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Sunspots - Del Sarlette

If the community of Morris were to proclaim its own “Music Man,” Del Sarlette would surely be a key player.

Born April 5, 1953, to parents Walt and Florence Sarlette, Del’s music interests, and those of his siblings – Carol, Sue (who passed away in 2009) and Marty – were nurtured by both parents.

“I'm proud of the fact that my dad had a great reputation as the Morris ‘Music Man’ for many years. He moved to town in the early 40s and became a teacher and the band director at Morris High School from 1942 to 1953,” said Del. “He played in many dance bands in the area, both his own and those run by fellow musicians. Mom was also a teacher in the area schools.

“There were a lot of prominent musicians in Morris ‘back in the day’: Sam Grosland (father of another well-known area musician, Eleanor Killoran, from whom Del took piano lessons as a youngster), Art Carlson (who also owned what evolved into the Coast to Coast hardware store), Anton Watzke, and later people like Doug Garberick (who had a photography studio where Pizza Ranch now sits). I learned a lot about these guys while helping my mom assemble the Morris Centennial Pictorial Book for the 1971 Morris centennial celebration. Of course, these people were mostly before my time.

“Growing up here in the 60s and early 70s, my recollections of area musicians centers primarily on local rock bands such as Faith and the Believers, the Bridewells, and The Inner Sanctum, along with regional bands like the Fabulous Flippers and the Unbelievable Uglies.”

Although Del didn't see many of those bands personally, he remembers selling them guitar strings and drum heads when he worked in the family music store.

“By the time I was a senior in high school, when I should have been driving to see these groups, I was spending Saturday nights playing trumpet with Oren Budke and His Tempo Kings (one of the dance bands that my dad played in),” he said. “That was a great experience for me. My only regret is that I didn't take a tape recorder on the long drives to and from the dances all over the Dakotas and western Minnesota. The older gentlemen in the band always had great stories to tell.

“All of us kids were in band. Influenced by the music of Al Hirt and Herb Alpert, I started with the trumpet in the fifth grade and played through college. My brother Marty continued to play saxophone for over 20 years in the Air Force band.”

After graduating from Morris High School in 1971, Del attended the University of Minnesota, Morris, majoring in economics with a minor in music. He eventually managed, as well as played, in the Morris Community Band, from which he is now retired. Del and wife Carlene have played with the West Central All-Stars for 32 years. The group performs annually to open UMM’s Jazz Fest.

Walt and Florence started Sarlettes Music store in 1953, in what was called "Glass Block," a huge, two-story building that stood on the present site of McGinnis Appliance. The store was in the back of that building, with an entrance off of Sixth Street. The store sold records, guitars, band instruments, and accordions. The front part of the building was occupied by Cruze Electric.

“In the 60s, Sarlettes Music moved to main street, presently the site of John’s Total Entertainment. We shared that building with Walt Hadler's Walt's Shoes. We were the first store in town to sell eight-track tape players for cars,” said Del. “In 1969, the store moved to its present location, which had been for decades the home of Splitstoser's People’s Food Market, located between Bob's Bakery and Varnum's Hardware. Last fall, Sarlettes Music celebrated its 60th anniversary.

“It was assumed that we kids would all work in the store,” said Del. “I started working there in the eighth grade.”  

Today, Del works alongside Carlene, whom he married in 1980. The couple took over Sarlettes Music in 1981. Also a musician, Carlene (from Davenport, Iowa) plays the trombone and attended Augustana College to be a band director. The Sarlettes have two sons, Peter of Fargo and Steven of Morris.  Both sons played in school band, through high school and college.

Del also attended Western Iowa Technical Community College (in Sioux City) for instrument repair. “I travel about 600 miles a week calling on approximately two dozen schools within a 60-mile radius to repair instruments and talk with band directors. I love the repair work.”

“Unfortunately, shrinking school enrollments and budgets mean smaller size bands and music staffs.” But there’s a positive side, according to Del: “Ninety-five to 100 percent of students in the smaller schools are in band.”

Besides his passion for music, Del is proud of a lifetime achievement on another scale.

“I’m proud to say that I’m an Eagle Scout.” He began as a Cub Scout at age eight, moved into Boy Scouts at age 11, and advanced through the ranks and requirements, including 21 merit badges, to become an Eagle Scout. Both of his sons, and brother Marty, are Eagle Scouts, and Del has served as a scout leader.

Del is a member of the local Masonic Lodge and both he and Carlene are members of First Lutheran Church in Morris, “the same church in which I was baptized by Pastor Lowell Larson and confirmed by Pastor Clifford Grindland.” The Sarlettes are also members of the Morris Area Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Music Merchants and the National Association of Professional Band Instrument Repair Technicians.

“I've been very involved with organizing reunions for my high school class. We have a very close-knit class, and get together often,” said Del. “The planning sessions invariably turn into ‘remember when’ gabfests and trips down memory lane. We never seem to tire of talk about the cash-and-receipt gondolas that whizzed up and down the wires in the Habicht’s department store or about Carl Johnson's Shell Café next to his gas station (site of the current Shell convenience store), among many others.

“I told my sons to work as hard as they could because many of their contemporaries tended not to,” said Del. “So if they worked a little harder, they had a better chance than others to succeed. I also told them to always be on time.”

As a musician, repairman, local historian, husband, father and brother, Del enjoys living in west central Minnesota—or “Mayberry” as he is known for calling Morris. “I like its small town Midwestern culture.”