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News from the week of April 27, 2005

'TNT Johnny'

Awed audiences called him “TNT Johnny” for his electrifying trumpet showmanship.

A later generation knew him as the affable ticket taker at the Hollywood Theater… the smooth-talking radio voice of Tracy… the emcee of countless Tracy programs…the jazz buff at Hollywood Records…the take charge guy at the Box Car Days parade …and the life of a thousand parties.

“He was a showman,” said longtime friend John Schleppenbach, who sang with Glaser in the Tracytones barbershop quartet. “Nothing to him was ordinary. Everything was big. Everything was terrific.”

Con Rettmer, a 1954 Tracy High School grad, who sometimes hung out at Glaser’s record shop, said Glaser was “the most enthusiastic person I’ve ever known. Everybody knew Johnny Glaser and everybody like him.”

“He was really well-known,” remembers Howard Enderson, who founded Enderson Clothing in 1955, nine years after John and Mary Catherine (O’Brien) Glaser made their home in Tracy. “He was really good for Tracy. He was always bragging up Tracy.”

“He was Mr. Tracy,” said Glaser’s long-time neighbor, Lorraine Radke. “He was a very prominent person. I guess that you’d say that he was a ‘big shot.’ But everyone liked him.”

Glaser died last week at the age of 92. Funeral services were conducted Saturday at the Almlie Funeral Home.


Big band leader

A native of Harvey, N.D., Glaser was the youngest of 13 children. Like his parents (John and Maria), young Johnny was musical and he began singing and playing instruments with other family members at a young age. By the time he reached the fourth grade, he showed enough promise that his parents sent him to Bismarck to take violin lessons. He left home soon after high school to pursue a career as a professional musician.

A talented musician who sang and played the trumpet, Glaser auditioned his way onto progressively bigger and better bands. By 1938 he was the lead musician in the 13-member Al Menke Orchestra, one of the Midwest’s most popular swing bands. Lawrence Welk offered him a job with his band, but Glaser turned him down. Within two years, Glaser owned a half-interest in the Menke Band.

The band performed six, and sometimes seven nights a week, in front of crowds that were often 800 to 1,800. An early 1940s engagement at the Valhalla Ballroom on Lake Shetek, that also featured the popular Tiny Little Band, drew 3,000 people. By the early 1940s the band was playing big-city venues in Denver and Chicago.

Uncle Sam interrupted Glaser’s musical career in 1944. Assigned to a U.S. Army field artillery unit in the Philippines, Glaser was trained to calculate the settings for field howitzers. But he was also selected for a special Air Force Band that played for General Douglas Mac Arthur.

“I was told to blow that horn like I had never blown it before,” Glaser told the Headlight-Herald in 1985.

After his military discharge from the Army in 1946, Glaser was offered a lead position with a new band New York. Lawrence Welk, then playing at the Ocean Side Ballroom under the sponsorship of the Dodge Corporation, again asked Glaser to join his band.

“I had many band offers…but I wanted to try something different,” Glaser said in the 1985 interview.

The “something different” was the small-town life in Tracy, Minnesota.

John had married a Tracy girl, Mary Catherine O’Brien, whom he’d met while playing at the Sabin Ballroom in Tracy. Her parents, Jack and Genevieve O’Brien, operated the Hollywood and O’Brien Theatres in Tracy. John was offered a chance to join the family business.

Besides helping with the management of the theatres, Glaser operated Hollywood Records. He became the host of a morning radio show over KMHL radio called the “Tracy Merchants’ Review.”

Glaser took over the helm of the family movie business after Jack O’Brien died in 1957.

The O’Brien Theatre, which was located at the corner of Fourth and Morgan streets (south of the present-day Tracy Publishing building,) closed in the early 1960s and was torn down. The Hollywood, considered the finest movie theater in the region when it opened in 1940, continued operations until 1978. The last movie was “The Goodbye Girl.”

John and Mary Catherine, who died in the mid-1990s, had three children: Patricia Helgoe of Blaine; Kathleen O’Brien of Mission Viejo, California, and John of Tracy.

