Making music is something Lester Schuft has been doing since he was young growing up on a farm near Brownton. His father played drums with local bands and young Lester followed in his footsteps, picking up a pair of drumsticks at age 7 and the trumpet three years later.
Fast forward 74 years. Schuft will be recognized for his lifelong love and commitment to music on April 22 when he is inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame.
“It means rewarding all the years of my life and making many families happy with music,” Schuft said of the honor.
Mollie Busta-Lange (Mollie B), Paul Diethelm, Jay Earnest Kalk/Church of Cash, Minnesota Brass and Moore By Four join Schuft as inductees this year. The longtime Hutchinson resident is in great company, joining past recipients such as Bob Dylan, Judy Garland and Garrison Keillor, as well as local musicians Mike Shaw, Wally Pikal, Mike Glieden, Jerry Schuft, Jerry Kadlec, Bruce Bradley and Tom Ginkel.
“I don’t know if there’s a town that’s produced more bands than Hutchinson and New Ulm,” he said. “I remember there were 22 bands booking in New Ulm in the 1950s and 1960s. I could spend 10 hours and talk music.
Schuft is the first to say he is lucky to be here and he readily admits that his health has suffered a lot.
“Why does God keep me alive? ” He asked. “Because he wanted to see me receive this award. I spent 15 years dealing with heart problems. I had four bypasses, a pacemaker, a defibrillator and a valve replaced. I’m well. The only small problem is my breathing. Breathing affects my ability to play. I have no difficulty walking, but the steps can be difficult.
Schuft’s enthusiasm for life, music and family makes up for any physical shortcomings. For over 63 years he has owned and operated the Lester Schuft and the Country Dutchmen Band. The band continues to play today, although the members have changed over the years.
“Thirty-one members of the band have died,” he said. “They were all great musicians and great friends.”
During his tenure, he is proud to say that he never fired anyone.
“I only had three rules: no drinking, no fooling around, and no swearing,” he said.
Although he’s made a lot of music over the years, Schuft always comes back to polkas. Among his favorites is the “Guido Polka” because he loves rhythmic patterns and instrumentation.
“It’s a very good polka,” he said. “Almost every musician knows it’s my favorite. I also like the “Nebraska Polka”. It honors the state of Nebraska where I have a lot of followers. He has a terrific pace.
Among his recent accomplishments is the release of a new CD called “Classic Cars and Classic Songs” featuring a 12-piece band that includes his granddaughter, Eavan McCormick. She is a sophomore at Gustavus Adolphus College in St. Peter, where she is majoring in teaching instrumental music. The CD is available from Schuft or can be picked up at Dostal Electronics in downtown Hutchinson.
“I was a farm kid,” Schuft recalls. “I planted a lot of manure.”
Fortunately, that’s not all he did. He started playing the drums at the age of 7 and continued with the trumpet in 1948. His first horn was purchased from the Brown and Meidl Music Store in New Ulm. The two bonded from the start. He played the instrument in elementary school, high school and pep band in Brownton and later as a student at Gustavus Adolphus College where he participated in the symphony band and pep band. He also used music to pay for his dental studies at the University of Minnesota.
When it comes to musical accomplishments, Schuft has plenty. Among them: He performed at the Minneapolis Aquatennial Queen’s dance for many years. He has recorded 16 records in a variety of formats including vinyl, 8-track tape, cassette, CD and DVD. He played for Hubert H. Humphrey when he ran for president. He was part of the cheering group that played for the Minnesota North Stars hockey team. He performed for over 40 years on KEYC-TV Bandwagon and RFDTV. He had his own show Country Dutchmen for 54 years and he hosted Musicians Round-Up for 26 years, both on KDUZ Radio. He also owned Red Rose Records and co-owned Little Crow Record Company in Hutchinson. The list is lengthened increasingly.
Looking back, Schuft said he appreciates all the friendships he’s made over the years. Once in a while, someone comes up to him and says, “You played our wedding dance 50 years ago. Schuft wishes he had written down the thousands of wedding dances he performed.
If you think Schuft is slowing down, you’re wrong. He continues to work at KDUZ/KARP as an advertisement salesman, a job he started after retiring in 1969 from a 30-year career as a dentist.
Her best advice: Live by the three Fs: faith, family and friends.
“God help me,” he said. “Some relatives help me and I have close friends I can talk to if I have a problem.”