Donora Rotary plans to host free concerts at Palmer Park
Palmer Park in Donora again will be alive with the sound of live music this summer.
That's because the Donora Rotary Club will present a free “Music in the Park” concert series featuring three groups with varied repertoires.
“We are very pleased and excited to present these programs,” said Kathi Polachek, past president of the Rotary. “Palmer Park was, for many years, the setting for dances and concerts with some of the top bands in the country as well as western Pittsburgh and the Mon Valley. We're looking forward to rekindling that tradition with some of the most talented musicians in the region.”
The programs will be presented on the Damon T. Garde Memorial Stage at the spacious park.
The stage is dedicated to the memory of and in honor of Garde, a Donora resident who was 42 years old when he died on Oct. 22, 2006. The son of Al and Rita Greco Garde of Donora, he was a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 18 years.
“It's a beautiful and poignant venue which more than complements and enhances the gorgeous vista of Palmer Park,” Polacheck said.
All concerts will run from 6 to 8 p.m.
Polachek expressed “sincere gratitude” to Monongahela Valley Hospital and the Tri-County Federation of Musicians Local 592 of the American Federation of Musicians' Music Performance Trust Fund for sponsoring the series.
“Monongahela Valley Hospital has long been a strong advocate of cultural and community events and we appreciate their support,” Polachek said. “Local 592 and the American Federation of Musicians have a long, long history of providing music for countless concerts, dances, live shows and myriad other entertainment throughout the tri-county. Bands and orchestras from Local 592 have been performing free public concerts as part of their community service program.”
The series at Palmer Park will begin July 14 with the Wally Gingers Orchestra, which offers music from the Big Band Era.
The orchestra was originally formed in 1937 by the late George E. Tajc and is now led by his daughter, Clare Huygens.
“They are very good,” said Robert R. (Bob) Rossi, longtime area musician, teacher and band director and vice president of AFM Local 592, who is assisting the Rotarians in coordinating the Palmer Park programs.
“The orchestra established a tradition of quality music for many years and has perpetuated that pattern since reforming a few years ago.”
Rossi's band, The Townsmen Plus One, will be in the Palmer Park spotlight on Aug. 4. They offer a combination of music, including standards, rock and roll and songs for line dancing. The “plus one” factor with this group of talented musicians is vocalist Fred Adams, who also plays guitar.
The inaugural concert series will culminate Sept.1 with a performance by the 4R Jazz Quartet Plus 1, which specializes in contemporary and classic jazz.
“They are a talented and spirited young group of musicians featuring vocalist Rosanna Paterra,” Rossi said.
Rossi said Local 592 is “more than pleased” to be working with the Rotary Club and MVH in presenting the Palmer Park concerts.
“There's an excellent variety of music on tap, something for everyone's tastes,” Rossi said. “We're confident people will enjoy all of the programs and we are hoping to build on this foundation to make the Palmer Park programs an annual event with even more concerts each year.”
Polachek said the Mid Mon Valley Transit Authority will provide free shuttle service from the Donora Towers high-rise to Palmer Park and back.
She also said concert-goers are encouraged to bring picnic basket lunches, lawn chairs and blankets to enjoy the comfortable outdoor setting at the park. She said the Rotary Club will have refreshments on sale, although attendees are invited to bring their own wine or other spirits. She also said Donora ethnic and church groups have been invited to set up booths to sell their specialty foods and delicacies.
“I remember very well going to church picnics at Palmer Park as a child growing up in Donora,” said Polachek, the former Kathi Malie and a 1968 graduate of Donora High School. “The park would be packed with people, everyone dressed in their Sunday best, and music was always a highlight of the gatherings there. Our idea is to recapture the spirit of that tradition with the free music series.”
In pursuing that goal, the Rotarians will be rekindling memories of musical events that took place at the park's main pavilion in the 1930s and 1940s.
That site was used for dances during those years that featured such bands as those led by Guy Lombardi, Blue Baron, Barronn Elliott, Bobby Dale, Tommy Carlyn, Frankie Barr and Lee Kelton and Lombardi's Night Club Orchestra.
Palmer Park was dedicated and opened on Aug. 21, 1920. It was named after William P. Palmer, president of the American Steel and Wire Company, which had a plant in Donora.
“Mr. Palmer created the park as a gift to employees of his company and to the community,” Polachek said. “In the ensuing 93 years his original idea continues. Palmer Park is truly a community treasure – for Donora and the entire Mon Valley.”
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.