Gerald Elmore Gilbertson
                           1925 - 1998

    Gerald E. "Jerry" Gilbertson was born on December 8, 1925 in Mindoro to
Edwin and Gylda (Evenson) Gilbertson.  Jerry, with his special love of music,
brought joy to the hearts of many through all his years of performing.
    Wilbur Selbrede, a longtime friend of Jerry Gilbertson, wrote the
following tribute, which appeared in the La Crosse County Countryman on
October 14, 1993.

    Jerry Gilbertson's 'Crackerjacks' Band Is Remembered

    This story recalls the 54 years since Gilbertson started his first band.
The music coming from the little disk is tinny, devoid of overtones.  The
songs are old and the band ... well awful.  The record was cut on soft vinyl
in 1939 at some "doings" at the old West Salem High School.  The recording
engineer was the school principal, Mr. Knudson.
    The band is Jerry Gilbertson's first band, the "Crackerjacks", the trumpet
player, me.
    The mists of passing time cloud the 54 years of my memory since Jerry
started his first band and we learned by ear the four songs we recorded that
day, soon after the band was organized.  They were the "Clarinet Polka,"
featuring Leroy Ender on the "licorice stick," followed by that oldie but
goodie, "Doodle-de-doo," then a chance for me to get in a few hot licks on
that popular jazz tune, "Dark Town Strutter's Ball," and finishing with an
"old time" schottische.
    Jerry was born with a passion for music that he carries with him to this
day. A devastating illness has left him with a paralyzed right side, unable to
play his beloved accordion.  He has an inventory of five or six stored here
and there at his and wife Helen's home on Van Ness Street.
    Jerry - "Sonny" to his friends - still eats, and sleeps music and enjoys
talking to his friends from the bands he has organized and led over the years
and listening to the many records he has cut.  Happy music.  Dancing music.
Music that started with his first band, the Crackerjacks of West Salem, kids
of 13- and 14- years old who liked to make music.
    Jerry and his brother Vernon "Bud" Gilbertson lived with their parents on
a farm in Gills Coulee when Jerry started commuting by bicycle to West Salem
High School as a freshman in 1939.  He had one thing in mind and it wasn't
girls. He wanted to start his own band right away.
    His first recruit was Leroy Ender, an excellent clarinetist, also a
freshman. He asked him if he knew any trumpet players who might like to join
and Leroy, who was also my classmate and the best friend I ever had, mentioned
me.  The Crackerjacks were organized with Jerry on accordion and piano,
Vernon, 9 years old, on drums, Calvin Sprain, a sophomore, on upright bass
horn, Leroy on clarinet and me on trumpet.
    We played by ear for the first several months until Jerry could afford to
buy real sheet music.  Mostly, this music consisted of small booklets of
laendlers (waltzes), schottisches and polkas.  Happy music, the toe tapping
kind, the stuff that made you finish your Heileman's Old Style Lager quickly
and grab the first pretty lady you saw for a whirl on the dusty dance floor.
    Of course we had to practice, wherever we could find a friendly space.
Jerry's mother, Gylda, still a sprightly lady at 88, recalls many an evening
on the front lawn of the farm as we blasted away at this tune or that.  The
thing I remember best about these rehearsals were her crisp sandbakkles (sugar
cookies) and rich Wisconsin milk as our reward at the end of each practice.
    My father, Carl Selbrede, was also an enthusiastic supporter of the
Crackerjacks and there were many evening rehearsals in our living room,
entertaining the neighbors within a four block radius, whether they liked it
or not.  Later on, Dad sat in on a few rehearsals when I was not available.  I
also remember Norm Rowe, Jr. playing with the band after Leroy's tragic death
in 1942, and a brief stint as drummer by my classmate, Clarice Carlson.
    We also practiced at the Ed Ender house next to the school on Garland
Street.  Wilbur Hauser was sparking Leroy's sister Ruth at the time.  He used
to come to pick her up in his 1938 Chevy coupe and every time he heard us
practicing he would say, "You guys will never make it!"
    And we really did get gigs.  One of the first I remember was what we
called a "mixer" at the high school, a daytime dance, fully chaperoned.  I also
recall that we knew about four tunes and had to play them over and over again
to fill in our allotted time.  My lip was never very strong and I had to play
everything in the lower register by the end of the dance.
    But we got better, and Jerry landed jobs at taverns and dance halls
throughout the Coulee Region.  Leroy's brother Martin used to ferry the
group's instruments and equipment around in his little tinsmith's truck, with
Gylda and her late husband Edwin, following with a car fall of us kids.  The
Enders were the tinsmiths of the region, headed by patriarch Ed Ender.  I have
vivid recollections of long cramped rides through dark and winding country
roads to the job, then packing up the instruments in the dead of night and the
equally long ride home.
    Some of the places we played were Niesen's Log Cabin Ballroom in Bangor,
Mary-O-Gardens near Galesville, Oak Point, Rockland, Hardies Creek and the
Townsend Club in Chippewa Falls.  History buffs will recall that Mr.  Townsend
was the impetus for our current Social Security system.) The rest are dim
memories of taverns and dance halls scattered throughout the Coulee region.
They all seemed to have large rooms with a small stage at one end, beer
dispensing at the other, and long benches along each side for tired dancers.
    We worked cheap.  "We'd get 9 or 10 bucks for everything, music and
transportation," Jerry said.  "We kids would get 50 cents apiece, the rest
went for expenses.  It wasn't union scale, but we were young enough to get
away with it."
    I did not know during my Crackerjack career that I was carrying on the
tradition of my dad, who played for country- dances from his early teens.  Nor
did I know that Jerry would continue his bands for more than 50 years,
bringing happy music to thousands, or that my brother Bob Selbrede would be an
integral part of his bands for the past 30 years.
    Regretfully, Jerry's original Crackerjacks lasted only about a year or so.
The summer before our sophomore year, Jerry joined a traveling minstrel show
that played at the West Salem Theater and needed an accordion player.  They
asked Leroy, who was working for the theater, probably as a projectionist, who
put them in touch with Jerry.  He remembers that they caught up with him when
he and his mother were standing on the bank of a creek with fishing poles in
    Jerry quit school, and for the next six months, put on a fancy cowboy
outfit and played "San Antonio Rose" and "She'll be Comin' Around the
Mountain" every night on a tour that took him all the way to California and
    The Crackerjacks did get together again when he returned, but shortly
thereafter the Gilbertson family moved to Holmen, where Jerry attended high
school and immediately started his second band, also called the Crackerjacks.
I never heard the second band play, but they couldn't have had more fun making
music than we did.
    I have a copy of Jerry's latest cassette recording, "Now," recorded in
1992 and dedicated to the six musicians in his current band.  The band's music
still displays that special lilt and tempo that is uniquely his.  Jerry's
happy music.
    Crackerjack music.

