Pearls In Our Past - Hartford MI A Pictorial History of Hartford Michigan





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Hartford High School Band Members

Talented Hartford students . . . what happened to them?   You'll be surprised.

Hartford Alumni Band

Sonny Kesterke Band 1944-1945
Ed Sonny Kesterke  -  Cleo Ansteth Band
(Note the SK and CA on the left and right of the music stands,
as well as each musician's initials on the front beside the saxophones)

Elsa Lightner (HHS 1945), Bill Dyer (HHS 1946), Larry Blyly (HHS 1946), Erwin "Sonny" Kesterke (HHS 1945), Dorothy Dyer (HHS 1947), Cleo Ansteth (HHS 1945), Jackie Calvin (HHS 1945)

Sonny Kesterke organized a band in 1944 that included Cleo Ansteth, Bill Dyer, Elsa Lightner, Jackie Calvin, and a little later, Patty Cupp for a short time.  When Larry Blyly joined in 1944-1945, the band consisted of members shown in the photo above.  They played for many school functions including the proverbial Music Prom.  Sonny was a born promoter...still is in 2007.  Note that the band is posed in the casket area of Calvin Funeral Home...beautiful setting! 

During that time, Bill Dyer was already playing professionally with the Melville Brothers. Blyly didn't go "pro" until after graduation.  Not sure when Cleo played at House of David.

What happened to them:

 Elsa Lightner  HHS 1945
Elsa graduated from Hartford High School in 1945 where she excelled in music.  She played the Clarinet in band, but was noted for her piano playing skills.  Upon graduating High School, she moved to the Bay Area (Oakland and San Francisco) in California where she remained for nearly 30 years.  While there, Elsa worked for noted photographer, Ansel Adams, from 1961-1963, who taught her the art of photography.  Her worked appeared in many weekly periodicals throughout the 1960s and 1970s.  Elsa had a great love for all kinds of music, notably Jazz and Opera.  She retired to her native Michigan in 1976, where she lived the remainder of her life.  Sadly, after a long battle with bladder cancer, she passed away on May 3, 2007.  (October 2007 - information contributed by Bob Lightner (brother to Elsa) and Brian Lightner, nephew)

 Bill Dyer  HHS 1946

 Larry Blyly  HHS 1946
Larry Blyly, Hartford Alumni Band - Hartford MichiganWhen Cleo and Sonny graduated in 1945, I started a totally new band with Gene Ansteth (brother of Cleo Ansteth), Peggy Haynes, and Carlton Winch.  Bill Dyer was seldom available, since he had "gone professional" with the Melville Brothers.  When Gene died (car-train accident in November, 1945), we enlisted the services of Dorothy Dyer.  After graduating in 1946, I also turned professional and never looked back.  During that summer, I worked 3 nights a week at South Haven at the Sunnybrook Resort, as well as at the South Haven Moose, and South Haven Dance Club.  Spent a considerable number of Saturday nights with Carlton or Bill at the Lakeshore Tavern on Paw Paw Lake.  Much later, I played with Cleo's big band and also with Harry Diffenderfer's big band.  With Diffenderfer, we did many proms and dance clubs, both Berrien Hills and Point of Woods cotillions.  We also played for the Blossomtime Grand Floral Ball and the style show.  Wow, and that's just a drop in the bucket!   Was in the MSC Marching and Concert Band in 1949; with the 4 Sharps with Dyer, Herb Mortorff, and Charlie Shine for quite a few years; with Don (Ellsworth) Smith at various times, and at many dance clubs in the area. Playing with Lyle Hover, of Lawrence, on his organ led to my purchase of the keyboard. Places of entertainment don't have pianos anymore.  I sort of became 3 instruments at once.......solo piano, guitar accompaniment, and pedal bass.  Just a lightweight substitute for organ. 
      During my childhood days, I took classical piano and organ lessons from Mrs. Weed...many recitals....dueted with her at Methodist Church some.  Eventually bought a theater organ kit and solicited queen contests.  Played for the Hartford Queen contests from 1975 thru 1981.  Haven't played the organ much since the queen contests.  I did sax-clarinet and piano just about equally for many years. 
     The most exciting thing I have done in recent years is to play with the so-called
Studebaker Band.  At each national meet, a band is formed of club members.  A volunteer director whips them into shape with one or two rehearsals, then they put on a concert or two for the membership.  Was with them in S. Bend in 1997, 2002 and 2007.  At the 2007 national meet, I played clarinet for the first time in a concert-type band since 1950 (unfortunately, it showed). Since closing our store in 2006, I have been playing clarinet with the Casco Township Band, weekly rehearsals, and several concerts throughout the summers. 