Johnny Glaser: Showman, promoter & entertainer

Few people in Tracy knew Johnny Glaser as well as John Schleppenbach.

The Tracy druggist said that the two almost immediately hit it off after Schleppenbach came to Tracy in 1957.

Both men had much in common. Both loved music, both had an Austrian heritage, both had extroverted personalities, both liked people, and both enjoyed the limelight.

But, Schleppenbach admitted, he knew enough not to upstage his friend.

“Johnny had to be the center of attention whatever he was doing. I knew my place when I was around him,” he smiled. The longtime operator of the Hollywood Theatre, at heart, was a showman in everything he did, Schleppenbach said.

Glaser’s people skills, Schleppenbach said, were exceptional.

“He’d go up and talk to anyone. Everyone like him.”

At the Hollywood Theatre, Glaser was an icon.

“He’d always take the tickets and he’d greet everyone. ‘Go right in, he’d say.’ He knew everyone. He knew a lot of the people coming into the theatre by name.”

Schleppenbach sang with Glaser in a barbershop quartet for 20 years. Glaser, the lead tenor for the “Tracytones,” led the practices.

“I would say that he had just about perfect pitch. If you missed a note, he knew what you did and where it was without ever having to look at music.” The Tracytones had a repertoire of 30 songs, and Glaser knew the key to every song, every note and chord, and every lyric by memory, Schleppenbach said.

Others in the quartet were Don Stassen, and Bill Johnson. (Vern Martinson sang in the group after Johnson dropped out). Sponsored by Vigertone Feeds of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Tracytones practiced twice a week and performed weekly at their peak.

“He was a stickler for perfection,” Schleppenbach said of Glaser.

Glaser’s love of music often surfaced at informal gatherings. Glaser would lead the singing while he played the guitar or piano.

“He could play just about any song on the piano without music. But he was a chord man. He only played the black keys. He couldn’t play the white keys.”

Glaser’s life, Schleppenbach said, was marked with superlatives.

“He made a big deal out of everything. If there was a thunderstorm at night, it wasn’t just thunder, it was a terrible thunderstorm. He’d build everything up. Everything was super. Nothing was ordinary.”

Glaser was also a supreme optimist.

“If you were out hunting with him, there was always a pheasant behind every bush with him,” Schleppenbach said.


Friend of young people

Tracy car dealer Dean Salmon was a young boy when his family moved to Tracy in the early 1950s. But he remembers Glaser at the Hollywood Theatre.

“The thing that stands out in my mind, was how nice he was to kids. He was really a friend of the young people.”


Best band around

Jerry Engesser, like most of his friends, loved ballroom dancing when he was a young man. The 1939 Tracy High School graduate especially liked the “big band sound.” He remembers watching Johnny Glaser and the Al Menke Band perform for a dance at the Valhalla Ballroom.

“The quality of their music was above anyone else in the area,” Engesser said. Not only did the 13-member band have the best and biggest sound, Engesser said, they were the “best dressed and best disciplined” band around.

He remembers Glaser, who fronted the band, as “one of the more dominant” musicians in the region. The dance floor at Valhalla, he said, which was similar in size to the floor at the Prairie Pavilion and always filled with dancers when the Al Menke band played.


Birds-eye view

George Reese ran film projectors at the Hollywood Theatre for parts of four decades. He started at the Hollywood in 1942, two years after it opened, at age 15. His last show at the Hollywood was 1976, two years before the theatre closed. People today, he said, can’t imagine how big the movie business at the Hollywood Theatre was in the 1940s and ‘50s.

The 425-seat Hollywood had two shows each night, Sunday through Saturday. Two matinees were shown every Sunday afternoon. Often, the theatre was full.

“I can remember looking out the window (from the theatre’s second story), and seeing lines of people all the way to the corner of the Masonic building waiting to get in to the matinees. At the time, western movies were being shown at the O’Brien Theatre Saturdays and Sundays.

