Glen Morningstar – June 4, 2009
[Ed note: After reviewing the transcript, Glen added some more information which is found in the footnotes and in square brackets [ ] within the interview]
Bob Brundage – Well, hi again. This is Bob Brundage and today is June the 4th, 19.… 2009 and today I’m having the pleasure of talking with Glen Morningstar back in Michigan and we’re looking forward to an interesting conversation about his career and also a little bit about Lovett Hall, Henry Ford museum, etc. So Glen, welcome to my little project. I’m honored to have you with us and I hope you’ll tell us a little bit about where you were born and brought up and you take it from here.
Glen Morningstar – OK Bob. Thanks so very much for asking. My pleasure to chat with you. I grew up … I was born in Saginaw, Michigan, Saginaw County, in bean country and sugar beet country and was a farm kid. My parents had met at a Grange dance …between the two of them belonged to three different Granges in the Saginaw area. Forest Grange was in Thomas Township up in Saginaw County and Locust Grange was also in Saginaw County, out in I think still Thomas Township and then Spaulding Grange was in Spaulding Township but I say that only because my parents danced a lot. They were not musicians although my mother’s family was. My mother’s brothers[i] were musicians. They met at a Grange dance. Their parents were dancers at the Grange dances. My mom’s parents, family’s name was Creller, and of course, my family’s name was Morningstar and they hit the circuit. They went to the different Grange dances. Also the Golden Glow Ballroom, a couple of other places that were in the general Thomas township-Richland Township area in Saginaw County. So, I was born there and grew up as a Grange kid, a farm kid and my sister[ii] and I were very close. We were born a year apart and when my folks traveled to these dances, why we traveled with them and it was a common story of the kids of the day … that sometime between when the dance started and the dance ended you’d find yourself in a pile of coats on the benches in the corner where everybody put their kids there and we’d all be sleeping in heaps, you know, in the corner and we’d all go home from there. So I was exposed to dancing and live music early on and they were doing primarily couple dances and square dances at the time.
BB – Visiting couples probably?
GM – Two Step, Fox Trot, Waltz, Polka. Schottische. In fact my dad was … he and my aunt, my mother’s brother’s wife[iii], polkaed quite a bit together. They won a number of awards up in Bay City as polka contestants. I got a big kick out of that. So I grew up as a farm kid and was a student at St. Peters Lutheran School which was part of St. Peters Lutheran Church in Richland Township. Went to school there through the eighth grade and it was at that school that the recreation …one of the recreation activities was square dancing and it was led by Lawrence Loesel, a good old German name. It was a German/Lutheran community and he led the square dancing. He taught us, then he used Decca records which he years later passed along to me so I have his collection.
BB – Good.
GM – So that was our recreation and, as part of that, the parents supported the kids going to different schools and [dance] exchanges where, you know, Buena Vista and Breckenridge schools would come to St. Pete’s and we’d go to their schools and we’d put on demonstrations of our square dances. The one I remember that we did in our demonstration was Star Route. The reason I remember it was because in our square, I was the caller, the prompter. As the music was playing I was giving brief calls every once in a while to remind us all about … that was third grade I’m pretty sure. It might have been 4th or 5th but I think it was third grade. In fact, my mother made the outfits for our square and I’ve got a photo of the shirts that she made for the fellows; red and white checkers with long horned steers on the front. She was very creative in her sewing. That’s how we were connected to the square dancing in Saginaw County, [It] was through the activities at St. Peters Lutheran School and then, of course, the Grange dances that continued on for quite a while.
BB – Yeah. Well, that’s how you got started calling then.
GM – Yeah, that was the first time.
BB – Well then, your father wasn’t a caller was he?
GM – No, my dad wasn’t a caller. He was just a good dancer.
BB – Yeah, OK. Then I think a little later on you married and moved to a different town. I’ve got down here in my notes that …something about the Paint Creek Folk Lore Society.
GM – Yes. I worked … I went to General Motors Institute for college years and worked for General Motors starting in1965 and transferred down to Rochester … well transferred to Warren, Michigan at the General Motors Tech Center in 1975. My wife and I both moved down to Rochester as part of that. That’s the town that’s most notable for Leader Dogs for the Blind. That’s where it started.
