Free summer music series returns to Donora's Palmer Park
In his 1785 poem, “The Task,” English poet and hymnodist William Cowper wrote that “Variety is the very spice of life. It gives it all its flavor.”
Today, some 230 years later, those words emphasize the diversity of the third annual free “Music in the Park” concert series this summer at Palmer Park in Donora.
“Response to the programs in 2013 and last year was very positive, so there was no question we would continue the concerts this summer,” said Kathi Polachek of Donora Rotary Club, which is presenting the series featuring musical groups with varied repertoires. “The people enjoyed the variety of music offered by some of the most talented musicians and singers in the region. And they loved the beautiful outdoor setting at Palmer Park. We are very pleased and excited to present these programs.”
Polachek and Ron Pergola are co-chairmen of the concerts.
The concerts will be presented by the Rotarians in conjunction with Monongahela Valley Hospital, primary sponsor of the events, and the Tri-County Federation of Musicians Local 592 of the American Federation of Musicians' Performance Trust Fund.
Pergola also received monetary donations from numerous businesses and individuals in Donora in support of the series.
The six-concert 2015 series will begin June 14, when The Townsmen Plus One perform from 5 to 7 p.m.
The Townsmen Plus One will be making their third successive appearance at the Donora series and offer Big Band, Rock and Roll and other songs. Led by accordionist Robert R. (Bob) Rossi of Carroll Township, the group also comprises veterans area musicians Fred Adams, guitar and vocals; Dane Shulttz, clarinet, saxophone and flute; Jim Georgulis, trumpet and flugelhorn; Davie Heinemann, trombone and vocals, and Mark Smith, drums.
“They were well received the first two years, just as they are everywhere they play,” Pergola said of Rossi's group. “People that attended the concerts requested that they return this year and we are very pleased that they will be back.”
Ensuing concerts, also set from 5 to 7 p.m., will run as follows:
• June 28 – Pittsburgh Big Band Legends. Led by longtime regional musician Frank Podroskey of Clairton, a Monongahela native who plays trumpet, the group offers energetic jazz and Big Band sounds. The Legends also include Carmen Petote, Ryan Mocniak, Diego Garcia, Joe Romeo, Rick Nowlin, Frank Mallah, Bill Balas, Sonny Bayko, Rick Porter, Ron Levi, Vince D'Antonio, Larry Davis, John Christian, Ken Kovach, Dick Pollera, Debbie Zugates and Harry Babinger.
• July 12 – The Electromotives, featuring versatile vocalist Rosanna Paterra and musicians Rich Pantaleo, Ryan Scanlon, Ryan Mosniak, Nate Repp and Scott Spindler They specialize in funk, jazz, Pop, R&B, soul and rock. In addition to the Donora series, the group has performed at concerts as such area venues as Cedar Creek Park in Rostraver, the River House in Charleroi, City Park in Monessen and California University of Pennsylvania.
• July 26 – The Wally Gingers Orchestra, classic Big Band and standards. The orchestra was founded in 1937 by George E. Tajc (aka Wally Gingers) and was among the most popular aggregations of its kind through the 1980s. Tajc died in 1990 and the band was in hiatus for several years. It is now led by Tajc's daughter, drummer Clare Copenhaver. Completing the orchestra are Andy Giles, Jim Georgulis, Jay Copenhaver, Bob Springer, Gene Kennedy, Dick McCoy, Loren McCallough and Karen Martin.
• Aug. 16 – Frankie and Friends, Jazz and Big Band.
• Aug. 30 – The Mon Valley Jazz Ensemble.
The concerts will be presented at the Damon T. Garde Memorial Stage at the spacious Palmer Park.
The stage is dedicated to the memory of and in honor of Garde, a Donora resident who was 42 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 fitting that the concerts will take place at such a beautiful and poignant venue dedicated to the memory of a a man who brought joy to so many people,” Polachek said. “Damon left a legacy of good deeds that will never be forgotten. The memorial stage more than complements and enhances the gorgeous vista of Palmer Park and serves as a permanent reminder of a special man” Garde had worked for the U.S. Postal Service in Upper St. Clair for 18 years at the time of his death.
Polachek expressed “sincere gratitude” to Monongahela Valley Hospital and the musicians' union for their continued sponsorship of the series as well as the new sponsors obtained by Pergola.
“We are deeply grateful to all who have shown their support,” she said. “And we can't say enough about our appreciation to Ron Pergola for his volunteer efforts. Ron has volunteered at his church (Our Lady of the Valley in Donora) for many years and truly symbolizes the meaning of giving to serve others.
“Monongahela Valley Hospital has long been a strong advocate of cultural and community events and we are deeply grateful for their support,” she continued.. “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.”
Contributions to the concert series can be made by contacting Pergola or Polachek.
“All of the groups that will appear in the Palmer Park concerts are very good,” said 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. “They represent and will present a solid variety of music to entertain their audiences.”
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.”
Polachek 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 Donora Smog Museum will sell food and refreshments at the concerts.
“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, Barron 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. The Rotary Club is pleased and proud to perpetuate that tradition.”
Ron Paglia is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.