By Ann Leach
Do you remember celebrating your fifth birthday? What did you do for your 21st birthday or your 50th? Ah, life milestones that provide an overview of a life well lived. Joplin has its own milestone birthday happening this year, the sesquicentennial, and that means 150 years of memories, events and growth to honor and commemorate.
A committee of community volunteers, the Celebrations Commission, led by co-chairs Patrick Tuttle and Brad Belk, have been meeting monthly for over a year to create a community party for all.
“The Celebration Commission has focused on history, culture and education as the main driver for planning events,” Tuttle said. “We hope Joplin’s unique place in regional, state, national and world events creates a heightened sense of value to all ages who participate.”
And why is it important for the community to remember our history? Belk observed a common theme as he and the Commission reviewed memorabilia and documents from past events impacting the city: perseverance. “Though the founding of Joplin was from an era of mining and now the mining is gone, the strength of our citizens has continued,” Belk said. “The perseverance to face any issue, and the values that bond us are known worldwide. Joplin is synonymous with these traits.”
Kicking off the celebration events March 21 is the Joplin Sesquicentennial Lecture Series, with a presentation, The Life of Gabby Street, presented by Dr. Galen Irwin.
Charles Evard Street acquired the name Gabby in his early years and was known by that nickname for the rest of his life.
A baseball enthusiast, Street became immortal for being the first to catch a ball thrown from the Washington Monument. The year was 1908.
Gabby Street came to Joplin to become player-manager of the Joplin Miners in 1922, leading them to a league and intersectional championship that year. In 1923, he married Joplin resident Lucinda Chandler, and they made their home in Joplin for the rest of their lives.
Gabby Street was a Joplin celebrity. The Joplin Globe and Joplin News Herald regularly reported on his activities; Joplin honored him with Gabby Street Day, including a parade with 27 units and the dedication of Gabby Street Boulevard.
In 1980, Dr. Irwin, the evening’s presenter, regained his love for baseball cards and began collecting cards of Gabby Street and various memorabilia related to Gabby. His latest project is to obtain cards of all players who played or managed in Joplin and the major leagues and players born in Joplin or in Southwest Missouri.
Tuesday, March 21, at 7 p.m.: “A Street Becomes a Boulevard: A Life in Baseball and Joplin”
Go at 6 p.m. for hot dogs, peanuts, popcorn and Crackerjacks, sponsored by the Joplin Historical Society and Southwest Missouri Bank.
Joplin History & Mineral Museum, 504 S. Schifferdecker Ave.
Free admission; guests can also view Dr. Irwin’s Gabby Street baseball memorabilia collection.
Baseball will take center stage twice with a day of baseball at historic Joe Becker Stadium April 15.
One featured event will be a Vintage Base Ball Association exhibition game. These lovers of the game are to baseball what Civil War reenactors are to preserving Civil War era history. The game will put the Westerns Base Ball Club of Topeka against the St. Louis Brown Stockings in a rare meeting of the two clubs.
Before and after the vintage game, high school varsity teams will take the field in regularly scheduled matches. The varsity players from Columbus, Kansas, will take on Galena, Kansas, and Pittsburg, Kansas, will play Joplin.
Each high school team will take on a Mining Camp persona to bring the history and competitive nature of the Tristate Mining District alive as a sesquicentennial event. With this, the team uniforms will be an older style jersey (T-shirt) and ball cap with dated fonts and numbers.
The schedule may vary slightly, but is tentatively set as:
10:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Galena Miners vs. Columbus Bombers
1:00-2:30 p.m. Westerns Base Ball Club of Topeka vs. St. Louis Brown Stockings
3:30-5:15 p.m. Joplin Miners vs. Pittsburg Coal Diggers
The VBBA game is sponsored by Joplin’s Robert S. Thurman, American Legion Post 13.
The Joplin Celebrations Commission will also mark Joplin’s milestone anniversary through the history of several notable people who, at some time in their lives, called Joplin home. The group continues its plans with memorable music makers and Joplin natives who made their mark in the music business and helped put Joplin on the map.
Ragtime music featuring the music of Joplin native son Percy Wenrich and other Missouri contributors will be highlighted April 14 and 15.
According to information supplied by the Celebrations Commission, Percy Wenrich was born in Joplin Jan. 23, 1880. His mother taught him the piano and organ as a young boy, and at 21, he enrolled in the Chicago Music College. He published his first songs while still attending college. As his career was starting, Percy wrote in various styles, but his rags proved to be the most successful.
After graduation, Wenrich worked in a Milwaukee music store before moving to New York. In 1906, he married Dolly Connolly, and for over 15 years, the couple performed on the vaudeville stage, while Wenrich continued writing songs and collaborating with composers and lyricists throughout the country.
Wenrich is ranked among America’s most renowned composers. He was a charter member of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame in 1970. Wenrich is buried at Joplin’s Fairview Cemetery.
Here’s the schedule of events for your calendar:
A free evening concert with performances by two International Champion quartets, Quorum and Duly Noted will be held April 14. The song selection will include music from two genuinely American forms of music: ragtime and barbershop.
Featuring new and unique arrangements from Wenrich’s song catalog, the concert will also showcase many barbershop quartets from Joplin and the surrounding area in a mass chorus of barbershop-style singers, men and women of all ages, under the direction of Jeff Veteto of Springfield’s Show-Me Statesmen Chorus.
About the performers:
Quorum is a quartet with members of varying levels of experience singing barbershop harmony. Spanning three different states, people would consider them a “long-distance” quartet, yet the four members have been connected in different ways for many years.
