Famed bandmaster Karl King instrumental in Jimmerson’s life, career
By Paul Stevens
Jerrold “Jerry” Jimmerson was a fourth-grader at Butler Elementary School when his grandmother gave him a metal clarinet that she had purchased years earlier for her daughter, who was his mother.
The year was 1953 and that gift was the beginning of a lifetime of music that continues to this day for Jimmerson, a Manson resident who is conductor of Fort Dodge’s municipal band, the Karl L. King Municipal Band. It was also his first link to King, perhaps the city’s most famous citizen: his grandmother bought the instrument at a music shop on Central Avenue operated by King’s wife, Ruth.
A century ago this fall, Ohio native King arrived by train to apply as conductor for the Fort Dodge Municipal Band. He passed the tryout and signed a one-year contract in 1920 that continued, year after year, until his death 51 years later. His career as a bandmaster, composer and musician made him a music legend — best known for his “Barnum and Bailey’s Favorite” which, along with the 300 marches and other compositions he wrote, assured him the worldwide status of March King along with John Philip Sousa and Henry Fillmore.
Two of the first three homes that he and his wife lived in are still standing — their first home, a rental at 815 Forest Ave. and the first home they bought, at 1637 Eighth Ave. N. Their next home at 1119 Fourth Ave. N. is no longer standing.
Karl King died on March 31, 1971, at the age of 80 and Ruth King died in 1988 at 90. They are buried at North Lawn Cemetery. Their only son, Karl L. King, Jr. was born in 1919 and died in 1987. Beyond the band, King’s name is preserved in the city by the Karl King Viaduct, the Karl King Memorial Park at the City Square and the Karl King Bandshell at Oleson Park.
“Mr. King was known in the state of Iowa, throughout the United States, through his music,” said Jimmerson, who has conducted the band since 2003 and is its senior member with 61 years of service. “We have a Karl L. King web site — www.karlking.us — and it has gotten hits from 120 different countries throughout the world.
“I think I have conducted the band in my own style. I have never tried to direct just like Mr. King. I’m doing what I’ve always done and learned to do. I try to follow some of the traditions of Mr. King, things important to him. I believe that conducting any musical group is a personal expression of one’s own self to the music they are responding to. While there is a basic foundational pattern to follow, there is also room for creativity.”
Jimmerson taught music and directed bands for 50 years in five different school systems, 29 of those years in Manson. He serves as a mentor for beginning band directors — there are more than 100 municipal bands in Iowa — and serves as an adjudicator for music contests and festivals.
All three sons of Jimmerson and his wife Alice — Kevin, Bryan and Deron –played in the King band from time to time — Kevin on saxophone, and Bryan and Deron on trombone. Deron, the youngest, is associate band director at Prairie High School in Cedar Rapids. Bryan is a financial adviser in Carroll and Kevin is business manager of the Independence State Hospital.
“My life has really been centered and focused on music,” said Jimmerson. “I just love being together with people making music, and I’ve never really wanted to do anything else.”
Jimmerson was born in Estherville and at 10 days old moved with his mother, Dorothy Jimmerson, into Fort Dodge where they lived with his grandparents, Hazel and Clare Black, in a home six blocks from Oleson Park. His grandfather was with the Illinois Central Railroad and worked on steam engines in the old railroad roundhouse. In the early days when the circus came to town, it traveled by train –and Jimmerson recalls that “I had the run of the yard and could go down and watch them unload.” The circus would then parade to performance sites — one where the shopping mall once stood and another where the Dodger Apartments now stand.
Jimmerson started playing his clarinet in the fourth-grade band at Butler and played in band through junior high and high school. He took up the accordian — made popular through the Lawrence Welk television show — in fifth grade and later teamed during their junior high years with friend Joe Lorenzo to perform as “Jerry and Joey: The Accordian Twins” on Fred Porter’s Barn Dance program on KQTV.
Growing up close to the Oleson Park bandshell, he said, “I could hear the band playing on Sunday nights. I just really enjoyed listening to that. Even if I didn’t go to the concert, if the wind was blowing the right direction, I could hear the band.”
