Kenneth C. Lowe, lifetime resident of
western New York and one of the best square
dance callers in the state, died on July 3, 2005,
in Warsaw, New York, at the age of eighty-three.
Born on April 21, 1922, in Nunda, Ken
continued in the farming tradition of his
family, owning and operating a dairy farm with
his son for many years in Covington. He held
the offices of justice of the peace (1974–79)
and supervisor (1979–97) for the town of
Covington and also served on many
committees of local government and as
chairman of the Association of Counties. He
was a member of Pavilion United Methodist Church.
The Checker Boys in the early 1940s. Left to right: Keith Morgan, Lynn Rowley,
Elmer Brewer, Woody Kelly, and Ken Lowe. Courtesy of Doug Kelly.
Ken began calling for dances in 1939 at the
age of seventeen. He entertained people for
over sixty-five years as a square dance caller with
the Checker Boys, the Ex-Checks, and Kelly’s
Old Timers bands. He was well-known for his
clear voice and sense of humor and maintained
lifelong friendships with the musicians with
whom he worked. In 1998 Ken mentored Eric
Kelly in square dance calling, supported by an
apprenticeship grant from the folk arts program of the New York State Council on the Arts.
Eric is the nephew of Woody Kelly, who
founded Kelly’s Old Timers in 1950, and he
continues to lead the band today.
Ken is survived by his wife of sixty-two
years, Frances, a son and two daughters,
grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. At his memorial service Ken was remembered
by many people, one of whom was Doug
Kelly, son of Woody Kelly and bass player
for Kelly’s Old Timers. More than anything
we could add, Doug’s words capture Ken’s
contributions to music, community, and
This eulogy was read at Ken’s memorial service on July 8, 2005, in Pavilion, New York.|
As firstborn in the Woody Kelly family, I was always
privileged to be exposed to all of the music activity
that was an everyday part of our lives. It never really
meant a whole lot to me at the time, as I guess it
would be with most kids back then. Unfortunately I
couldn’t appreciate the talent of so many of the music
people, which I had grown accustomed to seeing from
time to time. Ken Lowe was one of those.
My earliest recollection of Ken and Fran was
probably a picnic I remember that we had over at
Keith Morgan’s house on Wyoming Road. I remember
a big willow tree in the back yard and several picnic
tables that Margie Morgan had done up in anticipation
of Fran Lowe’s fantastic potato salad, which she had
Ken deliver to one of the tables in a bowl about the
size of a truck wheel. I think the main course was hot
dogs and hamburgers, but I wouldn’t bet my life on
it. I do remember that potato salad, though.
Now I don’t know why this is important, except
that most functions I remember with the Lowes back
then involved good times, good food, and music.
There was Keith and Margie of course, Uncle Roger
and Aunt Lois, Elmer and Theresa Brewer, and maybe
some more. After we ate, there was always music.
Ken would call some square dances and sing a song
At this early age, I can remember what a funny
guy Ken was. My dad, of course, had a long
association with Ken that went from the Checker
Boys in 1939 or so through their political careers
that went on for years. And they were always friends.
This was the first band they worked with, Elmer
Brewer’s Checker Boys. They played on WBTA radio
in Batavia Friday nights to provide music for the
Ralston Purina radio show.
When Dad died in 1982 there was a demand to
keep Kelly’s Old Timers going. We needed a caller,
and Ken was always willing. It was evident that he
enjoyed calling the dances as much as we enjoyed
playing the music. Fran always came with him; there was no need to guess about their fondness for each
other. Ken became a regular part of our group and
kept ’em swinging up and down until his health let
him down a couple of years ago.
We had the good fortune to play at fiftieth wedding
anniversaries that either Kenny, Dad, or Roger had
done the weddings a half-century earlier. Ken was one
of the best callers in the area, and his history took him
from parlor dances of the 1930s to Harry Pankow’s
wedding reception at Salvatore’s Italian Gardens in
Buffalo, a fancy banquet house that I’m sure had never
seen a square dance.
Through all of this, his ability to manage dance
situations and work with our band that—to say it
politely—might be slightly unpredictable at times was
an example of his great talent. His sense of humor
was always present at dances, which he sometimes
related in old farm lingo, where he might notice some
old boy who walked “like he had thrown a shoe,” or
he might call out to see if there was a harness maker
in the house to help keep a couple in the set.
I remember some old records I have at home that
were recorded by Roxy Caccamise in 1940 at Dolittle
Hall in Wethersfield Springs. Ken closed the evening
as follows—I will quote him as best I can. He said:
This is Kenny Lowe saying goodnight for now,
for Elmer, Woody, Keith, and Lynn, from Dolittle
Hall in Wethersfield Springs. We’re the Checker
Boys, Wyoming County’s square dance specialists,
from up Wyoming County way, where we turn
the moon up at night with a crank and the grass
grows green in the center of the road.
Above all he was a loving husband, father,
grandfather, great-grandfather, farmer, neighbor, civic
leader, caller—and he was our friend. I mentioned to
his daughters that I know that Dad and Kenny are
back to discussing Wyoming County politics again,
and they are no doubt playing a square dance where
the hall is so long, you can’t see the end of it, and all
the sets are always full.
This obituary appeared in Voices Vol. 31, Fall-Winter 2005. Voices is the membership magazine of the New York Folklore Society. To become a subscriber, join the New York Folklore Society today.
TO PURCHASE A BACK ISSUE of Voices, visit our online book store.
TO PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE from Voices, use the form below:
|Voices: The Journal of New York Folklore
PURCHASE A SINGLE ARTICLE
To order a single article, please enter volume number, issue (“fall-winter” or “spring-summer”), and title of the article you wish and click on an order button below to purchase through Paypal or with your credit card. We will send you a PDF of the article via e-mail upon receipt of your order.
|ITEM #603 |
Single Article $3.00
|Member Price $2.00||