More than 60 years later, Devils Lake Elks Community Band continues musical performance

John B. Crane
Devils Lake Journal

DEVILS LAKE – Any local event attendee might already have a keen eye for them. 

Or, perhaps more accurately, an attuned ear. 

Flag Day in the Park took place at Roosevelt Park on June 14, with the Devils Lake Elks Community Band in attendance.

The Devils Lake Elks Community Band is a nonprofit organization that performs for Elks Lodge #1216. The band – which averages around 50 members – has since prioritized playing a collection of tunes for local occasions (Flag Day, Memorial Day and Veterans Day, to name a few). However, the band has also left its musical footprint on a regional and national scale. A quartet of locations – Winnipeg, Seattle, Denver and New Orleans – helps illustrate many a bus trip the band has filled to the brim over the years. 

“Five days in the French Quarter, yeah, that was good,” Dianne Gunderson said. 

Historically, the band has grown in diversity. Formed in the fall of 1959, the band was initially an all-male endeavor. However, when membership dwindled and the group comprised only trumpets and a few drum players, the band allowed women to join after initial voting sessions failed to pass. 

Immediately after, trumpet and drum players were no longer alone in their musical venture. 

“Then after that, the band grew considerably because then, we started getting things like clarinets and flutes,” Gunderson said. “Some of the instruments that traditionally are more female.” 

Gunderson, who plays flute and piccolo, has been in the band for more than three decades. Over the years, Gunderson has become the de facto “historian” of the band. In her time, Gunderson has seen the community continue to replenish the ranks as members come and go. Band membership varies from high school musicians to older players who wish to continue playing. No audition is required to join the band. 

Healthy community support helps, too. 

“We have a very supportive community for our band,” Gunderson said. “Well, I mean, we are made up of the community, obviously, but when we do things…if you are around for the Fourth of July parade, watch us go through the parade and watch the crowds...They just get excited.” 

Since high school, Corry Kenner has been a trumpet player in the Devils Lake Elks Community Band. Since the band practiced on the opposite end of the gymnasium, Kenner yearned to join as soon as possible. So when the opportunity arose, he did just that. 

Fast forward more than four decades later, and Corry remains a member. 

“I remember sitting there thinking, ‘Oh, I would love to play with a band like that someday,’” Corry said. “They were good. And so here I am, 40-something years later.” 

Meanwhile, Corry’s wife, Kristin Kenner, did not initially share his passion for the band. If anything, Kristin held a polar opposite opinion. After all, while Corry was practicing the scales and maintaining the melodies, Kristin was back home tending to the kids. 

One day, Corry approached his wife about joining. The band needed a clarinet, and Kristin fit the bill. However, there was one problem: Kristin had not played in 23 years. Her clarinet had since established a permanent residence in the family basement. 

Even still, Kristin decided to give it a go. The first six months were indeed an adjustment – Kristin “faked” playing during this timeframe – but almost immediately afterward, it all started to come back to her. A flood of band support from other members made the transition much more manageable. 

According to Kristin, such a connection with the band made the experience almost family-like. 

“I tell everybody that,” Kristin said. “It is a little tiny family in itself, and if somebody has a problem, then everybody is there rallying. I mean, it really is remarkable.”

Ryan Strid officially joined the band in 2015 and took over conducting duties in 2017. Strid has noticed firsthand how everyone comes together as a collective unit, both as a band and as a family. As someone not originally from Devils Lake, Strid noticed the hospitality immediately. 

“First and foremost, we look to have a lot of fun, obviously, because everyone in the band has a love of music, so we all want to celebrate that, and we get together because we want to play,” Strid said. “Obviously, there is a little bit of sacrifice, because on days like this…beautiful days, we want to go to the lake or go visit family, but we give up a little bit of our time. But again, we love to do it because it’s a big part of who we are as people. The love of music, that kind of thing.” 

“You meet so many different people [from] walks of life that you wouldn’t meet in your profession, and that’s what I love about it,” Kristin said. “…We always have a little break in-between, maybe after the hour of playing, and we have, like, half an hour of socializing, and then we go back and finish the last half-hour, but it’s great because we sit and just chat and visit and catch up with people. I think people really look forward to it. Sometimes, for some people, it is their only outing during the week.”

Even with it being entirely voluntary, the Devils Lake Elks Community Band has remained steady in band membership over the years, even as other local bands around them have since disbanded. 

Not a problem for the band, though. Even if new members have not picked up an instrument in a long time, the band has helped in the transition to making a former musician a fine-tuned one once more. 

Having a keen ear, not to mention a family-oriented mindset, will only add to the festivities. 

“We get musicians like that all the time in our band,” Gunderson said. “Come on and try it because you can.”

John Crane is a sports/general assignment reporter for the Devils Lake Journal. Feel free to contact John via work phone (701-922-1372), cell phone (701-230-4339), email (jcrane@gannett.com) or Twitter (@johncranesports) with any story ideas.