October, 2007 - information contributed by Larry Blyly. 

Webmaster note:  Larry is a member of the Hartford Alumni Band that performed several times over the years at Hartford's Concerts In The Park and special concerts out at Crosses' Corners.  Every performance draws the largest crowd of the season, year after year....very professional and wonderfully entertaining! 

Other noted members of the Alumni Band are Earl Zaleski (HHS 1954), and Jamie Dyer (HHS 1975).  Former members, Bill Dyer (HHS 1946) and Jim Byers (HHS 1942) passed away in 2005 and 2004, and Billy Vann (HHS 1952) passed away in 2008.

 Earl Zaleski  HHS 1954

     Reminiscing about my musical career, which has spanned over sixty-four years takes me back to when I first took an interest in playing a musical instrument.  In 1945 at the age of 9 years, I took my first music lessons on my dad's clarinet.  Don Johnson the HHS band director taught the lessons at the cost of twenty-five cents for a half an hour.  A year later in 1946, he invited me to play with the HHS band for a Memorial Day concert in Keeler, MI. While continuing to play the clarinet with the school band I learned to play on the sax as well. Playing recitals with Jack Dyer on the piano and accompanying him on the clarinet brings back many fond memories. He was a great piano player. In 1953 during his senior year at HHS, he lost his life in an auto accident.
     Bill Dyer, who played drums professionally, helped me get a playing job at the Lakeshore Tavern on Paw Paw Lake.  Since my age was 16, a permit to play where alcohol was served had to be obtained.  My first New Years Eve job was in 1952 at the Phoenix Inn roadhouse in South Haven. That was the start of many gigs all over in the area.  In 1955, Jack Treat playing drums, Ed Pierce on the piano and I started playing together. We played at the Dutch Mill on Silver Lake near Grand Junction for four or five summers.
     In the mid fifties while playing at a Lawrence dance club, G Mennen Williams Governor of Michigan stopped in and called some square dances with us.  Among other familiar places I've played was the 12-40 Bar out of Paw Paw, the Whitcomb Hotel in St. Joe, and Crystal Palace on Paw
Jim Welch, Jamie Dyer, Earl Zaleski, Larry Blyly - Alumni Band 2009Paw Lake.  In later years, gigs were also played in Detroit, Grand Rapids, and South Bend, Indiana.
At the height of my music career in the early 70's, I started a five-piece band and played at Bay View Gardens on Gull Lake. We introduced headliners such as Jerry Murad's Harmonicats, The Peewee Hunt Band, and others. I once played with the Dukes of Dixieland a New Orleans jazz band, filling in for their clarinet player. Another point of interest during my playing years was meeting and talking with Bob Crosby, an American Dixieland bandleader and vocalist. His brother was the famous crooner Bing Crosby. From 1980-1991, I lived in Flint MI. and played at the General Motors Executive Club.
 Later, Bill Dyer on drums, Larry Blyly on keyboard, and myself played at the VFW in Kalamazoo for three years.  The many years of playing with the Hartford Alumni Band have been very enjoyable.  However, it is now time to end my music career, as I feel I'm unable to play up to my expectations.
      My advice to parents and grandparents is to encourage young people to take up playing a musical instrument. It can give them a sense of achievement and a lifetime of enjoyment both mentally and monetarily as it has given me. 

NOTE:  The photo above of the  Hartford Alumni Band  was taken August 20, 2009 by Brian Maurig (HHS 1954) at Ely Park during the last Concert in the Park for the summer.  Earl Zaleski was the MC for the Hartford Alumni Band.  During that concert, he announced that this was to be his last performance as he was retiring from the music profession. 

L-R:  Jim Welch-banjo, Jamie Dyer (HHS 1975)-drums, Earl Zaleski (HHS 1954)-sax, Larry Blyly (HHS 1946)-keyboard.


