Moline High Alums Postpone 50th Reunion, Celebrate Band’s New Video
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In 1971, the cost of a postage stamp was 8 cents; a gallon of gas was 40 cents, and the average cost of a new house was $25,250. For many members of the Moline High School Class of ’71, what hasn’t changed in 50 years is their love of music, their friends and their school.
Unfortunately, their 50th class reunion – scheduled for the weekend of Aug. 28, 2021 at East Moline’s Short Hills Country Club — has been postponed due to the Covid pandemic. However, a new website devoted to the class is keeping its far-flung members connected.
“It was just so cool,” Marcia Green of Moline, a member of the reunion committee, said recently of the four-minute video, set to the song
Riddle wrote in 2012 in honor of his school and hometown. “I’ve heard it many times, it brings tears to my eyes. I love the video — they did a great job on it. It was very well done.”
Riddle – who lives in a north Minneapolis suburb – said recently that whenever he would visit Moline and drive down Avenue of the Cities
(home of the school at 36th Street), he’d look for someone he knew.
“That’s how the germ of the song started,” Riddle said. Dale Menten, who’s from Minnesota and married to Mike’s sister Julie (MHS Class of ’72), is a singer/songwriter and has made other videos for family and friends. Riddle played him the song and Menten wanted to do it.
“I asked Dale if he’d do it, and he loved doing it,” he said. “We had so many pictures and you only have so
much time for the video. I think Dale did a masterful job with it. It’s hard to get all the pictures we had into the video.”
Riddle initially asked fellow ’71 classmate Bill Zelnio (a guitarist and singer) to sing background vocals and assemble the video first.
The audio was mainly recorded in January – first with Riddle doing his vocal and guitar, Zelnio adding vocals from his home in Ft. Myers. Fla.; Craig Dove playing piano and bass from his Cedar Rapids home, and Mark Ohlsen (who runs a Chicago recording studio) adding horns and doing the mastering.
“It’s all virtual, doing remotely,” Riddle said of the recording. “I’m just so happy the way it turned out. It turned out so good. I think Mark did a masterful job of mastering. The horn part, when I heard it, it brought tears to my eyes. It’s so good, he did such a great job. Everybody did.
“It’s been a very fun and emotional project to work on,” he said. “I don’t know what we’d do without the technology in this pandemic. I can’t imagine how we’d survive.”
Riddle first sang “Moline Maroon” at the 2016 reunion at Short Hills, where the 17-member class reunion band is always a highlight. Its lyrics include:
Its teams adorn a color
A rich and royal hue
That angels paint in skies above
To signal night is through
Didn’t I see you yesterday – strollin’ down the avenue
Don’t grow up too soon
Always remember basement bands and holding hands
And the girl with raven hair
Waiting there…for you
The line “The girl with raven hair” refers to Riddle’s late wife Becky (Class of ’72, who died of cancer in 2010), with a photo in the video of her playing guitar in high school. “It has changed everything. It’s really brought us together,” Green said of the band, with many members
coming in from out of the area to reunions. “But these guys have so much fun together, and I’m probably their biggest fan. I think they’re just a bunch of great guys, great character.” Zelnio said of the song and video: “It’s really well done. “And then when he decided to record it, with all his professional equipment, he asked me to sing backup. I was honored and happy to do it, and I’m glad that I got a chance to do that.” He initially collected the photos for the video and put together a first version, before Menten finished it. “He’s got better software to do that with a lot of transitions and zoom in and out and all that stuff,” Zelnio said.
The video is packed with photos of the class of ’71, past and present – and heartwarming images like dances, marching band, sports teams, cheerleaders, popular spots throughout Moline, and the school.
“As Mike’s song states very well, he captures a lot of memories: 23rd Avenue, Whitey’s, the Rock and Mississippi rivers, basketball hoops, the basement band, holding hands, Riverside Park, Wharton Field house, dances in the gym….it’s all good,” Zelnio said.
The class – which had 852 graduates – first had a five-year reunion as a summer picnic in 1976 on the Rock River. They typically aim for August for their five-year gatherings.
“It’s awesome, it gives us tears,” Glendeen Countryman, who runs the website www.molinesrhigh1971.com, said recently about the “Moline Maroon” video. “What’s kind of cool about it, several of us on the committee got pictures they were asking for – back flip girls, guys with blazers, pictures of 23rd Avenue – for the video to correspond with words, and we sent them in.”
“The video, it was very nostalgic for me,” said Julie Menten (class of ’72), Riddle’s sister and Menten’s wife since 2011. She was also best friends with Becky, who died at 56 from multiple myeloma. “I helped find photos, the senior class cheerleaders. It was fun to go through there and pull pictures.”
