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Friday, May 6, 2016

Remembering McCook's Music Man, Floyd Hershberger

Monday, March 14, 2011

Floyd Hershberger
In early March, 2011, the McCook Community Theater Association is busy with rehearsals for the Spring Musical, "The Music Man." At this same time we are saying goodbye to Floyd Hershberger, who has truly been McCook's Music Man for more than 50 years. During that span of time there has hardly been a music event in McCook that has not borne the touch of Floyd Hershberger, as an organizer, performer, or the provider of the musical instruments involved, whether a grand piano, organ, fun machine, or band instrument. Floyd's achievements and contributions to McCook and SW Nebraska have been enumerated elsewhere -- and the list is impressive. This, however, is a look back over the years and just a few of one man's remembrances of a good friend.

Floyd and his wife, Joyce came to McCook a year or so before my wife, Jean and I came to town. Floyd had come to be the choral director at MHS and MJC, but the couple had recently launched their own business, with the foundation of the Piano and Music Store. They were two of the first people we met on arriving here. We found out that we had a great deal in common. We were of a similar age; each struggling with a new business; eventually we each had a family of two girls and a boy. Jean and Joyce were music teachers, and Floyd and Joyce helped Jean get started in the piano teaching business in McCook. Later, Joyce taught our kids piano and Jean taught theirs. They were a great help in getting us acquainted with their friends and business contacts.

Very early on we found that we also had our differences. Floyd hid behind a gruff exterior that often scared young people, but under that exterior he was a warm and caring individual, with a great sense of humor, a fellow who was forever helping young people---maybe teaching them to sail at the lake, or giving college kids an opportunity to earn a few bucks helping in his furniture moving business.

Sailor Floyd, at Hugh Butler Lake.
(Courtesy photo)
Floyd was a staunch and outspoken Democrat, I a Republican. He was intense in his loyalty to the CU Buffalos, while I bled the red of the Cornhuskers. At first we argued a bit over the merits of our convictions. After that we gave up trying to change the other and we talked about other things -- and got along fine.

Over the years, Floyd campaigned for so many improvements for McCook. He was one of the organizers of the Community Concert series, and enjoyed his association with that group so much; his customer base probably formed the nucleus for season ticket holders of that group. He liked to introduce the artists at the concerts, and liked entertaining them after a concert. Over the years, through that association, he became a friend of many well known performers across the country.

He always saw to it that the artists were provided with a fine Baldwin Grand Piano for the concerts. A couple of times I was recruited to help him deliver a grand piano for an occasion -- which I looked upon as a daunting chore -- one that would require the services of at least a half dozen beefy helpers. "No," said Floyd, "Just follow my directions. The two of us will do just fine." And we did. He had mastered the art of leverage, and had the equipment so that all I had to do was steady the piano a bit as he moved it on its dolly into the building. A piece of cake!

While Floyd was at CU he had been a member of the Central City Opera Co. and sang in that group for a couple of seasons. Later he was fascinated by the Santa Fe Opera Co. and for years spent time in the summers attending operas in New Mexico. At times he and Joyce stayed in a nice condo. Other times he went alone and stayed in a tent. The music was all that really mattered.

Floyd was an active member of Rotary, and enjoyed all aspects of the organization. He prided himself on conducting his business and his life according to Rotary's 4-Way Test. He loved the camaraderie of the meetings and the friendly banter that went on among the members. For years he was the club song leader. I'm sure he despaired over the quality of our voices, and during the songs you could hear Floyd's rich baritone over the squeaks and groans of the club, but he never criticized -- exactly. He did, though sometimes suggest that "maybe we better work on that one a little more."

For years Floyd, the singer and CU fan, and Harold Larmon, our piano player, (the Cornhusker, who had once been the Drum Major for the NU Band), would bet on the annual CU-NU game. The loser had to sing (or play) the other's fight song. If NU lost Harold would play the Colorado Buff's fight song in a grating, minor key. If CU lost Floyd would sing Nebraska's song, using different, slightly derogatory words, or wear his CU sweatshirt. Whatever, it was always entertaining for the club.

Floyd was not a fan of contemporary music (though he sold many electric guitars, Fun Machines, and sheet music to the young people who were fans). When KBRL quit its program, which featured Big Band music of the '30s and '40s, Floyd was disgusted and lobbied for better music. When the Nebraska Public Radio network decided to expand statewide, Floyd was a willing promoter, and spearheaded the drive which put a translator in Southwest Nebraska. "Now, when I drive I can listen to classical music. It is going to help me preserve my sanity," he told me when the translator news was announced.

Floyd's taste in music was more high-brow than the average McCookite. He worked hard to make the production of the Messiah, using a community chorus, an annual event. Over the years he directed that chorus, and at times served as a soloist. He felt that a production of that sort made the community a nicer, better place to live.

Along those same lines, Floyd was a strong backer of school and community theater, especially the musicals. When Fiddler on the Roof was presented Floyd played the part of the Fiddler, playing the violin well enough that his scenes were memorable. In the musical, Oliver, he played the part of Fagan, the despicable trainer of the street urchins. He really enjoyed playing the part of a meanie, and played it with great relish.

For a number of years, Floyd and Joyce provided the musical entertainment for the College graduation services, and whenever the college needed another strong male voice, Floyd was always a willing singer and improved those groups by his presence.

Floyd always thought that McCook needed a concert hall for the arts. He led the movement to purchase the Fox Theater, with plans to return it to its former glory, and to make it a permanent home for musical events and theater.

But Floyd was not only a classical singer. At times he let himself descend into old time fun music, by being a part of "The Sunshine Boys," when we performed at the Hot Summer Nights Concerts in the Park, and at the District Rotary Convention. Great fun!

The music goes on. This week the Southwest Nebraska Community Theater Group presents its production of the Music Man -- "Right here in River City." Our thoughts -- with profound thanks -- will be of our friend, Floyd, our own Music Man, the fellow who did so much to make it happen here for the last half century.

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Walt Sehnert
Days Gone By