 Sonny Kesterke  HHS 1945

 Dorothy Dyer
 HHS 1947

     Cleo Ansteth*    HHS 1945
Cleo Ansteth - Hartford Michigan
              The Golden Trumpet 
                    Roy "Bud" Davis
         Paw Paw River Journal
                     TriCity Record

Just recently, we lost one of Hartfords finest musicians (July 14, 2007 in Las Vegas NV)Cleo Ansteth.  As per his wishes, there was no obituary and no fuss or ceremony. But we know he is gone, because his wife, the former Alice Lammon, confirmed it and sent some info on to Clyde Colman, who forwarded it to me. The Ansteths lived in Las Vegas for years, where he did some of his finest work and Alice had her own business. Hartford friends have confirmed the news also.
     Well known in this area for years, Cleos father was a Main Street businessman. He owned the Chocolate Shop, middle of Hartfords south side, just about across from the Heart Theater. Frank Ansteth sold appliances and had a combination dairy bar and tavern. You may think this an odd combination, but it worked for him. I can remember that my folks bought a refrigerator from him back in the day.
     Frank and Mildred Ansteth had two boys, Cleo and Gene. Both musicians, they showed early promise of greatness and played in local groups. Cleo was older, and he was almost out of high school when younger Brother Gene met tragedy.
     On a snowy winters day in 1945 out north of Hartford, Gene Ansteth drove in front of a Pere Marquette freight train. He was killed instantly, and his car scattered along the track.  Most of Hartford High School attended his funeral. Friends, Arlene and Fred Ward and Margaret Martens, knew him well. Arlene says she always remembers him on that day especially if it is snowing!
     In high school, Cleo was a member of the
Ed Sonny Kesterke Band, which played many local venues. Lois Latus says her husband, Bud, remembers when Cleo joined the House of David band down in Benton Harbor. (Did he grow a beard?) The famous Chick Bell gave him trumpet lessons. He had Cleo hang his trumpet from the ceiling on a cordthen, not using his hands but only the pressure of his lips, learn to blow and form the notes. The idea was to teach him not to put pressure against his lips; because as musicians get older, their lips give out due to years of continued pressure.
     After that, he performed with several traveling bands, including Clyde McCoy. About 1947-48, Larry Blyly recalls that Cleo was with Hank Winder out of Omaha. He got in touch with Larry to come out and fill in for a week on the piano until they got a new piano player. Larry remembers traveling by bus across Iowa and Nebraska for one-nighters.
     According to Larry, one time Cleo got a call from Dick Jurgens.  Seems his trumpet man was drinking too much and was unpredictable. Cleo spent an afternoon rehearsing and interviewing with Jurgens.  Jurgens said,
Im giving him one more chance. If he doesnt straighten up, you have the job!  The guy reformed, and Cleo didnt get the job.
     Cleo took a correspondence course in Engineering, moved to St. Joseph and worked at Auto Specialties. He played with the
Harry Diffenderfer Orchestra and also did arrangements for his own orchestra. He helped Larry get into the musicians union, so he could join the band. Larry did a lot of proms and dance jobs, including Shadowland and Crystal Palace. Larry mentioned he played Crystal New Years Eve the last year before the place was destroyed by fire the only time Larry ever played there!
     After years on the road, then settling down with Alice, Cleo decided it was time to try his hand in Las Vegas. He did play trumpet for a while but found his true calling in becoming an arranger and successful music copyist.
     Over the years, he arranged and orchestrated music for many headliners. They included Paul Anka, Natalie Cole, Frank Sinatra, Neil Sedaka, Tony Bennett, Vic Damone, Wayne Newton, Debbie Reynolds, and many others. He also planned opening acts, variety acts, network, cable, PBS, and other venues.
     When Cleo and Alice reached their 50th year of marriage, they planned a 6,000-mile trip around the United States, ending up in Sedona, AZ, where they enjoyed their final evening meal watching the sunset with a candlelight dinner.
     Now Cleos golden trumpet is stilled. He left his mark on the musical world; and even now, when we listen to some of the great ones, they are singing and playing arrangements put together by a Hartford kid who has woven some great music into the tapestry of our lives along the Paw Paw River.

 Jackie Calvin  HHS 1945


Information for this web site was gathered from personal interviews, newspaper articles, scrapbooks, personal photo albums, and other documented materials - many available to the public at the Hartford Public Library or Van Buren County Historical Museum.  Please report any typographical errors, updated information, or incorrectly stated information to the webmaster for correction.  Reprinting for personal and instructional purposes is permitted, however, unauthorized commercial reprinting of this information or unauthorized linking to photos-pictures on this site is strictly prohibited without written permission from the webmaster. 

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A Pictorial History of Hartford, Michigan
Emma Thornburg Sefcik,
Competent Secretarial Service
Copyright 2000 - All rights reserved.

Revised: March 20, 2014