I was a bit of a misfit during my teenage years in the 1950s. Although most of my friends and school mates were heavy into rock and roll, I enjoyed the sounds of the big bands. It took me many years to figure out why my musical taste tended to be in the past, but it finally dawned on me: my brother-in-law, Jerry Newman.
Jerry and my only sibling, Phillis, were married when I was 8 years old. Jerry had recently been discharged from the Navy, when he had seen action during the later months of WWII.
Once Jerry started gracing our home, he became part of our entertainment. To say that he was musically inclined would be an understatement. He could not only play a multitude of musical instruments, he could play them well. As my mother would say: “He doesn’t just play the notes, he knows the rhythm.”
I must admit, even though I was a snot-nosed kid, I really enjoyed listening to Jerry. What blew me away was his ability to listen to a new song on the radio and then go to the piano and play it.
All of this is leading up to some very sad news. Jerry passed away Sunday morning following a heart attack. He was 92, but looked and acted more like 72 up until his final month. He will be greatly missed.
I could go on and on, telling of the many wonderful acts he has done over the years and the extraordinary examples he has set for us to follow, but I’m sure others will convey those thoughts. I, instead, will point out the many talents Jerry possessed.
Although he and Phillis had recently celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary and were blessed with wonderful children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, he also had other loves. First of all, of course, was music. He started playing in bands when he was in high school and continued, off and on, until just a few months ago.
His other main love was flying. He, his brother, Bob, and father, Oliver, were known as the flying farmers back in the 1930s. Bob went on to be a flight instructor for women pilots during WWII and later a pilot for the Iowa Highway Commission. Jerry, who would have loved to have been a pilot in WWII, couldn’t pass the eye test and had to settle for the Navy.
Jerry and Bob both had pilot’s licenses and purchased a plane together, which they flew for many years. One of Jerry’s biggest thrills was to take friends and family on weekend trips. As any good pilot would do, he always kept track of the weather – even many years after he finished the actual piloting.
I doubt I will ever not think of Jerry when I hear a big band song or see a little single-engine plane fly over head. He not only brought them to life, he will always be the face of music and flying to me.
Ed Rood is a former publisher of the Tri-County Times.