Answer Man: Belleville Philharmonic wins this contest

News-DemocratDecember 14, 2013 

Q. Recently you shot down the oft-heard claims that Belleville was the "Stove Capital of the World" and that it had the first kindergarten. That reminded me of an argument I'm having with some St. Louis friends, who sometimes almost seem surprised that our roads are paved. When I told them that Belleville has the second oldest continuous philharmonic orchestra in the United States, I was met with knowing smiles and rolling eyes. I'm having dinner with them next week. Can you give me something to accompany my 3-Bean Salad?-- Cathy Stoltz, of Belleville

A. How about a steaming hot roast crow for your companions, who are obviously starved for information about metro-east culture. In keeping with the spirit of Christmas harmony, this is one boast that seems to be in tune with the facts -- and I'll hold to that until shown otherwise.

There seems to be no argument that the New York Philharmonic is the nation's great-granddaddy of classical music groups. Founded by American-born conductor Ureli Corelli Hill with help from Irish composer William Vincent Wallace, the group debuted with a three-hour concert that included Beethoven's masterful Fifth Symphony on Dec. 7, 1842.

Now, do you know what orchestra claims to be No. 2? Why, none other than that great ensemble just across the river --the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. That's what numerous websites say, but just to be certain, I called orchestra publicist Erika Ebsworth-Goold. Sure enough, they use that "fact" on their p.r. materials, she told me.

But hold on a second. The St. Louis Symphony was founded in 1880, making the current year their 134th season. Why, they were still in diapers when Belleville's philharmonic was nearing adulthood. On Jan. 26, 1867, Theodore Decker led a proud bunch of Belleville-area musicians in their first concert just two months after the group first got together on Nov. 19, 1866. That's 14 years before the SLSO took root.

So far, I have no evidence of any other orchestra still in existence that can claim such longevity besides the one in the Big Apple. The Boston Symphony says it is "third" (1881), Detroit "fourth" (1887) and Cincinnati "fifth" (1895). I'm thinking St. Louis claims its status on the basis that it's a major professional organization.

Now don't forget -- today you can celebrate Christmas and the local group's rich heritage when the orchestra holds its annual holiday concert at 3 p.m. at St. Luke's Church in Belleville. Enjoy conductor Robert Charles Howard's "Radiance of the Light" along with plenty of traditional favorites for $7-$15. Maybe you even could get a few of your friends to come to see that we have indeed advanced beyond flutophones.

Q. My brother, Richard Maurer, who lives in Kearney, Mo., asked me to find an article about him when he scored 60 points in one game for the Freeburg Midgets in the mid 1950s. What makes this special is that he had a heart condition that kept him from playing until he was a high school junior! He then won a full scholarship to Rockhurst College in Kansas City. He married there and had 10 children -- 8 boys for his own basketball team. He's 78 but still helps run a K.C. trucking company. -- Jan Thrasher, of Freeburg

A. Despite his early health problems, your brother certainly stood head and shoulders above his teammates on that 1953-54 team.

At 6-foot-6 and 205 pounds, there was no mistaking No. 22 on the team's yearbook picture graciously provided to me by Freeburg High School Principal Greg Frerking. And, sure enough, on Friday, Feb. 19, 1954, the Midgets' final regular season game, senior Dick Maurer poured in 60 points as Freeburg blitzed the New Baden Zebras 97-42.

"Maurer Sets Scoring Mark in Cahokia (Conference) Finale," a banner headline in bold black type read on the Feb. 20 News-Democrat sports page. The Belleville Daily Advocate story even ran a picture of your brother shaking hands with his coach, Austin Mulkey.

He scored 14 in the first quarter and 18 in the second before New Baden's four-on-one defense "slowed" him to 10 in the third quarter. Then, before he fouled out with 21/2 minutes to go, he went out in a blaze of glory with 18 last-quarter points to smash the conference single-game scoring mark with 60. During a 19-9 season that would end in a loss to O'Fallon in the district championship, Maurer scored 309 points in conference play, just six off Freeburg's Kent Pflasterer's record of 315 in 1947.

As an early Christmas present, the Answer Claus will send you copies of stories from the Democrat, Advocate and East St. Louis Journal along with the yearbook pages so his 20 grandkids can revel in his feat.

Today's trivia

Who was Colonel Tom Parker managing before he met Elvis Presley?

Answer to Saturday's trivia: Flying flags at half-mast/staff to honor fallen comrades apparently started at sea in the 1600s. The story is that the real flags were lowered to leave room for the invisible flag of death at the top. In fact, in countries like the United Kingdom, the flag is flown one flag's height below the top instead of halfway down.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or rschlueter@bnd.com or call 618-239-2465.

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