Severance, Dick: NE Yankee Clipper, SDFNE Hall of Fame


Dick Severance Interview

Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is July the 22nd is it? The 22nd, 2005 and today we’re talking with a gentleman and his lovely wife back up in Manchester, New Hampshire – Mr. Dick Severance who is not a caller, is not a cuer but he’s been active in square dancing for so many years and that’s what we want to find out about Dick. So Dick, how’s everything today?

Dick Severance – It’s fine.

BB – That’s great. Having a little heat spell I understand but why don’t you start out by telling me a little bit about where you were born and brought up and try to elaborate a little bit on, you know what was life like before you got into square dancing.


DS – Sure, OK. Be glad to. Let’s see, I was brought up – actually born and raised in the Contoocook/ Henniker New Hampshire area. My dad was a farmer – basically the type of farmer who managed farms for other people. My early years of schooling was during that time and, of course my summer times were spent on the farm, doing all the chores and doing all the things necessary back in those days.


BB – Right. Were these primarily dairy farms.


DS – Yes, they were. These were basically dairy farms.


BB – Well, you’re in league with Dudley Laufman. Do you know him by any chance.


DS – Yes, I do.


BB – Well, that was sort of his field back in his early days as well. So, you went through the school system there?


DS – Yes, I did. I attended – actually because of the fact that my father moved around a lot I attended three high schools which was Henniker, then Howe High School in Billerica, Mass. and then Hillsboro High School but I actually graduated from Henniker High School. When I graduated I was Valedictorian of the class.


BB – Where was that?


DS – In Henniker


BB – OK, very good. So, did you move on to college?


DS – No, I didn’t. We were in a situation where, based on my family needs, I did not have the opportunity to move on to college. However, as I became employed I did take a correspondence course in accounting and got an accounting degree through that. Then I took a law course and I got my LLB degree through that[1]. Basically, what I’m saying is that all of my education was primarily disciplined through correspondence.


BB – Well, that’s great. That’s fine. How about military?


DS – Military, no. I did make two attempts to get enlisted. However, my bad eyesight precluded that.


BB – OK. Well, that’s no great problem. So, when did you meet Judy?


DS – Let me see – we met, golly I forget just when from a time point of view but we met when I moved to Manchester, New Hampshire and became employed here.


BB – Now, was this before you were square dancing?


DS – Yes.


BB – So, now I’m interested in how you got into square dancing in the first place.


DS – Well, it sort of leads and comes together because basically it starts with Judy. She was born and raised in Manchester and, as such had a girlfriend that she knew through all those years who, the year previous had gotten into and involved in square dancing and thought it was fantastic so convinced her and myself to take lessons locally. As we did that – Ron Hebert was our instructor/caller and we graduated from class and became members of the Queen City Promenaders.


BB – Oh, yes. So, do you remember approximately when that was?


DS – Yeah. That was back – let me see – 1971.


BB – ’71. OK, so that gives you thirty-five years of dancing.


DS – That’s a fact.     Both laugh


BB – That’s one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you today because you know, these days we don’t have a lot people last as long as you have in square dancing.


DS – Well, thank you.


BB – Right. I noticed that one of the duties that you have been performing currently is as the Director of the Baldwin Library, that’s Charlie Baldwin and also as Director of the Archive.


DS – That is correct. We took over those duties back some time ago. We believed that the collection of historical data is an important aspect of the dance itself and that takes us back to a time when we were asked by Charlie Baldwin to become involved with the Square Dance Foundation. At that time, based on his invitation, we became a member of the Board of Directors. Then we served three years as President and it was a time when there was a lot of activity going on. What I’m referring to is that the Foundation purchased property in South Weymouth, Mass. which was formerly Kramer’s Hayloft. Through all of that activity we were very heavily involved in the organizational aspects of it, in the development of the property kind of thing. For example, we were able to obtain a mortgage loan that enabled us to purchase the property originally with a square dance organization and, as such, that was sort of unheard of because we were able to do it without any personal liability.  Once we had the property in hand we started to develop it. Keep in mind that this was an old farm that had it’s inherent problems and we, in our desire to make it a property that could become a living heritage to the activity started to proceed to raise money and funds and move toward making changes and improvements on the property. Obviously, as time went on we discovered, and after a major effort by a lot of us to try to keep the parts and pieces together, we discovered that our fund- raising efforts and our membership base could not financially support this facility. So, I’m the one that put together a huge research on the financial aspects of it and made a presentation that was probably one of the more difficult decisions the Foundation has ever had to make. That is to sell the property, salvage the collection, take whatever net monies we had out of it and move on to insure that the collectibles would remain intact.[2]


