March 16 – Amsterdam Birthday Ray Brooks & Ray Posipanka

Happy Birthday Ray Brooks – Amsterdam had its own version of the Brooks Brothers but they weren’t known for their suits or shirts. Instead, siblings Ray and Tony Brooks were both musicians who led popular bands that entertained folks in and around Amsterdam for many years. Meanwhile, their brother Jinx was …

Happy Birthday Ray Posipanka – The Yankee organization signed this Cleveland, Ohio native in 1945, when he was 18-years-old. He then kept his suitcase packed because he played in a dozen different minor league towns during his nine season playing career, which was interrupted by a two-year hitch in the Army. His stay in Amsterdam was the longest. He was the very good and popular starting third baseman for the Rugmakers in 1949 and again in 1951…

 

You can read the rest of my stories about both these talented gentlemen in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

February 7 – Happy Birthday Bert DeRose

bertderose2Beginning in the 1950’s, Bert DeRose single-handedly made the Amsterdam High School Drama Department one of this city’s most treasured cultural assets. With an amazing eye and ear for acting, singing and stage design talent, today’s Amsterdam Birthday Blog celebrant would grab kids out of his drama class, the chorus and sometimes right out of the hallway and convince them that together, they could bring the thrill of Broadway to the elegant Wilbur Lynch auditorium. If you weren’t around back then, believe me when I tell you that a Bert DeRose High School production…

You can read the rest of this story in my new book “A Year’s Worth of Amsterdam Birthdays.” To order your copy, click here.

February 6 – Happy Birthday Bob Tolson

btolsomThe late sixties were certainly the golden years of Bert DeRose’s career as this town’s outstanding producer of both AHS plays and City Recreation Department sponsored summer productions. A big reason for that was an amazing assemblage of young talent that seemed to congregate on High School hill all at the same time. These were tremendously gifted teenagers, who with DeRose’s expert tutelage sang, danced and most importantly acted in front of packed auditoriums as if they’d been doing it professionally for years.

One of the most versatile of these performers was today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant. Bob Tolson was a hard-working quick-study whose breakthrough role was the lead in DeRose’s 1967 production of Oliver. I never missed these plays as a kid and Tolson’s outstanding contributions were a huge reason why I felt they were as good as any ever presented in a high school auditorium.

This guy always impressed me with the effort he invested in selling his character to the audience. Even though its been almost 50 years since I last saw him perform, I can still remember the way he made great use of facial expressions, especially the way he conveyed emotion with his eyes. Although he didn’t have a great singing voice, he used the one he had very effectively and you looked forward to hearing him sing. His strength was his dancing. Back in Tolson’s day, DeRose used AHS Band Director Robert Kent Kyler as choreographer for his productions. Kyler happened to be an excellent dancer himself and he really challenged the cast with some intricate moves. While everyone struggled to learn them, Tolson ate them up.

NewVassiIn addition to Oliver, some of his roles included Og the Leprechaun in Finnian’s Rainbow, Peterson in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying, and the narrator Minstrel in Sleeping Beauty. He was superb as Riff, the leader of the Jets in West Side Story and his dance number  with Debi Swart in that production was a show stopper. He was also an unbelievably good Scarecrow in DeRose’s smash 1968 production of the Wizard of Oz (although my personal favorite was the guy who played the Cowardly Lion.)

I recently learned that Bob’s life after high school was not without struggle and he passed away much too young a few years ago. If I could, I would thank him for all those great performances he gave our community so many years ago. They were truly special. May he rest in peace.