VARENE ANDERSON INTERVIEW
March 31, 1997
Bob Brundage: Well, hi again, this is Bob Brundage again, and the date is still March 31, and we are all the way up in Susanville, California, came out of the Lake Tahoe area in Nevada, and today we’re talking with Varene Anderson. And Varene and her husband, Carl, were chairmen of the first National Square Dance Convention, and one of the earlier recipients of the Hall of Fame, and their portrait hangs at the Lloyd Shaw Archives today. So, Varene, tell us a little bit about Carl, where he was born and brought up, and perhaps how he got into square dancing, and so forth.
Varene Anderson: He was born in Kansas City, Missouri, in 19, goodness, I forgot.
BB: Okay. Well, that’s not important.
VA: His father was a doctor, and he always wanted to go to college and get a law degree. But he never had enough money. And after the war, well, during the war, he worked for the Government. And he stayed on after the war. And, basically, he got a college education because he went from doing, taking parts off of crashed airplanes to be used on other and came out working for the Titan missile. And doing crash investigations was the last, one of the last couple of things that he did. He wrote a missive for the Titan Missile and for the, how to repair them and where they would store them.
BB: Do you remember how he got into square dancing?
VA: Yes. The first two times that I took him to square dance, the first time I took him to a square dance was still in Kansas City. The college was teaching square dancing, and the public was invited to come out and try it. So he took his boyfriend to go with us so I could dance. Well, I danced with the boyfriend, and I had a ball. But he sat and watched the whole thing. And he says, that’s so stupid, I’ve never seen anything as stupid as that. Then, before the war started, we came to California to live. And after the war, he belonged to a club that he went to on Wednesday night. Square dancing was big then in 1946,47,48.
BB: Yeah, this club by the way, was not a square dance club. No. This was another club that he belonged to, right.
VA: Yes, Elks. He went to Elks on Wednesday night. So, I said, do you mind if I go square dancing over in San Bernardino, and he says, no, go ahead. So, I went 6 weeks to that, and then, they decided to have a potluck, and I said, well, would you go to the potluck, and he said, well, I guess so. And we get over there, and I told all the girls, I said, tell him how well he’s doing and help him, give him little shoves to make sure he goes in the right direction. So, when he came home, he says, well, if you could find a class that’s not on Wednesday, I would go to that and learn. So, I said, well, there’s one starting tomorrow night in the City Hall. So, we, we went, we started going. He absolutely fell in love with square dancing. He dedicated his life to it. And sometimes he was gone more often than he was home. When he was traveling for the Government because he wouldn’t come home on weekends. He would get home Sunday night, get his clothes washed up, and leave again the next day.
BB: Right, right. Okay. Well, now you were not living Yucaipa then.
VA: No, we never lived in Yucaipa. We lived in Redlands.
BB: Oh, well, that’s next door practically.
VA: Uh huh.
BB: Yeah. I was talking about the area. You were not in, down the Los Angeles area then, you were in Redlands. I see. Okay. But your club became the Yucaipa Square Dance Club.
VA: We had one in Redlands and one in Yucaipa. And we went to both of them.
BB: Okay. And Ed Gilmore was the caller, was he.
VA: Uh huh. And Walt Bauman called for the one in Redlands.
BB: I see. Walt Bauman. All right. So, well the big news as far as you and Carl are concerned is the fact that you were chairmen of the first National Square Dance Convention, and I think you told me before we started taping, that you, this started out as a, not a serious endeavor at all. Will you tell us about that.
VA:. Will it started out, we were planning a 3-day square dance something. And we were checking out what we were going to have, and the reason we had failed and lost money the year before when we did that, was because we prepared food. And, the day got so hot that the food spoiled. So we had to throw all the food away, and that’s why we lost money. And everybody worried that we were going to lose money if we tried this. But Carl says, oh, we won’t lose money. We can do it in a year. He says,
BB: To make it a national, in other words.
VA: He says, why we don’t make it a national, just out of the clear blue sky. And Ed says, you can’t do it in a year. Carl says, yes, I can. We went some place every night selling national convention. : We traveled all over southern California handing out flyers and talking to people about coming to the national. And this time, we were smarter. Instead of preparing food ahead of time, we had all of the women in Cal county bring something to after parties and fed them that way. And Riverside didn’t allow you to dance in Riverside on Sunday. So, on Sunday, we all went up to Camp Bradford up in the mountains.
BB: I didn’t realize that.
VA: We had church Sunday morning. We had breakfast, and then we had church. And then, in the aft, and they played baseball and did all these fun things that you do on a picnic. And then one man who was a member of Yucaipa, prepared enough spaghetti to have a, feed all of these people, and had a salad and bread to go with it. So that was our lunch. And then we took them all back down into town at 5 in the afternoon. We had 6,500 people who came to the square dance. That was national square dance. Our program was two, two sheets. Front and back on two different sheets. Our registration form was two poster, two poster, two sided poster that you kept one, and we got one. And it was, the charge was a dollar a day. We had exhibition groups, we had a fashion show, we had seminars where people could go and learn to run a club, or to learn to call. There were some men that were teaching that. We learned contra. We’d never heard of contra until then.
