This is a reprint of a “From the Local History Room” column that first appeared in October 2014 before the launch of this weblog.
‘Leader of the Band’ Lawrence Fogelberg
By Jared Olar
The Pekin Public Library’s Local History Room collection naturally focuses on Pekin’s history, but the collection also encompasses a wider geographical circle of subjects having a direct or indirect connection to Pekin.
That’s why the Local History Room has a file on the late popular musician Dan Fogelberg (1951-2007). Although Dan Fogelberg and his family were from Peoria, his father Lawrence P. Fogelberg had a connection to Pekin for more than 20 years, as many a current or former resident of Pekin will recall.
Dan Fogelberg’s song “Leader of the Band” is a touching tribute to his father Lawrence, who was a band leader and composer. His career as a band leader included conducting the bands and teaching music at Woodruff High School in Peoria (1945-1955) and at Pekin Community High School (1955-1976). He also directed the Bradley University band at football and basketball games (1951-1959).
As band director at PCHS, Fogelberg founded the Stage Band as well as the Marching 100 football bands. Besides his work with the Pekin high school bands, Fogelberg also was the director of the Pekin Municipal Band (predecessor of the Pekin Park Concert Band), which played “Sunday in the Park” concerts every summer near the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion. He also would play the piano for song leader Logan Unland at weekly Rotary meetings in Pekin.
Unsurprisingly, then, his obituary was the top story on the front page of the Aug. 6, 1982 Pekin Daily Times. The obituary mentions that, besides his musicial talent, Lawrence Fogelberg also excelled at swimming when he was young.
“A world-class swimmer in his youth, Fogelberg swam second to Johnny Weissmuller’s first in the 1928 Olympics. He joked to his friends that ‘If Johnny Weismuller hadn’t beat me out, I might have been Tarzan.’”
Born in Chicago on March 11, 1911, Fogelberg graduated from DeKalb High School and Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, earning his master’s degree at Northwestern University in Evanston. During the World War II era, he played in a military orchestra while serving in the U.S. Army.
One of the articles in the Local History Room “Dan Fogelberg” file is a March 1982 interview of Lawrence Fogelberg with Peoria Journal Star writer Michael Miller. The article tells how Fogelberg came to Peoria from Detroit.
“While stationed at an Army base in Detroit, Mich.,” the article says, “he’d got a call telling him there was an opening in the music department at Woodruff High.
″‘Listen, I’m in the Army,’ he said. ‘I don’t just change jobs.’
“Eventually, though, he made it to Peoria to interview for the job, after being director of a military battalion band in Detroit (‘. . . his music wouldn’t wait’). ‘Back then, I was still the leader of the band, I guess.’”
It was while interviewing for the job at Woodruff that he first met his wife, Margaret Irvine, who was a music instructor for Peoria’s public schools. They were married April 20, 1946, in Peoria, and had three sons, Marc, Peter and Daniel.
The interview also says that Fogelberg first heard his son’s tribute song at home in 1981. “Dan was home and played a tape of it,” he said. “I wasn’t supposed to hear it. I’ve been breaking up ever since.”
“The most gratifying thing for Larry about the success of ‘Leader of the Band,’” the interview article says, “are the letters he had received from former students. Another pleasing thing for the Fogelbergs is how the song has touched so many people.
″‘Dan says it’s amazing how many people say they wish they had the foresight’ to tell their fathers of their love for them while they still could, his mother, Margaret, said.”
Lawrence Fogelberg died Thursday, Aug. 5, 1982. He was to have been honored that month at the Aug. 15 Sunday concert of the Pekin Municipal Band. Instead, that concert was a tribute to him and his widow.
More recently, the Sunday performance of the Pekin Park Concert Band on July 22, 2012, was a tribute to Fogelberg’s memory. At that concert, a bench near the Mineral Springs Park Pavilion with a memorial plaque to ”‘Leader of the Band’ Lawrence P. Fogelberg, Pekin Municipal Band” was dedicated.