So while we were there in Rochester we got connected with the Rochester Folk Workshop which was owned and operated by Vincent Sadovsky and as part of that, a group that had just been started called the Paint Creek Folklore Society. My wife, Judi and I were both musicians as kids. She was accordion and piano and I was piano and accordion and banjo primarily and when we got to the Folklore Society it was the perfect place for us because, one of the purposes of the Folklore Society was to teach each other how to play different instruments as well as promote dancing. I became a part of that promotion through a sister organization called the Detroit Country Dance Society that had formed just a little bit after the Paint Creek Folklore Society. That was formed by Burt Schwartz and Paul Tyler. Burt was the early Contra Dance and Song Society area representative[iv] so people from the Paint Creek Folklore Society were going to these dances that Burt and Paul had started up but it was all with recorded music. We invited Bert to come to one of our picnics …I’m going to say it was 1977 or ’78. I think it was ’77, and lead dancing and we provided the music for him from the Folklore Society. He really enjoyed that and so, a number of us put on an effort to learn how to play the fiddle because there weren’t that many fiddlers in the area playing for dances. So, a fellow by the name of Al Smitley and I started playing fiddle and my wife Judi and I and two other folks, Tom Radcliffe and Rosemary Kornacki. We were playing as a small group in the area and Burt tapped us on the shoulder to play for a couple of his dances and so we did. And that launched …that foursome launched into this big project through the Paint Creek Folklore Society that generated the Olde Michigan Ruffwater Stringband.
BB – OK. As I remember, you wound up as Board of Directors of the Folklore Society.
- Yes. I was one of the early Vice-Presidents with Tom Radcliffe, he was the President, and then shortly after that became one of the Presidents and then I was with the Board of Directors for Paint Creek for many, many years and, on occasion got back into the leadership role there … in the ‘70‘s, ‘80’s and into the early 90’s. [I] was on the Board of Directors the whole time. The Folklore Society generated a lot of musicians because we were teaching each other how to play different instruments and traveling to festivals and dances, etc.
BB – Well that’s great. Tell us a little more about this Olde Michigan Ruffwater Stringband.
GM – (Laughs) Well Bob the Stringband really grew out … of the comment I made earlier about the need for dance musicians and there were three groups that were playing occasionally for the dances at that point. That was our group that was called Simple Gifts – one of the many Simple Gifts bands. Another group called the Buffalo Nickel and another group that was led by a husband and wife team, Rich and Maureen DelGrosso. We were all kind of hit and miss on some of the dances that Bert wanted to do so I was privileged to put this idea on paper that says why don’t we have a collective. So we sent the word out to the Folklore Society and to these three small groups who were members of the Folklore Society saying “why don’t we form one big band” and then we can mix and match people as needed for the different requests for dance music in the [Detroit] area. By then it was Burt that was calling and there was dancing in Ann Arbor, dancing in Lansing as well …East Lansing. So, we pulled together this big band that had four dulcimers, three fiddlers, bass, mandolin, banjo, recorder, spoons and baritone (chuckles). So, it was just a wonderful orchestra. We’re still active today as a matter of fact and that was 1978 that we pulled that orchestra together.
BB – Thirty years ago, right.
GM – Yeah, and we’re very close to each other yet and still play and do a lot of things as band members playing music and we also do other things together as families. We have a getaway every year where we go to a place that will hold us all – a bed and breakfast typically that let’s us kind of take over their place for a weekend and we play music, and we go kayaking, and go to see special events like fly-ins at the local airport, or dinner together at a special restaurant.
BB – Well, I assume you also play for dances broken up into smaller groups probably.
GM – Yes, we do. Typically we’re anywhere from two to four pieces as we go out to play for community dances or church dances or dance weekends. Lovett Hall was the one place where there would be, you know, between ten or twelve of us typically playing for the dances there on first Sundays all dressed up in black and white you know (laughs).
BB – I understand you consider yourself a historian as well.
GM – Well, I got interested in dance history … really prompted by Burt Schwartz. He had been doing quite a bit of research and he was calling English Country Dance and he was calling squares and he was calling contras and between Burt and some of the work of Paul Tyler. Well Burt in particular got us connected to Berea Christmas School, Berea Country Dance School, and he invited us to go down there. Once we got down there we got connected with a whole bunch of callers and historians that really piqued my interest in the history of dance in Michigan and obviously in the United States as well. We enjoy doing Civil War Balls and Revolutionary Period Balls. I do quite a number of things with schools, that’s not unique, I know. It has been done before … it’s called ‘Dance [Your Way] Through American History’ and the kids are just sponges as far as information goes and they just really … third graders, forth graders, fifth graders, really are keen on finding out more about history and having fun doing dances from the period that are fun to do.
In fact, I just finished the week before last… I had a thousand eighth graders from the Troy school system which is a town to the east of us here. They had four different schools across four days and 250 different kids each day so I had kids for 45 minute segments typically 40, 45 kids for each of six segments each day and oh, it was just a ton of fun. Eighth graders are a lot of fun. So that’s part of the history of those things that I’m able to do now. Obviously in the footsteps of the work that was done by Burt and other people[v] that had done things from the Bicentennial period.
BB – Yes. Well, I have down here a mention of Berea. You went to their Christmas School, is that it?