Glaser would walk up and down the aisle with a flashlight occasionally during the show to maintain order. Before the movie started, Glaser would stand in front of the theatre and make announcements. New Year’s Eve was always a big happening at the Hollywood, and Glaser would lead the crowd in a midnight “countdown.”

“He was a very good, very pleasant person to work for,” Reese said.


Picking up popcorn boxes

Conrad Rettmer, a 1954 Tracy graduate, said he and his friends enjoyed hanging out at the Hollywood, which was then just down the block from the high school. Kids eagerly accepted jobs of picking up popcorn boxes on the morning after a show, for the chance to earn ten or 15 cents. Glaser, he said, had a soft heart for kids. If any child came to the concession stand during a movie without money, Rettmer said, Glaser saw to it that the youngster walked away with something for free.

When Glaser’s Hollywood Record shop hooked up what was reputed to be the first television in Tracy, teenage boys hung around the store during the school lunch hour to watch Pabst Blue Ribbon beer boxing on a small, snowy black and white screen, Rettmer said.

Rettmer remembers Glaser as an avid backer of Scrapper sports. The Hollywood annually sponsored the “O’Brien Award,” for the basketball player who made the highest percentage of free throws. Glaser was the radio color man for Scrapper athletic games, pairing up with play-by-play man Ray O’Donnell.

When Rettmer returned to Tracy in 1966, to accept a job with the Tracy Chamber of Commerce, Rettmer said that Glaser took him under his wing,. “He had some quirks, like we all do,” Rettmer said. “But he was a great guy.”

Glaser, he noted, for years was very active in helping line up the Box Car Days parade and carnival, and emceeing the Miss Tracy pageant and Tracy Town & Country Days held at the armory.


Ambassador for Tracy

Howard Enderson, who operated Enderson Clothing in Tracy for four decades, called Glaser, “a great promoter for Tracy.”

“He was always bragging up Tracy on his radio show. I thought he was more of a promoter for Tracy than he was of his own business.”

The radio show, which was broadcast from a studio on the second floor of the Hollywood building, was called the “Tracy Merchants’ Review.” Music was interspersed with Tracy news. Sometimes, Glaser cooked up a contest pitting listeners in neighboring towns against one another.

One of Enderson’s favorite promotions was a ticket giveaway at the Hollywood Theatre. Glaser would sell Enderson movie admission tickets at a reduced price, and Enderson would give away 100 adult, and 100 children’s movie tickets. Ten tickets were given away each day, with people coming into the store to register.

Enderson also recalls being a member of Tracy Enterprises with Glaser. Dressed in matching light-green suits, Tracy Enterprise ambassadors would represent Tracy at official functions around the region.

“Everyone knew who we were,” Enderson said of the unmistakable green suits.


Good neighbor

Lorraine Radke remembers John Glaser mostly as a good neighbor and friend. She has lived across the street from the Glaser home for nearly 50 years.

“He’s been a good neighbor. I’ve never ever heard anyone say anything disparaging about him.”

In recent years, she occasionally brought him bowls of homemade soup.

“He liked my soup. He said I made the best soup.”

The importance of the Hollywood Theatre, she said, can’t be overemphasized.

“We loved the Hollywood Theatre.”


Fulfilling life

“He lived a good full life,” said Glaser’s son, John, a 1970 Tracy graduate. The son moved back to Tracy last year from the Twin Cities to help his father.

His father, he said, loved the small-town life of Tracy, and its people. Through the years, other opportunities came up elsewhere. In the 1960s, the owner of the Mann Theatres in the Twin Cities offered John Sr. a chance to manage all of his theatres. A group of Marshall businessmen once offered to set up Glaser in Marshall.

Glaser turned down the offers, the son said, because he was happy in Tracy.

His father had many passions, he said. He loved hunting, bowling, and golf. He loved being around people. He enjoyed hosting parties with Mary Catherine, or going out to social gatherings with friends.

Music was a part of his father’s being, John said.

“He loved taking over a piano bar,” John Glaser said. “He could sing and play almost anything. He knew all those old songs.”

