Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Jerry Frey

Hard to believe that it has been just over four years since Jerry passed away. Here's what I wrote at the time.

(News-Herald, February 2004)The Franklin Silver Cornet Band lost one of its stalwarts this week.

Jerry Frey had the longest tenure of any active band member. He held that rank by a matter of just a few weeks; shortly after he joined as a teenager in 1945, Jerry recruited Dick Eshelman to join the band.

Getting people to do stuff was one of Jerry’s talents. He had a special knack for it. There are people who guilt or browbeat you into helping out. And there are plenty of people in the volunteer world who want you to become the supporting cast as they step into the spotlight. But Jerry was not a spotlight kind of guy.

Not that he couldn’t have been. Jerry played an unusual assortment of instruments, including trumpet, horn and tuba. Musicians can tell you what an odd personality mix that makes. Trumpet players are known in the band world for, well, a certain lack of shyness and humility. Horn players can be a bit high strung and diva-ish. But tuba players are the quiet clowns of the band world.

Jerry had played trumpet in his early years in the band. He told me once about showing up for a concert and getting a field promotion to lead trumpet because somebody didn’t show up. The band performed a particularly challenging piece, and Jerry afterwards swore that he’d never give up the peace and quiet of the tuba section again.

Jerry was a born supporter. Talk to the old-timers about the people who held the band together when times were tough, and Jerry’s name always comes up. For us younger players, Jerry was the veteran who always made you feel that he was glad you were there.

It wasn’t just band. I never knew Jerry to be slow to praise or express appreciation. Back when my brother and I anchored the Big Band Show on Saturday mornings, we could always count on Jerry or Norma Jean to call when they heard something they liked. Over the years he always had a spare minute to offer a word of praise or encouragement.

Jerry worked at a variety of jobs over the years, most notably out at Two Mile Run County Park. But for many of us, Jerry always seemed to be more clearly defined by how he spent his “free” time.

Jerry was a choir director, a Sunday School teacher and a Red Cross volunteer. He played in just about every band that existed in Venango County over the last sixty years. And in all of his activities, he would recruit other folks to come along and join in.

And Jerry was a real clown. I remember how excited he was about running off with the circus when he was already over sixty. It was exciting to imagine Elmo the Clown out touring the fairgrounds of America. I can remember watching Elmo work; a modern tv-jaded child would view him first skeptically, as if a clown were just too uncool for words, and then be slowly won over by his charm and humor.

It was always hard to remember that Jerry had been in band longer than any of us; it was hard, really, to think of Jerry as “old.” He kept taking on new challenges, staying active, getting out into the community. It was difficult, visibly difficult, when Norma Jean died. But just last Christmastime, I played with Jerry in a brass group for a local church service. He was as sharp as ever, and shared some more stories of the old band days.

Jerry was a good man. He gave hour after hour to so many groups in the community. He married into the kind of loving partnership that most of us wish for our own children. He brought people together, one or two at a time, throughout the area. And he provided a living example of faith in action.

The world has way, way too many people who seem to think that the measure of a person’s faith is how much noise they make about it, people who think that if they drop a mention of God into every other sentence, it won’t matter what a lousy job they do of acting out that faith in their daily lives.

In all the years that I knew Jerry, I don’t think I ever heard him try to tell me what a very devout Christian he was. And yet, I don’t think there was any doubt that that’s just what he was.

For me, Jerry’s life was a witness to a couple of important truths. One is that how you walk says so much more than how you talk. The other is that while we may not change the course of history, we can still each make a small but important difference in our own corner of the world. I miss him already.

1 comment:

J. Tanner said...

This is beautiful and true. Thank you.

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