GM – Yeah. We went for the first time Bob, in 1979, and we enjoyed it so much. Then in 1980 we thought we’d try another school and we went down to the Appalachian Celebration which was run by Glen Fulbright down at Morehead in Kentucky, at Morehead State University. Then we came back to Christmas School in 1981 and were on staff. Judi and I were on staff at Christmas School, I forget for how long but into the early ’90’s anyway. So for somewhere around10 years we were on staff at Berea Christmas School and John Ramsey, who is the Director of Christmas School at Berea….
BB – Yes. I met him
GM – …oh, he’s a grand fellow and he just led us to so many open doors for really …if I was to point to one person that was the biggest impact on us and our dance activities it was probably John Ramsey because of the doors he opened for us and opportunities that he afforded to us through the Christmas School – a wonderful place.[vi]
BB – Yes. I visited there one time and really enjoyed myself. Just as a visitor, not as a student.
GM – (Laughs) You could wear yourself to a frazzle.
BB – That’s true. OK. I understand you also have quite a substantial music library.
GM – Yes, I do. Probably a third of it anyway is a collection of materials about Henry Ford, about Benjamin Lovett, certainly all the Good Morning books and all four editions of those and the Ford’s connection to Berry College down in Rome, George and Martha Berry and all the work that she did down there, certainly with the Henry Ford Museum in Greenfield Village. The Dearborn Independent [newspaper] that Henry provided articles to before he published the Good Morning books. A lot of dances and dance instruction there. Quite a bit of the Lloyd Shaw Foundation materials. That was another great find was the Lloyd Shaw Foundation and Gib Gilbert[vii] was the fellow that introduced us to the Foundation. Then Lou and Enid Cocke and certainly Don Armstrong. We had a wonderful time early on with Don Armstrong. We did a lot with Don at Kentucky Summer Dance School and made the connection really through him primarily and then met Lou and Enid from there and a number of other folks.
BB – Yeah. I have already interviewed Gib and Enid and Don Armstrong. They’re on that Square Dance Foundation of New England’s web page.
GM – Well, I look forward to spending more time there. Don was just a gracious man. In fact, we were working on family genealogy in [Konken] Germany in 1983 and had found out that he was calling up in Hanover and in fact he contacted me and we discussed our trips. Anyway, we went up there to watch him call in Germany and dance the contras and squares up there in Hanover and stayed overnight with dancers in Hanover up there. He was a grand fellow that’s for sure.
BB – He was. He had a unique way of knowing exactly the right words to get people to do what he wanted them to do when he taught. Yeah. I interviewed him quite some time ago. We had a close relationship because my parents worked with him after they moved to Florida when he was in New Port Richey. In fact, my mother played piano for him a few times down there.
GM – Oh really? (Laughs)
BB – Yeah. It’s a small world that’s for sure.
GM – Didn’t he play drums with one of his bands?
BB – Yes. Occasionally he would have to call and play drums at the same time. (Both laugh) I had to do the same thing back years ago.
GM – Oh, did you really. Were you playing drums?
BB – Yes.
GM – Oh yeah? It’s interesting talking about that because when I …for instance, these thousand eighth graders that I mentioned earlier, I play fiddle and call at the same time at those kind of events. I always think back to Tony Parkes watching him play piano and call and there’s not many people who can do that. So if you were playing drums and calling …well, you know, Albert Race …interesting that you would mention this …Albert Race was the caller at the first dance where Henry Ford met his wife, Clara [Bryant] and he was playing the dulcimer …played the dulcimer and called the dance.
BB – Now, that’s tough. (both laugh)
GM – Yeah, Don was such a grand person. A great teacher too and he led a lot of leadership workshops and [was] really a very fine teacher.
BB – Right. Don Armstrong’s drum set is in the attic I think at the Lloyd Shaw Dance Archives which is only four blocks from where I’m calling from.
GM – Oh, is that right? Is that the University of New Hampshire?
BB – I’m sorry.
GM – Is that at the University of New Hampshire?
BB – No, no. Here in Albuquerque.
GM – Oh, in Albuquerque, OK good.
BB – Yes. Well, tell us more about this Dance Through History program.
GM – As part of the classes that Burt Schwartz did for the Detroit Country Dance Society, he always had an assistant and, over the years I was one of the assistants and his programs, I’m remembering were six weeks long, maybe eight[viii]…in any case he basically took the class through English Country Dance and squares and clogging and then modern contras. I … while I did use his program that he had used in his instructions, the theme for this Dance [Your Way] Through History came from that and, because I was able to call English Country Dance as well and historical cotillions and quadrilles, and then later squares.[ix] I, in fact started this concept with one of the local schools …a school called Hornung Elementary over here in Brighton and it was a three day program. So we did 1700’s the first day, 1800’s the second day and 1900’s the third day.
BB – Oh, that’s interesting.