Music helped bring his father and mother together. Johnny liked telling about the first time he saw his future wife. He and his band were playing at the Sabin Ballroom in Downtown Tracy. Mary Catherine O’Brien among the young dancers whirling across the floor.

“That’s the best looking pair of legs I’ve ever seen,” Glaser quipped as he watched the young lady dance. During a break, the two talked, and Glaser was pleased to discover that Mary Catherine’s good-looking dance partner was her brother, Jack. Johnny and Mary Catherine were married in 1941.

John Glaser doesn’t think his father ever regretted his decision to give up a professional music career after the war, despite the possibilities of big money and fame.

His father, he said, had brushed elbows with Frank Sinatra. His band had auditioned (and rejected) a young singer named Perry Como. He’d played with musicians like Count Basie, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Glen Miller. Lawrence Welk had offered him a job not once, but twice.

“I think that he was just tired of the traveling and liked what he had seen in Tracy,” John Glaser said.

As things turned out, Johnny Glaser still managed to stay close to music and show business during the last 59-years of his life in Tracy.

“I guess I have been in entertainment all my life, in one way or another, and I thoroughly enjoyed it,” Glaser said in a 1985 Headlight-Herald interview. “I always believed that when you have music, you have enjoyment, and not trouble.”

Sportsmen's show to move to school

The Tracy Area Sportsmen’s Show is growing.

Next year—the show’s fourth—it will have a second day, and a change of venue. Last week, the Tracy Area Public Schools board of education unanimously approved holding the main part of the show at Tracy Area High School.

Tracy Chamber of Commerce director JoAnn Biren told the board that the show would definitely be expanded to two days in 2006.

“Our Tracy Sportsmen’s Show has grown,” she said. “It continues to grow.”

She said the rainy weather posed a problem this year because there was no room to move the entertainment inside. Having the show at the high school would solve this problem, she said. She added that classrooms could be used for the seminars, and the lunchroom could be used for the food, if feasible.

“The high school is the perfect place to have it,” Biren said.

She said a gun show is tentatively planned at the Prairie Pavilion (soon to be renamed Veterans’ Memorial Center) during next year’s show. The school board had previously considered hosting a gun show at the school during the Sportsmen’s Show, but decided against it because of the district’s weapons policy.

Bryan Hillger, chairman of this year’s sportsmen’s show committee, said that local volunteers are “between a rock and a hard place.”

“We started this three-and-a-half years ago on a leap of faith,” he said. “We knew sooner or later someone would try to copycat us.”

He said plans are in the works for a lake and home show in Marshall next spring, which would have some similar types of vendors to the Tracy show.

“The vendors are urging us to make this a two-day show,” he said. “They are thrilled that we plan to do that.”

He said other tentative plans are to have a bazaar downtown, a craft show, and the city’s all-town rummage sale on the same date.

“My vision is to make this a springtime Box Car Days, if you will,” he said.

The 2006 Tracy Area Sportsmen’s Show is scheduled Saturday and Sunday, April 22-23.

Rehab/wellness center proposed near hospital

Tracy Area Medical Services (TAMS) is studying the possibility of building a 6,000 square foot rehabilitation and wellness center near the hospital.

The facility has an estimated $625,000 cost.

Rick Nordahl, chief executive officer for TAMS, presented the concept to city council members Monday night. Nordahl said that the new facility would offer several benefits.

• Wellness Center facilities would help local people maintain and improve their personal health.

• The TAMS therapy department, now located in the hospital’s outpatient wing could better serve patients with new facilities.

• Hospital space vacated by the outreach department would be available for additional medical specialists.

“We think that this is a very good concept,” Nordahl said. However, he stressed, planning is still in its early stages. The TAMS advisory board, he noted, has not made a recommendation on the plans.

City Administrator Audrey Koopman, who serves on the TAMS advisory board, said that board members want to let the public know what is being considered. Public support will be critical, she said, if the project is to go forward.


