Cancer survivors, now in their 80s, continue to perform the classics
By Patricia Buschette
The community room at Parkview Senior Living in Belview, Minn., became alive as residents found their places and waited for the show to begin. Roger Huseby, 87, of Belview, Minn., and Marles Berthelsen, 81, of Wood Lake, Minn., seasoned performers, began setting up.
At 2 p.m., Marles announced the two musicians: “We are the Antiques Roadshow. We are antiques and so is the music.”
As they belted out songs familiar to the group, it was clear they were a hit. Roger plays guitar, Marles the accordion, they both sing, and the two began one hour of lively music. A scan of the room revealed tapping feet, clapping hands, and smiles as favorites were performed.
The two have made music together for nine years entertaining residents with music that is most appealing to them. The two of them learned to play guitar and accordion as teenagers, primarily influenced by the sheer desire to learn.
“I spent one year when I was 14 years old in a sanatorium with tuberculosis and while there, I learned to play the ukulele,” Roger said. “I got out when I was 15 and went to Belview country school. I got a guitar and bought a book with chords and learned to play. Our group developed shows that we took on the road, raising money to take trips to Branson, Mo., and Nashville, Tenn.”
Roger is a former farmer and a retired owner of an insurance agency, and presently lives in rural Belview. He is no stranger to physical misfortune. A survivor of cancer, a heart attack, and a recent stroke, he maintains his proficiency as a performer, belting out, among others, Hank Williams favorites.
The appeal of the stage and love of music resulted in the organization of a group called “The Belview Country Show,” created by Shirley Danielson of Belview. Roger Huseby, his wife, Christine, and a group of Belview friends and neighbors obtained permission from “Hee Haw,” to reprise the television variety show known for country music and humor in “Kornfield Kounty.” Roger took on the role of “Boxcar Willie,” while Christine was one of the “scrub women.” The combination of skits and music was backed up with a band.
The group performed at “Old Sod Days” in Belview. The group was retained by such groups as seed companies, performed at County Fairs, and performed in communities including Arlington, Montevideo, and Clements. Roger set up a rehearsal stage in his shop were the group would practice. It was a challenge too difficult to schedule rehearsals and events with over 20 people involved. As the members of the troupe grew older, they were unable to continue performing.
Roger performed at the Robert Milton home for citizens in Redwood Falls with mental disabilities. He performed as Johnny Cash many times, and was well appreciated by the residents.
After some years, Roger decided that he would enjoy going on the road again and playing for those who don’t have access to live music. “I called up my friend Marles Berthelsen, and asked her if she would like to make music with me,” he said.
Marles well remembers her first experience playing an accordion. “Some people came to town selling accordions for $100,” she said. “I really wanted an accordion and pleaded with my father for the money to buy one.”
“After some begging, he relented, with the promise that I would help him in his carpentry work. My friend also got one and we were so excited to go to the first lesson that was promised as part of the deal,” she said. Her disappointment was palpable as she went on to explain, “When we got to the place where lessons were to be given, the place was locked. They skipped town. There would be no accordion lessons.”
Marles was devastated. “I walked home and sat on the front step and cried. Then I started to play “On top of Old Smokey.” Marles does not use sheet music – she cannot read a note. “I play by ear,” she said.
Marles has managed a liquor store, worked in the liquor store in Wood Lake, was a cage cashier in the casino in Granite Falls, and worked on off sale in Granite Falls.
Over the years, she played with several groups including the Nite Hawks, El Dorados, Marles & Co., and Marles and the Wranglers. How were the groups formed? Simply that musicians got together and talked and a new group was formed.
A seasoned performer, she began her music career with Jerry and the Troubadours. They played Sioux Falls every week and also played in Tracy, Marshall and Willmar, she remembered.
While Marles had many opportunities to share her music as she performed with various bands, she remembers a special moment. She traveled to Denmark with a friend and a connection with a band in Copenhagen gave her the opportunity to perform internationally.
After a fascinating career she dealt with cancer and had not been on the music circuit for some time. When Roger called with an opportunity she could not refuse, she agreed and the two “went on the road.”
“We are antiques,” Roger said, “and so is our music.” However, whatever genre they play, their audience responds enthusiastically.
Favorites of their audiences include old time and classic country. Preferences include such memorable numbers as “Little Brown Church In the Vale,” “Wabash Cannonball,” “When my Blue Moon Turns to Gold,” “Green Green Grass of Home,” “San Antonio Rose,” “Your Cheating Heart Will Tell on You,” and “When the Saints Go Marchin’ In.” They played “God Bless America” in honor of 9-11.
Occasionally, they will be called upon to lead the group in a “Happy Birthday” greeting to someone in the audience.
Included in the repertoire was a tribute to Roger’s wife of 65 years, Christine, who was present at the performance, as he sang “We Belong Together You and Me.”
Roger and Marles are no strangers to appreciative audiences of senior citizens. They have played in Montevideo, Watertown, Odeon Hall in Belview, Renville, Garnett Gardens in Redwood Falls, and Wabasso. “We have performed at Parkview several times,” Roger said.
As the two began packing up, one of the members of the audience approached the two offering their appreciation and a hug or a handshake. Another appreciative resident said, “You guys get better every time!”