Getting into music before high school
Riddle, Zelnio and Dale Menten all got into music at young ages, forming bands as early as 6th grade.
Zelnio’s junior high band included a famous name – Frank Bellson, the nephew of legendary jazz drummer (and MHS alum) Louie Bellson (1924-2009). Their first gig was in 6th grade at a dance, and Frank didn’t have any cymbals for his drum set.
“I said, ‘Frank, your uncle is Louie Bellson. He’s the best drummer on the planet. Write him a letter and ask him for some cymbals’,” Zelnio recalled. “He’s probably got cymbals all over the house. A month later, a big package came with a full set of Zildjan cymbals showed up. How about that? That’s a cool story. Zelnio later met Louie, since his parents went to Moline High with him (all in the class of 1942). “When Louie Bellson, just before he died, came to the music store off John Deere Road, West Music,” he said. “My parents went down and we met Louie Bellson.” He said bands he played in during junior high and high school played about every event/dance, prom, homecoming, party, and weddings, and within a 100-mile radius. “Our manager – Tony Soliz, our drummer’s Dad, and longtime Moline barber – managed our bookings, drove us and took care of us,” Zelnio said of that big black Cadillac and a U-haul trailer.
Zelnio graduated from University of Illinois in civil engineering, got an MBA from St. Ambrose, and had a 38-year career with John Deere before retiring in 2013. He and his wife Laurie have three kids – Stephanie in Colorado, Elizabeth in Minnesota, and Steven in Kansas, all married – and two grandsons.
“Retired and living the dream,” Zelnio said, noting the MHS reunion band always used to practice in his Moline basement before reunions every five years, before they sold their house last year. They spend about six months of the year in Florida, five months in Door County, Wis., and the rest of the year in Iowa, visiting their children and traveling.
“We have the best class of classmates there could be,” he said of MHS. “All of us are close and friends, and we have so much fun seeing each other. The Reunion Band adds another level of fun, excitement, and music we all remember and like.
“And the band is made up of all classmates, which is special too,” Zelnio said by e-mail, noting they’ve played at all reunions since the 20th one in 1991. “Our band is so talented, we have six professional musicians, those that play a lot of music gigs, (Mark Ohlsen, Mike Riddle, Craig Dove, Jim Fecht, Randy Pobanz, Mari Harris), and a few semi-pros, that play regularly, (Stuart Soliz, John Wilkinson, Bill Zelnio).
“All of the band learns the songs, rehearses, and loves to play and perform,” he said. “We even have a few classmates join the band in some songs to play the tambourine and sing choruses. We’re very inclusive, there were many bands and musicians in our school years.”
For the reunions, generally there are 17 musicians – three guitars, three bass, four drummers, three keyboards, three horns, and singer Mari Harris (whose brother is pianist Coleman Harris). The primary MHS bands were Next to None, Third Degree, and Fyre Childe.
One longtime member, Lewis Demetri Corelis, 57, of Comptche, Calif., formerly of Moline, died unexpectedly in October 2010.
Solving the Riddle of life
Mike Riddle’s parents were from northern Louisiana, and his father was stationed in Yokohama, Japan during the Korean War. Riddle was born there and was brought up in Baton Rouge, La., until he was 9, when they moved to the Q-C in late 1962.
His musical roots originate from spending most of his life in cities nestled along the shores of the Mississippi, including Moline, Baton
Rouge, and Minneapolis (where he’s lived for 47 years.
Riddle’s first gig was when he was 12, soon after he got his first guitar, playing for a carnival at a Dad’s Club playground by Logan School. With a classmate, Tom Otis, they made $12. Riddle played for talent shows at Coolidge Junior High.
As a member of the Moline Boys Choir, he knew he wanted to be a musician.
“I can’t believe when I think about the opportunities that Moline High School provided me, now I look back and see it,” Riddle said recently. “I am one of the luckiest people in the whole world. I’ve had a life that’s just been unbelievable – not saying there hasn’t been sorrow. But the things I’ve done; I’ve traveled all over the world.
“I actually have pictures, sitting in the cockpit of the shuttle Discovery,” he said. “I sold to NASA. I had such a crazy career. I can’t even talk about all the things I’ve done. USO tours – I’ve played on the flight decks of
aircraft carriers. I’ve had a crazy life.”
With the USO, Riddle was in a band that toured the Mediterranean in the 1970s. In ’91, after Desert Storm, he played two weeks at a hotel in Germany, at the foot of the mountain where Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest was.
