Tour Tradition Carried Message of Hope in Incredible Feat During Time of War

The 1945 choir trip became a legend, for four reasons.

  1. It was in the time of World War II, in April, with battles raging in Europe and on Pacific Islands.
  2. The choir tour went from Fergus Falls to New York City----and back again, covering 4,000 miles.
  3. The singers sang in 28 concerts in 22 days.
  4. They traveled in the school’s prone-to-break-down, yet “faithful,” bus.

All in all, it was an unforgettable time for Choir-Director William Windahl and his 31 singers. Windahl, classically-educated at the MacPhail School of Music in Minneapolis and a music instructor at Lutheran Brethren Schools since 1932, had received an invitation from the Atlantic District of Lutheran Brethren churches, and after “much prayer and contemplation,” he said, “yes,” to venturing so far away.

The decision was complicated, because gas was rationed and tires were also rationed during wartime. According to Windahl’s daughter, Joyce (Windahl) Aune, the Lutheran Brethren School’s teachers had to save up numerous gasoline coupons in order to fuel-up the bus. “They also had accumulated as many ration coupons for tires as they could before they left,” Joyce recalled, and “of course those were for used tires-- -no one could buy new ones.”

The bus chugged along well, at first, but slowly, due to the nationwide 35-mile- per-hour speed limit, carrying the choir all the way east to Brooklyn, N.Y. As the choir- bus approached the 59 th Street Church, “a throng of young people lined the street for almost half a block . . . to greet the traveling troupe,” for a Sunday night concert, attended by 1,100 people. The choir enjoyed four days in the “Big Apple,” visiting Radio City Music Hall and zooming to the “top of the Empire State Building,” (the tallest building in the world in that era).

The little school bus took them further afield, to East Hartland, Connecticut, and to the church on Staten Island, where the choir sang the “Bible School Song,” an original tune written by Choir-Director Windahl.

As the “Lutheran Bible School bus from Fergus Falls” traveled from “town to town,” reported Choir-President Paul Blikstad, many people “scratch[ed] their heads . . . in amazement, wondering how such a bus got this far out East.”

The wheels on the bus had gone ‘round and ‘round pretty well. Ominously, however, the wartime tires, with ever-thinning treads and vulnerable inner-tubes, became “tired tires.”
The tires eventually gave out. Shockingly, the bus experienced “twelve blowouts and four flat tires,” said Blikstad, “two of the blowouts came on the way east, while ten of them were on the way home. Four blowouts in one day in Ohio prevented the choir from keeping their engagements in . . . Findlay, Ohio, and in Ottawa, Illinois.” Choir- Manager (and part-time bus-driver and full-time seminarian) Omar Gjerness had heard the pitiless hiss of the flat tires and had felt the lurch of the blowouts, and had patiently patched the tires and tubes together as best he could. But the worst incident occurred when “one of the dual tires . . . on the rear wheels,” blew out and could not be immediately fixed---forcing the choir to travel “all night at 15 miles per hour” to the next concert in Iowa, limping along with one tire completely gone.

Nonetheless, Windahl and his choir persevered. The school-bus made it to Minneapolis, where the choir performed at Ebenezer Lutheran Church, and then sang before a crowd of over 8,000 people in the Municipal Auditorium at the “First Anniversary Rally” of the Youth for Christ crusade, broadcast over KSTP radio.

At long last, after an April 30th concert in Osakis, Minnesota, the choir-bus made it home, pulling into Fergus Falls. Predictably, in the last mile, in the last stretch of pavement on Vernon Avenue, right near the public library, another bus tire blew out. All the choir members, recalled Joyce (Windahl) Aune, “walked the last few blocks to Hillcrest!”

The 1945 springtime choir trip-----with its thousands of miles----and thousands of melodic notes----turned into thousands of vivid memories for those 32 singers that April, near the ending-point of World War II.

Steve HoffbeckComment