by Dennis Dalman
Music was the ‘best medicine’ for rock ‘n’ roll fame Bobby Vee and his family as he battled the final stages of Alzheimer’s before he died aged 73 in 2016, just months after he died of his wife, Karen, from kidney failure. .
Less than a year later, an Avon widow, Irene Linn, also died of Alzheimer’s disease at the age of 65. A mother of five boys, she was diagnosed with the disease in 2009.
The happy but often heartbreaking memories of Vee and Linn motivated their survivors, loved ones, to launch the annual “Rock 4 Alzheimer’s” in St. Joseph seven years ago. The next event will take place starting at 6 p.m. on Sunday, September 11 at the parking lot behind Bad Habit Brewing Co. in downtown St. Joseph. There is no admission fee, but a voluntary donation is suggested.
Presented by Sentry Bank, the event will feature musical performances by Beggars Dance, “Anderson Daniels”, “Slip Twister”, “Collective Unknown” and “The Killer Vees”, featuring the sons of Bobby Vee and d other musicians. There will also be musical and sung performances by young people during a “School of Rock” event on stage.
For more information on the artists, visit the “Rock 4 Alzheimer’s” website.
The Vees (surname Velline) are well known in St. Joseph as they own Rockhouse Productions, a recording studio in an old bank in downtown St. Joseph. The family was also instrumental in launching the music event Joetown Rocks in St. Joseph on the eve of the annual 4th of July festival in the city.
Also on September 12, just before the start of the concert, a tandem event, “Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease” will take place in Saint-Cloud.
“We are determined to do our part to end this horrible disease and to support those who suffer from it, as well as their caregivers,” said Jeff and Tommy Vee, sons of Bobby Vee. “Everyone has a story, so please come enjoy a great day and share yours.”
Money raised will go to the Alzheimer’s Association (St. Cloud area chapter), and a portion of the funds will be donated to the Bobby and Karen Vee Youth Arts and Music Scholarship in Central Minnesota.
Music has always been a daily bond and a healing force in the Vees family.
“Music has the power to soothe, to heal, to bring joy, and to connect memories,” said Jeff Vee. “We experienced this as performers who brought happy music from town to town with our father and many others. This concept was never more intensely real to us than when we saw the power of music bring smiles, tears of joy and special memories to our father as he battled illness and nothing other didn’t seem to work. Music was our best medicine.
The “Walk to End Alzheimer’s Disease” will begin with registration at 9 a.m. on Sunday, September 11 at the Lake George Municipal Complex near downtown St. Cloud. The walk will begin at 10 a.m. just after the opening ceremonies.
It’s one of over 600 Alzheimer’s disease events taking place across America that day. The goal is to raise $170,000 for the nonprofit Alzheimer’s Association. Contributions are tax deductible.
The walk is expected to attract at least 200 participants, including team walkers. To participate in the march, it is best to register before Saturday, September 10 by going to its website at act.alz.org
Volunteers are needed for setup, cleanup, registration, water stops, and other tasks. If interested, call event coordinator Jenny Theis at 320-257-0696.
Alzheimer’s disease, a particularly tragic and terrifying disease, is just one form of dementia that can lead to memory loss, as well as language impairment, interference with normal activities and relationships. In some cases, the disease can cause anxiety, restlessness, delusions and hallucinations.
More than six million Americans today have Alzheimer’s disease, and one in three Americans has died of this disease or another form of dementia.
Alzheimer’s disease kills more people than breast cancer and prostate cancer combined.
More than 11 million Americans provide unpaid care for people with forms of dementia. In 2022, the disease will cost the United States $321 billion, and by 2050 that cost is expected to rise to $1 trillion.
Born Robert Velline in Fargo, Bobby Vee became an overnight teenage star in 1959 with the release of a single titled “Suzy Baby.”
Velline and her “garage” band, nicknamed “The Shadows”, were big fans of singer Buddy Holly, and they were all eager to hear Holly perform at Moorhead one night in early February 1959.
They were all devastated when they heard the terrible news that on the night of February 3, four men died in a small plane crash in a farm field near Clear Lake, Iowa. One of them was Holly; the others were hit singers Richie Valens (“La Bamba”) and JP “The Big Bopper” Richardson (“Chantilly Lace”); and the 21-year-old pilot of the plane. They were on their way to the scheduled show at Moorhead.
On the radio, a call went out asking for any groups or bands from the Fargo-Moorhead area who could perform in place of Holly and the other stars.
Velline and her group volunteered. A talent scout in the audience liked what he heard. This led to the recording of the hit song “Suzie Baby”, quickly followed by other record hits like “Devil or Angel”, “Rubber Ball” and “Take Good Care of My Baby”.
In 1963 Vee married Karen Bergen of Detroit Lakes. In the early 1980s, they and their growing family (three sons, one daughter) moved to St. Cloud and later to the Richmond-Cold Spring area.
The musical family held a benefit concert for many years to raise money for Cathedral High School (where the children went to school) and for many other causes over the years, including some for St. Joseph, such as Rock 4 Alzheimers.