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Voices Fall-Winter 2005:
Click on the cover for the Table of Contents. Read the obituary, “Square Dance Caller, Ken Lowe, 1922–2005” by Karen Canning here.
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Voices cover FW2005


Volume 31
Fall Winter

Square Dance Caller, Ken Lowe, 1922-2005, by Karen Canning

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

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 family.

This eulogy was read at Ken’s memorial service on July 8, 2005, in Pavilion, New York.

Remembrance of Ken Lowe by Doug Kelly

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 or two.

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.

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