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MARILYN HAGERTY: 'Too Old to Die Young' makes the rounds of rest homes, meetings

It's cold and humdrum on January afternoons in Grand Forks. But in the basement of the Uhlenberg home on the north end of the city, three elderly gentlemen gather every week to play some folk music. They say it's not really bluegrass. They call t...

It's cold and humdrum on January afternoons in Grand Forks.

But in the basement of the Uhlenberg home on the north end of the city, three elderly gentlemen gather every week to play some folk music. They say it's not really bluegrass.

They call themselves "Too Old to Die Young." They sing about Bernard who spent 28 years as a government mule and the Arkansas traveler.

They go to rest homes, club meetings, anywhere they are invited. They ask no fee -- except that they enjoy cake and coffee.

The men who love music are Don Uhlenberg, Al Blomquist and Ted Hoberg. I found them going through their repertoire Thursday. Ted Hoberg is a former teacher at Twining and Red River High Schools. He plays mandolin, guitar and banjo. He likes the banjo best because he says it's so easy to play.

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Don Uhlenberg plays banjo, fiddle, auto harp and guitar as well as the jaws harp and the saw. He's retired from his work as director of elementary student teaching at UND.

When the two of them felt the need for a guitar player, they called on Al Blomquist. He's a former state highway patrol commander who started playing guitar when he was in sixth grade at Edmore, N.D. He's enjoyed playing guitar and singing throughout his life. And he and his wife, Phyllis, have an accordion band with around nine members. They show up at luncheons and special events here and there. They practice on Tuesdays at St. Anne's Guest Home and Good Samaritan Home in East Grand Forks.

Blomquist has a soft, pleasant voice and shares the singing honors with Hoberg in the "Too Old to Die Young" group.

Usually "Too Old to Die Young" makes appearances in their everyday attire. Sometimes, they wear black hats and black shirts and trousers. The last time they were at Parkwood Place, a woman insisted Hoberg was Johnny Cash.

Their songs go way, way back. Sometimes in nursing homes they see their listeners keeping the beat with a foot. Sometimes the listeners pick up and join in the song.

"Too Old to Die Young" has four books full of songs that have been around for many decades. Uhlenberg likes hillbilly music, such as, "Get Along, Cindy" and "Giddyap Napoleon."

Al likes mostly country-western music. And Ted likes the sound of the banjo fiddle together. He's at his best when he's into the folk era of the 1970s.

Time stands still when the trio goes into a song about "When the wagon was new." With Don on the harmonica and Ted on the banjo, Al was singing, "We didn't need much money when the wagon was new..... We used to go together on Sundays when the wagon was new."

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The trio can sing about "Beautiful Brown Eyes" and then shift into, "On the Wings of a Dove." Al remembers most of the words and Ted chimes in as they sing, "When troubles surround... the body grows weak... and He sends down his love... on the wings of a dove."

They have a sad, tragic song about "Mary of the Wild Moor." It's the story of a woman who came back to her home in England with her child. Her father was hard of hearing and didn't answer the door bell. And Mary and the child froze to death.

As they go through their repertoire, they are surrounded by model airplanes built by Don when he isn't making music. The time flies by. The men have coffee and store bought cookies.

Then they go back to their music and finish off the afternoon.

When they do the song about no place like home, Don plays the saw. He says it's from the Home of Economy music department -- just a plain old saw. But the saw has a haunting, melodic sound as they play about "pleasures and palaces wherever they may roam."

Reach Marilyn Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or at (701) 772-1055.

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