The musical legacies of Margaret Erickson and Gilbert Stansell continue in tribute concert at Blue Lake.

August 6, 2015
Margaret, Marguerite and Gilbert.

Margaret, Marguerite and Gilbert.

By Rob Alway. Editor-in-Chief.

There was a period of time from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s when two individuals influenced dozens, if not hundreds, of children from Scottville to pursue music. Margaret “Sunny” Erickson and Gilbert Stansell I, left a legacy of music that continues to influence children around the world, to this day long after their passings. The special connection between the two will be celebrated Friday, August 7, during a concert at Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp in northern Muskegon County.

The concert will feature music written and arranged by Margaret for the students of Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp.

The influence created by Gilbert and Margaret include a long list of people. Some of those include Marty Erickson (her son who is considered one of the top tubaist in the world), Edgar Struble (music composer and musician), Ron Johnson (Ludington attorney and professional musician), the late Roger Barnhardt (Ludington High School teacher and professional musician), Al Erickson (her son and semi-professional musician), Don Flickenger (former director of bands at Ferris State University and conductor at Blue Lake) and many many more.

Margaret on the viola

Margaret on the viola

Gilbert became music director of Scottville High School (later Mason County Central) sometime in the late 1940s. Margaret, along with her family, moved to Scottville in 1951.

Margaret was born into a musical family in 1915 in Columbus, Ohio. Her dad owned a music store and played trumpet in a family band. She started out on cornet and was so good at it she won second place in a national cornet/trumpet competition. “Mom used to joke that the only reason she didn’t get first place was because her second valve stuck,” Al, who lives in Custer Township, said.

After graduating high school in 1932, she attended Ohio State University, where she met Gilbert Stansell and the two became friends. She later transferred to Indiana University where she eventually graduated with a master’s degree in music theory. There, she met Earlan “Erik” Erickson, who was a singer in the university’s Army choir.

Margaret began teaching music at the university during World War II. However, after the war, Al said, the male professors started to return. Plus, she was pregnant with her son, Marty. “Back in those days a pregnant professor just wasn’t what the university wanted,” Al said. “So, they let her go.”

The family moved back to Ohio until Erik developed skin cancer.

“His doctor told him he needed to move some place where there was less sun,” Al said. “The choices were basically the west coast of Michigan or Washington state. Mom’s friends, Gilbert and Marguerite Stansell lived in Scottville, so that’s what they chose.”

Erik got a job as a wheelsman on the carferries. Margaret got a job as music teacher at Custer High School (now Mason County Eastern). After leaving that job she taught at Pentwater High School and then Riverton Elementary. Then, she opened a music store.

“There was a little greenhouse next to Dr. Johnson’s house and office on North Main Street,” Al said. “In front of it was a little building. The greenhouse fell down or was torn down at some point in time. My mom ran a music store, called the Music Box, out of that building.”

The building was located in the 300 block of North Main Street; coincidentally, current Mason County Central band director Tom Thomas lives directly north of that location in the old Johnson residence.

“I remember that place well,” said Ron Johnson of Ludington, whose father was the Scottville town doctor for years. “My bedroom was on the second floor of the house and on the same side as the music store and I one day I woke up to the sound of multiple tubas playing some sort of piece of music. It was Marty and several other tubaists.”

Margaret

Margaret

Marty Erickson, Margaret’s oldest son, was probably her best known protege. A 1965 graduate of MCC, Marty eventually had a 26-year career as a tubaist in the U.S. Navy band. He now teaches tuba at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Marty selected the music pieces that will be played in Friday’s concert. The music was written or arranged by his mother specifically for Blue Lake, a place she held hear to her heart.

“Gilbert retired from teaching in 1965,” Al said. “That next year, he and his son, Fritz, started Blue Lake Fine Arts Camp. Myself and several other Scottville boys, including Marty and Edgar Struble, went down to the camp and helped build the cabins.”

Naturally, the boys would do anything for Gilbert or Margaret.

“Gil Stansell was far more than just a teacher,” Edgar Struble, a 1969 MCC graduate said. “He influenced all of us to such a profound level in a way no regular band director could do. I think I was learning music theory from him when I was in seventh grade. By the time I attended Michigan State, I knew more about music theory than anyone else in my class. Gil was like the Godfather of music in Scottville.”

“I loved that guy. His wife, Marguerite Stansell, was my first piano teacher and then I took lessons from Margaret Erickson.”

The Ericksons lived across the street from the Strubles on North Thomas Street in Scottville.

“My family built its house on North Thomas Street and moved in in 1957,” Edgar said. “The Ericksons were already living there. The boys and I played together everyday. They were older than I was but we all shared an interest in music. We were all pretty much influenced by our mothers. My mother, Mary, was a concert violinist and a self-taught piano player. Margaret was, well, just brilliant. She could play anything. There was always this synergy between our two families.

“Al and I did kind of gravitate more towards baseball than music, especially compared to Marty. Marty would practice that tuba while Al and I played baseball. No, at 63-years-old, I wish I had played less baseball and taken more interest in practicing my music as Marty did. I have realized over the years that pure talent just doesn’t get you where you need to go. You have to practice and perfect your art. I think I would have been a lot further along in my career if I had been as disciplined as Marty.”

Edgar spent over 15 years as music director for Kenny Rogers and now lives in California and Ludington, writing and composing music and producing feature films.

The lessons learned by Gilbert Stansell and Margaret Erickson taught kids that it was OK to be musical.

“We were kind of our own group,” said Don Flickenger, MCC class of 1962. “Both the Stansells and Eriksons took us in as musicians and taught us it was OK to be musicians. There homes were wonderful places to go and talk about and continue to develop our interests in music. The Erickson house was one of those places where we could go hang out. She was always welcoming and enjoyed having the youth around the house.”

Don will be directing the concert bands at Friday’s Blue Lake concert. “It’s a recital honoring the music of Margaret Erickson. It’s really honoring her love for composing chamber music and particularly chamber music for the students who she worked with. Virtually everything in the program is something she wrote for some group of students at some time. It’s not extremely difficult and it’s very approachable. Everything from small string orchestra to a large brass orchestra. There will be a whole variety.”

Recently Blue Lake has located several pieces of music that Margaret composed through the years. The camp plans on selling the music with proceeds going towards the Earlan and Margaret Erickson scholarship fund.

Margaret’s influence in music continues to this day. Don said students at Blue Lake continue to perform it. But, residents from all over Michigan hear Margaret’s musical abilities every year when they see the Scottville Clown Band perform. Margaret arranged the music for the band’s famous “Stripper” song.

“She wrote music for Ferris State and even for the Navy band,” Don said. She also arranged the original MCC Fight Song, though the piece is no longer played by the high school band.

As for her boys, they will be participating in Friday’s concert.

“This is a real honor,” Marty said. “My mother’s grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be there as well to hear her influence. It should be a real special evening.”

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