What brings six people together who are not in the cast of a Pirandello play?
Four are retired seniors ranging in age from 59 to 74. A family reunion? No.
They are joined by a 50-plus female percussionist and a 22-year-old meat cutter's apprentice. Game show contestants? Wrong.
These six folks are the regular members of the Stardusters boogie-to-the-beat senior volunteer band of Ojai.
The band formed in February, 1987, when original members Earl Ragland, Clara Hume and Don Palmer got together to perform at the annual volunteer tea dance at Little House, the senior multipurpose center in Ojai. They decided to name the band the Stardusters, after receiving so many requests for Hoagy Carmichael's tune "Stardust."
The group plays nostalgia music of the 1930s and '40s Big Band era, ranging from swing to ballads. They also play songs from the '20s and '50s.
"We all had an idea to play for folks who needed entertainment--and to play for nothing," Ragland said. "It grew rapidly. Folks were requesting us who could afford to pay."
The money they earned was--and still is--donated to HELP of Ojai, a nonprofit umbrella organization for senior assistance programs serving residents of Ojai, Meiners Oaks, Oak View, Miramonte, Casitas Springs and the upper Ojai Valley. Approximately 500 Retired Senior Volunteer Program volunteers provide a variety of services, everything from transportation to security patrols. A van gives about 2,000 rides per month, and about 50 seniors a day come to eat lunch at Little House, while many more receive Meals-on-Wheels.
Ragland, Hume and Jo Huber visit the senior center every week to talk about what they do--volunteer work with seniors and others. Participating in the band, they say, is fun and creative. It is also an extension of the community service work they do for HELP of Ojai.
Ragland, the group's 74-year-old trumpet player and leader, teaches a 12-week computer course at the senior center and drives for Meals-on-Wheels. In addition, he is a member of the board of directors of HELP of Ojai, served as its president for three years, and is vice chair of the Ventura County Advisory Council on Aging.
Hume, 65, plays keyboards. When she isn't working with the band, Hume is a volunteer organist with her church. She attributes her musical gifts to her family. "Granddad played violin, Aunt Louise played piano and drums, and Aunt Hazel played cornet," said Hume, who grew up on a farm. "Mother always said that, if they'd had radio when my grandfather was living, the cows would never have gotten milked."
Hume has taught piano and organ for the last 29 years, and her home studio now doubles as the band's rehearsal site.
Huber, Hume's friend of 35 years, has been a driver for HELP of Ojai's Dial-a-Ride transportation service for the past seven years.
The other three members of the band manage to combine the volunteer work they do in the band with other musical pursuits.
Don Palmer, 59, who plays rhythm guitar for the Stardusters, also performs two Sundays a month with his son and other members of The Old Time Fiddlers, playing bluegrass fiddle and mandolin music under the trees.
LaVonne Theriault, who describes herself as "50-plus," has played with the Ventura County Symphony and the Cabrillo Music Theatre.
And guitar player Shawn Gillespie, who at 22 is the youngest member of the group by quite a margin, has been playing with the Stardusters for a year and a half.
"I love the Stardusters' music," said Gillespie, who is also promoting his own psychedelic rock band, Brilliant Daydream, "and it's part of my community service."
By 11:30, the band members had to talk above the noise at the senior center. The office was hopping with activity as Meals-on-Wheels are loaded for the lunch run. Suddenly, a voice dispatch breaks in on the loudspeaker: "Go to the front porch and pick up Effie." Huber excuses herself to drive a senior to the doctor.
Reflecting on the music which the Stardusters play, Theriault believes that, "In spite of the war, it was good music and good years."
Referring to their largely senior audiences, she muses, "It's healthy for them to hear music that brings back pleasant memories of a happier era."
"That's what it's all about--being able to entertain anybody--but especially people of that age," said Gillespie. "They don't have much to do, and we see them smile."
* THE DETAILS: The Stardusters Band will play today at the Oak Tree House Third Anniversary Celebration. There will be entertainment and make-them-yourself ice cream sundaes. Oak Tree House was specially built as an adult day-care center and is located at the Help Complex, 111 W. Santa Ana St., Ojai.
For information on today's party or on the center, call 646-9752.