Tahlequah Daily Press

Features

February 28, 2014

Senior Citizens dance makes mark in history

TAHLEQUAH — It was nearly 14 years ago when Charles Scott and Dorothy Crawford were sitting across the table from each other having lunch at the Tahlequah Senior Citizens Center, when Charles spoke up and said, “I think I’ll go see the mayor and city council and get a senior citizens dance started.”

Dorothy, being a little skeptical, said, “Good luck with that,” but the next day, Charles appeared with a big wide grin and said, “They agreed that it would be a great service to our community, and we’re having our first dance this Friday night.”

They immediately began contacting local musicians, and before Friday, they had assembled a seven-piece band made up of area musicians: fiddle players Paul Crossland and Roy Cowan; guitarists Elmer Whittle, Louie Griffen and James Cowan; drummer Ned Gritts; and vocalists Hazel Rhodes and Brownie McGee.

For a few years, the band went by the name of Singletree Band, but after Charles got the bandstand moved back into the wall to make the dance floor larger, the band’s name was changed to Hole in the Wall Band, at his suggestion.

Within a year or two, Carl Farinelli, musician and Northeastern State University professor, joined the band as guitarist and front man, and his son Matthew joined as bassist, only to be replaced by Jim Forst a couple of years later. As time went on, Hazel, Louie and James retired, leaving only Carl, Jim, Ned and Roy to carry on.

After the loss of Ned Gritts, Mel Buckner took over as drummer, but temporarily gave up the seat to Nathan Frank, until Nathan joined the Austin Cobb band and  went on tour. After the death of Roy, Watie Buckhorn took over on fiddle, and after his death, the remaining trio kept the beat going for several years, providing a variety of music and vocal harmonies.

Many original band members are now deceased, while others have moved on. Over the years, the number of musicians has dwindled from seven to three.

Currently the band consists of: Jim Forst, front man, vocals, playing bass and fiddle; Mel Buckner, drums and singing harmonies; and the newest member, when available, David Fielden, playing guitar and singing lead and harmonies. They have kept the name Hole in the Wall Band in honor of all the musicians who have played there before them.

In 2007, Charles Scott passed away, leaving the responsibilities of running the dance to Dorothy and her long-time friend Johnny Baker. With lots of hard work and help from volunteers, Dorothy and Johnny have kept the dance alive and well.

In 2013, the Senior Center building underwent a facelift to its interior, and during that time the mayor allowed the dance to be held at the Old Armory Building, adjacent to the Cherokee courthouse. In July 2013, musicians and dancers moved back to the Senior Citizens building at 230 E. First St.

Johnny Baker passed away just before Christmas 2013, and Dorothy has been missing in action due to a problematic knee. Thanks to the efforts of many volunteers, the dance continues to be a success while she recovers.

On a typical Friday evening, the Senior Center’s doors open at 6, and the dancers begin showing up to claim their seats and catch up on the latest talk about town. Some arrive early enough to play a round of pitch before the band starts, and some bring a food item to add to the pot-luck dinner served at break time. The band kicks off at 7, and some head for the floor to dance, while others remain seated to visit with friends, or just listen and enjoy the music.

Over the years, many theme-oriented dances have been held, including Hawaiian luaus, sock hops, frontier days, and more. The recent Valentine’s dance was a huge success, with door prizes and the pot-luck dinner. Plans are in the works to host a ‘50s-style sock hop to celebrate the 14th anniversary of the dance’s  inception. The celebration is tentatively scheduled for sometime in April.

 

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