A bronze plaque is attached to the front of the bandstand to commemorate the late Cleaon “Gus” Etzkorn, the man who was known as Edwardsville’s “Music Man.”
The plaque reads, “In recognition of 50 years of service to the Edwardsville Municipal Band during which he served 25 years as its director.” The bandstand is also named in his honor and called “The Cleaon Etzkorn Bandstand.”
Etzkorn was not only a member of the Edwardsville Municipal Band for more than 50 years of which he was its director for 25 years, he was also the long-time Director of Music in the Edwardsville School District, first at Edwardsville High School for 28 years, and then Director of Music at Edwardsville Junior High School for eight years.
Today, the marker and bandstand serve as a reminder of all the people Etzkorn touched not only through who he was as a person, but with his music. He not only shared his knowledge with his students, but also shared his talent with others by performing often.
Etzkorn was born on Jan. 5, 1919, in Highland the son of August and Ottille Hug Etzkorn, and he later moved to Edwardsville. He married LaVelle Turner in 1942. They had two children Shawn and Leilana Van.
During an interview he gave to the Edwardsville Journal in 1978, Cleaon said his interest in music goes back to when his grandfather came here from Switzerland.
“The Hugs have been in music for at least two centuries,” Etzkorn said. “Even today, they operate a music publishing firm and related businesses in Switzerland.”
He added, “I remember when I was a kid and my grandfather and two uncles would play accordion and violins at county dances and family gatherings. I suppose that’s when my interest in music first began.”
Etzkorn said he took violin lessons taught by a Miss Lyons, a private teacher in town, and by the time he was in seventh grade he said the high school had started a band.
During the second year of band in 1933, he said they received the honor of first in the district, first in the state and second in national conference. Along with the violin, he played instruments including baritone and trombone.
Etzkorn’s passion for music drove him to consider a music major, and he received several offers, but choose Millikin University in Decatur. He graduated in 1941.
Etzkorn answered the peace-time draft and joined the army. He said during his service he did receive some of the best musical experience by playing in army bands.
“The group I was in contained some of the finest professionals in the country primarily out of the Los Angeles recording studios, but including orchestra and band players,” Etzkorn said.
In 1945, Etzkorn left the army and started a band at a local boys Catholic school in St. Louis. But it was not long before Etzkorn returned home and was named the Director of the Edwardsville High School Band in July 1945. And even though he received numerous offers throughout his service to the District, he remained here in Edwardsville teaching music until 1982. He was planning to retire at the end of the school year, however, he passed shortly before that on April 22, 1982, at the age of 63 after a 13-year battle with cancer.
Etzkorn left many memories with his family, friends, students and many throughout the community. Two days after he passed, his friends and family attended a reception planned after the Municipal Band’s spring concert.
An article in the April 24, 1982, Intelligencer recalls the concert and reception were conducted as planned.
“One of the last things he said before he died was that he did not want the band concert to be altered in any way,” his daughter Leilana said. “They thought about canceling the reception, but that’s not the way he wanted it.”
Leilana said, “Music was his life. It was something he lived, ate and breathed 24 hours a day.”
Etzkorn’s granddaughter Dawn Van was also in attendance. Dawn was a first year clarinetist in the seventh grade and said her grandfather helped her with her music.
“He was great,” Dawn said. “There will never be another one like him.”
Edwardsville resident Russell Solomon Jr. added some kinds words about Etzkorn too.
“He displayed a great amount of fortitude in his daily living. He was a good husband, good father, good teacher and good musician,” Soloman said.
Then two months later, the community came together to dedicated the bandstand to Etzkorn. The bronze plaque unveiled that day still stands in front of the bandstand today – a place where music is still shared today to all in the community by free concerts offered throughout the year by the Parks Department, students and the Municipal Band.
That day, his wife LaVelle and Edwardsville Mayor Kenneth Evers unveiled the marker in Etzkorn’s honor, and afterwards the Municipal Band directed by Terry Van played a concert.
Etzkorn’s other list of accomplishments during his life included: listed on the International Who’s Who in Music; a member of many organizations including: Kiwanis Club, American Federation of Musicians, Illinois Education Association, National Education Association and the Illinois Music Educator Association, Music Educators National Conference, Madison County Band Directors Association and a Charter Member of Phi Mu Alpha. He also served in the army during World War II.
In 1985, Etzkorn was also honored as a Charter Member of the Phi Beta Mu International School Bandmaster Fraternity and was entered into the Illinois Bandmasters Hall of Fame.
His name was placed along with other leading bandmasters on a Hall of Fame Shine located at Northwestern University.