BB – That was when you moved the Foundation Archive to Manchester.


DS – Yes. That was kind of interesting from the point of view that after my tenancy or Judy and my involvement as President we started to develop down there an area that was a creamery that was basically the library and museum. In accomplishing that a lot of that effort was spearheaded by us. You take that to a point where, when we had to move out of there, the decision was made by the Board of Directors that the collectibles should follow us, which means it came to Manchester, was put in storage. Then we were able to develop a relationship with Norm Poisson, who is the owner of the

Mill-A-Round to rent an area next door to him. That put us in a position to be able to get back into a display mode and we were able to get our collectibles displayed for a convention, the New England Square and Round Dance Convention that was held shortly thereafter.


BB – Do you remember about what time that was?


DS – Oh, let me see. Four or five years ago, maybe longer –  yeah.


BB – Close enough. OK. That was a very ambitious move I know. It must have taken quite a bit of physical effort to get everything moved.


DS – Yes, it did. It took a lot of physical effort and a lot of gut-wrenching decisions because, you know we were servicing a lot of local clubs down there. Because of the move they had to find other resources of dancing as far as halls were concerned, etc. It was tough but, in the long run, as we look back on it in retrospect today, it was the right decision because, in more recent years we’ve been able to break even financially and continue to organize our collection. Now, interestingly enough Bob, one of the things that I have found since we’ve been in Manchester our collection has just mushroomed. We have something like 45,000 records – that’s music records. We’ve got loads of pictures, costumes ….


BB – Periodicals?


DS – … periodicals. Yes. It kind of surprised me in the development of this, from the point of view that in the books we’ve got about 1000 that we’ve collected so far to date. In my wildest imagination I would not believe that there were that many books written in part or in total on the subject of square dancing. Then, of course, there’s the periodicals that you alluded to. The various publications, aside from the national ones, of which we have just about every – we have every issue of the national publications ….


BB – Sets In Order


DS – …. along with the Caller magazine but we have discovered that just about every state in the Union had 1, 2, 3, 4 of their own publications. So, we’ve been starting to collect those and it’s amazing the vastness and the involvement of people in the activity and yet we continue to look at ourselves in that, internally we do a great public relations job but externally, with the general public we don’t do too well. And I don’t know why that is.


BB – Well, it’s seems to a problem with the entire activity overall really.


DS – I think so but I’m not convinced it’s just us. I know other national organizations are suffering because of sharing their own inherent right and problems.


BB – Tell me, did you – have you got a fairly good collection  of Ralph Page’s Northern Junket publication?


DS – We have two complete sets.


BB – Two complete sets. That’s beautiful.


DS – Yes, we do. We have a lot of odds and ends that are unique to either this area or – as time has gone on people have given us more valuable materials. For example, from Joe Casey we got one of these old handbooks that’s very small but it’s an old Dance Master’s book that was sort of worn out pretty well.[3] From Al, your brother, we got his original binder of notes that he used to take in his calling years. We’ve got things like Dick Leger’s guitar. We’ve got things like – there’s a coin, a wooden coin that was prepared by – between Nova Scotia and Hillie Bailey in Maine. These are the kind of things you’re not going to find in any other kind of square dance archive. They’re exclusively ours and we’re proud of that.


BB – Well, that’s really beautiful, yep. OK.