Riddle’s father was an electrical engineer, and he helped his son to build his first amplifier. After a stent as a professional musician in the Twin Cities in his early 20’s, Riddle got a job producing circuit boards and other computer equipment. Riddle went on to sell to big computer companies like Compaq and IBM.
Without a four-year degree, he said he often felt like the stupidest person in the room. But Riddle knew how to sell and he learned on the job.
His first wife Becky was a year younger at Moline, and they were married 35 years at the time of her 2010 death. They had three children – now a 43-year-old daughter, who has three kids; a 42-year-old daughter, with two kids, and a 35-year-old son with two kids.
Riddle – whose grandkids range in age from 20 to 2 — studied music at Black Hawk College for two years and wanted to study guitar performance at University of Illinois, but didn’t end up going.
Riddle didn’t care much for high school, but loved attending Black Hawk and his music study. He didn’t go to the five-year reunion or the 10-year reunion, but at his wife’s 10-year reunion, he ran into another 1971 classmate – Jim Fecht – who’s also in the reunion band. They were sitting together with their wives, who graduated Moline in 1972.
That night, Fecht suggested putting together a band from the Class of ’71. Zelnio later reached out to Riddle to put together a band for the 20th, “and it’s been a joy ever since,” Riddle said. In ’91, it included at least four drummers, four guitar players, three keyboardists and a horn section.
“It’s just a gas – just to spend time with those guys and play that music that we grew up with,” Riddle said. The guys who live in the Q-C would practice a few weeks before, but those from out of town would get in the day before, practice with the band, rehearse all Saturday and play all Saturday night, he said. “It’s been so much fun,” he said.
“Some say the reason our reunions are so successful and so well-attended is because of the band,” Riddle said. “The real reason they’re successful is because the reunion committee is so organized that it gives us a chance and place to play. We just have so much fun playing together.”
They meet every five years (the last in 2016), and they also had one when members turned 60 in 2013, in Moline, on 16th Street. Between MHS reunions, Riddle and his first wife would come back to visit Becky’s family two or three times a year.
“I’m a lucky man, because I married another wonderful lady who is one who talked me into getting back into music full time again,” Riddle said.
He met his second wife Jean on a widowers’ website and they got married in 2015.
Coming back to play with the MHS band is always a thrill, Riddle said. “It’s like just putting on an old pair of jeans, it’s so comfortable,” he said. “Everybody is so comfortable with one another, even though our lives are different and everyone is scattered. Now a lot more people have moved out of the Quad-Cities; we’re retired, we can live where we want to.”
“Everybody comes back and we always have fun,” Riddle said. He’s been playing music full-time since 2013, averaging about 300 performances a year.
He found a niche in working with senior communities. “They love the music; secondly, I get to traverse the musical landscape,” Riddle said. Since the pandemic, he’s played mainly over Zoom, and has gotten his Covid vaccine.
“You can’t imagine how lonely these people are, it’s so sad, in some of these homes,” Riddle said. “Up until recently, they haven’t been able to eat together. They have meals in their rooms. They couldn’t see their family. Activities directors at these places are pulling out their hair, trying to figure out, what to do we keep these people engaged?”
“I’ve been working with them as much as I can to figure out how to make that happen,” he said.
He writes songs with his brothers Charlie and Mark, and did a CD in 2015 called “Cotton Valley Store,” named for a general store their
grandfather ran in Cotton Valley, La. It was something to pass on to their kids, with stories about their family.
The Riddle Brothers have not played live since January 2020. In the warmer months, Mike played with an amp outside senior communities, in their parking lot, inviting residents to listen from windows or balconies. “They looked so forward to it,” Riddle said.
“When I was a kid, doing music, you wanted to be great and it was about you,” he said. “Now music is for other people. I’m lucky; I’m blessed with a gift. Whenever I can share that gift, I’m gonna do that.”
Over the summer, Riddle played about 10 outdoor gigs a month.
“Actually, compared to other musicians, the pandemic has not hit me as bad as others,” he said. “I’ve had friends who haven’t had any gigs.”
They wouldn’t want to do the reunion virtually, like on Zoom, Riddle said. He’s disappointed to not to get to celebrate this year during the actual 50th anniversary, noting he sees Bill Zelnio a couple times a year.
Riddle was very happy to get the second dose of his Covid vaccine last month. “I’m trying to get my wife vaccinated,” he said. “We’d like to do a little traveling.”
From teen fame to Dairy Queen and Prince
Dale Menten is a 75-year-old native of Mankato, Minn., and runs Menten Music in Minneapolis. He’s been in nine different bands and
performed across the country with The Everly Brothers, Roy Orbison, Paul Revere and the Raiders, and the Beach Boys.
