Friday, April 19, 2024

Music begins to play larger role in Don Holtan’s life

(In Part 1, Wayne Hendrickson talked to Don Holtan about his growing up and entering the business world. In Part 2 the focus shifts to Don’s years as a musician.)


By 1964, while still full time at Waters, he was also a salesman for Oxendale Pontiac, and a salesman for Kirby Vacuum Cleaners. The Kirby company got leads by people signing up at the fair to win a “free” carpet shampooing. Don said everyone that signed up was a winner. People at Waters gave him the nickname “Kirby.”

By making machines for IBM, Don would meet some of their staff. They encouraged him to apply at IBM. Don had worked his way up the pay scale to $2.10/hour at Waters, and he told IBM he would need $2.25/hour. He was wondering if he should have told them that. He received a telegram from Western Union that he would be hired by IBM, and he could start August 1, 1966. He told them he really should stay with his old company for another week to help train his replacement.

It turned out the company that Peg was working for was being bought, and she was going to lose her job, plus they were soon expecting their first child. If Don had started at IBM right away instead of waiting that extra week, IBM insurance would have covered their new baby being born, but they had to take care of the $700 cost themselves!

Don worked in the manufacturing production line and each assembly had a time measurement assigned. If a worker achieved less than 100%, he or she was chastised. If more than 100% was achieved, the time measurement was re-evaluated. Fellow employees were now upset because they may be making that assembly quota next. It was smart to hide any assemblies over the 100% to be claimed at some future date.

Since they had extra metal parts on hand, Don assembled a small toy windup rubber band powered dragster, and a couple of the other workers did also. One day he tried it out on the production floor, but he did not realize the plant manager was coming down the aisle. The toy car shot across the aisle just behind him unnoticed. However, the department manager did see. Don was promoted to a job in the Development Lab the next day. Problem solved?

In August 1977, Don and his second level manager had a disagreement. Once again, he was promoted to “electrical engineer” and sent to San Jose, Calif. And, once again, the problem was solved? Well, Don survived but that second level manager was eventually terminated.

The family had just bought a house in Pine Island, but Don did not want the family to move to San Jose. He would come home to the family one long weekend each month. Don was able to handle his new assignment in electrical engineering. Digital logic design requires some basic knowledge and common sense. In March 1978, he returned to Rochester filling many roles until June 2002 retirement.

In January 1970, Don and brother Dave started playing music in local bars (Holtan Brothers) — the first being the Mantorville Corner Club. The band quickly grew to four musicians. Their 79-year-old drummer occasionally hit his clock-block with his right drum stick and simultaneously hit his bald head with the left one, and also stuck out his false teeth like a cuckoo clock. The audience loved it. The band would play upwards of 100 gigs each year—some one-night, some two-nights, some three-nights and some six-nights. In November 1973, Dave quit so the band became “The Country Constellation.” The mecca for country music was the Hollywood Bar. They liked to say bands were direct from Las Vegas or Nashville but hired Don’s band during the Olmsted County Fair week and on Christmas week.

When the band’s fiddle player quit, they needed a replacement. Don’s dad had bought an old fiddle at a garage sale for $5 and Don put it back together. He would practice playing the song “Ragtime Annie” learning how to play.

After returning from San Jose, Don played with Bob Prouty’s Country Playboys and in 1979 joined Stan Hyland’s Shades of Country band. Most venues were now dance halls. Don’s wife, Peg joined the band in July 1983 playing piano/keyboard bass. Don had taught her to play using that same color crayon method. The old saying that a husband and wife should never hang wallpaper together, but the Holtan’s have done this too! Peg had never played in front of an audience before, but it worked out well and she did this for many years. She had wanted to take piano lessons when she was young, but the family could not afford the 25 cents for lessons with seven children.

In 1983 Don bought a pedal steel guitar and learned to play. It is a hard instrument to play as you need a lot of physical coordination using both feet and legs to control the foot pedals, levers, and the left hand to fret notes, and right hand to pluck the notes. Don and Peg have gone to several steel guitar conventions and done a lot of listening to learn to play better by observing other talented artists.

In 1992, Don, Peg and Graham Luck started “Don Holtan & Whatever,” still doing mostly dance halls. When the laws started to clamp down harder on alcohol and driving, the bars started to cut back their hours, and had fewer patrons so the band was paid less. Don cut his band back from four players to three to reduce their expenses. The band retired in May 2008—the last gig was in Carpenter, Iowa.

Even though Don and Peg had regular day jobs, they would play 60-75 events each year in a hundred-mile radius of Rochester. Peg worked at Mayo for 22 years and Don worked at IBM from August 1966 to June 2002. Don said he likely played with over 100 different people through the years, and at least a couple thousand dances and gigs in his music career! Don says musicians can be “weird” folks, but he has made many musician friends over the years. Don and Peg wrapped up their music career in May 2008 but still do some playing at small local gatherings at times.

After Don retired, his uncle, Pastor Leon Holtan (they were born in the same farmhouse room a couple of decades apart) had moved to Rochester from Kasson. He had Don take him to various places in the community since he didn’t drive anymore, and he thought Don had plenty of time on his hands.

Their three children attended school in Pine Island where they lived for 13 years. Their son died from brain cancer in 2010, and their two daughters live in Rochester. They have eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. In 1989 Don and Peg had a house built in northwest Rochester but were not able to move in until Labor Day weekend in 1990.

One of the things they enjoy is the fiddlers’ music gathering in Hayfield the first Monday of each month from October to May. There used to be many old-time fiddlers in this area, but many of them have passed away. Now other musicians have started coming to take their place in the jam session.

Don and Peg have been to Branson at least 20 times to listen to the musicians. They have also been to Nashville several times and have connected with many of the musicians that play there. Don commented that the people who are studio musicians are so talented they can pick up any song, and it sounds like they have been playing it for years. Those musicians will usually stick to one instrument and may practice for two — three hours each day. Don plays lead and bass guitars, mandolin, fiddle, accordion, and pedal steel guitar. When they ask him if he plays he tells them “I am just here to listen.”

Don and Peg have been on a dozen cruises to places such as Alaska, Hawaii, Norway, the Baltic Sea, Mexico, plus others. Their next trip they are planning is to Greece and Greek islands to follow in the footsteps of Paul.

They are members of Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Rochester that shares a building with other churches at this time. Don works with the sound system, the video projections, plus he makes the bulletins each week.

Don graduated in 1963 and attended the class reunions. But later he was also included in the class of 1962 reunions thanks to Carol, his neighbor growing up. Now he keeps the names, addresses, phone numbers and email addresses for several of the K-M classes. He sends out updates on events that occur with their class members—sadly too many obituaries.

Don says God has made everything in his life a blessing in spite of himself. People have also told Peg that she has certainly been a good influence on Don and they have been together for over 60 years now!


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