DS – Now, as a matter of interest Bob, one of the – our involvement over the years, aside from the foundation was primarily through public relations both in our clubs we did the public relations material – we were the first to have a club newsletter in the area. That spawned many other things. We wrote articles on square dancing for many, many, many years that appeared in the local Manchester Union Leader newspaper. It appeared in the Northeast Caller magazine and Legacy publications – from other publications across the country – I guess the only point that I’m making here is that our background throughout our involvement with the activity has been primarily in organizational skills and in public relations.


BB – Oh yes. Well, that’s great. I really have to ask you, do you have quite a few copies of the original New England Caller magazine?


DS – Yes, we do.


BB – Great. That’s great.


DS – Yes, we do. We have three complete sets and when I say complete we’re missing a couple of issues. We’ve been trying to locate them but eventually we will find them but we are that close to it. Of course, over the years, as you can expect – you know, you start small in your own club and your own organization and the next thing you know you blossom out into other areas. For example, in addition to the square dance foundation we were involved with EDSARDA – that’s the Eastern District Square and Round Dance Association – along the lines I was talking to you I made presentations for about ten years at their annual seminars on public relations and things of that nature.


BB – Right. Well, I know you’ve done a great job over the years Dick. You know, one of the things I have never had a chance to ask or just have never taken the time to ask I guess – can you give us a little more insight about Charlie Baldwin and tell us a little more about him?


DS – Yes, but only from – I guess probably only from my perspective as such. I became acquainted with Charlie at a time that he was writing the, or publishing the Caller magazine. During that period of time that’s when I started to write for the magazine as such. But my involvement with Charlie found him to have fantastic communication skills. He had the ability to bring people together and make things happen. I know that he started his calling activities at the – I don’t know whether it was the YM or the YWCA in Boston back many, many years ago and he was one of the callers that we would hire for our club periodically. There was something about – just something about his personality that was kind of magnetic and just drew you to his interest and efforts. Of course, he is the Founder, along with some other people of the Square Dance Foundation. That’s one of the reasons why we’ve named the section of our archive center the Charlie and Bertha Baldwin Library Museum.


BB – Right, and well deserved.


DS – Yes, most assuredly.


BB – Well, before we get to end of this side of the tape I’d like to mention the fact that you and Judy were awarded the Yankee Clipper Award back in 18, I’m sorry, 1989.


DS – Yes, we were and that was quite a surprise to us in the sense that at that time we were young and we felt that it sort of  happened, you know before it’s time so to speak. In looking back at the world that we traveled a lot of our friends felt that that was where we should be. I can tell you Bob, it is the longest walk – of course, this is awarded at the New England Square and Round Dance Convention – and it is the longest walk from where you’re seated during Celebrity Hour to that stage that you can imagine.[4]


BB – Yes. Both laugh. Well, I walked the walk myself one time.


DS – Yes, yes. That is correct. You did.


BB – Well, gosh Dick this had really been a very interesting conversation. I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to – there’s one other question I’d like to stick in. Do you ever remember a donation you received from the Lloyd – The Lawrence Loy Foundation?


DS – Yes, I do. That was a time when I was President of the Foundation and we, somehow or other there was some contact made with us. I don’t recall who was behind it.


BB – That was me.


DS – OK. That was you. All right. The answer is, ‘Yes’ because I recollect that we were contacted and I think Ralph Page’s – what were his collections were currently resides I guess at the University of New Hampshire but – Oh, I know, it was the traditional dance ….


BB – Oh, the New England Folk Festival.


DS – … organization. That is correct. Out of that, what I recollect is that the funds that were there were split between the Square Dance foundation and ….




DS – …. NEFFA, and we received those monies which, at that time was fantastic as we were struggling and we also received a few other odds and ends. I guess they were part of his collection. We have a large framed photograph of Lawrence Loy.


BB – Well, that used to hang at Square Acres.


DS – Oh, did it?


BB – Yes


DS – All right. OK.


BB – Yep, that was up over the main stage at Square Acres for years and we resurrected it from that and donated it to you.