Menten achieved fame as a teenager in the early ‘60s, when he wrote the hit song “Run, Run, Run” for his band, The Gestures.
In the Twin Cities, the record hit No. 1, and in December 1964, it reached number 44 in Billboard, its highest chart position in the Hot 100. He was signed to MCA Records and did an album in 1975.
“Before Mike could drive, Dad would drive the band around,” Julie said of her teen Moline years. “I would go as a groupie, Dad would drive different places. They rehearsed in our basement, in our house on 25th Street. I knew all the band members.”
She graduated from MHS in ’72 and was a foreign exchange student in Brazil, the summer between junior and senior year. “I loved everything about high school,” Julie said. “I was very involved in all the musicals and plays. I loved sports, loved going to Wharton Field House.”
In 1968, Menten wrote music for the rock musical “House of Leather.” The show was set in a house of prostitution before, during, and after the Civil War. In Minneapolis, it played nearly 50 sold-out shows, then in St. Paul for five weeks. Its debut on March 18, 1970, at the off-Broadway Ellen Stewart Theater brought a bad review from the New York Times, but favorable ones from the Village Voice and the Wall Street Journal, but it closed after that first night.
Dale and Julie met in Minneapolis in 1973. She was working for an agency that booked touring bands and she met Dan Fogelberg when he opened for The Eagles in Minneapolis in ’75, and he encouraged her to move to Boulder, Colo., where she met her first husband. Starting in ’72, Dale owned Cookhouse Recording Studio. In ’75, Julie’s brother Charlie saw the band Grand Central Station, which ended up being the first one Prince (before he was famous) recorded with in ’75, at age 17. Dale and Julie brought the band into the studio.
The band laid down five instrumental tracks, and before adding vocals, “this guitar player named Prince asked me if he could replace some of the parts,” he recalled. “I wanted to go fishing in the afternoon; he started replacing the bass part, keyboards…He was very talented.” (Prince, who died in 2016, released his first album in 1978.)
In the mid-‘70s, Dale also was one of the creators of the term “Scrumpdillyishus” for Dairy Queen, and wrote a song for their national TV and radio campaign, which was used for eight years. Riddle’s wife Becky sang on those original tracks, and Menten made a lot of money from the
campaign, he said. Julie was married to her first husband 13 years and Dale’s first wife died of breast cancer in 2008. They reconnected in the Twin Cities in 2009 and got married in 2011. From their first unions, Dale and Julie have four children and seven grandkids between them. (Check out a song and video Dale did about the pandemic, “Heroes and Angels.”)
Scheduling a 50th around a pandemic
The MHS 50th reunion (scheduled before Covid, in 2019) was going to be on Riddle’s 68th birthday, Aug. 28, and a class survey last month revealed many people wanted to postpone.
“It’s disappointing, but our class is so good, whenever we have it — it will be good,” Zelnio said. “I’d rather have it when all classmates feel comfortable traveling, attending, and socializing.”
He and his wife (Laurie Wilkinson Zelnio, MHS class of ‘73) received both Covid shots in January and early February. This would have been the first reunion where the band wouldn’t practice ahead of time at Zelnio’s house, every night for a week.
“We always practice in my basement for every reunion. And now that I don’t have a house there, we’ll have to figure out what we’re gonna do.” The out-of-towners would meet Saturday morning at Short Hills. “That’s a huge, busy day for us, the reunion day,” Zelnio said. “We’d meet at my house at nine o’clock in the morning. We load up all of our equipment and drums and everything, and we’d all race off to Short Hills.” The informal class song they always do is “Joy to the World” (Three Dog Night) and another favorite is “Born to Be Wild” (Steppenwolf), he said.
“People are concerned about getting together this year,” Marcia Green (who’s gotten one dose of the vaccine) said, noting they may have something for the class in the fall homecoming parade. “Once we get into the summer, see how everything is going, we’ll be cautious.”
“It’s disappointing, but with the situation as it is, if we had it, a lot of people wouldn’t come, and that would be disappointing for them,” she said. “By postponing for a year, we really feel like we’ll be in a better position. When you only do it every five years, you look forward to that five-year mark. To do it and not really have it the
way we want it, would be kind of sad.”
“And we know it’s gonna be a big one. So by postponing it a year, everybody will feel more safe,” she said. “There’s a lot of guys in the band that aren’t able to come, you know, for various reasons. And so this just kind of all just worked out.”
