Erhard man learned to play instrument later in life 

Dennis Baumen plays fiddle with The Friends of Al Siegle Band. Despite interest in playing the instrument as a youngster, he decided to learn how to play in his 60s. Photo by Deb Trygstad

It was certainly not encouragement that led Dennis Bauman to take up the fiddle at age 60, but instead was a plain love of an instrument and willingness to learn it, no matter what.

Dennis was born in the hills of Erhard, Minnesota, in 1935, on Heilberger Lake. He was the first son of a carpenter who built houses and later cabinets. His dad was from Edwards and his mother from Wee Town, small towns located just miles apart in Otter Tail County (Minnesota). There were eight kids in his family — four brothers and four sisters. Dennis recalled his first encounter with the violin as a child.

“We had two fiddles there for a while. Dad played the fiddle and Darlene, my older sister, was on the piano. I took the other fiddle down and showed it to my dad and asked him, ‘Will you show me a little bit about the fiddle?’ He looked at me and he said, ‘You are too damn dumb to play the violin.’ That’s the very words that he told me. I put the violin back and I never touched it until after he passed away.”

After his dad died at the age of 69, Dennis picked up the violin once again. He remembered the story about how their family acquired the violin. When his dad was 18, he bought it for $3 from an old farmer in the area. The violin came over on a ship from Germany, which Dennis learned from friends of his parents. Inscribed inside the violin is the name Joseph Guarnerius, who was a famous violin player from Germany. Dennis had the fiddle appraised once and the appraiser said it was possibly worth $5,000.

Dennis never knew how his dad learned how to play the fiddle. But he did know that his great grandpa played for the King’s Band back in Germany.

It was not easy for Dennis to acquire this violin. When his dad passed away, his younger sister asked his mother if she could have it and his mother gave it to her. His youngest sister had it for a while but then she needed some financial assistance to buy some property. Dennis told her he would sign for the piece of property if he could have the violin. His sister wanted the property pretty bad, so she agreed to it. Dennis brought in the violin for repairs was work to get it back into shape and it cost him around $100.

The Friends of Al Siegle Band play old time country at various venues in the area. Dennis is pictured right with his trusty old fiddle. Photo by Deb Trygstad

Dennis learned to play the violin on his own, by ear. He doesn’t read music. He practiced songs he knew from a child to begin with but later was taken under the wing of Al Siegle. Al was a teacher and coach in Pelican Rapids. The football field in Pelican Rapids is named after him, among other things. Dennis described Al as a cowboy from Montana who loved music. Al nurtured Dennis’s desire to play the fiddle and helped him get better. They started playing for senior centers and nursing homes just for fun. Most often they weren’t paid much, except for cookies and milk. After Al passed away, Bruce Nelson from Erhard took over managing the band and they renamed it “ The Friends of Al Siegle Band.”

The Friends of Al Siegle Band plays about five times per month at the Barnesville VFW, Pelican Rapids Senior Center, Frazee Care Center and Riverfront on Main. They play mostly old time country music. They do get paid for some of their gigs but have also been known to play for a good meal.

Growing up

Dennis grew up in the Depression and times were tough when he was young. He attended school grades 1-8 in a country school about a mile and a half from home. He remembered he was in 2nd grade when Pearl Harbor was bombed. He recalled one of the kids at school heard it on the radio and told the class.  There were relatives on both sides of the family who were fighting in the war and some of them didn’t make it home.

Dennis grew up without electricity or a phone until he was about 11 years old. Most often his dad would farm him out to and he would work for his uncle for a $1 a week.  “We were poor,” Dennis said, “We didn’t know it, but we were poor.”

His dad would catch turtles and fish to feed the family. They did have a battery operated radio if they could afford batteries for it.

One thing Dennis did do with his dad was go coon hunting. Dennis had a dog named Fido who could hunt anything. If he they wanted to hunt ducks, Fido would retrieve them. If they wanted to hunt pheasants, he would flush out pheasants. “He just knew,” Dennis said. During these coon hunting ventures Dennis remembered how he had to stand alone in the dark, guarding the coon that was just killed.

Dennis Baumen’s father bought this fiddle for $3 from an old farmer when Dennis was young. In his 60s, Dennis acquired the fiddle and learned how to play it. Photo by Deb Trygstad

People didn’t stray too far from home back in those days. Dennis said that he would only get into town, Fergus Falls (about 27 miles away), one time a year, in the summer. Instead of driving far distances for entertainment, families would meet on Saturdays all over the Erhard hills and attend “house parties.” The kids and the coats would all be piled into the bedroom to go to sleep. The adults  would move back the furniture and dance. Dennis said sometimes the music was good, and sometimes it wasn’t.  He remembered his dad would play the fiddle.  They would also meet at the town halls all around rural Otter Tail County.

Dennis grew up fast, beginning to do man’s work when he was 16. He started the 8th grade but only went a couple of months. His dad said he did not have to go to school if he didn’t want too. Since he had to walk a mile and a half to catch the bus, after Christmas vacation, he decided to quit. 

Dennis’ first job was hauling milk. He picked up milk cans in the summer for $6 a day. When he was 18, he worked road construction and bought a black 1936 Chevrolet.  He started dating the neighbor girl, Adeline Nelson, who lived on the north side of the lake. They dated for about two years before they got married. After they were married, Dennis worked at a couple of different gas stations and the Coast to Coast store in Pelican Rapids. Adeline taught school. In 1965, the couple decided to buy a house in Erhard after Dennis started a new position as an over-the-road trucker, which he did for 30 years.

The couple had three children, two boys and a girl. When Dennis was 62, he went to work in the summer for Rothsay Farmers Elevator. He did for 14 more years, until he was 74 years old. Adeline and Dennis were married for 62 years. Adeline passed away in 2015.