Quorum is the 2015 Johnny Appleseed District Quartet Champion. As of July 2022, the group became the reigning International Barbershop Quartet Champions of the Barbershop Harmony Society, finishing first at the contest in Charlotte, North Carolina.
The group consists of Gary Lewis, bass; Chris Vaughn, lead; Jacob “Puck” Ross, tenor; and Nathan Johnston, baritone.
Duly Noted participated in the 2019 Sweet Adelines International Rising Star competition in Manchester, England after only one year together, and was named the 2019 Rising Star Champions. Having scored high enough at Regionals that same year, they qualified as a Wildcard Quartet at the 2019 SAI International in New Orleans, claiming the Novice Quartet award at their first international competition.
Duly Noted returned to the 2022 Region 9 Regional Contest and placed first, qualifying for the 2022 International Competition in Phoenix, Arizona. The group was ecstatic to make the Top 10 at the 2022 International Contest and is now the seventh-ranked quartet in Sweet Adelines International.
All four ladies are passionate about barbershop. Madison Riviere (Slamka), lead, and Emily Ellsworth (Hitt), bass, are homegrown barber shoppers as children of Barbershop International Champions. Raegan Stauffer, a tenor, and KaleyAnna Raabe, a baritone, were introduced to barbershop singing in high school under the direction of their chorus director, Debbie Cleveland.
Friday, April 14, at 7 p.m.
Taylor Performing Arts Center, Missouri Southern State University
General admission seating, free to the public.
The community is invited to the next day’s event: Percy Wenrich, “The Joplin Kid,” Tribute to Ragtime.
This evening performance will be in two acts.
Act One is a tribute to the music of Percy Wenrich and will highlight some of his most famous songs, including Moonlight Bay, When You Wore a Tulip, Red Rose Rag, Put On Your Old Grey Bonnet and many more.
The music of fellow Missouri ragtimers Scott Joplin, James Scott, Eddie Kuhn and “Ragtime Bob” Darch will also be honored.
Steve Spracklen and Robin Braun will respectively portray Percy and his wife, Dolly Connolly, in song and vaudevillian schtick in the fashion the famous couple was known for in the early 1900s.
Act Two highlights the many Percy Wenrich songs composed in four-part harmony and a perfect fit for barbershop quartets. Two international champion quartets, Quorum and Duly Noted will perform a selection of songs, concluding with a celebration chorus comprised of local and regional barber shoppers, plus an additional large community chorus along with audience participation in a patriotic finale.
About the performers:
Steve Spracklen was nicknamed Joplin Kid II, a bestowed honor by the ragtime community, as Percy Wenrich was known as The Joplin Kid. Spracklen took the role of Percy Wenrich at the Joplin 95th birthday celebration in 1968 and was featured at the 1973 Joplin Centennial program honoring Joplin’s native son Percy Wenrich.
For decades, Spracklen toured the United States and Canada and was selected in 1979 by the Delta Queen Steamboat Company to play on the new steamboat, the Mississippi Queen. Forty years later, Spracklen continues entertaining audiences on the storied steamboat navigating the Big Muddy.
A resident of Monett, Missouri, Robin Braun earned her bachelor’s degree in vocal performance at Graceland College and her master’s degree in vocal performance from the University of Illinois, Urbana/Champaign.
Braun has been active as a vocal artist with Ozark Festival Orchestra and is the lead singer in her four-piece band Robin’s Hood, which has played throughout Southwest Missouri since its inception six years ago.
Also featured in the concert are the Heartland Concert Band, banjoist Clarke Buehling and ragtime pianists Bill Rowland and Susan Cordell.
April 15, 7 p.m.
Taylor Performing Arts Center, MSSU
Limited reserve seating is available for $15, and general admission seating is free.
The Celebrations Commission wishes to thank Joplin’s Stanley Family for sponsoring this event. The family is a descendant of Eddie Kuhn, another significant Missouri songwriter/musician of the ragtime era.
The Celebrations Commission will continue the party with a focus on films with a Joplin connection starting April 13 and running through July at various Joplin venues.
The film festival will start with the 1967 movie, “Bonnie and Clyde,” that showcases the 1933 Joplin shootout on this 90th anniversary of the tragic events where two Joplin lawmen lost their lives.
Academy Award winners Warren Beatty and Faye Dunaway star in this groundbreaking film as a glamorous couple of Depression-era bank robbers, Bonnie and Clyde. When Bonnie Parker (Dunaway) catches Clyde Barrow (Beatty) stealing her mother’s car, it is love at first sight and the two begin a nationwide crime spree. As young gangsters in love, who attack the wealthy establishment and live by their own rules, Bonnie and Clyde capture the attention of an entire country and, for a short time, manage to elude law enforcement.
The film will be shown outdoors at Landreth Park with lawn chair and blanket seating. Food trucks will be at the park at 7 p.m., and the show will begin at 8:30 p.m.
Other films in the Joplin Goes to the Movies series include:
April 20: “Saboteur,” made in 1942 and featuring Joplin native Bob Cummings.
May 11: “Captain Salvation,” made in 1927 and featuring Joplin native Pauline Stark.
May 25: “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” made in 1954 with a background story shared by Carol Parker.
June 8: The 1971 film “Duel,” featuring Joplin native Dennis Weaver.
June 22: “On Moonlight Bay,” the 1951 classic featuring the music of Joplin native Percy Wenrich.
July 13: “The Hitch-Hiker,” made in 1953, telling the tragic story of the Mosser family at the villainous hands of Billy Cook.
July 27: The 1949 film “Alimony,” featuring Joplin native John Beal.
More details about these film events will come as the dates get closer. And to learn more about all the other Celebrations Commission events throughout 2023, visit CelebrateJoplin.com and Facebook/CelebrateJoplin.com.