Take Me Back - Alumni Memories

Put a guitar in his hands

by John Panek 

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What captured my attention as a high school Freshman in 1979 were the lively guitars in
our liturgies at East Troy. Upper classmen Brian Ries, John Rome, Phil Leonard, Doug Earp, all strumming their hearts out while Lou Wappel (English teacher, counselor and later our Dean), played the electricpiano and guitar. A chorus of student voices rounded out the music leaders and I recall Elgie Harris as the power voice of the group. I wanted to play guitar.

Lou Wappel started an evening guitar class for interested students and he said there was only one rule - “Practice, Practice, Practice.” With a loaner guitar I practiced always and sometimes between classes. I received an Unsatisfactory mark on my report card for punctuality that year. But by Thanksgiving break, just 2 months later, I played my first guitar Mass with the upper classmen covering for my errors!

I bought my first guitar from Senior Joseph Nguyen in the spring of 1980 and it took me on a journey through high school. By our Senior year I was part of the core team,

with Jim Greene and Chuck Konkel, leading music for our Masses. We started evening classes to teach younger students to play.  Jim, Chuck and I also strummed out songs for the seniors at Lakeland nursing home as our apostolic service. Jim Greene’s enthusiasm for the music of the Beach Boys and Jan & Dean led to the creation of our band Sound City, with Jim as our leader, Len Uhal on drums, me on guitar and Pat Gaughan and David Walter on vocals.

The guitar took me to play ordinations at Techny and the funeral of our history teacher Fr. Larry Bohnen. I enjoyed touring with the seminary choir led by Fr Ken Anich even though I was not officially a choir member. After high school, I played with a group for my father’s first Mass as a deacon and continued to play in each of my parishes since through the late 90’s. I was fortunate to play for the funerals and weddings of friends. That first guitar now resides with my son who took it up in a self-taught kind of way, playing it for Masses and ministry when in college. While he has YouTube to help him learn, I had the guitar Mass.

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