BB: I think you said Charlie Baldwin did the contras.
VA: Charlie Baldwin did the
BB: From Massachusetts.
VA: He was such a funny man and so cute. And we had a good, we had a really good time. It was, we danced in three different areas. We danced in the park, we danced in the, the round dancers were put on in a building that had been, was going to be torn down, and we talked the city fathers into letting us do one of the dances in this building, because it had hard wood floors. And Yucaipa’s women went down, scrubbed the floors, washed the walls, cleaned the bathrooms and polished everything up, and Walt Bauman, the elec, the speakers
VA: That they would need, and in the center of the room, the sound was absolutely wonderful.
BB: Oh, great.
VA: The chairman of the convention center there, he kept track. He says, we always keep track. So, during the 1975, 76 convention, the 25th one, they asked us then, now many people were there because we always keep track how many people come. They had 6,500. We hadn’t known how many before until then.
BB: It was probably a big convention, too.
BB: Compared to some of the others that they held.
VA: Well, actually, they need a lot more space for square dancing than they do for most things. Most of them are sitting down – Activities. But we made money on it. We borrowed $200 to help with the expenses. And we paid it back, and we still had money for Cal County.
BB: Okay. So Cal County benefited from that. Well, that’s nice. So then, I’m sure you attended several of the subsequent conventions.
VA: Yes. I went to Kansas City because I, we had family there so we put our kids with the family to have someone else take care of them. And Carl’s brother, Vernon, he took them fishing, and when they came home, when we came home that night, all the kids had on new clothes, and I says, where’d you get all these new clothes. He says, well, they got them all muddy, so I bought them so new clothes, and then we went to Oklahoma. And Carl went to Texas. I didn’t go to Texas. I couldn’t always go because I had a full-time job, too, to help with the expenses. And we paid it back, and we still had money for Cal County.
BB: Okay. So Cal County benefited from that, well that’s nice. So then, I’m sure you attended several of the subsequent conventions. Well, then I met you again in Kentucky at, that was Louisville, right.
VA: That was Louisville. That was the seventh one, and I went to San Diego. If it was so we could drive, we usually went. Or if we could con his, Carl’s mother into taking care of the kids.
BB: Right. You were remarking before we started taping about the, that huge dance that they had right on the ocean front in the Los Angeles area. I thought it was Long Beach, but I guess it was not. Where they had 15,000 dancers, and
VA: We danced in the street, two blocks long.
BB: Yeah, and you were talking about who, who were there on the program. I know Pappy Shaw was there-
VA: Pappy Shaw.
BB: Made an appearance.
VA: And Bruce Johnson, Cal Golden, Osa Matthews was there, and, let me think, who else, Bob VanAntwerp, I think.
BB: Okay. And Bob Osgood.
VA: And Bob Osgood. We used to go on Saturdays down to Bob Osgood’s and dance on the driveway and that was fun.
BB: He told about some well-known people have done that too.
VA: Well, ( ?) I think he lives in Florida now. He’s (long pause). I can’t remember his name, but he has (long pause) he used to be at (? ) with his wife.
BB: Well, then you knew Chuck Jones.
VA: I knew Chuck Jones, and he told me one time if I would tell him exactly what I wanted Bugs Bunny to be doing, he would draw me a picture. But I never could think of what I wanted Bugs to be doing.
BB: It’s too bad you didn’t get it. They would, they would certainly be wonderful keepsakes today.
VA: Oh, yes, they would be.
BB: Right. I know Arnie Kronenberger has more than one. In fact, one of them he’s so proud of, he had it framed.
VA: If I had one, I would have it framed, too. A caller’s wife has one in her bathroom, and Bugsy, Bugs Bunny is sitting on the potty.
BB: Oh, there you go. Okay. Do you remember who that was?
VA: George (long pause). It’s awful to be old and can’t remember things.
BB: Old and right. No, well, it’s okay. All right, well, where actually do you, did you and Carl meet.
VA: At the First Lutheran Church in Kansas City, Missouri, washing dishes after a dinner. I met Anderson, Johnson, Danielson, Johnson, another Johnson, and they all wanted to take me home. And I only lived two blocks away, and I told them I only live two blocks away, I can walk home. No, we’re going to take you home, so all of them took me home. And Carl called first, the next afternoon. So we started going together after that.
BB: Well, you’ve certainly had a wonderful career, and I understand you’re still dancing today.
