Bio: Sturtz, Howie
----Source: Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI, December 26, 2007, Front page, Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Retired band leaderís book recalls life of accomplishment and fulfillment, made complete by family, friends and his many fans
By Mike Kuzjak
Almost anywhere he goes in Wisconsin these days, Howie Sturtz rarely needs an introduction, especially in Neillsville.
So when the renowned former bandleader, just turned author, was at the Neillsville Public Library last week, for a book-signing event for his new book, "Thanks for the memories," he was among close friends and faithful music fans.
Howie Sturtz returned to his former hometown of Neillsville last week, with his old familiar upbeat take on life and a book heís just written, "Thanks for the Memories."
The book, subtitled "On the Road Again with Howie Sturtz" is, in large part, a nostalgic reflection on the nearly six decades of music making by Sturtz and the rest of his popular five-man orchestra as they played at ballrooms all across Wisconsin and into Minnesota.
But there was so much more to tell about his life story. Thatís likely why not only fans, but family and friends, as well, have long been telling Sturtz he should write a book. Once he got started this year, the memories, like the mellow sound of his music, must have practically flowed. "It just took four months," he said of the time it took him to write the book before sending it off to the publisher.
Sturtz wrote on subjects that he had come to know so well, starting with his father, Howard Sturtz, Sr. "He steered me in the right direction in my early years," Sturtz said of both the encouragement and sacrifice of his father that would contribute to his later success as an entertainer. Growing up in the city of Loyal, Sturtz, at six years of age, was already singing for audiences in impromptu performances from the top of the local hardware store counter, placed there by his proud father. As a janitor at the Loyal High School making all of $80 a month, Sturtzís father no doubt had difficulty making ends meet. Still, he bought a cornet on credit for $64.50 of his son could learn how to play. "I knew I had better learn," Sturtz recalled with a chuckle. "That was a lot of money back then."
Young Howie took it from there. At 16, he had his own band - with the lofty-sounding name, "Howie Sturtz and the Swing Kings Orchestra" - and was soon playing at proms, homecomings and weddings. "And any other jobs we could land," Sturtz added.
In chapters titled after songs that were popular over his six decades of music making, Sturtz goes on to write about over-coming the challenges of life and business ventures, including his years as a radio announcer and, later, station owner.
In the chapter "A Dream is a Wish Your Heart Makes," Sturtz recalls getting into the radio station business in, of all places, Neillsville. He remembers the dire predictions that he would never make it. "The townís too small," he recollected people saying. Well, Sturtz not only got WCCN, and AM radio station, up and running in the city of less than 3,000 but also later had the WCCNís new FM station broadcasting 100,000 watts, the maximum power allowed by the Federal Communications Commission.
Sturtz also recalls the daunting and complex mission he set out upon, along with business partner Wayne Grap, to bring the Wisconsin Pavilion of the 1964 Worldís Fair to Neillsville, where it continues to be home to WCCN.
Sturtz admits to making his share of mistakes and he doesnít gloss over them in the book. There were important lessons to be learned in life, and in business, according to Sturtz. "If readers can profit from the mistakes I made, that would be great," he said.
Sturtz devotes a chapter of the book to his unsuccessful bid for state Senate in 1977, losing to then-incumbent Tom Harnisch, now an attorney in private practice in Neillsville, by the slimmest of margins - 360 votes out of a total of about 47,000 that were cast. The disappointment, after all the hard work, comes through, but Sturtz accepted and respected the peoplesí decision; there would be no recount.
In "Thanks for the Memories" there are, of course, many warm recollections about the Howie Sturtz Orchestra as Sturtz writes endearingly of the band members, especially Ertz Steiger, as an extended part of his family. "We were a close-knit group," he said.
Band members, family men who held down full-time day jobs, would, for the love of music and their fans, pack up the van for the late-night trips to the next ballroom, even in the worst of winter weather in northern Wisconsin. Playing at a different location each night - more than 7,000 gigs from 1946 to 2001 - the band traveled a total of about 1.6 million miles during those years, Sturtz estimates.
The Howie Sturtz Orchestra, in addition to twice having its own TV show and producing numerous record albums, also picked up many awards along the way, including being named the "Wisconsin Band of the Year" nine times.
But, according to Sturtz, the bandís most treasured reward came from playing those thousands of waltzes, foxtrots and polkas and seeing dancers having a good time on the ballroom floor.
"The most satisfying thing for me was seeing that we were playing what people wanted to hear," Sturtz said, "that made me feel so good I probably would have played for nothing."
As much as "Thanks for the Memories," can be called an autobiography, itís also about Sturtzís expressed appreciation for a good life made better by the caring people around him. He writes glowingly of Dorothy, his beloved wife of 58 years, and their six children. He acknowledges good and helpful friends such as John Wuethrich, and he doesnít forget what his long-time fans have meant to him. "You donít do things by yourself. They were all part of a success story," he said of family, friends and fans.
The 77-year-old Sturtz, now living in a condominium in Eau Claire with Dorothy, said he hopes that people, in reading his book that has its share of amusing stories, will learn something from his lifeís experiences - as a father, business-man and musician.
"But if they smile or laugh while reading it, I would like that too," he said.
With wife Dorothy (center) sitting nearby, Howie Sturtz signs a copy of his book "Thanks for the Memories" for Lou and Charlie Neff. The book-signing event was held at the Neillsville Public Library last week.
***"Thanks for the Memories" is available at the Central Wisconsin Broadcasting/WCCN pavilion building east of Neillsville. The book may also be ordered by mail by writing directly to Howie Sturtz II, 1819 Chumas Drive, Eau Claire, WI 54701 or by calling 1-715-514-1214. The cost of the book is $16, plus $3 shipping. Discounts are available for additional copies.
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