The same year, 1925, another trumpet player arrived in Three Rivers named Wallis Rand.

His father came as secretary for the new YMCA, and we became good friends, called the “Trumpet Twins” (I had a cornet) and engaged in a  few other capers.

The last two years of high school we had a director named Raymond Peeke and we played many affairs, including Centreville Fair, and made a trip to Kalamazoo to hear the original Sousa band.

We often went to Kalamazoo for movies.

The old Model T could only go 45 mph and there wasn’t much traffic.

High school was a breeze and I had fun — mostly connected with band and orchestra.

Upon graduation in 1928, choice of college was very important and certainly was one of the turning points of my life.

Michigan Tech offered the science I wanted, plus a scholarship covering tuition and fees, so to Tech I went.

Not yet 17, it was rough country to get into, although the courses in metallurgy were not too tough.

I went there for about $600 per year, part of which I earned at $5 to $6 a night playing for dances.

Room in a private home was $10 a month and board was $30.

ROTC started the first year and I joined, much to my good fortune in 1941 for World War II.

I started playing with a college dance band right off, and the next year an ROTC band was organized.

I played both of these, plus an outside dance band the four years.

In my third and fourth years I also played with Copper Country Symphony, which was supported by the Soumi (Finnish) College in Hancock.

This is where I learned to love good music and considered changing course, but it came too late (Wallis Rand went to Michigan State and was first-chair trumpet there for his full four years).

The Copper Country was “something” in those days.

Mining country was always rough and CC was no different.

Prohibition was in effect, and everyone carried his “pint” and drank straight from the bottle. I couldn’t stand the taste of moonshine, so I didn’t have a problem with that.