“This website Glendeen put together, it’s amazing how many people have connected through it,” Green said. “She’s done a great job promoting it. There are dear friends I found who I had lost track of. We have something at least to get connected. I’ve gotten an email from a couple of people I haven’t heard from in a long time.” “They were dear friends, and I kinda lost track of them, so it’s been wonderful,” she said. “I think everybody’s rejoicing that we have something like this for the 50th class reunion year to at least get connected. And maybe that’ll be better in what we’re gonna have as a reunion next year, because people have reconnected this year. So it’s all good.” Green spent her career in programming, marketing and development for the Two Rivers YMCA, WQAD, WHBF and John Deere Classic. She has many
wonderful memories of Moline High. “I guess I just was blessed. I had a lot of really good friends. And my brother is a twin brother,” Green said. “He had a lot of friends, and so we had a big group we ran around with. And we in those days, everybody, everybody went to all of the sports. It was just a community.” “It’s just that the memories of having a lot of fun,” she said. “We had a good class…We had a really large group of girls and we all just were really good friends. So I would just say that general experience is just wonderful.”
The reunion committee did the online survey so it wouldn’t just be a group of 13 making the decision, Green said. She has two children and six grandchildren, ranging in age 18 to 9.
Glendeen Countryman, a Deere retiree who handled many company websites around the world, started the Class of ’71 site last summer, in anticipation of the coming reunion.
Seventy-five members of the class responded to the survey last month.
The survey results indicate the majority of those surveyed would like to have the reunion later this year (50th and all), only if the pandemic is under control and people are vaccinated, she said. “If this won’t be the case, most would prefer to reschedule in 2022 and protect their health/safety as well as that of their families.
“The reunion committee agrees with this, as we want everyone to be healthy for our 50th reunion, and not take chances with the unknown pandemic future of this year,” Countryman said.
She created the new site to facilitate communication of the 50th reunion to classmates via emails; to have a database of classmates that is updated in real time, and also provide an easy registration process for the reunion.
“What was a bonus is how popular it has become and how people are able to communicate with each other in a safe and private environment where only our 1971 classmates are allowed to register,” Countryman said, noting that they had a Facebook page for the class for a long time before the new site, which offers many more features.
One hundred members of the class of 852 have died, and she has communicated through the website to 256 classmates via email. One hundred and thirty-three have registered for the site, and there are 496 missing classmates (meaning they don’t have valid email addresses for them).
What someone can’t see until they’ve joined the site include classmates’ birthdays, who’s online now, where they live now, and classmates’ comments.
Countryman has been to every class reunion except the last one, when she had the flu.
“We’ve grown to expect to have our band,” she said. “We do not want a DJ who doesn’t care about our class. Every time we have another reunion, we feel like the band is ours. I think that the band even helps people connect better there, because it’s an experience. We’re listening to music that was there when we were there. I think people really bond and connect a little faster with the band there.”
“This year, I was torn,” Countryman said of holding a 50th celebration. “I was torn because I emotionally got more involved in it than anybody else. I want to go. Results were all over the board — it’s our 50th, we have to have it, we’re not young kids anymore.
“I had one survey result, it said I would like to have the reunion this year only if there no masks, no social
distancing, and in person,” she said. “I’m pretty sure that’s not gonna happen.”
Countryman – whose husband Kent owns a landscaping and hardscape company — recently got her first dose of the vaccine.
“We talked about doing all outdoors, one of the options” she said of the August reunion. “I think it was the band issue, having the band set up outside, not knowing about weather. Having it outside, and a venue to do that, we would have to change venues. I think the overwhelming feeling from people we surveyed, I’d like it this year if Covid was under control, but most people were just not willing to risk it.”
“We thought about having it in the fall, and having at a local country club, however, four of the band members couldn’t make it this year,” Countryman said. “That’s not how the band works.”
Many people wanted to still have it this fall, but the band availability and Covid concerns kind of overrode that. “I also would not mind if we postponed until 2022. Later in 2021 is better,” she said. “We want our band there. We don’t want it without the band. They were there 50 years ago.”
Countryman (who doesn’t have any children) started working for John Deere when she was 24 and worked 35 years at the Deere Administrative Center in Moline, and retired in 2012.
Julie Menten – who also performed at Playcrafters and Music Guild in Moline – is thrilled to have gotten her Covid vaccine. She and Dale this week left the Twin Cites, driving cross-country for a long vacation in southern California. “I felt like the shackles have fallen away,” she said of the vaccine. “We haven’t left our house hardly. We have a cabin in northern Minnesota, and were there over the summer, with no guests, which is unusual. When we got the vaccine, we left.”