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Group brings holiday joy in Sauk Rapids

It’s beginning to look and sound a lot like Christmas at Trinity Lutheran Church in Sauk Rapids each Tuesday night. Both traditional Christmas carols and popular songs like Frosty the Snowman, The Little Drummer Boy, Mary Did You Know, and We Need A Little Christmas can be heard coming from the choir room. Trinity is the rehearsal site for the singing group known as Friends in Harmony, which is made up of St. Cloud area baby boomers who love to sing and share their music. The group of six men and six women and their accompanist learn 50 Christmas songs, sacred and secular, for their upcoming performances at nursing homes and community events this holiday season.

On the last Saturday in October, St. Paul’s Catholic Church in St. Cloud held its Harvest Dinner, and the fellowship hall was filled with seniors enjoying a turkey dinner with all the trimmings along with the musical entertainment provided by Friends in Harmony.  Some diners hummed along or swayed to the ’50s and ’60s hit tunes like Feeling Groovy, Blueberry Hill, Sh-Boom and What a Wonderful World. Deacon Dave told jokes between songs, and there was a festive mood in the room.

Some members of Friends in Harmony have been together for 20 years, according to group spokesman, Lynn Machula.  Del Sexton, former music teacher and principal at Cathedral High School, helped start the group, originally named The Jazz Connection. Many of the original members were part of a church choir in St. Stephen. “There have been some changes in members over the years,” Machula said. He and his wife, Sandy, have been singing with the group for about 10 years.  “We do four-part harmony – soprano, alto, tenor, bass.” Machula added that they are an all-volunteer group, performing for free. Some women in the group agreed they prefer it that way because once there’s a charge for a performance, it becomes a job!  Machula explained their group does receive compensation from businesses and private parties and that money goes toward maintaining their equipment.

Friends in Harmony sings a variety of music, including popular, country, patriotic, religious and Christmas. The group’s specialty is ’50s and ’60s rock and doo-wop music.  “We’re a group of baby boomers, and we like to sing the songs that we listened to while growing up,” said Machula.

Most group members sing in their church choir. Others play the guitar, and Machula plays a string bass for some songs. Other members of the group are Cyndy Fleming, Annie Trobec, Carole Mehr, Gerry Trobec, Mark Miller, Mickey  Slivnik, Dave Lindmeier, Roger Trobec, Linda Mueller, Jullian Euteneuer and accompanist Barb Banaian.

Friends in Harmony has performed at community and church events, conventions, car shows, family and school reunions, homecomings, nursing homes, the Veteran’s Hospital, county fairs, businesses and private parties. “We like to sing for benefits, and we’re always looking for opportunities to sing,” Machula said. They occasionally break into smaller groups to perform a song, and for variety, they add solos and instruments.

Diners at the Harvest Dinner poured second cups of coffee while listening to the musical selections Sentimental Journey and Boy from New York City, featuring a solo by Annie Trobec.  The songs are especially popular with the senior crowd, according to Machula. Music from The Beach Boys, Johnny Cash and Alabama also goes over well with audiences.

Don and Sharren Loxtercamp, of St. Cloud, members of St. Paul’s since 1991, were among the 100-plus people who attended the Harvest Dinner and enjoyed the music by Friends in Harmony. Sharren is active in the Central Minnesota Foster Grandparent program, and she volunteers in a second-grade classroom at All Saint’s Academy, a private school next door to St. Paul’s Catholic Church.

Students from the school, which includes preschool through sixth-grade students, helped with the Harvest Dinner by designing and coloring placemats for all of the tables. The children drew lots of pumpkins and falling leaves and added spectacular autumn colors to the pictures.

“They worked so hard on the placemats,” said grandma Sharren, “and they were all so proud to have a part in the dinner.”

Grandma Sharren, who works one-on-one with students, acknowledged, “I have a lot of patience.” A foster grandparent commits to serving at least 15 hours a week  in a community nonprofit setting, but grandma Sharren spends many more hours in the classroom. She raves about the rewards of being a foster grandparent and being part of the children’s lives. “And years later,” her husband said admiringly, “her students still remember her.”

At the conclusion of their hour-long performance, Friends in Harmony had a sing along, and the Loxtercamps were among the others adding their voices to Let Me Call You Sweetheart and You Are My Sunshine, big crowd-pleasers. Let Me Call You Sweetheart, written in 1910, continues to be popular today and is often requested at weddings and anniversary parties. You Are My Sunshine was first recorded in 1940. Following the sing along, the entertainers were finally able to sit down with the other diners and enjoy the turkey dinner.

Machula said the singing group is currently looking for an additional alto, a drummer and occasional other instrumentalists, like a saxophone player. “It seems we are always looking for a drummer. It could be a retired person or a young person, but I have to emphasize we are a volunteer group.”  He puts notices up around town announcing their need for a singer and instrumentalist. Anyone interested in musical entertainment for an event can contact Friends in Harmony through Lynn Machula at 320-252-5795. “We love to share our music and are always looking for opportunities to sing.”

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