Patriotic concerts have World War II theme

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Tuesday, June 25, 2013

— Some people are expected to arrive two hours early for tonight’s free patriotic concert at Rock Prairie Presbyterian Church, east of Janesville.

They want the best seats.

Last year, 1,100 people came during two nights to hear a choir sing popular patriotic songs, pay tribute to local veterans and enjoy what rapidly is becoming a much anticipated community tradition.

Another show is Wednesday.

This year’s theme features lively music and inspirational words of World War II. The choir will perform 11 songs, including the toe-tapping “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B” and the sentimental “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.”

Charles Scharine, Mike Williams and Rich White will read excerpts of speeches from Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and Franklin D. Roosevelt.

Before the event, people can view photos from the D-Day invasion at Normandy.

Rock County Veterans Service Officer John Solis will share his musical talent when he sings “You Are My Sunshine,” a popular World War II song. For the last four years, money collected from a freewill offering has gone to the Rock County Veterans Donation Trust. Last year, people gave almost $5,000.

Solis said the money helps veterans pay for utility bills, rent and car repairs, among other things. They can receive one-time payments up to $300.

“When I can’t find them help from other funding sources, I use the donated money,” Solis said. “For example, one veteran finally landed a job but did not have money to buy safety-toed shoes. The money helps bridge the gaps.”

Solis sings at the church to express thanks for the money. Away from work, he performs solo and with a band. Like so many, Solis is amazed at how many people attend the concert.

“When I first got involved, it was a one-night event,” Solis said. “Now, it has grown to two nights of a packed house. There is a hunger out there for this type of entertainment.”

Church member Linda Graf came up with the idea six years ago.

“I wanted a way to invite the public into our church,” Graf said. “I was talking to a friend about July Fourth, and we thought it would be nice to have a place to listen to patriotic music indoors.”

About 150 people attended the premier concert, which has steadily grown.

“I’ve been led by God to do this,” Graf said. “Everything has come together the way it was supposed to. The energy in the church is sparkling.”

About half the people who sing in the special choir for the event are from the community. They team up with regular church choir members and begin rehearsing Memorial Day week.

“No matter who you are, you can be a part of this,” Graf said. “Many choir members belong to other denominations.”

During the service, each branch of the military is honored with the singing of its anthem, and veterans are asked to stand and be recognized.

“We have veterans who sob,” Graf said. “I can’t explain what happens, but it has turned into a very powerful time.”

A number of older people from nursing homes attend, and an area is cleared for easy access for wheelchairs. At the end of the 75-minute program, World War II vets will be honored with commemorative coins.

One more thing: Ron and Barb Mallon, owners of Janesville’s Culver’s restaurants, will serve frozen custard. In addition, the church ladies are baking brownies. They used to bake pies, but Graf said it got harder and harder to slice enough pie as the attendance grew.

“We were cutting up pie in every room in the church once the attendance reached 700,” Graf said. “Now, we have 37 people each baking three dozen brownies.”

Graf has a long list of people, and each person is responsible for a specific task to make the concert successful. Sometimes, she can hardly believe how her idea has grown.

“It just makes me so happy,” she said. “What better gift than to see all these people enjoying every minute of the program. It’s a real passion.”

Anna Marie Lux is a columnist for The Gazette. Her columns run Sundays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. Call her with ideas or comments at 608-755-8264, or email amarielux@gazettextra.com.

Last updated: 7:59 am Monday, July 29, 2013

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