Couple shares love of music
One of the first songs they performed together was, “I got you babe,” by American pop music duo, Sonny and Cher. Flipping through pages of music inside their cozy home in Guthrie Center, the tunes come to life for Dale and Debbie Menning. Over the years you learn so many songs,” said Dale, while singing, “I’ll be loving you always, with a love that’s true, always.” He continues, “I’ll be with you in apple blossom time.” “Anne Murray,” says Debbie. “Can I have this dance”, That’s probably the very first one we started with.” Another of Dale’s favorites during February, a month that celebrates love, “Can’t help falling in love with you.” Music has always been a passion for the local couple who continues to share it with local schools and communities. It was music that brought them together. “It was something we both did,” said Debbie, who grew up in Guthrie Center the daughter of Harley “Hap” and Ruth Merritt. “We both enjoyed it and it was something to talk about.” Dale said music has become an even bigger part of their lives since they’ve retired from longtime teaching careers. Dale Menning spent 35 years as band director at Guthrie Center and Debbie Menning retired after 34 years as a Language Arts teacher at Panorama. The couple have two grown children. Son, Tony and wife, Jill, live in Mason City with their children, Hudson, 6, and Stella, 2. Tony is an Engineering Manager for Kraft-Heinz and Jill, a Job Developer at North Iowa Vocational Center. Their daughter, Kristin, and husand, John Maletta live in Ankeny. Kristin is an Investment Manager for Principal Financial and John a Structural Engineer for Neumann Brothers. Both earned all-state band honors under their dad at Guthrie Center high school. LEARNING MUSIC Dale Menning grew up an only child in Hampton, a northern Iowa town in Franklin County. Neither of his parents were musical. “We never went to concerts at all,” he said. “When I started trombone lessons, I think it was fourth grade, I hated it. I hated the practice part of it.” Dale recalls taking the mouth piece out of his trombone slide and denting it. “My folks could never understand why my trombone was always dented,” he said. “They’d send it in to get fixed, and then I wouldn’t have to play it.” It wasn’t until a new elementary band director, changed Dale’s tune. “He scared the daylights out of me,” Dale said. “He’d yell and I was so scared that I started practicing and all the sudden I thought, ‘Hey, this isn’t too bad, this is kind of fun.’” Dale continued to enjoy band in high school. “I became fairly decent and since I wasn’t good at anything else I decided I better go into music,” he joked. He graduated from Drake University and took his first job as band director at a real small school near Fort Dodge that is no longer in existence, before joining the staff at Guthrie Center. “When I came here I fully came with intention to use it as a stepping stone,” Dale said. “I’d teach here a couple years and move on, but I got here and enjoyed the hunting and fishing, the kids are farm kids, they are from farm families, they appreciate education here.” He said everything was good and although he had offers from bigger schools over the years, he never had any interest in leaving. “If the band program is bad, you only have yourself to blame,” he said. “They were just good, hard working kids.” He taught several all-staters and his pep bands became known as some of the best during local sporting events. Debbie grew up in a musical family. Both her parents sang and played instruments. They were also an athletic family as her dad spent 39 years in education at Guthrie Center, including 30 as the school’s superintendent. He also coached football, basketball, track and baseball. Debbie, who graduated from Guthrie Center in 1969 and starred in the six-on-six girls game, is a member of the Iowa Girls Basketball Hall of Fame. Debbie said her parents were always very supportive. She took piano lessons from Beth Yatten, an organist at their church. “She had a degree in music,” Debbie said. “She was very strict. If she didn’t like the way you were playing something she would take your arm and remove it from the keyboard.” Debbie said she was a good student. “My parents never had to make me practice,” she said. “I was a practicer from the beginning, I just loved it, I wanted to do it.” MEETING WITH MUSIC It was the summer of Debbie’s freshmen year of college at the University of Northern Iowa when she first met Dale. “Dale had just taken the (band director) job here at Guthrie Center,” said Debbie, who