Musical memories

By Chris Collins November 16, 2012 09:12 am

S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Family, volunteer organizations, committees and his many other activities always have been an important part of Al Durgan's life.
S. John Collins / Baker City Herald Family, volunteer organizations, committees and his many other activities always have been an important part of Al Durgan's life.
By Chris Collins

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Al Durgan has fond memories of listening to concerts performed from a grand bandshell at Geiser-Pollman Park when he was a little boy.

Those memories spurred him to join a grassroots effort to bring a similar structure back to the park as a venue for musical performances and other community activities.

And to further the effort, his family has donated $10,000 to pay for one of six pillars to be built into the bandstand design.

“I made the donation because I have felt real strong about the fact that we do not have any place to have music in the park,” Durgan said.

“This was a family donation,” he emphasized. “This is not just Al Durgan. All my kids were very much in favor of doing it.”

That includes his oldest son, Donn, 58, of Lewiston, Idaho, and daughter, Lori, 54, of Boise, both of whom followed their father’s lead and work in the banking industry; and his son, Dan, 53, of Beaverton, who is a garment designer for Adidas.

“I’m very happy to do it, and I hope the program is a success before I die,” Durgan said of his family’s donation.

“I’ve got to have that bandstand up before I die,” Durgan said.

He joined the initial effort to help raise money about six years  ago and along with others spent a lot of time drumming up community support for the project.

The volunteer group included several others who grew up in Baker City enjoying the concerts performed from the old bandshell.

“Those of us who have been around for a long time remember the concerts in the park,” Durgan said.

His older brother, Mel, was a drummer who performed in the bandshell in his younger days.

Growing up, Al says he was too busy with sports to get involved in music, although he sang with a boys chorus for two years. Durgan maintains his interest in singing as a longtime member of the First Lutheran Church choir.

After high school, he worked at a few different jobs before being drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

He returned home in January 1953 and became acquainted with Iris Willingham, a young woman who was just a freshman in high school when he graduated.  By August of that year they were married and Al began his college career.

He attended Eastern Oregon University in La Grande for two years and then headed to the University of Oregon at Eugene where he studied business and real estate.

He retired in 1986 as president of Pioneer Bank, after a lifetime banking career that started with the company’s forerunner, Pioneer Federal Savings & Loan Association. He spent 18 years in Ontario, where his children all graduated from high school, before returning to his hometown in 1979.

Durgan lived the life of George Bailey, a savings and loan banker played by Jimmy Stewart in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life.”

“It was wonderful,” Durgan says. “Helping people out, getting them homes and helping contractors getting them built.”

Durgan’s wife, Iris, died in 1980. He remarried in 1983 and lost his second wife, Patti, three years ago.

Patti supported him in his efforts to get a new bandstand built in the park,  “but it was my thing, so to speak,” he says.

The new bandstand will not be as huge as the one that stood in the park from the early 1900s until it was demolished in 1969. That shell-shaped structure surrounded a high, raised stage, recalls Joyce Hunsaker, the newly elected secretary and grant writer for the Baker City Bandstand Pavilion Project.

The original bandshell even housed an apartment where the caretaker — a Mr. Goodwin — lived with his family, according to Hunsaker’s mother, Phyllis Badgley. She is another longtime Baker City resident who was part of the original group promoting the bandstand effort.

Hunsaker recalls that during the “Paint Your Wagon” filming in Baker County during the summer of 1968, the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band performed in the old bandshell.  A Baker City Band also played concerts led by conductor Louis Frietag. He worked as a watchmaker at the old Palmer Bros. Jewelry Store, Badgley remembers.

Chautauqua lectures by traveling scholars also were presented in the bandshell, Hunsaker said.

It’s that kind of activity Durgan and his like-minded bandstand supporters would like to see return to Geiser-Pollman Park.

Durgan hangs his head at the thought of past military band performances.

“They had to have them play on the dang lawn,” he said.

And he recalls religious concerts that were performed on the back of a flatbed truck.

“That really hurt me that we couldn’t afford better,” he said.

 The planned 1,200-square-foot steel bandstand pavilion, was designed by Baker City architect Larry Abell. Sid Johnson & Co. is the project builder.

The new bandstand will accommodate a symphony of up to 40 instruments and may also be used for dances, weddings, reunions and anniversary parties and rallies or convention speakers.

Dave Hunsaker, Joyce’s husband and the newly elected president of the nonprofit committee, said completion of this project will be just one more way to continue a “rich heritage of community support and action,” citing other successful endeavors such as the Oregon Trail Interpretive Center, the Leo Adler Memorial Parkway and the Baker Heritage Museum.

The Hunsakers hope others will follow the Durgan family’s lead in supporting the project.

“We are all pillars of our community and here is another opportunity to continue the legacy of shaping Baker County history ... by sponsoring one of the pillars of the pavilion,” Dave Hunsaker said.

Other architectural features of the structure, whose final cost is estimated at  $250,000, also are available for sponsorships and donor recognition. They are:

• The largest portal (facing east toward Grove Street),  $60,000 donation minimum; one available.

• Second largest portal (facing west toward the Powder River), $40,000 donation minimum; one available

• Remaining four portals  $20,000 donation minimum. The sponsors will be recognized with tiles or medallions placed on the pavilion at the appropriate feature, Joyce Hunsaker said.

“We envisioned these larger features to be attractive to heritage farms and ranches, regional businesses, companies, banks, and organizations,” she said.

Soroptimist International is acting as the bandstand project’s fiscal sponsor and all donations are tax-deductible, Hunsaker added.

More information is available by calling Lynette Perry, the organization’s treasurer, at 541-519-5653, or  Hunsaker at 541-523-9980.