South of hospital

The proposed wellness/rehab center would be located south of the hospital, on vacant lots along Union Street. About three lots—or a combined parcel of about 300 x 130 feet—would be needed. That site would be a short walking distance from the hospital.

A parking lot with room for at least 20 cars would be built east or west of the new building.

Councilman Tim Byrne suggested that city-owned land south of the Prairie View Healthcare Center also be considered, since that would save the lots along Union Street for future single-family home construction. The $625,000 price estimate is based upon a steel-frame construction, with a brick facing.


Location advantages

TAMS has considered the possibility of remodeling several buildings in Tracy for the wellness/rehab center. Nordahl said that the advantages of a site near the hospital outweigh any short-term cost advantages of remodeling a building.

A great deal of efficiency would be sacrificed, he said, by shuffling therapists and patients between the hospital and an off-site center. Time (and money) lost by having therapists traveling to and from a facility downtown or along Hwy. 14, would be significant, Nordahl said.

Building new, rather than working with the limitations of an existing building, will result in a much nicer facilities, Nordahl said. The cost to remodel and equip the former P Plus building in downtown Tracy, he said, was estimated at $350,000 for 4,000 square feet of space on two levels.

Putting the rehab and wellness centers under one roof, Nordahl said, adds operating efficiency because the staff can serve multiple functions.


Card system

A card system would be used to give wellness center members access to the facility outside of regular business hours. Nordahl said this system has worked well in Westbrook and Slayton, where Sioux Valley affiliates have opened wellness centers. The Westbrook facility is located in a former high school building. The Slayton center is in a converted downtown commercial building. Membership rates are about $20 a month. Both centers are open to adults only.

Nordahl said that both centers have a small cash flow.


Money questions

Where would the money come from to build a Tracy rehab/wellness center?

Koopman said that one concept being studied is having a third-party erect the structure, and then lease the building to the city, who in turn would lease the facility to TAMS. She said that TAMS has been in contact with a building manufacturer that offers a lease-construction program for municipalities. The advantage of leasing, she indicated, would be that it would not require an up front capital investment from the city.

Mayor Steve Ferrazzano said he would like to see Sioux Valley pay for a portion of the new center.

“I think it is a good idea, philosophically. It comes down to whether we can afford it, and whether Sioux Valley contributes to it.” (The Sioux Valley Health System manages the Tracy hospital, medical clinic, and O’Brien Court through a lease agreement).

Nordahl said that he had no idea what Sioux Valley would do, although he noted that Sioux Valley has historically been most interested in lease agreements, rather than brick and mortar investments.

The administrator indicated that a community fund-raising campaign would be important the project’s success. On a $625,000 project, Nordahl said, it would be advisable to whittle the debt down to $500,000 with fund-raising.

“We can afford a $500,000 project. But we can’t afford a $625,000 project.”


If they build it…

Councilman Bill Chukuske said that many health insurance plans offer to foot the bill for wellness programs, as long as participation meets minimum levels.

Councilman Charles Snyder said the key question for him was whether the public will support the facility.

“We could build the most beautiful building in the world, but if the public doesn’t use it…”

School board studies projects

Capital improvements are again on the minds of Tracy Area Public School board members.

Supt. of schools Dave Marlette reviewed a list of proposed improvements for the 2005-2006 school year with board members last week.

Marlette said there are several capital outlay expenses and contracts that the district is already locked into—totaling $686,775. This includes heating, ventilation, and air conditioning boiler project payment of $275,000 and a portion of the final boiler project payment.

Board member Eric Fultz questioned the amount being saved in 2005-2006 for the final boiler project payment. According to the preliminary capital outlay budget, $239,560 will be saved for the final payment during the next fiscal year. He wondered whether this might be the total amount that will have been saved after the next school year. Supt. Marlette said he would check to make sure that was the correct amount.

Sanding and refinishing the high school gym floor is another proposed project. The district would put about $10,000 toward this project. Athletic Director Bill Tauer has saved approximately $6,500 for the gym floor project.

Other capital outlay requests recommended by the administration include:

District—$8,400. This includes the replacement of an upright vacuum cleaner, three defibrillators, and roof repair at the high school.