VA: Yes, I am. We have a little club here in Susanville, it’s about six squares in the summer time. But this time of year, it’s only about three squares because the snow birds are all gone. And when they come back, then they come to dance. We have a hard time getting young people to come to the dance. That’s what we need. We need the people who are, like my son’s age, 50 something. Their children are old enough to take care of themselves and they can come. Because it’s too expensive for them to come and when we had beginner’s classes, Carl would tell them, the ladies, not to go out and buy a lot material for dresses until they were sure they wanted to keep on doing it. And we’d have a fashion show with the members showing some of their clothes, so that they could see. We always had a fashion show for the beginners, and we talked this lady into providing some jewelry and clothes that. She would let us show. And then he would do the describing the clothes. That’s good. He would, he really loved square dancing.
BB: How about round dancing, did
VA: Yeah, we round danced. I still round dance if there’s a fella available. I can’t get up and do them like some of the girls do. Do them on their own.
BB: Well, you say you’re doing the man’s part once in a while in square dancing.
VA: I do it all the time now.
BB: All the time, okay.
VA: I’m trying to get eight girls to come so it could be an all-girls square, but I have a hard time. But I think we have, we have six. If we could just get two more.
BB: Okay. Well, I’ll have to start recruiting, right. Well, Varene, I tell you, it’s a real pleasure to see you again. It’s been so
VA: Well, I think it’s wonderful that you came out.
BB: Well, I dedicated myself to interviewing all of the Hall of Fame people and the Milestone and the Silver Halo people. I hope by the time the national convention in Orlando is over this summer, that I’ll have almost all of it.
VA: I’m sure you will.
BB: Right. I, you know, I’ve been with my brother, AI for several days on two or three different occasions, and I haven’t interviewed him yet. But I’ve got, that’s one of the reasons
VA: He’s closer to home.
BB: Yeah. Well, so I’m, it’s one of the reasons I’m going to the Florida national, and because I also want to get Dave Taylor and Earl Johnston, and they’re, they’re pretty close to Al down there. And I’ll pick up
VA: Did you have anybody that hadn’t, some that started the Squarenatters, you know, the
BB: No, not specifically, no. Yeah, I remember that name, yeah, but, oh, there’s so many memories, we could stop and
VA: We could talk for hours.
BB: I guess.
VA: On the things we remember. How much fun it was. And how simple to start with and now it’s so hard. Many people drop out because it is too hard.
BB: Right. What level of square dancing are you at with your little club here, do you know.
BB: You’re in Plus. Okay.
VA: Some of them go to Reno and do A, some of the younger ones. There are three couples, three or four couples that are a lot younger than me. Like say 20 years, 25 years.
BB: Right. Well, you were just showing me one of the things that you’ve been work shopping the last couple of weeks called, what was it, Fan the Boat, something like that. A combination of Load the Boat, Fan the Top, with a single circle in there. Yeah. Any impression about the way square dancing has gone.
VA: I like Mainstream and Plus, and a good caller can usually cue wonderful things with Mainstream. AndI taught three squares of women in Beaver when I lived over the mountain. And I was teaching, I started with Bob Ruff’s basics, and Jack Murtha, and they did all of those, and then I moved, before I moved away, one of the girls that had started this, rounded these three squares of women up to come at 9 in the morning and learn to square dance, she sold it as an exercise class. And, she said, when she started studying these things at home, and she got up to Plus, because I had records that Bob Osgood used to give you if you had a subscription to Sets in Order.
BB: Promotion records, right.
VA: Promotion records. She took Bob VanAntwerp, and she asked me how it went. And then she’d tape it, and I would go and help her. I didn’t mind that she was teaching them. Plus, but I thought before they got into Plus, they should have really been able to turn this record on and have these people dance without having to walk through it. But she didn’t think that way. So, she, she took it over when I left, but I think it didn’t last long after that.
BB: Right. Well, I think we’re about winding down, Varene.
VA: That’s about all I can think of to talk about.
BB: Okay, all right. And after we turn the tape off, we’ll probably talk until the middle of the night or something. But I really want to thank you so very much for taking the time to put your thoughts down on tape, and I’ll take them back home, and we’ll get them transcribed some day or another, and so, these, these will be put in the Lloyd Shaw Foundation’s dance archives.
VA: Did you get that book that John wrote and, the guy that does that magazine, wrote up about the square dancing or the conventions.
BB: I’m not sure who you’re talking about Varene. But yeah, we had a brief interlude there, but I was just saying, Varene, that I want to certainly thank you for taking the time to sit down and talk with us, and we’ll be looking forward to seeing you around. Maybe we will see you in Orlando. We were talking about your going to be down there-
VA: I’m going to be in Florida at that time, and I thought maybe if it wasn’t too far. I could get my son, her son-in-law to drive me down.
BB: We’ll look forward to seeing you there. Maybe you’d like to have a dance with me.
VA: Yes. I’d like that.
BB: Very good. Well, Varene, thank you so much. And we’ll be on our way. This concludes the tape with Varene Anderson in Susanville, California.