Watts scholarship helps young musicians

Published 12:00 am Saturday, July 6, 2002

Don Watts is still working music wonders after his death.

A special scholarship fund is helping young musicians realize their dreams.

"He loved music and he loved playing in a band," said Toni Watts, his second wife (First wife Dorothy Peach died in 1969 and Mr. Watts married Toni Tom have in 1971.)

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"So many memorials came in after his funeral that we decided to create the Don Watts Memorial Scholarship Fund," Mrs. Watts said.

Katie Hanson was the first recipient of scholarship assistance. She received money for music lessons at Luther College.

"She had made an impression upon Don, when they played together in the Austin Community band. She was a very deserving young woman," Mrs. Watts said.

Ben Bednar, a long-time friend of Mr. Watts and also a long-time musician, is assisting Mrs. Watts in distributing the scholarship funds in honor of

her husband.

The process is simple.

When referrals come to Bednar, he reviews the applicants' need and makes a recommendation t o Mrs. Watts.

"We didn't want it to be a complicated matter. We just wanted to help young musicians like Don would have wanted to help them," Mrs. Watts said.

The man, who endeared himself to so many died Sept. 13, 2000, at he age of 88. The former musician and restaurateur was a legend.

He started playing background music for silent movies as a teenager. Also in his teen years, he played trombone in road bands as swing music and the "Big Band" craze took over America in the late 1930s.

At one time, Mr. Watts played at the former Oasis Night Club in Austin six nights a week.

He also played with the Chuck Hall Orchestra, Henry Charles Band and others.

Mr. Watts purchased the Lansing Corners Supper Club in 1947 and a second career was spawned. Two sons, Kermit and Bob, followed in their father's footsteps and became successful restaurant and catering business-owners..

In his latter years, he returned to playing in a band, lending his considerable skills to the Austin Community Bank, the Austin Swing band and the Dixieland Ensemble.

Even in death, Mr. Watts' legend grew. When his funeral was held at Austin's Grace Lutheran Church, the Dixieland Ensemble played with an empty first-trombone chair.

The one-of-a-kind event attracted a larger-than-ever crowed to the Grace Lutheran Church sanctuary, where Glenn Miller's "In The Mood" among other swing era classics were hard.

The funeral is still talked about today.

Friend and fellow musician Bednar said Mr.. Watts was as good as advertised. "Boy, could he play," said Bednar. "Everybody said that. Don felt a little uncomfortable taking the first chair with his trombone in the band, but there was no body better at what he did."

Mrs. Watts hopes the Don Watts Memorial Scholarship Fund will continue to fund deserving musicians indefinitely. "We want to share the money with as many people as possible," she said.

After only two years, she and her consultant, Bednar, feel the scholarship fund is meeting its goals.

"Don always enjoyed encouraging or otherwise helping young musicians when he was alive and this is a way to help those young musicals who are serious about their music," she said.

Bednar said Mr. Watts was instrumental in teaching many other musicians through the years by his words and skills as well as his example.

Mr. Watts' beloved trombone still carries the smooth sounds that once came from his lips.

The trombone is loaned to musicians, Glenn Monsoon of the Austin Community Bednar is one of them.

Thus, the sounds of Don Watts are ensured an infinite future.

Bednar said, whoever knew Mr. Watts and shared his love of music "will be better for having worked with a good teacher."

Lee Bonorden can be contacted at 434-2232 or by e-mail at :mailto:lee.bonorden@austindailyherald.com