JOHNNY LECLAIR INTERVIEW
September 30, 1997
Bob Brundage: Well, hi again, this is Bob Brundage and the date today is September 30, 1997. Today, we have the pleasure of talking to Johnny LeClair. I had written to him up in Wyoming and he is on his way through today, here in Albuquerque, on his way through to his home in Mesa, Arizona. And, we are fortunate enough to get together. We are in a hotel lobby so if you hear a little background noise, why don’t let it bother you too much. So, John, a real pleasure to have you and Marge here.
Johnny LeClair: Well, we’re real happy to be here. Luckily, we could get together on our way through.
BB: Yeah, it sure was lucky. So, well, tell us, John, where were you born and brought up.
JL: Well, I was born in Wyoming and spent most of my life in Wyoming until I joined the Army Air Corp. and then I spent some time overseas and then came back. Actually, I spent most of my time in Wyoming until I moved to Arizona, in about 1970.
BB: Okay. So how did you get interested in square dancing then?
JL: Well, we lived in the rural area, and a young gentleman had just gotten out of college, and he worked for the Government, and he was transferred to our, near our area in Wyoming. And he had had a little experience in square dancing so he started a club, and we all became interested, and later he was transferred so, someone had to take over and eventually I was the one.
BB: Okay. Approximately what time was this?
JL: This would have been in about, I think he came there in 1949, and he left in about 1950.
BB: Right. Okay. Well, you were in what we call the ground floor and the big exodus to square dancing then, right.
JL: Well, we were in the early stages of it.
BB: Yeah, right. And this was in Wyoming at that time.
JL: Yes. This is near, actually the little town was Buris, Wyoming. It’s about 25 miles from a town, a little bit larger called Dubois, and about 68 from a town called Riverton where I spent a good portion of my time.
BB: All righty. Good. So, you got into it hot and heavy, and you probably went through the square dance classes and all that kind of thing.
JL: Well, right at the particular time, there weren’t any classes to speak of, and it was hard to get information and material on square dancing, but we managed to survive, and learn a bit from books and what not. And at that time, there was a few traveling callers beginning to come through.
BB: Oh, were there?
JL: Oh, yes. One was Dave Clavner, I can remember.
BB: Oh, yeah, I remember that name.
JL: And then a little bit later on, Les Gotcher came through. And then, of course, a whole bunch came after that.
BB: Okay. Well, so you were probably working besides square dancing.
JL: Oh, yes. I was raised on a ranch and so we, were ranchers to begin with. And then square dancing became a part of my life, and then we sort of gave up the ranching part and kept with the square dancing.
BB: Okay. So you had the full time a long time.
JL: Oh, very long time. We were close to 40 years, I guess. I actually, I’m still affiliated with square dancing. I run a school in Wyoming. Not a school, but a weekend of square dancing, and this is my 39th year of running that particular weekend, and we’re looking forward to number 40 which will be next year.
BB: Sure, right. So you’re still actively calling.
JL: No, I, I don’t call. I actually quit calling in ’88, but I still run the school.
BB: Yeah, okay. Who else do you have on your staff?
JL: Well, we’ve had so many that I can’t remember. This particular year we’ve got young Kopman, Steve Kopman coming, and a young fella by the name of Guy Adams.
BB: Guy Adams, right. Well, that’s interesting. So, over the years, who were some of the people you’ve had on your staff there?
JL: Well, we’ve had Ken Bower, and Randy Dougherty, golly, I’m trying to think. We’ve had nearly everybody that was traveling at that particular time, Dave Taylor.
BB: Did you ever get tied up with Ed Gilmore, or?
JL: Oh, well, I knew Ed. And we knew him, we did a lot of festivals with him early, early on. And we were very, very fond of him, Ed and Drew.
BB: Yeah. How about Manning and Nita Smith?
JL: Oh, yes. We worked a lot with Manning and Nita Smith. We worked, I recall that we worked Baniff. I can’t remember just how many times, but worked a number of time with Manning and Nita. And then we worked the odd festival around the country with them.
BB: Right. Okay. Well, I remember, I just talked with Nita Smith not too long ago, and she mentioned you. She mentioned Baniff. So, were you ever affiliated with the Lloyd Shaw School?