GM – … and picked things that would be interesting to fifth graders …that’s where I started was with fifth graders…and did a dance called Liberty, which is a three pair’s dance. The approach to fifth graders in particular was, find a partner of your choice. I did not try to match up boy with girl at all – just find a partner of their choice. [I] found dances that were fun for them to do and also helped steer away from the …if you’ll pardon the expression …the cootie syndrome where the boys on occasion and have a tough time touching the girls and the girls touching the boys. So these dances helped steer away from that problem. So the 1700’s dances are typically the longway sets of three pairs or four pairs or six pairs and then the next day … and these are typically 50 minutes to 60 minutes long, and I’ll do typically between two and four classes a day. And then the next day is 1800’s, and that typically are dances like the March Cotillion which is an 1841 Huestis and Craft[x] dance.
The quadrilles of the day, the publication of the Elias Howe ‘One Thousand Jigs and Reels, Hornpipes, Clog Dances and Contra Dances’[xi]. I might have missed a word but the dances he chronicled in that book. A lot things from the 1800’s that use all the kids as well [those] that are interesting, and particularly the quadrilles, focus is on the square formation of the cotillion or an old cotillion of the 1700’s that were popular in the 1800’s and then quadrilles.
Then the third day, the third day is a combination of modern squares, such as Old Granddad out of the Good Morning book or other squares like it and also contra dances from the 1900’s and also disco dancing, which the kids get a big kick out of. So that’s the 1900’s. In some schools third, forth and fifth graders and some schools (tape beeps) the sixth and in some schools the eighth grade or high school.
BB – You also mention (another beep) acoustic dance parties that you do for teens. I don’t understand quite what that is.
GM – In this area Bob, and I’m not sure what the extent of this is in the Albuquerque area or even on the east coast, but the home school movement has been very prevalent here in Michigan and some years ago one of the home school groups in Madison Heights got a hold of us and they had been members of one of the Fife and Drum Corps groups[xii] in the area. The kids had had our dances for them as part of their graduation activities or their October Halloween activities. Then those kids that were in the Fife and Drum Corps go on to one of the home schools so they had us come in and put on a dance with ‘acoustic music’ as they called it. We didn’t call it old fashioned music, or old time music, because acoustic music seemed to have more of a draw for the kids. I’m talking 10 year old to 18 year old kids. So when we use the words acoustic music and contra dancing, we’ve had, and continue to have, huge crowds of kids. Madison Heights … Assumption Grotto down In Detroit, up in Rochester[Oxford], over in the Hartland area. But these dances Bob are 220 – 240 kids. On occasion half of them would have to sit out because the place wasn’t big enough. They didn’t have a problem with that. They would sit out and have a pop or a juice or something like this and then they’d swap and there’d be a different group on the floor. But these kids, talk about the energy, it’s just a treat to be leading these kids …the home school groups in the area and again, some huge ones. One of the Lutheran churches in Troy has a home school association … Faith Lutheran Church, that’s the name of it … and huge groups of kids and parents. I don’t want to exclude the parents. The parents come too.
BB – Well, I wanted to ask you that, yes.
GM – Yeah, generally it’s the kids, I’m going to say it’s like 70/30 – 70 % kids and 30% parents that are dancing. But it’s definitely a younger focus and everybody has a good time together. That’s the key.
BB – Yes. Well, but the actual music you use is going back to the old time?
GM – Yes, it’s fiddle, dulcimer and a guitar typically or a keyboard in later years.
BB – I’ll be darned.
GM – It’s the same musicians and the same music. We just called it something different because it had more appeal to the younger folks.
BB – Well I’ll be darned. That’s interesting. Well, that describes your present day programs pretty much. Just in passing, I made a note to myself – Modern Western Square Dancing is …has been on the decline for some time. I’m just wondering, are your programs holding their own or are you advancing or diminishing or what?
GM – That’s a very interesting question Bob. We’ve been seeing the number of adult dancers diminishing from a combination of things – joint issues and people that have had many, many years of dancing and it was time to, you know, have another hobby that was less stressful, you know, in the physical part of people. So we’ve seen the adult numbers diminish and the interesting dilemma is how long do you keep bands in place and callers in place supporting, you know, a Grange dance, or a town hall dance or a community dance where the numbers that used to be, you know, 160 – 200 range have come down to the 60, 40, 80 range and we were all fretting about that until this home school …this home school opportunity came along and it’s interesting that …and I see it as…and I’m not unique I’m sure in saying this …although I’ve haven’t heard it before, but this grandparent/grandchild … I don’t know if you call it a syndrome or what but in any case, it’s interesting how it tends to skip generations where most of the people who continue to dance as they are able are, you know in their 50’s and 60’s and these kids that have come along and are eager to dance now are …ten to eighteen. So it seemed to skip a generation – not entirely but it’s been interesting to see that. That’s been part of the issue I think with the diminishing numbers is that typically …and this is certainly not a broad statement that …well, I guess not a narrow statement but a broad statement… is that there are lots of kids of dancers that are dancing but it appears that the real numbers who are coming are the grandkids that are dancing. So yes, our numbers are down and we’ve had dances that were staples for a long time reduce in size – two groups combine. So that’s just, I think, a natural evolution of the generations.