DS – Of course, as I become more and more acquainted with the historical aspects of this great activity I come to realize that the driving force behind it is basically people. When I learned of all these unselfish voluntary people who had gone out there and created and built the activity that amongst them would be Lawrence Loy, Charlie Baldwin, you and your brother and you can go on and on – Casey, Mayo and a lot more, Hass, Rutty kind of thing. You come to realize that, wow, it’s really people driven and it’s primarily done for the benefit of others. So, for Judy and I it’s been a fantastic journey of both fun and fellowship. You know, the bottom line, and I know you hear this over and over and over again – the bottom line that we get out of it, when all is said and done is the friendships that we have developed over the years with all of these dance people. That is something we will cherish forever.


BB – Right. No, you’re true and it’s too bad we can’t convince a lot more people that that’s the way it is.


DS – I know it. I know it. Unfortunately, they don’t know what they’re missing but you know, some day – and this is my vision – some day I’m hoping that some young whippersnapper will come through the doors of our archive and will think that he has discovered the best thing since sliced bread and will pick up some of the material and go out and start a major ground swell so that this thing can come back like it deservedly should.


BB – Well, that’s a possibility of course and that’s the reason that you and all your friends have built the foundation and the archive.


DS – That’s a fact.


BB – That’s the reason it’s there and we hope it will certainly be used in the future. Well, I see that we are just about down to the end of this part of the tape and unless you can think of anything else you’d like to add to our little chat ….


DS – No, I’m fine Bob. Like I say, recognizing all the contributions that have been made by others over the years really makes me realize the value that this has historically.


BB – Well, keep up the good work Dick and be sure to say hello to Judy for me…


DS – You bet.


BB – … and we’ll look forward to meeting you if I can ever get back east again.


DS – Yes, you’re always welcome up in this area and we’d like to keep you abreast of, and we will, of what the foundation is doing and we also appreciate your efforts on these interviews that you’re conducting because those themselves will become historical documents for others to look at.


BB – Well, I hope so and I hope people will enjoy them.


DS – You bet.


BB – Well, thank you again Dick. So, we’ll call it a day and I appreciate your taking the time. So, good health and good luck.


DS – Thank you. My pleasure


BB – Bye, bye.


DS – Bye




Additional commentary by Bob Brundage


Earlier, reference was made to Lawrence Loy. Lawrence Loy was the Massachusetts State Director of Recreation with the Extension Service at the University if Massachusetts. He was also a square dance caller and he was the first caller to record on the major labels, RCA Victor and Columbia. As the popularity of Modern Western Square Dancing grew he, along with my assistance put on several square dance festivals at the University football field with hundreds of dancers attending from Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and Connecticut.  These reasonably priced festivals still produced a profit which was put in escrow for future events. Unfortunately, Lawrence Loy passed away at the early age of 46 and I immediately put together a committee to administer the Lawrence Loy Memorial Fund. For a few year we were able to provide scholarships for students to learn more about leadership in square and folk dancing. Most of these scholarships were awarded to students who attended sessions at the Folk School in Berea, Kentucky. As some committee members approached retirement it was decided to disperse the entire fund to a proper good cause. We considered the Berea School and the Square Dance Foundation of New England. Then our newest member, Ted Sannella suggested we split the fund between the Square Dance Foundation of New England and the New England Folk Festival Association. We agreed unanimously. I believe the fund at the time was just under $6000 and was split 50/50.

The interest in Modern Western Square Dancing (MWSD) in New England was initiated by Lawrence Loy when he invited Herb Greggerson of New Mexico to put on a weekend clinic of western square dance figures and round dances in Brockton, Massachusetts. Most of the soon-to-be well known callers were in attendance and went home to start square dance classes and clubs. Charlie Baldwin was there and quite quickly started the New England Caller magazine and, as they say, the rest is history.

[1] He graduated from the LaSalle Extension University and the Blackstone School of Law

[2] Anna Dixon was President at the time of the sale and did an outstanding job in transitioning from the sale of the property and continues in that leadership role today.

[3] Also Jim Mayo has given us his autographed magazine collection and used our archive to conduct some research for his book

[4] Talking about conventions, we have served on three of them in varying capacities

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