Clarence "Ole" Olson (front row, fifth from left), 88, is part of the Peace Village Choir in Palos Park. | Supplied photo
Updated: October 2, 2013 6:02AM
Peace Village choir member Clarence “Ole” Olson is one of dozens of senior singers at the facility in Palos Park.
Olson, 88, has been singing all his life.
Recently, more than 125 people enjoyed a standing-room-only summer concert at Peace Village. Nearly every member of the audience took time to shake the hand of choir members, including Olson. Many thanked him for his full-toned solo of a Civil War song, according to a news release issued by Peace Village.
“I’ve still got it,” he said in the release. “I still enjoy it, too, even if it’s just for myself. I used to be able to get a lot higher than I can now, but my diction is still good. I grew up in the Depression with three sisters. We would get together in the front room, my dad playing harmonica and guitar — he could play them both at the same time — and we would sing for hours. I can’t remember ever not singing.
“I can’t see very well anymore so I can’t play cards, but I can still sing. I’m a hambone and if I see a piano, well, I’m a little loud, but I can’t keep it in. It comes from the belly and I’ve got to get it out.”
Olson is perfectly comfortable with all the fuss the choir performances generate. He has been singing publicly for many decades, first in grammar school as a boy soprano, then at Taft High School. During his 35-year career for the phone company, he also sang in a barbershop quartet as a bass and baritone.
About two years ago, just after he and his wife Ione settled into Peace Village after living in Midlothian for more than 50 years, Olson joined the choir. Ione Olson is a regular concert-goer, but declined to join the choir.
“She can’t sing,” Ole said with a laugh, “but I can’t talk about that.”
Donna Koenes, Peace Village choir director and executive assistant to CEO Harvey Leffring, said, “In Peace Village’s early years, there was a choir run by one of our residents and that petered out. I started working here about four years ago and a long-time resident discovered I had a musical background and asked me if I’d be interested in reviving the choir. Well, it is a passion of mine and Harvey thought it would be a wonderful thing, so we went ahead.”
Koenes recruited 12 singers for their first concert, held at the end of 2009. Today, membership has swelled to 32, with six men, the largest crew of fellows to date.
The choir performs four times each year and the concerts are open to the public. Koenes selects the theme and music and completes background research for short, spoken segues that educate the audience.
“Our spring concert is kind of anything goes,” Koenes said. “We’ve had a tribute to Broadway and we’ve had songs about springtime.”
The December concert is focused on Christmas.
Carol Voll, a Peace Village resident, appreciates the summer concert which is devoted to patriotic tunes.
“I attend all the concerts. They are so well done. My favorite is patriotic songs. You really don’t hear these songs that much, like you do Christmas music,” Voll said.
Pearl Beukinga, a choir member for almost two years, said the October concert is her favorite.
“We sing old hymns. I don’t like the new songs at all, and Donna is so good at getting everyone on the same page.” Beukinga said. “I’ve been an alto for nearly 100 years.”
After Koenes selects the songs to be featured in a concert, she creates custom music sheets for each singer.
“Some of our residents need a bigger font. Some of them need different notes. They get their music and can then memorize and practice in their apartment homes between rehearsals,” Koenes said.
The choir practices once a week for four weeks before each concert that is performed in the Fred C. Grewe Center on the village grounds.
Koenes gives credit to their accompanist, who just happens to be her mother, June Scholtens.
“I couldn’t do this without my mom,” Koenes said.
Scholtens has been a church organist for more than half a century and, at 85, her fingers still fly over the piano keyboard as spent music sheets flutter to the floor.
“The singers all call me ‘Mom’ even though some of them are even older than me,” Scholtens said.
At the summer concert, audience members, including residents and the children and grandchildren of the choir members, were treated to pre-performance red-white-and-blue ice pops. The concert kicked off with an inspiring sing-along of “God Bless America” and continued with traditional songs of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” mixed with modern ballads like Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Interspersed were readings of American patriots’ lives.
Small flags were distributed to all listeners and, at the concert’s conclusion, the audience became a sea of stars and stripes as veterans of each military division raised the flags as their respective armed forces official song was played.
For Olson, the moment brought mixed emotions.
“We are all sad when the concerts are over,” Olson said. “But then we start looking forward to the next one.”