plays clarinet. “There were summer band concerts and alumni could play in the summer concerts, so of course my friends and I played in them, and that’s where I first met him.” Dale remembers it a bit differently. “She chased me all over town,” he said, getting a smirk from his wife of nearly 45 years. “He has a different story than I do,” she said. It was at the golf course, Dale chimed. “We were golfing and she kept hitting her golf ball at me,” he said. “She chased me around the golf course.” “You just keep adding things,” Debbie said. “I really don’t remember it,” Dale added. They dated that first summer, and the next three years while Debbie furthered her education in Cedar Falls. They tied the knot in 1973. When Debbie graduated from college, she said, teaching jobs were few and far between, but there happened to be an English opening at Panora-Linden, which later became Panorama. “We were going to get married so it was just the perfect fit,” she said. “He could keep his job here.” “Her dad was the superintendent at Guthrie Center and he refused to hire her,” Dale chided. PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT Step inside the Menning’s home and you are sure to hear music. “Sometimes you don’t want to hear it,” Debbie said, recalling a recent day when she was practicing a piece, and then Dale sat down to play bass. Debbie plays a lot, accompanying both vocal music programs at ACGC and Panorama high schools. She plays for the Guthrie Center First United Methodist Church and the Greenfield United Methodist Church every Sunday. She visits nursing homes with her pastor and plays for worship services at Lakeside Village and Specialty Care in Panora and the New Homestead in Guthrie Center. “You just wonder if your brain can do it sometimes,” she says. Dale, with admiration for his wife’s piano playing, never learned to play. “It’s one of my biggest regrets,” he said. Playing music, the couple says, takes their worries away. “You lose your worries,” said Dale. “All your troubles go away.” They also share their music through Dale Menning & the Stardusters, the little band with the big band sound. The original Stardusters band lead by Dean Anderson from Guthrie Center was established in 1948. In the late 50’s, the band became the HiFi’s lead by Bill Schwaderer who gave Dale his start as bass player and back-up vocalist. When Bill retired in 1989, Dale became the leader and renamed the band the Stardusters. The five-piece band features Menning on bass, trombone and vocals, Steve Lawson, keyboard, Tex Dean, drums and horn, John Gosnell, trumpet, and Harold Jansen, reeds. Debbie Menning fills in when needed. “We sing together in the band,” Dale said of his wife’s part. “She goes along and doesn’t get paid, but she carries amps (amplifiers) very well.” When Debbie is along, they must practice. “She wants to go through the whole show, every song, 48 songs that we have to go over and over,” Dale said. “There’s nothing wrong with them, we’ve done these songs for years, but she has to practice them all.” Music has taken them to some neat places. “We’ll go anywhere to get in front of a crowd,” Dale said. They enjoy Omaha, where Dale plays in Cigar Bars and the Ozone Lounge. They’ve played in a theatre in South Dakota that was supposedly haunted. They’ve played the Nebraska State Fair in Grand Island. “There’s a story every place we go,” Dale said. “Once you know how to play music, you can do it anywhere.” On a trip to France, Dale was invited to sing with a performer from Bulgaria who was on tour there. “We did big band tunes, same songs that I use here, but we couldn’t speak a word to each other,” he said. “It’s a universal language.” Kelsey Moran, 7-12 Vocal Director at ACGC first met the Mennings in the summer of 2012 when they were involved in the Guthrie Center All School Reunion Show. Dale played the role of God in Children of Eden and Debbie accompanied. “I have never met a more soulful, talented, and dedicated couple,” Moran said. “Not only can I count on their support in music and speech at ACGC, attending events, playing in our musical pit, accompanying countless concerts and contests, but I know that they will do anything to see the arts thrive in our school and community.” Moran said it’s obvious the pair have spent their lives pouring the love of music into those around them. “These two are just simply beautiful people inside and out,” she said. “They are such a treasure.” The Mennings say they’ll continue to share their love of music. “It makes people happy,” Debbie said. “And that makes you happy,” added Dale.