BB – Well, that’s an interesting observation. Well, but you feel your home school program is definitely on the upswing then?
GM – Very much so, very much so, yeah.
BB – Maybe we should look into that more in other places. I don’t hear other people talking about that very much around the country.
GM – It’s interesting that there’s …recently I sat down, just jotted down this descendents chart where one home school group was dancing and the group got so large that some of the people in the group said “why don’t we start another dance over here” so we started another dance over here, now there were two going and that got so large that the group said, well, “let’s do it twice a year rather than once a year”. That’s an interesting view of how it’s progressed.
BB – Right. Well, what other weekend kind of things have you done like out of your own area? I notice, for example that you had performed over in Denmark and Belgium on occasion.
GM – We … through John Ramsey …the connections that the Berea Christmas School has had for years with Danish Heritage …he connected us with a group in Thisted, Denmark up in the Jutland that was interestingly very much like the Folklore Society and the Olde Michigan Ruffwater Stringband. There were two, the area is called Thy (pronounced two) Thy Folkdanserslaug and Thy Spillemandslaug and we started an exchange of folk music and dance activities between Denmark[xiii] and Michigan and Kentucky[xiv] and, in fact, they came here …20 some of them came here in ‘84 and 20 some of us went there in ‘85 and then we repeated in ‘87 and ‘89. But that was a connection for us into Denmark and we got to dance a lot of Danish dances but we met Margot Gunzenhausen…. Gunzenhauser over there and with that connection between the Thy Spillmandslaug group and Margo and a dance school that was started in Skylum[xv], we were invited to come over there and call one, two, three … three or four times in Denmark between Copenhagen and up into the Jutland and then, through the Christmas School we met Philippe Callens and Philippe invited us to come over and lead dancing in Belgium[xvi].
So we did that and thoroughly enjoyed that and in particular saw the value of not being so reliant on the language but able to show a movement and people learn in that fashion. Then from there of course in Germany, having seen Don and a fellow by the name of Fischle- lead dancing up there, that opened the door for us again for Denmark and we were up into Sweden , up into Norway, Belgium. I think those countries that we went to over there teaching and leading dances, typically for a weekend event like in Ostead or for a week long activity that included a circuit of dances across the Jutland and down into Copenhagen.
BB – Well, that’s interesting….
GM – A great experience.
BB – Did you get over into New England at all?
GM – Yes. Judi and I were invited to come over to the Ralph Page Legacy Weekend at Durham there at the campus and we thoroughly enjoyed that. Met some of our heroes, you know, that we’d been in communication with, through letters or phone calls and so, gathered there at that place with Ted Sannella and Jean and oh Bob McQuillen and we’d met Dudley [Laufman] years earlier. He had come to East Lansing[xvii] to lead a workshop because we had a real keen interest in more of the things that Dudley was doing …one of our band members had been connected with Dudley. Bob Hubbach one of our band members, and he and Dudley had connected. Bob would pop out to Dudley’s back yard and they would play a number of tunes together. Bob would go to the dance and played dulcimer at their dances, Michigan style dulcimer and, in fact, we had Dudley come in for the last dance that we had at Lovett Hall in [February] 2005.
BB – I didn’t realize that.
GM – We invited him and Jacqueline to come in and he came in and joined us, called a dance, Lady of the Lake, and he and Jackie played [fiddles] with us at the last dance. We had 537 people at the last dance at Lovett Hall. Huge crowd.
BB- Right. Well, this is a good lead in to talk more about Henry Ford and the Henry Ford Museum and Lovett Hall, etc. I see we’re almost down to the end of this tape so why don’t I take a second to turn the tape over so just hold on a minute.
GM – Certainly.
(End of Side A – Glen Morningstar interview)
BB – Ok, we’re back. Turned the tape over and we’re just about to start talking about the Henry Ford museum and especially about the fabulous Lovett Hall in Dearborn Village in Michigan. Perhaps before we get to Lovett Hall, do you want to recount how Lovett Hall came into existence through Henry Ford?
GM – Yes. Henry had built his home in Dearborn called the Fairlane and that home included a dance …I would call it a dance area on the north end of the house and he was reminiscing a bit about how he and Claire had met and was having dances there. He also built a Fieldroom down in the basement and he was having people over just for more of a social time together and they started remembering these dances that they’d all been doing and Henry said, “Well, you know, we ought to think about reviving that” and he was a man of his word. He started recounting some of the dances and he was, at that point connected to Sudbury, Massachusetts, the Wayside Inn and he, as part of the things he was doing, sought out Benjamin Lovett, who had been recommended to him as one of the dance masters of the area. So he connected with Benjamin Lovett and had brought him back to Dearborn to lead some dancing for his friends in the Dearborn area, and after that introduction to Dearborn Henry asked him to come and lead some activities, associated primarily with dance to teach them some of the old steps they used to do but also some of the newer things that were being taught.
