Getting a good seat in front of the band stand for a concert in Memorial Park.

Ancestors, Legends & Time

Concerts in the park should be resumed

Jeanne Newby

Summertime fun in the park. Most folks when asked what they enjoyed the most for summer activities when they were kids would always mention the concerts in Memorial Park. As time passes, the ones who remember those great concerts in the park aren’t around anymore. Children of today don’t know what we are talking about. Let’s take a step back in time to a young man’s memory of the “Concert in the Park.”

A few years ago, I received a wonderful letter from James Toutz of Texas about his childhood memories of the concerts in the park. It seems he had a pretty close connection to the activities, which he feels made the concerts more rewarding. Here are his memories:

When my sister, Mary Auld, and I were young, we lived in Indianapolis, Ind. Every summer, my father, Otto, would drive us down to Webb City for a two-week vacation. My mother, Ruth, enjoyed the trip, and she got a break from the usual daily routine. We would stay at the old home place at 315 W. Austin and would be in town for two band concerts. (The home place was purchased in 1891 by Robert and Elizabeth Toutz.)

Concert night was an exciting time. The whole family would gather at the home place and wait for my Uncle Bob to arrive, resplendent in his band uniform. We would all walk the short block to the park. My Uncle Earl, who was second from the right in the first row of the trumpet section in the photo, was a very talented trumpet player. He did most of the fancy triple-tongue solos during the concerts.

There was a man named Orville, who was mentally challenged, as we say today, who helped set up the chairs, music stands and other equipment and also wore his own band uniform.

The park would fill up by the time the band was tuning up. Across from the park on Ball Street, there were a number of large houses with porches that would be filled with people. Others would drive and park their cars along the curbs on all sides of the park. They would use their car horns as their applause after each number.

It seemed the summers were always hot in those days, so there were a lot of band “fans” going in the crowd. These fans were normally freely supplied by Hedge-Lewis Funeral Home and other businesses.

After the concert was over, everyone in our family would go back to 315 W. Austin to visit and have tea and lemonade. There was a large group, as there were nine children in the Toutz family and their spouses: Uncle Bob and Aunt Marcella; Uncle Earl and Aunt Ella; Uncle Carl; Aunt Gladys; Shirley and Bill; Aunt Gladys and Uncle Harry; Jackie and Sandra; Aunt Bertha; Aunt “Lina”; Aunt Lillian; Roland; Beverly and Howard Bradbury.

As there was no air conditioning, everyone gathered under the huge elm tree in the back yard. The children would sometimes lie out on several cots, watch the stars, talk and sometimes go to sleep listening to the drone of the adults visiting. What great memories. There were also many fireflies at night in those days.

As you know, many of the family members played instruments. Robert and Earl were both very accomplished trumpet players. During the first World War, Robert was involved in the Navy Band, sponsored by John Philip Sousa, which played at Liberty Band Rallies. Gladys Toutz Olson could play ragtime piano with the best, but she was shy and had to be coaxed. My dad, Otto, played drums, banjo, etc. and played with a dance band out at Lakeside Park on occasion.

Our family moved back to Webb City in June 1947, as the brothers had purchased the Independent Gravel Co. in 1946 and operated it until Earl’s death in 1977.

Thank you so much for the memories, James. What a talented family. And what a comfort to know that so many people really appreciated those concerts in the park. Most of the memories seem to revolve around those concerts. That had to make all the practice time and concert time worthwhile.

What James didn’t say was that his grandfather, Robert Toutz, was responsible for the land being donated for Memorial Park, and his Uncle Bob was the band leader. The family home was torn down a few years ago and a new house was built in its place, but that family home was an anchor for the Toutz family, an anchor that kept them connected to Webb City.

We have a beautiful amphitheater in King Jack Park that needs some use. It would be great to revive an old tradition of “Concerts in the Park!”  Summertime fun!

Jeanne’s new book, “The Zinc City, Webb City, Missouri” is now available at Webb City Chamber Office.

Jeanne Newby

A lot of us appreciate the Bradbury Bishop Fountain, but Jeanne actually worked behind the counter making sodas while she was in high school. She knows everything about Webb City and is a member of the Webb City R-7 School Board.