JL: Yes. And on the way down here, I was trying to think. We were there at least 2 years, maybe 3 years, I don’t remember offhand, but I think it was around 1952, or ’53. It might have been ’51, but in that area.
BB: All right. Well, I didn’t go there until ’54, but it was certainly a wonderful experience.
JL: Yes, it sure was. We thoroughly enjoyed it.
BB: Yeah, were you, I’m sure you’ve been to several of the national conventions.
JL: Well, we’ve been to a lot of them. I don’t remember exactly how many. Offhand, I would say about half of them.
BB: Oh, is that all. Oh, well, that’s only 24 or so. That’s not many. Yeah. Well, any other schools that you’ve been associated with, John?
JL: Well, early, early in the, must have been in the early ’50s, well, the late ’50s I would say, I did, I worked at least I week, maybe 2 weeks at the Lighted Lantern. We
were there for many, many years. I think we worked 2 weeks.
BB: Was that Paul Kermit.
JL: That’s Paul Kermit. At that particular time, there was a folk dancer who was also, Fred, Fred Anholt, was also appearing at the school at that particular time. And then we did, Boyne Mountain with Dave Taylor. And I did Asilomar. And then I did, with Al, I did a deal at West Point. I think he called it Funstitute.
BB: At West Point, yes.
JL: Yeah, at West Point. We did that a couple of years. And then we did Kirkwood for, I’m guessing again because I don’t know recall right off hand, probably 25 years. And then we did Wisconsin Dells for probably seven or 8 years, maybe longer than that. 1 don’t recall. But I worked a good many of them.
BB: Well, you’ve not only been around, you’ve been around and around. Well, tell us about your recording, John.
JL: Well, we recorded for Sets in Order and also for Windsor. And then, I guess that’s the only two that actually recorded for us. Oh, I think I recorded one for Lightning S.
BB: Oh yes.
JL: Also, way back
BB: That’s Marv Shilling.
JL: That’s Marv Shilling. But the way I did it, we did a school for Marv Schilling way back when, and that was up in the southern part of Colorado. I can’t remember the little town out of Walsenburg. As a matter off act, we did a weekend.
BB: We were just talking about Mike Michell and Western Jubilee. You didn’t record with him.
JL: No, I didn’t with him, but I did a weekend, maybe two, way back in the early, it must have been the mid ’50s, somewhere along in there. And we had a great time with him. He was really a fun guy to work with.
BB: Yeah, I remember. I had the pleasure of staying overnight with him a couple of times in his guest house. A great guy, actually. Do you know if he’s still around?
JL:You know, I really don’t know. I even tried, I called for him one time in Phoenix years and years and years ago. And I even tried to find that hall, being as I live in Mesa, but I wasn’t able to. It’s probably changed.
BB: Yeah, probably has. Well, what about Callerlab affiliation, John.
JL: Yes. I was one of the charter members. And I’m still an associate member although I don’t call. I’m still an associate member of Callerlab.
BB: Yeah. Well. Are you going to conventions any more?
JL: Oh, not really because, you know, not calling any more. But I certainly enjoyed it.
BB: You looking forward to the national out in California coming up in a couple of years?
JL: Well, we probably won’t make it because, as I say, we do a lot of dancing yet, but not calling any more, why it, we probably will not go there to California.
BB: Yeah. Well, you better stick your nose in the door and say hello. An awful lot of people would like to see you, I’m sure.
JL: Well, we take some time off, but we generally go up the west coast, up north, and either go salmon fishing or we like to go to rodeos and what not, so we, we spend a good deal of time up there in the summer time doing that.
BB: Well, you’re anticipating my next question and that is to get away from the subject, what are some of your hobbies?
JL: Well, I think our biggest hobby is fishing, salmon fishing. And then running a close second would be going to rodeos. During this past month, actually, we’ve been to four rodeos, starting in Hillsboro, Oregon, going to Hermiston, Oregon, back to Caldwell, Idaho. I guess we did one more than that. Also Kennewick, Washington, and then to Pueblo, Colorado.
BB: Okay. Well, it wasn’t going on, you just came from Pueblo.
JL: Yeah, we just left Pueblo.
Bb: Was the rodeo on?
JL: Oh yes. That’s the reason we were there actually. That and the State fair. But that’s just one of the sidelines of the
BB: Ever been to Calgary? Stampede?
