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The Withers brothers, taken during the first annual BBF concert in 2023, with John in front on lead vocals, Jim at right on bass guitar, and Bill on the drums—the instrument that started this ongoing family tradition.

Bandmates, Brothers and Friends Return May 10-Withers Family Music History Dates Back to 1900

For the second year, Bandmates, Brothers and Friends (BBF) will reunite in Waukon for another night of musical entertainment to benefit the Veterans Memorial Health Care Foundation.   This year will also celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Toe Tappers as part of the musical line-up, all held on Friday evening May 10, from 6-11 pm.  The event will be held at the Allamakee Fairgrounds Pavilion.  Cash food and beverages sales will be offered throughout the event.

Many of the returning BBF musicians are from Waukon including brothers Bill Withers, Jim Withers, John Withers, who have spearheaded this project the last two years.  Oldest brother, Bill, is the event coordinator.  Bandmates Gary Hesla, Bob Bechtel, Dave Dougherty, Brad Prestemon, Todd Pickett, Joel Anderson, Keel Clemmens and Jamey Lideen, will reunite with them again this year.

The original idea to attempt both a musical reunion and benefit came to the Withers boys as part of a fishing trip they’ve taken with their father for over 30 years. As many know, their father is Dr. Bill Withers, one of the hospital’s retired physicians in the community. Bill Jr. said, “We were just sitting in the cabin and started working on puzzle pieces that reveal a little bigger picture around rural healthcare, dad’s longtime service to the community, and friends and family coming together again.”

Dr. Withers, who is originally from Oklahoma, attended medical school in Denver, beginning in 1954.  He finished school in 1958, marrying his girlfriend Libby Hale, of Waukon, in June of that year.  He performed an internship at Denver General Hospital in 1959, then served two years in the Army as a physician in Fort Louis, WA, where his oldest son, Bill was born.

Whenever Dr. Withers visited Libby’s hometown of Waukon, her uncle, Dr. Jeffries, (referred to as ‘Uncle Doc’) was sure to keep in touch, introducing him to both Dr. Rominger, who were all some of the founding physicians of Veterans Memorial Hospital, along with Dr. Lou Bray.

“In 1961, after my military service, they asked me to come for an interview because they were looking for a partner.  I accepted and away we went!” states Dr. Withers, who has remained a life-long resident of Waukon where he and his wife Libby raised their four children, the brothers noted earlier, and a daughter, Elizabeth (Jane) who lives in Florida but will also return with her family again this year for the benefit.

Music was in the Withers boys’ blood, thanks to their grandfather, Nate Hale, who was  their mother, Libby’s, father.  He owned the Hale’s Store in downtown Waukon at the corner of Main and Allamakee Streets, where Bodensteiner Insurance is now.   He was a drummer in the Waukon High School Orchestra, pictured here, in 1916.  The Withers boys learned of their Grandpa Nate’s love for music through stories passed down by their parents and their grandmother, Eloise Hale, who was also musical.  Eloise was known to play the ukulele, an instrument the family has kept and still cherishes.

For the second year, Bandmates, Brothers and Friends (BBF) will reunite in Waukon for another night of musical entertainment to benefit the Veterans Memorial Health Care Foundation. Music was in the Wither’s boys’ blood, thanks to their grandfather, Nate Hale, who was their mother, Libby’s, father. Pictured above is his Waukon High School Band in 1916, with Nate Hale at right, in front of the light-colored wall, wearing glasses.

All three of the Withers boys learned to the play the drums, like their grandfather.  Bill, the oldest, started when he was in Junior High as a teen. The first time he knew he was hooked was when he was asked to accompany at an elementary school choir concert where he drummed in front of a large gymnasium crowd.

“I was 15 when a band called ‘The Western Playboys’ came to my folks’ house and simply asked if I could travel with them a bit.  I couldn’t drive yet, and I never thought my mom would agree to it, but she did, and the next thing I knew I was playing in a bar in Jackson Junction, Iowa,” explains Bill.  “A few of us later named one of our bands by that town’s name, Jackson Junction.  I was both surprised and thankful my folks agreed to that, and I never stopped after that!”

“Our parents were always very supportive of our music interest, attending all of our school concerts and later many of our gigs,” adds Bill.  “Long after our grandfather Nate passed, Grandma Eloise still wanted to attend our bar and dance hall gigs—well into her 80’s!  Our family members took turns taking her for the first hour or so, simply so she could watch and listen.  She lived out in the country and was always willing to host band members overnight as we were traveling around the tri-state area – we loved it because she always had Michelob beer in her fridge for us!”

The Wither’s boys learned of their Grandpa Nate’s love for music through the stories passed down by their parents and their grandmother, Eloise Hale, who was also musical. After Nate passed, Eloise still wanted to attend the gigs—well into her 80’s. She lived out in the country and was always willing to host band members overnight. She is pictured here on her deck with some of the band, reliving the event from the night before. Pictured left to right is Bill and Jim Withers, Keel Clemmens, Grandma Eloise Hale and Todd Pickett.

 

Bill and Jim were close in age so shared many of the musical instruments and band experiences, as witnessed in the picture of them “doing a show“ for their parents in their living room.

“Music was a part of our lives from a very early age,” shared Jim.  “I remember taking piano lessons from one of the sisters at St. Pat’s convent back then. Middle School and High School were awesome and included playing saxophone and drums in marching, concert, jazz and pep bands – Jack Robinson and Merlyn Finley were awesome teachers. Then in college, I played drums and bass in several iterations of the band and played bars and wedding dances.  Those gigs created so many memories that I talk with the guys and my family about to this day.”

Jim adds, “BBF feels like we’ve come full circle with the music.  I am so thankful for the opportunity to be a part of the show – it’s a great opportunity to create yet another memory.”

John Withers came along after Bill and Jim were established in both Jr. High and High School. He carefully watched and learned how much they enjoyed their music and loved to play the drums and other instruments, becoming a very accomplished drummer who still performs regularly today.

“Some of my earliest, and most treasured memories center around me running home after 1st or 2nd grade in order to get there before Bill and Jim,” explains youngest brother, John.  “Mom would almost always be in the kitchen preparing the evening meal.  I would ask the same three questions daily:’ Is Bill home?’ ‘Is Jim home?’ ‘Are any of the brothers home?’ After Mom would answer ‘No’ to all three questions with a smirk on her face….OFF TO THEIR DRUMSET I WOULD GO!!!  I had to get my reps in ’cause the older boys were NOT fond of me messing with their stuff! As always, Mom had my back.”

John Withers is pictured here with his grandfather, Nate Hale’s, treasured drum from the early 1900’s.

 

All three of the Withers boys have had children who also played percussion or went on to other elements of music as part of their own childhoods, keeping the family tradition beginning with their grandfather, Nate Hale, going strong decades later.

The three Withers boys, along with the eight other members of the former bands they were apart of, will once again be reuniting to benefit the Veterans Memorial Hospital Healthcare Foundation at their second annual event on May 10.  The Toe Tappers will take the stage first, at 6 pm, followed by two different sets of these 11 musicians from the four past local bands including Rising Sun, Horizon, Jackson Junction and Deep River.

Doors will open at 5 pm with free-will donations being taken at the door. All proceeds will be used to purchase a new Pyxis medication dispensing system for the hospital’s emergency rooms.