Crosby man saved popular Brainerd event, continues to serve as director 13 years later
Yvonne and Ed Yunker, of Crosby, at a rehearsal for Geritol Frolics, a musical variety show in Brainerd. The Yunkers worked hard to revive the show 13 years ago, and Ed has been the show’s director ever since. Photo by Jan Stadtherr
He probably didn’t realize it at the time, but Ed Yunker’s passion for music began in the fifth-grade, when he learned to play the cornet.
A few years later, while returning home to Crosby from a high school band trip to Washington, D.C., Ed portrayed Elvis on the long trip home in a school bus. The superintendent, who was a chaperone on the trip, took up a collection for Ed’s impromptu stardom. Today, he claims it was his first paying gig.
That spontaneous gig was the first time that Ed thought that perhaps he might have a future in music. So, it’s no surprise today that Ed has been involved in music and the theater for over 40 years.
For the past 13 years, Ed has been the director of the Geritol Frolics, a musical variety show in vaudeville style presented on stage at the Franklin Arts Center in Brainerd. With a cast of volunteers who must be 55 years of age or older, the Frolics has attracted thousands of people from a five-state area to see the eight shows presented every October.
Bob Dryden, the director of theater at Brainerd Community College, started the show in 1987 in hopes of getting more seniors involved in community theater.
“The response was overwhelming,” Ed recalled. A year later the show was taken on the road, including performing at the convention of the National Council on Aging held in Washington, D.C. As a techie, Ed traveled with the group and was asked to help organize shows in Baltimore, San Francisco, the University of Las Vegas and the Orpheum Theatre in Minneapolis.
Bob retired in 1994, but the show continued until 2001 when the college quit producing the show. During the next couple of years, Ed and his wife, Yvonne, and former cast members and friends, discussed restarting the show.
Ed met Yvonne on stage after she joined the Frolics in 1994. She became involved with theater in the mid-1950s at Brainerd Junior College.
The couple borrowed $11,000 from the Community Ed Department of the Brainerd School District to get started.
“But when the first curtain went up, we had spent $24,000. But after the show, were able to pay off the loans, and we had $7,000 in the bank,” Ed said proudly. “We never looked back again.”
In 1973 at the age of 33, Ed auditioned for his first play and found himself with the leading role in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying put on by the Brainerd Community Theatre. He had leading roles in many other plays as well, including Cactus Flower, A Streetcar Named Desire, Oklahoma, Bye Bye Birdie, The King and I, Annie, and many others. His most recent stage appearance was this year in It’s a Wonderful Life in which he portrayed Clarence Oddbody in Stage North’s production at the Franklin Art Center.
Ed worked for the Potlach Paper Mill for 33 years. Never having any formal training in theater, he said, “With a little bit of experience and a lot of passion, it’s been successful. I don’t know if I was qualified to be a producer and director, but I watched, listened and learned during the plays I was in, both on stage and back stage.”
But he shares that success with Yvonne, who co-writes all the shows with Ed. She is also a dancer and the costume designer. Enjoying sketching when she was younger, she sketches the costumes, creates the patterns, and with the help of other volunteers, sews the costumes. Together, the couple, who live on a lake near Brainerd, have eight children, 12 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Of course, the show wouldn’t be possible without the dedicated volunteers who share their time and talents in every production.
Dancers prepare for the upcoming Geritol Frolics. Photo by Jan Stadtherr
This year there are 20 chorus members, seven dancers and five orchestra members. They start practicing in May for one-and-a-half hours a week and gradually increase the number of hours as show time approaches. The family of cast members travel from as far as Hackensack, Pillager, Motley, Pierz and Aitkin.
Volunteers this year include chorus members Pete Abler, Ann Bertrand, Margaret Brauns, Sharon Chaney, Pat Goetz, Nancy Hall, Bonnie Hanson, Mark Liedl, Mancel Mitchell, Judy Nelson, Gerry Nyberg, Lucia Preuss, Gordon Pryor, Kermit Roseen, Kay Schuette, John Snell, Blondie Vanek, Jerry Wahlstrom, Judi Yerks and Ed Yunker; dancers Betty Alderman, Diane Anderson, Jessi Dewey, Janet Lang (dance captain), Mary Poser, Marion Town and Yvonne Yunker; and members of the orchestra Cheryl Steffen (director), Monica Bostrom, Jim Olsen, Paul Zenke and Jim Henkemeyer.
As the dance captain, Janet Lang, who has been with the Frolics for five years, has been dancing since she was 5 years old. She owned a dance studio in Rochester for 37 years before moving to Pequot Lakes 14 years ago. She taught tap dancing, ballet, jazz and baton.
“I’ve never really retired,” she chuckled. “Dance has always and still is a big part of my life.” As a snowbird, she choreographs musicals every winter in Sun City West, Ariz.
Two of the dancers are 90 years old and have never had any formal training in dance. What they do have is a dedication to learning.
“Due to the age of the dancers, steps have to be modified, and there are no big jumps,” she concluded.
Kermit Roseen, a retired truck driver from Hackensack, joined the group in 2001 and then returned three years later when Ed and Yvonne took over the directorship.
Now a spry 81 years young, Kermit, who sings bass in the chorus, said, “I’ve been singing since I was 6 or 7 years old as I drove the tractor in the fields during World War II. Help was needed to get the field work done, so I was out there.”
He also sang with the Legacy Chorale but resigned due to failing eyesight.
“I enjoy performing, and everyone is so friendly. We’re like a family.” He admitted that after being together for rehearsals and the show itself, it’s a letdown after the show is over.
During one afternoon rehearsal, Ed told the chorus that the next song will be YAYA, the Frolic’s theme song, You’re as Young as You Act, You’re as Young as You Feel.
“YAYA has been the theme song for the show since its inception,” the director explained. “It was written by a local attorney who was the first musical director for the show. We sing a short version right after the opening number of each show and sing the long version as a curtain call.”
The theme song goes well with the organization’s mission statement: To provide senior citizens the means for artistic expression in the performing arts by becoming involved in a musical variety show designed to entertain the general public, while continuing to provide learning experiences, socialization, exercise and mental stimulus for those participating.
To learn more about the event, including show times, visit www.geritolfrolics.com.