JL: We, no, we’ve not been to the Calgary Stampede. I’ve called a good many times in Calgary, but we’ve not been there for the Stampede.
BB: Okay. Which is a wonderful segway into the next question and that is how about traveling out of the country? Tell us about some of the trips you’ve had. Have you been overseas. Or things like that.
JL:Yes. and I’m going to be, I’m probably not going to be exact on this, but we’ve taken a good many square dance tours overseas. And I’d have to check with the Margie to be sure that I, but I think have been in 61 foreign countries.
BB: Is that right.
JL: With our calling. And then besides the square dancing tours, we took one golfing tour to Scotland, England, and Wales.
BB: There you go. You like that Scottish type of golf course.
JL: Yes, yes .
BB: Do you?
JL: We really do. I was very fortunate. We got to play, I think I played the Old Course three times, and it’s really an experience. One I’ll never forget, I assure you.
BB: Well, when I saw Jack Nicklaus take three shots to get out of one of those sand traps, I thought, I don’t think I want to play over there.
JL: I think I was very fortunate. I think I pared one hole.
BB: Laughter. All right. Well, that sound about par for the course for me. So, okay. Well, John, I know you’re housed now in Mesa, and there’s a lot of activity around Mesa, Apache Junction. Do you want to tell us a little bit about that.
JL: Well, we were very fortunate there. Also, we were one of the first to go to Mesa in the square dance activity. First we started Trailer Village which was very new at that particular time, and they just started a square dance program, and we were very fortunate to, had been asked to go and head the program there. And when we first started, we did the squares and the rounds. So, and it became, well, really unbelievable mecca for square dancing.
BB: Yes, it really is.
JL: And then from Trailer Village, we also worked at Good Life which at the beginning was called Travel Trailer Two. And then from there, we went to Mesa Regal, which is a brand new park opening. And it’s s a huge park, but we were very, very fortunate to be able to be in on the ground floor in square dancing in, in Mesa, and it’s really a wonderful experience.
BB: Yeah. Well. If I remember right, there’s something like 32 square dance halls at these various parks.
JL: Well, right now, I think there’s at least that many. When I started, there was only about three Actual Big parks and with square dance halls and a square dance program, Square and round dance program. But it has really mushroomed and there’s tremendous amount of good halls, And a lot of good callers, And a lot of good round dance teachers.
BB: Quite a few really big halls, too, I guess.
BB: Some that will hold a hundred squares. Somebody tells me .
JL: I think when I had the grand opening at Mesa Regal, we had around 103 squares.
BB: That ain’t a bad crowd. About a buck a head that ain’t bad. Right. well you mentioned round dancing, John. Tell us about it. Have you been teaching rounds at one time or did you
JL:Oh, yes. actually, from the beginning, we start teaching rounds from the beginning, when we started calling, you know. First we taught little mixers and Real simple things. Then we just stayed with the round dance activity as well as the square dancing and all the times that I, that we were in Wyoming, we taught rounds as well as squares. So when we first went to Mesa, we handled both programs until it became too much. we had so much square dancing that we couldn’t handle both the squares and the rounds. And then we brought in someone to do the rounds.
BB: Yeah. Who were some of the round dance people you worked with?
BB: You said Manning and Nita.
JL: Well, first of all, way back we worked with Frank and Carolyn Hamilton. And we brought the Chafees To Mesa. We worked with them. And Jack and Na Stapleton, going way back.
BB: What a beautiful Team they were.
JL: And, of course, Nita and Manning Smith. And we worked the festivals, we worked with a lot of different round dance couples.
BB: Yeah. Well, I love the work that the Stapletons did. They came from the Detroit area originally if I remember rightly.
JL: Right. They were from Michigan.
BB: I think they both passed away. I’ve been in touch with Dina Fresh. Remember Elwin and Dena.
JL: We worked somewhere with them. I think they were from Kansas, St. Louis, somewhere. We worked, I don’t recall, it was either in Wisconsin or somewhere that we worked with them.
BB: Yeah. And I’ve been in touch with Dot Foster, Dale and Dot Foster.
JL: Yes. We used to call for them.
BB: Yeah. And I, I’ve also interviewed the Palmquists, Eddie and Audrey Palmquist.