So, the long and the short of it he asked Benjamin to stay and he did. He started to begin with, with dances in the Engineering Laboratory which Ford had built which sits right next to the present day Greenfield Village. The Ford Engineering Lab was there and there are photos of Benjamin Lovett calling there. And as part of this revival he pulled together an orchestra. The early orchestra had cymbalum which is sort of a Romanian kind of an instrument that is basically for backup. And certainly the violin, a dulcimer played by Edward Baxter and a sousaphone. Henry’s uncles played in the Dearborn Town orchestra. (1862, Ed.) They played on the bandwagons, brass music on the bandwagon. So Henry was fascinated with the sousaphone so that was part of the band. What a sound – unbelievable. So, these dances were happening at the Engineering Lab and, shortly after those dances started up Henry started engaging the schools in the area to come to the Engineering Lab to dance but as well, he would …by then he had quite a number of callers identified and Benjamin Lovett was organizing these trips to these schools to take the old quadrilles, lancers, contra dances, couple dances into the area schools. And then, after they had spent time in the schools, they would invite the schools to come back and dance, as kind of a graduation activity if you will, at the Engineering Lab. And this is in the late ’20’s and into the early ’30’s and it was met with such success that Henry wanted to build a recreation area as part of Henry Ford Museum Greenfield Village and so he built this recreation area and the recreation area included Lovett Hall. Now the Hall is in a building that includes a swimming pool, a gymnasium, boys and girls dormitories, and eating facility – cafeteria.
So, he wasn’t focused just on dance. He saw dance as part of a whole program of recreation. He had that built just shortly after he did the Ford buildings down at Martha Berry College and that building was dedicated in October of 1937 and the second floor, as you know Bob, is teak on springs, three chandeliers, a band shell that is concrete with the plastered face. Just a gorgeous dance hall I mean. An interesting little fact that I dug out about the hall is that the floor is crowned a half inch in the middle. So, that little bit of…I think the hall is about 80 by 180, or something like that. I might be off but the big hall is crowned a half inch high in the middle and that’s just enough to keep people from bunching up in the middle and keeps people moving to the outside. I thought that was a great engineering effort.
BB – Yeah, I had not heard that. So then, were they running regular dances there or what?
GM – They were running classes there. They were bringing students in and Benjamin and the callers were leading classes there. And then they used that for these …I call them graduation exercises. But they weren’t just June graduation. They were running a program in one of the schools and at the completion of that six week program, or ten week program, they would have the kids come in and dance in Lovett Hall. They had quite a number of schools so they would fill up the hall with multiple schools dancing and so there was a lot of camaraderie amongst the kids that were dancing there. Of course, the hall was dedicated to Benjamin Lovett and that was dedicated by Edsel Ford, Henry’s son. What’s interesting about this notion of getting the schools involved, over the years I’ve interviewed a lot of the students of Benjamin Lovett and they all come back with the same story of how important it was to them, you know, throughout their lives, these things that he taught them. I get a big thrill out of these stories that come out along the way.[xviii]
BB – I can imagine, yes. Did you have those recorded anywhere?
GM – Yes. One fellow in particular lives up in …let me think for a second …Lexington, Michigan and I’ve got a tape of his interview. His last name was Raymond. Who else did I pick up along – Bruce Simpson was another student of Benjamin Lovett’s who later became one of the head, top fellows in the Engineering department for Henry Ford and who is still alive. I just was with him about six weeks ago. Similar stories about the etiquette side of things as well as the dance, how much they learned about the movement and …the word ‘Grace’ wasn’t used much …light on your feet…
BB – Decorum.
GM – Decorum, there you go.
BB – Yes. Well, I understand he was a stickler for that, right?
GM – Yeah. There were things that he pretty much made sure were part of it..
BB – When he built that did it have the Lovett name from its inception?
GM – It had the Lovett name from the inception of the hall. When they dedicated the hall it was dedicated as Lovett Hall. Right, October 1937.
BB – Well, I understand you had a series of dances there for what, 23 years.