Athletic department—$20,000. In addition to the gym floor project, this includes new volleyball standards, football headset, wrestling room storage, and fencing.

Elementary school—$7,459. Items on this list include hand-held radios, character education materials, white boards and signs for white boards, repair of basketball rims and standards, a rug for the first grade room, and a computer desk.

High school—$9,955. Items listed in the high school include a French horn, media center and stackable chairs, three small engines and tools (Ag), oscillating sander (industrial arts), lab chair, cassette recorders, filing cabinet, lectern, and white boards.

If all of these items are approved, the district will have a total capital outlay budget of $732,589. With $706,360 available in capital outlay, the district would have to subsidize $732,589.

Marlette noted that there are several projects not listed that the board has considered. This includes tile work around the school buildings ($110,000); backfilling and placing concrete around the buildings (after tiling is completed) ($30,000); parking lot repairs ($65,000); replacing the running track ($250,000) and tennis courts ($10,000); raising up, tiling, and leveling off the elementary school playground ($20,000); and drilling and replacing sump pits inside the high school gym ($15,000).

Also not on the list are security cameras, which the board has considered in the past few months. Marlette said that while this is still a priority, he would rather the project be done all at once than do a little each year.

The board will further consider the capital outlay budget at their May meeting.


Curriculum changes

Principal Chad Anderson outlined changes to the registration handbook. One major change is that technology is being offered for one semester in seventh, eighth, and ninth grades. Previously, technology was offered for a full year in eighth grade. In order to make this change, PE/health has been reduced to .25 credit in seventh through ninth grades.

Other changes are in the science department. Eighth grade students will have a full year of earth science. Chemistry has been added as a required class, and students will be required to take biology (they were previously allowed to take natural sciences in its place). These changes were made in accordance with the No Child Left Behind education act.

The board approved the new handbook with changes.


After-school and enrichment

Anderson and elementary school Principal Scott Loeslie reported that the after-school program continues to go well.

Anderson said he would like to see the after-school program continue next year. He said he hopes to see the results of the enrichment classes in students’ test scores. He added that he may ask for additional enrichment classes to be added in the future.

Loeslie said the elementary after-school program has averaged 40-45 students. He said he would like to begin this again in the fall. He said he would like to see the after-school program offered only during the last six weeks of the first three quarters, and the whole fourth quarter.

He said the spring test scores indicate that the enrichment classes have helped students make some impressive gains. He said in the future, he would like to identify and begin working with students in grades K-2 who would benefit from enrichment classes.


New staff hired

The board approved hiring Amy Anderson as 7-12 English instructor, Monica Headlee for 7-12 science instructor, Tamara Wee as FACS instructor, and Crystal Larson as a paraprofessional.

The board also approved hiring paraprofessional Gary Kass for a student who attends school in Belview.


Visker retirement

The board accepted the resignation of John Visker due to retirement. Supt. Marlette noted that Visker has driven bus for the district for 34 years, and stayed on longer than anticipated because he knew the district was short of drivers.

Board members expressed their appreciation for his years of service to the district.


Gym floor

The board approved a contract with FLA Sanders for repair, sanding, sealing, finishing, and painting game lines on the high school gym floor. The project cost is $15,740.


‘05-’06 calendar

The board approved the 2005-2006 school year calendar, with the exception of the early school dismissals before holidays.


MSHSL membership

The board approved a resolution for membership in the Minnesota State High School League for 2005-2006.

Governor speaking in Tracy Friday

Governor Tim Pawlenty is coming to Tracy Friday.

The governor will speak at a 2 p.m. forum upstairs in the Tracy Prairie Pavilion. The public is invited

JoAnn Biren, Tracy Chamber of Commerce manager, said the meeting was arranged by the governor’s office as part of a rural Minnesota trip to promote the administration’s 2006-07 budget proposal. A one-hour meeting is scheduled, she said. After a 30-minute presentation by the governor, time will be allotted for questions, she said.