43 Years Later, An Encore for Three Pillars’ Resident Kitchen Band

We all know history has a way of repeating itself, and this year, Three Pillars saw it with the reprise of their resident Kitchen Band.

Earlier this year, Three Pillars’ resident choir, the Singing Ambassadors, found themselves brainstorming what fun, unique twist they could pull off for their annual float in the Dousman Derby Days parade – a beloved tradition. Before long, they were crafting their own slide whistle, stumpf fiddle, spoon percussion, and more, and – unbeknownst to them at the time – the 2nd edition of the Three Pillars Kitchen Band was born.

MaryAnn Jagow and her husband Stan moved into Three Pillars’ Village on the Square Independent Living in 2012, and quickly realized how much musical talent there was with their fellow residents. Their daughter, Jeni Luy, was just about to retire from music education, and MaryAnn had an idea for the two to tackle: organizing a resident choir. The mother-daughter duo became co-directors of the Singing Ambassadors group in 2013, and it’s held a steady membership of approximately 15 musicians since then, including many vocalists and even a skilled banjoist. A handful of the founding members are still singing (and now playing) their hearts out, six years later and counting.

The group has had fun performing for church services and various special events around campus, and a few summers back, they started singing on Three Pillars’ Derby Days float. For the 2018 parade, looking to up their volume level for that particular event, they tried their hand at becoming a Kazoo Band, playing oversized, noisy versions of the classic buzzy instrument. 

Three Pillars’ Singing Ambassadors Choir took up playing giant kazoos in the 2018 Dousman Derby Days Parade.

The choir and their audience got such a kick out of it, they were ready for more in the 2019 parade. One resident had the brilliant idea of forming a Kitchen Band, and Jeni put her finger on an old “classic kitchen band” music book she had from her college days. They began rehearsing, and before they knew it, the Three Pillars Singing Ambassadors turned Kazoo Band turned Kitchen Band had their debut performance in the 2019 Derby Days parade, much to the crowd’s delight.

When news of the Kitchen Band hit, longtime Three Pillars employee and historian-by-default, Dawn Jones, smiled as she realized this was the encore to an original Three Pillars resident Kitchen Band from the late 1970’s.

“They didn’t know it at the time, but the Kitchen Band they just formed is a 43-year re-creation of the Wisconsin Masonic Home’s original group from circa 1976,” Dawn reminisces. “Seeing the current group in costume on the Derby Days parade float immediately brought me back, so I knew I had to find the photo.”

Dawn, who at the time worked at the Infirmary on the Dousman Three Pillars campus, remembers that the original Kitchen Band group formed all on their own out of a desire to make a unique style of music. They rehearsed regularly and enjoyed taking their show on the road, traveling locally to perform at Order of the Eastern Star (a Masonic group) chapter meetings. Not surprisingly, they even performed as part of the Dousman Derby Days parade, 43 years earlier – delighting crowds then and now!

The Three Pillars Kitchen Band from 1976 performed in Dousman’s same beloved Derby Days parade.

Of note, one member of the original Kitchen Band was Adela Hein, a kind, introverted woman who surprised many when she joined. While she mostly kept to herself with limited participation in activities, she dazzled when she took the stage with her kitchen band bass drum.

While Dawn remembers Adela well, her son, Gene, who is now a Three Pillars resident himself, remembers her best.

Gene recalls, “To my surprise one day in 1976, I opened the local newspaper and was floored when I saw my mother’s photo on the cover, playing that bass drum in costume with the full Wisconsin Masonic Home Kitchen Band. She’d always had a great sense of rhythm, but I never thought she’d be one to join a Kitchen Band.”

The 1976 Three Pillars Kitchen Band, including current Three Pillars resident Gene Hein’s mother, Adela (far left), made local and national news.

The story was picked up by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and later the Associated Press, so it wasn’t long before the public was charmed by the story of the grassroots senior citizen Kitchen Band from Dousman.

The Three Pillars/Wisconsin Masonic Home Kitchen Band of 1976 rehearsed and performed regularly on their eclectic instruments in festive, coordinating costumes.

“I’m sure the original group was 100% as fun-spirited and creative as the group today,” smiles Jeni.

She continues, “Our current group took it upon themselves to dream up their instruments and source the supplies. Once we were determined to form the band, next thing we knew, the members were making or borrowing supplies to make it happen. We saw a stumpf fiddle come together out of pie plates, some wire, and a tambourine, with a drum stick to keep the rhythm. A washboard and metal spoon joined the band, a five-gallon bucket became our bass drum, and someone even created her own shakers filled with different items like rice, corn, and beans.”

Combined with their giant kazoos, the current group now enjoys creating memorable renditions of some great classics, thanks to their incredible dedication and that of their co-directors.

It’s no small feat for Jeni to travel to Three Pillars from Grafton every week for rehearsals, but she wouldn’t change it for anything. “I absolutely love working with this group. I enjoy it just as much, if not more than the residents,” says Jeni. “It’s really a joy to work with them and watch them achieve their goals. What used to be challenging to them has become doable with excellent teamwork and hardworking attitudes — even the dream of our Kitchen Band!”