GM – Yes, we did. We were very fortunate and honored to be a part of that tradition there. We started in October of 1981 and the Village just wanted to do a pilot to see if there’d be enough interest, you know, in The]American Contra Dancing Series so we did three months and it was well received and we kept going. So we were there every year from October through May – sometimes the year extended to June – but October through May for a little over 23 years. A great opportunity, yeah. Great music. What was fun about it was we’d bring in other things to show. We had… we’re fortunate in Ann Arbor [there] is a group called the Cobblestone Farm Country Dancers and they were vintage dancers. They were doing the old quadrilles. David Park Williams was connected to Dudley way back in the Farm and Wilderness group. He lived in Ann Arbor so they started up this vintage group. So we’d have them in once in a while to do, you know, one of the old lancers or one of the old quadrilles. Also some of the vintage dancers like [the] Pleasant Moments vintage dancing [group would perform. Certainly with the different callers who would come to visit… like Gib … Gib called at Lovett Hall – Gib Gilbert and Ted Sannella…[xix]
BB – Well, that’s great.
GM – And it’s interesting to see the programs …I’ve got all the programs across those 23 years and it’s really interesting is to see the evolution across those years in the programs. To start with there was primary Chorus Jig and Petronella and the old duple proper contras and, of course, by the time, as the later years rolled around we would do Petronella once in a while and Chorus Jig once in a while but it was primarily modern contra dances.
BB – Well that’s really great. I understand … I started first hearing about Glen Morningstar when they were talking about closing Lovett Hall to the public. I think you had a final dance there in 2005 was it?
GM – Yes, it was February, 2005 and we had 537 people there for that[xx]. Over the years we used to put these Ford Reconstruction Orchestras together. In fact, we did one for the fiftieth anniversary of the hall in 1987 and we did it again in ‘97. So for that last dance we had a good friend of ours, Merle Raber on sousaphone and of course the Ruffwater Stringband, Dudley and Jacquelyn and Judy Raber who was the daughter of one our Michigan treasurers. Russ Raber was a fiddler. So we really did it up right that last dance. We had the whole band shell full of great musicians and were having a great time to make sure we honored the hall and honored the dancers that supported it for all those years.
BB – Right. Well, then I believe that Dave Taylor and my brother Al got together and put on what they called a Cotillion or something and was made up of mostly Modern Western dancers but it was in full costume. Did you happen to get to that dance?
GM – We did not. In fact, it was, interestingly enough, one of those was just a month before we started the series. I had jotted down …I’m thinking it was September 1981. Oh, I know what it was the September, 1981 issue of Northern Junket. That’s what I’m thinking of because I know it was September of 1980 was one of the times that they were there because I went into the archives at the museum once I found out about that and got the program …I think it was the September, 1980 program and looked through the program to see what kind of dances were being done and also the fact that they had, as a gift to the people who participated, given them one of the old Henry Ford Orchestra 78’s. So I was very interested in that. So in my archives here I’ve got the program from your brother and Dave Taylor’s gathering there …I think it was September, 1980. I might be off by a year.
BB – Huh. I didn’t think it was that far back.
GM – Yeah.
BB – I’ll be darned. Well, my mind is slowly disappearing too you know. (Both laugh)
GM – I don’t trust mine any more, that’s for sure. Thank God for my archives.
BB – Yes, true. Alright, well, you certainly put a different light on the Henry Ford Museum story. The Henry Ford Museum is a separate, separate building of course as a part of Deerfield Village, right?
GM – Yes. For years they called it the Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village. So the Museum itself that holds all these artifacts from across the generations of mechanization and then the Village includes, you know, the Firestone Farm and the Cotswold Cottage and buildings like that. And that includes the recreation building, the education building and Lovett Hall. So actually they’re neighbors. The museum is just across the little roadway from Lovett Hall. So, Lovett Hall really fits between the museum and the Village.
BB – I see.
GM – Usually it’s more closely associated with the Village but…
Bb – Well, is there much activity at Lovett Hall these days?
GM – I called a dance there Memorial Day weekend. They have a Civil War Remembrances Weekend very year and they have Civil War Re-enactors come in. A huge crowd and they do a wonderful job. Then on Saturday night they have a Grand Military Ball in Lovett Hall. So I called there on Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend. Huge crowd …filled the place…probably you know 200, 220, 240, something like that. So I called dances from the 1800’s, the 1860’s period for them. So the dancing that’s done there is generally just that. They just have a special dance once or twice a year now. Certainly, as the next generation comes along I’m hopeful that the dancing will resume there while I’m still alive. What’s so nice is that we’ve got some very fine up and coming callers in Michigan and once that generation gets through college that the likes of Danika Murray and some other young callers like that … there in the area could step forward and make sure dancing starts up there again when the kids are ready.
BB – Yeah. Are there photographic records of some of these events?
GM – Yes, Yes there are. Certainly like the Fiftieth Anniversary of the hall, I’ve got sizeable photographic record of that and our dances at Lovett Hall, there’s both video and photograph records of those. Quite an extensive library really from VHF to 8mm and so we keep those here that’s for sure. The research center their – the Benson Ford Research Center there, has got a real nice archive of the old Ford Orchestra, photos and Lovett Hall photos and certainly the collection of the newsletters that were constructed there when it was called the Edison Institute …they were called the Dearborn Herald and I’ve got that collection minus one of the books in the collection and then there’s tons of pictures of Lovett Hall and kids dancing and the Ford orchestra and Benjamin Lovett calling. In those books there’s quite a good collection
BB – Yeah. Well, the other thing I wanted to be sure to ask you too…after Benjamin Lovett the next one was Dick Moore?