JL: Yes. We also worked,
BB: Of course they were from Canada, right.
JL: I think one of the weekends we worked with Dave Taylor they may have been there.
BB: Yeah, they mentioned Dave when I talked with them, right, yeah. Well Johnny, let’s get a little bit serious here for a minute. I’ve been asking most everybody where do you think square dancing has been, and where it is now, and where do you think it might be going.
JL: Well, I think it’s been great. It’s, I think it’s been a great activity for the young and the elderly. When I talk about the elderly, I’m talking about retired people I guess. They have tremendous program for them. I don’t know, I have mixed emotions on where it is actually going, and I’m, and I don’t have an answer. And maybe no one else really does. I’m not really sure. But I was talking to people around the outside, what I call the outside world, because we’re in Mesa where there is a lot of activity. But when you get out into the small towns USA and around, I find that it has dropped off considerably, and I really have no idea why. And I don’t have an answer. I don’t really
know. I’m very concerned about it. I’m just wondering, as a matter of fact, Margie and I were talking not too long ago. We were wondering what the activity would be say 10 years down the road from now. We just don’t have any idea that, so many of the small clubs out in the rural area evidently don’t have a caller, or don’t have a teacher, and can’t afford to have one, so I don’t where the activity is going.
BB: Yeah. Well, maybe they’re using record, or tapes, or something like that.
JL: Well, they could be. But still that doesn’t take the place of a live caller.
BB: No, that’s for sure. So, well, another interesting question I have been asking people is, what do find appealing about calling. What do you think is
JL: About calling?
JL: I think I got the biggest thrill from teaching people. Being able to teach people and see people enjoy something. In the beginning, square dancing is generally a completely new type of recreation for people. And I think I got a, I really enjoyed seeing people enjoy something that they’d never participated in before. And it was good, clean recreation.
BB: Right. If you could change anything in your career, is there anything you would have changed? Anything you’re kind of sorry you did, or anything like that?
JL: There’s probably a lot of things. I can’t think of anyone thing. I thoroughly enjoyed every bit of time that we spent square dancing. It gave us an opportunity to see all of the country, a lot of the world. And so many places that probably we would never have had the opportunity to see or go to. And it was just a wonderful job, if you could call it a job. A profession for us. We certainly enjoyed it, and we met so many super people.
So many great people. That alone would be well worth the time that we spent in it.
BB: Sure. Well this has been a very interesting conversation, John. I think, I know you’re anxious to get, you’re going to drive from here all the way to Mesa, and you’ve already come from Pueblo. That’s kind of a fur piece, as they say.
JL: Well, the other day, we left Pascal, Washington on our way to Riverton, Wyoming, and I, we drove a pretty long day. I think close to 800 or close to 900 miles. And Marge said, well, we haven’t lost our touch on driving, so. But, hey, we certainly enjoyed having the opportunity to come on by.
BB: Well, I appreciate you’re taking, dropping off the thruway and taking the time to get together. Marge has been sitting here giving the instructions all the time.
JL: Right. She’s been giving me the signs, you know. Just like when you’re calling. She was the always the one in the background saying you either too loud, or not loud enough, More music. And all of that, you know. But she’s been a great partner.
BB: Oh, I’m sure. I assume you guys are still dancing then. Round dancing and square dancing both?
JL: We don’t round dance much any more. But we do square dance. We do quite a bit of square dancing, and I’ve gotten into clogging, and I clog,
BB: Have you really?
JL: Oh, yes.
BB: Good for you.
JL: I clog probably twice, at least twice a week, and then, although we didn’t dance as much as we did, a couple of years ago. We still dance.
BB: Yeah. You’re going try to keep up with my brother now. He has a new dancing partner, and she dances three, five, and six round dances, and she and she dances Challenge. And she also clogs.
JL: Well, that ought to keep him busy.
BB: Yeah, right. Keep him out of trouble, that’s for sure.
BB: Hope it will keep him young. That’s the important thing.
BB: John, I really appreciate your taking the time to drop off the thruway and
Well, we’ve really enjoyed it.
BB: And spend this time
JL: Bob, and hope our path will meet again before too long.
BB: I certainly hope so, and look forward to it.
JL: Okay. That’s best of all to you.
BB: Thanks very much.