Catching up with original Round Oak ‘piano man’
Writing about Round Oak Restaurant put me in touch with people I haven’t talked to in many a moon, including Bryan Barr and Marge Dudeck.
I even got a nice email from Marge’s daughter, Tori.
“As of now, we are not working anywhere else, John, and it doesn’t look promising,” Marge replied to my email. “I met some wonderful people while at the Round Oak and it won’t be easy not seeing them. But life goes on, and the memories will be mine forever.”
Bryan, a 1979 DUHS graduate, I interviewed in the early ’80s around the time he performed with Liberace in Merrillville.
Bryan told me something Friday I didn’t know: he was “the very first entertainer at the Round Oak the day they opened” before leaving Dowagiac in 1981.
As a teen-age street performer, he might be found in front of Harvey’s East or West or even the Sherman-Williams paint store.
Barr lives at Twyckenham Hills in South Bend.
For 12 years he operated his own piano bar in the old American Legion Post 303 in River Park.
In 2010, exhausted by preparing meals before he could take his stage as showman, he realized he wanted to be an entertainer exclusively.
“I decided on a Monday to close on Saturday,” he said. He composed an explanatory email, his finger poised above the send button for what seemed like an eternity before the fateful click dispatched his message to hundreds of customers.
“In that split second I felt like I had my life back,” Barr said.
Many expressed disappointment with his decision, but they packed the place the rest of the week.
Barr teaches piano lessons by day and performs at night in venues such as Bent Oak Golf Club in Elkhart.
He visited Dowagiac as recently as Memorial Day after visiting family graves in Eau Claire.
He drove by the family farm on Frost Street and the house where he lived on Telegraph Street.
“Downtown is pretty,” he said, though dilapidated neighborhoods dismayed him.