|A History of STRUM
and the TOWN OF UNITY by Roy Matson
Three reed organs appeared on Unity Township’s first assessment listing back in 1878 so
we know the music followed first settlement very closely. How well these instruments
were used is anyone’s guess, but one can be certain they were more than parlor
ornaments. Susanna Fox paid tax on a $50.00 instrument, but Chairman Williams and
Even Evenson had $75.00 organs. The Williams family had several members with musical
ability and Evenson was the first organist at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church. As his home
Norway area had their first school established when he was 12 one may wonder where he
learned to play. Of course those years prior to 1878 must have had a fiddler or two in the
area but as none had established a reputation enough to leave a memory, they must have
been “just fiddlers”.
We mentioned that Evenson was an early organist at St. Paul’s Church which was erected
in 1877. The West Beef River congregation began building in 1883 and completed their
church in 1888. They had no organist those first years. Lars Moe led the singing and used
a large ocarina for setting the pitch. Otto Dahl, son of Anton Dahl, was the first organist,
followed by either his brother or Olga Holte. The Dahl brothers gave keyboard instruction
up to about 1900.
At St. Paul’s there is reason to believe Fred Ranes was an early organist followed by
Christophine Rekstad and her sister Clara. Dr. Rolofson could play also. Sometime in the
late 1880’s the United Church adopted a new liturgy and a first attempt at four part choir
singing may have begun at that time as such a group was organized to aid the liturgy. Dr.
Rolofson was the choir director.
Shortly after the railroad came and the town began some growth, Rhinehardt Albertson
moved to Strum. He was a violinist, a very good one, and had several pupils including at
least three daughters who inherited much of his talent. An Albertson string quartet
performed at various functions in this and surrounding towns. Albertson, who died about
1909, organized a men’s band in Strum.
The Strum Ladies Band
Two Albertson daughters married banker Henry Robbe and merchandiser Olof Dahl and
their musical interest continued unabated. Together with Mrs. Howard Pace who had
moved in from Mondovi, the three women organized a ladies band about 1915. A year
later a picture shows 11 members but from then on there was rapid growth in membership.
By 1918 the band was recognized as a good band, numbered about 20, and had retained
Mr. John Judge of Augusta as director. He played a piccolo and was described as a
dignified appearing, able leader. Members often practiced at the Temperance Hall, but
when cold weather arrived, the bank lobby was the only heated space available although it
was very small for such a large band.
During the early twenties a band stand was erected about on the present Post Office site.
Stores and business places were open on Saturday evenings. The band played regularly
and the town was filled with shoppers and visitors who came to hear the ladies perform.
Municipalities promoted band picnics those days. Two and three day county fair dates
were filled. The group was invited and featured at land sales in nearby communities and
won valuable prizes at contests and established a wide reputation as a drawing card. They
were not a marching band, but march they did, Memorial Day and July 4th parades - once
a three mile hike at La Crosse.
Travel was always a problem; poor automobiles, inexperienced drivers, horrible roads and
the inevitable accidents were always a part of out of town dates. No one was ever
seriously hurt but there were dunkings, tipovers and late arrivals several times. Old news
clippings tell of large crowds, appreciative audiences, and of the ladies being especially
mentioned at an Eau Claire event that had 18 bands. The Strum band was moored on a
floating band stand. The crowd was estimated at 10,000.
About 1920 the band changed uniforms.