During his sophomore year at Fort Dodge Senior High, the 15-year-old Jimmerson switched from clarinet to the bass clarinet and said it “was to be one of the best decisions of my life.” He wanted to join King’s band so, at his grandmother’s encouragement, he went to his music store downtown and told him so. The band hadn’t had a bass clarinet for years, King said, and invited him to rehearse with the band that evening.
“I went, took my place, and Mr. King started to rehearse the band for the evening,” he said. “About halfway through rehearsal, he stopped the band in the middle of one of our songs, pointed at me, and told Arnold Bode, the band’s manager, ‘This kid’s pretty good. See that he gets a uniform before he goes home tonight.’ I’ve enjoyed being part of that band ever since.”
That was the summer of 1960 — and he is one of three active members of the band who played under King’s baton — the others, T.H. Hoefing and Mary Heimbruch, are both clarinet players.
King was instrumental in his decision to attend college after he graduated in 1962 from FDSH. King directed him to the band director at Buena Vista College, Bill Green, who told him he might be able to provide scholarship help and a part-time job at a store that often hired band students. Jimmerson later learned that King had called Green to say “he had been watching over this young man for a few years, that I was being raised by my grandmother, that I wanted to become a band director, and that I had no financial means to do that. He was concerned about me and wanted Bill Green to watch over me for the next four years. When I graduated from college, I asked Mr. King to write a recommendation for my teaching credentials. He did that, and then sent me a postcard to let me know it was done.
“I have always been extremely proud of this note from him. It simply says, ‘Dear Jerry, Filled out your form & mailed it today. Gave you a No. 1 rating on all points, which you richly deserve! Karl L. King’.”
As he started his teaching career after graduation from Buena Vista, Jimmerson tried to make his students aware of the influence of King and his music. At his first assignment, Crestland Community Schools in Early and Nemaha, he took a busload of students to King’s 80th birthday concert. He moved on to teach junior high music at Nevada, where he also worked on (and earned) his Master of Music Education degree from Drake University and played in the Des Moines Symphony.
Jimmerson returned home to Manson and taught for the next 29 years at Manson High School (which became Manson Northwest Webster in 1990) before he retired for the first time in 2003. He was elected the King band conductor that year and later taught at St. Edmond Elementary School from 2005-09 and Iowa Central Community College from 2012-2020. He retired from Iowa Central last spring.
“My wife tells me I flunked retirement several times,” he said.
Jimmerson’s opportunity to become conductor of the King band came when then-conductor Reginald Schive resigned in January 2003, citing health reasons. Jimmerson applied, competed with others for the position and was elected conductor by a vote of the band. He became only the fifth conductor in the history of the band which started as the 56th Regimental Band in 1900. Previous directors were Carl Quist, Karl L. King, W. B. Green, and Schive.
The 45-member band operates with a current budget of $38,000 that covers salaries and mileage for players, the costs of equipment and music, and uniforms. Under the Iowa Band Law, which King helped pass in 1921, the band receives some funding from the city government. About half of the band’s members are retired, some of them former music directors, and its rehearsals are held in the Community Room of the Fort Dodge Library.
Each year, the band normally has 12 performances (admission is free): eight summer concerts at the Oleson Park Bandshell, three winter concerts at either Fort Dodge Middle School or Iowa Central’s Decker Auditorium, and Memorial Day at Veterans Memorial Park. But not in 2020.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the band has not performed since February.
“I don’t think the King band has ever had a situation like this before,” Jimmerson said. “The last great pandemic we had was in 1918 with the Spanish flu. Mr. King and his wife were traveling with the Ringling Brothers circus at the time. In the 1940s, during World War II, there was a shortage of male players and that’s when they started to bring women into the band. It had always been male only before that.”
Jimmerson’s hope is that it will be able to perform a winter concert next February to commemorate the 100th anniversary of King’s first concert in Fort Dodge.
“Our April concert is a scholarship concert,” he said, “and it would be nice to get the summer concerts going again in Oleson Park. But we have to be realistic as well as hopeful.”