    Lindy Shannon, a local music-history buff, wrote the following review for
the La Crosse Tribune in 1989.

    Jolly Jerry's Orchestra Plans Avalon Get-Together

    Summertime's the time for reunions and special get-togethers of all kinds.
Last month the Shy Guys reunion as part of the Choo Choo Boogie was a huge
success.  This week our spotlight shines brightly on Jolly Jerry Gilbertson.
After discovering some old dusty music scores from his first band, he has
scheduled an Avalon Ballroom Get Together on Friday, June 23, at Concordia
Hall, featuring a seven-piece band, just like it was back then.
    If you used to frequent the Avalon on Sunday nights back in the late '40s
and early '50s, then you'd surely remember Jerry and his orchestra playing
old-time and modern dance music.  As I write this column I'm listening to a
cassette tape of 16 selections released from early 78's by Gilbertson's group.
They were engineered and remastered at Richie Yukovich's studios in Willard.
    It isn't difficult to drift back in time to those Sunday night parties
when we danced the circle two step, the Flying Dutchman, a schottische, or a
polka, or a waltz to Jerry's band.
    Gilbertson started his musical career at the age of 15 playing accordion.
In the early '40s he joined Dale Simon and the Blue Denim boys and in 1948
formed his own band and played his first job at Oak Point Pavillion near
    Many of you remember Jerry from his popular radio program that originated
from the Maple Grove Supper Club and his TV show on channels 8 land 13, which
started back in 1966.
    I must admit that I don't know too much about old time music.  In fact, if
I were on "Name that Tune" and was asked to identify a certain polka, it would
have to be the "Beer Barrel, or "Pennsylvania Polka" or I'm afraid I'd come
out a loser.  But when it comes to dancing, I like old time music.  You can't
beat it for fun.
    I have a couple home recorded 78 discs by the Gilbertson band that Jerry
may even have forgotten about.  They were made on the family farm in West
Salem in the late '40s and one of the records features Jerry singing the Tiny
Hill song "Skirts."
    His cassette tape can be obtained from his biggest fans, Carol and Don
Peterson, 2909 Robinsdale Ave.
    The Avalon get-together will mark Jerry Gilbertson's 47th year of making
music as well as the closing of the Avalon Ballroom 21 years ago on June 30,
    Congratulations to Jolly Jerry, grand ol' Music Man!