GM – Yes. Dick called there quite regularly after Lovett left …after…
BB – Did he just leave the building or …he didn’t pass away then did he?
GM – Benjamin Lovett? No, he and his wife moved back to Massachusetts.
BB – Oh did they? I see. OK
GM – It was after Edsel died, the activities really started to diminish there and I’m remembering that Lovett moved back to the Sudbury area … I’m going to say it was like ‘45 or thereabouts. I might be off by a year or two. It was before Henry passed. Henry passed in ’47 so between when Edsel passed and Henry passed is when he went back. There’s the book by Eva Twork I’m remembering has a number of accounts of Benjamin and his wife being at the dances in Massachusetts and just taking more of an I’m here to enjoy it kind of a role not a leadership role. More of enjoying the …
BB – OK. Then Dick Moore took over then.
GM – I remember that it was Dick that was next. Dick and Al Hards. I’ve got a number of photos of them calling at Lovett and, of course, Dick was leading dances all around the Dearborn area. I saved a hundred some dance programs of his again from the late ‘40’s – in fact I was just looking for it… I think I found it here – dance cards from the Dearborn Country Club 1948 through ‘57. Maples early American dancing group ‘48 through ‘53, Dearborn Recreation Department, 1951 through ‘56. So he was calling around January, 1948 that’s just after Henry had passed. So he was calling there and I’m remembering that Eva Twork’s book does a better job of listing this passage of the baton if you will … to Dick Moore and to Al Hards. There was one other caller, too … Cebraly(sp?). One of the band members, Francis Brancheau, started calling as well.
BB – I didn’t realize that. Well, I think we’ve pretty well covered this Glen unless you can think of anything else you’d like to add.
GM – Well, I guess the only thing I would add is this. It is becoming apparent how important dancing is to communities. We were seeing that obviously in what we were doing in Dearborn but we’re certainly doing more of these home school groups …the ability of the kids to get together and really build their social skills, their health skills …I mean, all of these things associated with really any kind of dance but I think the social side of squares and contras is a pretty important part of … I’m gonna say community where it’s done. And I think it really is a positive part of the growth of any community and the growth of the people within them. I just wanted to mention that. These guys that, you know like Benjamin Lovett and Ralph Page and Lloyd Shaw, they knew what they were doing and the value of what they were doing and sometimes I think that it’s missed in books how important deportment and decorum and all of these things are in building good character and building healthy citizens.
BB – Right. Well, that’s interesting. I appreciate your making that comment too. So, why don’t we call it a day and if we think of anything else I can always give you a call back. I’ll be transcribing this and getting it posted on the web page for the Square Dance Foundation of New England sometime. It will take me a little while to get through it because I’m not a fast typer. So, why don’t we call it a day and …
GM – Well, thank you Bob. I appreciate it and I’m thrilled with your project and what it’s doing to capture these stories and this evolution that we’ve seen across all these years.
BB – Well, thank you very much.
GM – It’s a great idea and a great project.
BB – Thank you.
GM – You’re very welcome.
BB – OK. So, thank you again Mr. Glen Morningstar from Michigan.
GM – Thank you Bob Brundage.
BB – Right. Bye bye.
GM – Bye bye.
[i] Bill and Norman
[iii] Rita Creller
[iv] For Michigan.
[v] Burt Schwartz from Michigan, John Forbes from Kansas.
[vi] Susan Spalding and Joe Tarter have also been Directors there.
[vii] From Colorado.
[viii] 10 weeks
[ix] I started teaching Dance Your Way Through American History for Berea Christmas School with a class in historical square formations in 1985. Longways sets followed shortly after that. Adults and teens were in those classes. After I retired from General Motors and EDS in 1999, I modified the classes and constructed a program for schools.
[x] Out of New York.
[xi] Also Gems of the Ballroom
[xii] Midnight Riders Fife and Drum Corps
[xiii] The contact was Svend Hamborg from Thisted
[xiv] “T” Auxier and Don Stosberg from Kentucky led the Kentucky connection
[xv] Through the connection with the two Thy groups and Margo and Square Dance Partners, we were invited to be leaders at Northwest Summer Dance School that had been started in Skyum by Patti O’Connell Kirk.
[xvi] three-day dance weekend in Hoge Rielen
[xvii] In 1979
[xviii] As a side note, they were also running evening dances at Lovett Hall for Ford employees and the Dearborn area public.
[xix] Also Bill Alkire and Dudley Laufman
[xx] The last dance in the American Contra Dancing Series.