Dickerson Music Co. Historic Business Profile

Dickerson Music Co. has been serving the music needs of Albion for over 60 years.   As part of our in-depth coverage of Albion’s Cultural District, we will be sharing information about its founder, Gar Dickerson.

Later we’ll be showing more about the new owners, Kelly and Ramona Kidder, and related arts and culture information, including the Albion Band Shell.

In the early 1960s, photographer Norm Burlingame came out with a postcard featuring Gar Dickerson and the Albion City Band. Dickerson can be seen in the center, dressed in his gold uniform. The text states, “Featured is the Albion City Band under the direction of Gar Dickerson. Free open air concerts under the stars are scheduled through July and August on Wednesday evenings at 8 pm.”. (the new schedule has concerts on Sundays in the summer) Image courtesy of Frank Passic

The article below is copyright the Recorder. Posted with permission. Please visit and “like” the Recorder’s Facebook page.

Gar Dickerson has lived a music-filled life for decades

By MICHELLE MUELLER Contributing Writer to the Recorder

Dubbed by some “Mr. Music,” Gar Dickerson has operated first, a musical instrument repair store, and then a store selling instruments and sheet music, Dickerson Music, in | Albion since 1955. At age 84, Dickerson is the oldest surviving owner of a business located on the downtown business district’s brick street.

According to Albion historian, Frank Passic, the Dickerson name has been around downtown Albion since the late 1930s, when Gar’s father, John Bion Dickerson, opened the Band Box Cleaners at 117 N. Superior St. ”

“After being at this location for a few years, Dickerson purchased the building next door (119) around 1942, which had formerly been the Paul Hawes Drug Store. By the 1950s the name was changed to Dickerson’s Cleaners.

Click the image to read the article by Frank Passic that was the source for this information.

John’s son Gar began repairing musical equipment in 1951, and this is where Dickerson Music got its start–in the back of his father’s dry cleaning business,” Passic wrote in a 2003 Morning Star article. He described how the sign was placed in the front window of the dry cleaners that said, “Gar Dickerson Musical Instrument Service Rear of Building.”

Dickerson graduated with a music degree from Albion College in 1952, where he played violin in the College’s orchestra. His wife, Dorothy Hoisington Dickerson, was in the class of 1954. Currently, Dorothy operates Books & More bookstore a few doors away from Gar’s store, at 119 N. Superior St. ·

Gar was drafted into the Army and served from 1952 to 1954 as a conscientious objector, doing ‘bite’ x-rays at an Army dental office in San Antonio, TX.

“During that time John sold the business (not the building) to Richard and Stanley Hood. When Gar returned from the service, he went back to repairing musical instruments in the back of the building,” Passic continued. “In late 1955 he moved to 102 N. Superior St. for about six months, and then in 1956 to 115 N. Superior St. in the front of Paul Sauter’s piano tuning business. There he remained for a few years before moving to his present location (201 N. Superior St.] in 1960.”

No Formal Training

Gar had no formal training in the repair of musical instruments but rather was self-taught. When her husband started doing repairs, Dorothy recalls accompanying him on trips to museums where he would spend eons of time simply looking at antique musical devices, silently dissecting them. They once traveled down to Elkhart, IN to tour factories where instruments were made to observe how they were put together.

“I remember visiting one factory where on the wall they had displayed every size of violin lined up all in a row,” Dorothy recalls. There are nine sizes of violins – ranging from full size down to a toddler’s 1/32nd size – and six sizes of violas.

The Dickersons live on a farm in Sheridan Township, which over the decades has seen hay and wheat grown, and Angus cattle, chickens, sheep, and goats raised. They also raised eight children: Greta, Valda, Freya, Gustav, Emma, Mayna, Eric and Hilda. They also have 19 grandchildren and 21 great-grands.

Click the image to read more about the origins of the Albion City Band, and the bandshell.

Albion City Band Concerts at the Victory Park Bandshell

Gar joined the Albion City Band, playing clarinet under the leadership of its then-conductor, Floyd Hoyt. Dickerson took over as the Band’s director in 1959, and held that position for eight years. At that time, the band members contracted with the director for a specified number of rehearsals and performances for the summer season. They would play for the community on Wednesday evenings at the beautiful Art Deco band shell that had been constructed in Victory Park in 1941.

Politics Not As Usual

Dickerson grew his infamous beard in the early 1960s, and some mistook him for a hippie. But his wife says fondly, “He’s not a hippy – just an individual that doesn’t fit a mold. I can’t categorize him, I never could. He marches to a different drummer.”

David Young, one-time editor of the Albion Evening Recorder, recounted this recollection of the colorful Gar in a 2013 column in his online blog, the Wayland Town Broadcast:

“The whole [1980-era rural anti-government, right-wing, anti-tax) saga seemed to start with Sheridan Township farmer Gar Dickerson, a tall, long-haired, bearded man whose hippie appearance belied his politics. He came into the Albion Evening Recorder one afternoon and proceeded to rail for about an hour against  local government’s attempts at land control. It seems his property had an unkempt appearance, loaded with idle farm machinery, dilapidated buildings and inoperable vehicles.”

Served with papers

“Dickerson had been served with papers insisting he was in violation of the township’s junk car ordinance, prompting his crusade against Township Supervisor Marty Wellington. He wrote a lot of nasty letters to the editor in which he suggested township officials were behaving like Nazis.”

“Dickerson and others who believed in the same philosophy of ‘hands off our property’ essentially mobilized like-minded folks and mounted a campaign to recall township officials, but only Constable Gary Landenberger was ousted. His wife, Joyce, the treasurer, Wellington, and all other Township Board members escaped the recall wrath at the polls.”

The Wellington Affair

“I remember being present for a raucous annual township meeting just before April 1, in which Wellington explained the budget and several audience members moved to have the treasurer’s salary severely reduced.” “After Wellington painstakingly explained the budget, Dickerson stood up and exhorted the audience, “Let’s all give Marty a round of applause, an A for effort.” It was only a short time before the failed recall election.”

“But when it came time to file for offices for the August primary of 1980, James Shimkus was Wellington’s opponent on the Republican ballot and Dickerson’s wife was running for clerk. Dickerson himself got a shave and a haircut and announced his candidacy for state representative on the Tisch Party ticket. The party was named for former Shiawassee County Drain Commissioner Robert Tisch, who had campaigned for the anti-tax Tisch Amendment in 1978, but it lost to another state-wide constitutional amendment offered by Richard Headlee. Both Shimkus and Mrs. Dickerson won the Republican primary and cruised in the general election in November.

One of my underlings wrote an opinion piece insisting that Dickerson and Wellington shake hands, make up and move on. Wellington immediately canceled his subscription and I never heard from him again.”

Click the image to learn more about Gar’s inventions.

More recent years

In recent years, Gar was spending free time in his well-equipped workshop building a Doble Triple steam engine which he one day hoped to install in an old truck he’d acquired. Steam engine expert Tom Kimmel said Dickerson’s “workmanship is excellent” and beautifully machined.

Dickerson had been running his music store until late last winter when late-stage heart disease made that impossible. June 2014 Fete de la Musique in Albion honored Albion musician Gar Dickerson for his musical contributions to the community.

 

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