Reminisce: Gene Wollenhaupt — a musician of all sorts

In 1952, Gene Wollenhaupt, fresh out of high school, joined the musician’s union because, he told the Lima News in August 2010, “If you were a musician of any sort, you belonged to the union.”

Wollenhaupt, who played music, taught music, and led the Elida High School music department for more than 30 years, was a musician of all sorts. “Practically everything I’ve ever done has been influenced by music,” he said in the News in August 1986. “It’s a total part of my life, an automatic thing. I get different goose bumps out of each facet of music.”

In his later years, he also got goose bumps out of repairing pinball and other old game machines. “It’s kind of fun to do a thing that not everybody’s brother does,” Wollenhaupt said in November 2000. “I like making things go, kinda like the kid that takes a watch apart.”

Charles Eugene Wollenhaupt was born March 4, 1934, in Van Wert to Chris and Marjorie Fackler Wollenhaupt. While his father sang in the church choir, his mother played piano and organ. “I grew up with music,” Wollenhaupt said in 1986.

Wollenhaupt recalled that his parents drove him from Van Wert to Fort Wayne on Saturdays during World War II despite gas rationing so he could take accordion lessons. “I started the accordion when I was six,” he said, adding jokingly, “I wanted to play the violin, but there was no place to put a beer bottle.” On a more serious note, Wollenhaupt said he liked “the variety of sounds” an accordion could produce. “When you are invited to play at a party,” he said, “you can pick up the accordion and go. You can play both melody and accompaniment at the same time.”

Soon, Wollenhaupt, who also played the organ, clarinet, saxophone, baritone horn, and trumpet, was giving the accordion lessons. By the time he was a freshman in high school, he had more than 60 students.

“Wollenhaupt played his accordion on the Morris B. Sax Amateur Hour radio show in Chicago in 1949 and earned second place worth $75 and a gold watch,” the News wrote in 1986. “That was a big thrill and accomplishment,” he said.

More accomplishments followed. “He was an accompanist for Norman Luboff when the famed choir director appeared at Lima Senior High School in 1971,” the News noted. “Luboff offered me a year’s tour, but it was early in my teaching career, so I declined,” Wollenhaupt said. He also traveled with singer Bobby Vinton in the summers of 1973 and ’75 and, he told the News, was asked to be a regular in Vinton’s band, “but again said no because of teaching commitments.”

His skill on the accordion was also on display during local performances. Commenting on a Lima Lions Club minstrel show in November 1957, the Spencerville Journal-News wrote of Wollenhaupt, “the talents he displayed in the few minutes he was in the spotlight WOW!”

His main teaching commitment was at Elida High School, where he began teaching music part-time in 1956 before being graduated from Bluffton College. “Eugene Wollenhaupt, Van Wert, will present a graduating recital in clarinet at 3 p.m. Sunday in Ramseyer Chapel on the Bluffton College campus,” the Lima Citizen wrote in August 1957. “Wollenhaupt, a 1957 graduate of Bluffton College, is fulfilling requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in music education. For the past two years he has been director of the choir of the St. John’s Evangelical and Reformed Church of Bluffton and is well known in the area for his skill in playing the accordion.”

Wollenhaupt began as a music instructor at Elida High School in the autumn of 1957. He would be almost all things music at Elida for the next 30 years, directing the marching band, concert band, choir and so on. The breadth of Wollenhaupt’s impact on music education at Elida comes through in a brief news story about his final effort.

“Elida High School’s music department will present its last concert of the season at 1:30 p.m. next Sunday in the old gymnasium. The junior-senior band, mixed chorus, sophomore band, swing choir and freshman band will be featured,” the News reported in April 1987. “The concert will be the last directed by Gene Wollenhaupt before he retires. He has been director at Elida for 30 years.”

“I thought I would leave with things on a plus side,” Wollenhaupt said of his retirement. “I have a good feeling about this community (Elida). It’s been such a good community to be associated with. The people are really great.”

The summer before he stepped down at Elida, Wollenhaupt, who had played with bands around the area for years, was invited to join the Lima Area Concert Band as featured performer at the band’s season finale at the Veterans Memorial Civic Center. “I’m very impressed with the man,” conductor John Hill told the News in August 1986. “The people in the band are very impressed. He can sit and play for hours.”

The News’ reviewer was also very impressed. “It is apparent that Gene Wollenhaupt enjoys playing the audience as well as the accordion,” Bert A. Blair wrote. “He is at ease on stage and has a ready wit which makes an audience warm up to him immediately. On his return (from intermission), he used a souped-up accordion with electronic effects and amplification to make himself a one-man band.”

Although he continued to play with bands as well as teach the accordion after his retirement from Elida, he also devoted time to another interest. “In the mid-1970s he started buying and selling pinball machines out of love of the game. In the early 1980s he started putting machines out in different locations,” the News wrote in November 2000.

“The games Wollenhaupt enjoys working with are moving more and more into people’s homes instead of bars and nickelodeons. His fascination with the guts of the older machines have kept him going.”

Wollenhaupt kept going with his game repair business, accordion lessons, and band performances, playing at Lincoln Park, at nursing homes and for the CIAO Italian dinners, nearly until his death at the age of 80 on July 1, 2014. Wollenhaupt, the News wrote in his obituary was “Mr. Music Man” of Lima and Van Wert,” adding, “He loved teaching band at Elida. He loved his students, and they loved him.”

Wollenhaupt was married twice. His second wife, the former Eleanor (Ellie) Langmaier, often sang with her husband’s band.


This feature is a cooperative effort between the newspaper and the Allen County Museum and Historical Society.


See past Reminisce stories at

Reach Greg Hoersten at [email protected].