A New Thing

Could it be that in your quest to make a difference or leave your mark on this world, you are in fact on the cusp of realizing it, yet it doesn’t seem so? It was put this way through the prophet Isaiah: “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it?”

Perhaps the bigger the “new thing”, the more time needed to be able to look back and see what you were a part of.

As long as I’ve known him, my stepfather, Vern Wilson, has been casual about his seventy-five years as a musician. Actually, I doubt he’s ever called himself a musician, he just says, “I played with ___ band in this town,” as we pass through on drives, or “I never learned to read music, I only play by ear.” Only play by ear – I wish I could play an instrument by ear!

Over several sittings in the past month, I asked for details of Vern’s early years of playing and unearthed a compelling history. He gave his permission to share it, so for those who know him, or who appreciate local history, or who will recognize the lesson in his story …

Vern grew up in a musical family near New Windsor, Illinois, where he learned to play fiddle, bass, mandolin, guitar, steel guitar, piano, organ, and accordion. Around 1938, when he was only twelve, he began playing fiddle at barn dances throughout the region with “The Pleasant Valley Boys”. By his late teens, he played live radio on WOC-Davenport.

TV with image, 1946, crop for Vern's blogWith the end of World War II, broadcast television exploded to replace radio in homes across America. Someone heard Vern on WOC radio and hired him to play at the newly-aired WHBF TV-Rock Island. He played fiddle with “Buddies of the Airlanes”, who provided several live music programs per day. That’s Vern (age 24), in the photo below, second from the right.

DSCN0391.jpg, crop for post

Here’s what they sounded like, although Vern wasn’t there when this was recorded – he played with them only for their TV program.

We were together at my dining table when I did a search and found the following article. To go from having little to no memoirs of his early band days, to finding a little something online was a nice surprise. He’s in the front in the photo.


From 1951 to ’54, Vern trained tank operators in the U.S. Army. By 1957, he was back at WOC, this time doing television instead of radio, and joined by his younger brother. Vern (age 31) and Ron (age 22) played a live show with the band, “Wes Holly and the Rhythm Ranchers”.

This is one of only two recordings that he has of his decades of playing. Wes Holly wrote the song on the drive to Chicago to record at a studio. Vern remembers they had a 2:30 a.m. studio slot, and slept in a YMCA after. Vern played fiddle, Ron played bass, and both sang backup. Those who know them recognize their youthful voices in the chorus. Now 89, Vern hadn’t heard this for years, so Youtube helped make Christmas day heartwarming when I played it for him and Mom.

And lastly, here they are with “Wes Holly and the Rhythm Ranchers” in a book published in 2010 about WOC AM-FM radio and television history.

DSCN0401.jpg book open for post

I asked Vern if he realized back then it was a big deal to be part of the birth of television. His honest reply?

“No, we just did it.”

That’s often the way it is when you’re in the midst of a new thing – it doesn’t seem all that significant in the moment. But give it time, and … Oh, it is … So. Very. Significant.

DSCN0403.jpg book cover final, WOC, Pat SundinFor I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland.  –  Isaiah 43:19 – New Living Translation


16 thoughts on “A New Thing

  1. Carol Heintz says:

    This is so awesome! I never knew any of this about Vern, but it doesn’t surprise me at all. He is a man of many talents. Thank you for sharing all of this.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Cindi, Thanks so much for sharing this. I copied it off and will share it with Dad tomorrow, as well as put a copy in my family files.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Remembering Vern….I am not surprised to read this part of his history….It just brought a smile to my face…….Then the tie in with Isaiah…..Thank you, Cindi….

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you so much for sharing this. Vern & Ron are relatives of mine. They were my mother’s cousins. (Nellie Bell) Have not seen Vernon for 26 years.

    Liked by 1 person

    • cindigale says:

      Marilyn, I called Vern to tell him about you. He was very pleased, and wondered if you are still in the New Windsor area. He said your parents, Nellie and Lee, farmed there. Greetings from Vern!


  5. Betty Kruse says:

    Hi Cindi, That is so interesting!! I think the one photo includes Pat Sundine who hosted “Especially for you”. She was the grandmother of Katherine and Stephanie. Thanks for sharing!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • cindigale says:

      You’re welcome, and how funny that I chose to include the book’s cover photo because I thought it so iconic, not realizing the woman in it was Pat Sundine. I do remember your son married her daughter. I’ll ask Vern if he ever met Pat when they were at work. Thanks for your comment, Betty!


  6. Anonymous says:

    great story and pics…..music for our souls….i remember pat sundine…wondered if paula sands…used her initials…after all she was paula gillete?!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kristine Fuller says:

    What a wonderful story of Vern’s life. Thank you for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Joyce Lambert says:

    Love this story Cindi! Glad you got details and recorded them before it was a lost story………..Joyce

    Liked by 1 person

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