At 90 years old, Milford Wedel is not just a guitarist — he is a recording artist whose picture hangs in the Western Swing Music Hall of Fame.
Wedel was born on Sept. 26, 1928, in a farmhouse in Galva. He started school in Galva in 1934, but would move with his family to Hutchinson and then McPherson that same year.
One of Wedel's early memories is of attending Roosevelt Elementary during the Dust Bowl.
"It was so darn dusty that they'd let school out and my dad would come and get me, because you couldn't see," Wedel recalled. "He'd come to the front door of the school and get me and walk me to where the car was. You couldn't see it, the dust was so thick."
In 1936, Wedel's family moved to a house near the corner of Sharp and Lehmer streets and he changed schools, attending the newly-constructed Washington Elementary School.
Wedel's first guitar came from a neighbor who offered him a quarter to saw off some tree branches.
"When I got done with the tree, I went in the house and sat and she had a little guitar sitting there," Wedel said.
The woman noticed Wedel's interest and asked him if he would rather have the guitar instead of the quarter, and he accepted the exchange.
Wedel had his first brush with fame in 1939 by singing Gene Autry's "Back in the Saddle Again" for a talent contest. Wedel won the contest and got a contract to do daily spots on a Royal Crown Cola-sponsored radio show on KSAL.
"I didn't pay any attention to it, but I got a lot of cards and letters," Wedel said.
Wedel did not perform as often when he was in high school.
"Music didn't mean that much to me in my teen years — I had other interests," Wedel said, looking over at his wife, Jane. "It had something to do with people like her."
Wedel's family moved to Moundridge, which is where he met the woman to whom he has now been married for 70 years.
Vernard Vogt, who owned the Moundridge Journal newspaper, asked Wedel to come work for him as a printer.
"He was just a wonderful person and did a lot for the town of Moundridge," Wedel said. "He saw something in me that I couldn't see and made something out of me."
Wedel worked there 43 years, eventually became the advertising manager.
Wedel recalls the day he and his brother, along with accordionist Bud Ryan, decided McPherson needed another band. At that time, the only other band around was the Al Jennings Band.
"They played the big band stuff like Glenn Miller," Wedel said. "We decided we'd start a country band."
The trio added Francis Hapgood, who had accompanied silent movies with his drumming in the 1920s.
"We started a band and it took off like flint," Wedel said. "We played all over and there wasn't anything we couldn't play."
The band played on the radio, for dances and at the country club.
"We played the organ out there a lot," Wedel said. "Bud, Hap and I, we'd play pop stuff they could dance to."
Wedel played with the band whenever he could, even after working long days at the newspaper.
"Sometimes I didn't have time to sleep, but the money came in handy," Wedel said.
Another band Wedel played with was called The Countrymen, in which Ernie Gibson played bass, Leroy Ratzlaff played drums and Marvin Gifford was the vocalist. He played in a band called Southern Comfort when he decided to retire and moved to Grove, Oklahoma. He and his wife spent 25 years there, and it was in that time that Wedel's guitar skills gained more attention.
A backyard garden shed became Wedel's recording studio, where he made CDs of his songs.
"They came out great," Wedel said. "I never sold them; they were just for friends."
One day, Wedel went to a music store to test an amplifier and met Chuck Wright, who played bass guitar for Hank Williams.
"I was playing a guitar, going through some chord progressions and stuff like that, he came up to me and said, 'Who are you?,’” Wedel recalled. "I said, 'Who are you?’"
Wright recognized his Wedel's proficiency with western swing music and would nominate him for the Western Swing Music Hall of Fame. The Western Swing Society inducted Wedel into the hall in 2000.
"I don't know what I'm doing there," Wedel said. "Bob Wills, Gene Autry, Roy Rogers — my picture's right up with them."
Wedel and his wife recently moved back to McPherson, where he spends as much time as he can making music with his guitar in hand.
For more information about the Western Swing Society, visit http://www.westernswingsociety.net.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at email@example.com or follow her stories on Twitter at @MacSentinel.