by Dennis Dalman
Sixty years ago, Jim Wasdyke was at a party in Kansas City when he looked across the room, saw a young woman, and the sight of her caused his heart and mind to brim up with a song from the Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway musical, South Pacific.
The showstopping love song was “Some Enchanted Evening.”
When he saw that young beauty, Wasdyke could hear, in his mind, Broadway star Ezio Pinza singing his heart out.
“Some enchanted evening
you may see a stranger.
You may see a stranger
across a crowded room.
And somehow you know,
you know even then
that somewhere you’ll see her
again and again.”
Wasdyke, heart pounding, was hooked right there and then. And he’s been hooked ever since. As the song says, he “made her his own.” Wasdyke and Shirley Sulzer were married in Olathe, Kan., three months after that party.
As they approach their 59th wedding anniversary, they are still enjoying enchanted evenings, enchanted days and sharing their love of making music and art.
The Wasdykes have lived in Sartell for 18 years. They moved to the city to be close to one of their sons. Many people in the greater St. Cloud area know the Wasdykes who perform as a musical duo – he on fiddle, she on the autoharp. She used to play guitar, but advancing arthritis made that impossible so now she excels on playing a specially designed automated autoharp.
The Wasdykes do weekly sing-a-longs at several nursing homes in the area, including Country Manor in Sartell. They play often for audiences comprised of patients suffering from various stages of dementia. When the Wasdykes start playing (Shirley sings, Jim does not), they are always happy when they hear audience members, even those with serious memory loss, join in the songs – old familiars like “America the Beautiful, “Jesus Loves Me” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”
“We provide the melody and they remember the words,” Jim said. “We make comical remarks between songs and they laugh along. Their reactions are always a big reward for us. It’s like walking on a cloud when I see those people so happy because of what Shirley and I do.”
The Wasdykes also perform for other special occasions, including with an impromptu gathering dubbed “The Jammers” at 2 p.m. at St. Cloud Library the first Saturday of every month.
“The Jammers are people who gather at the library just to share in the joy of music,” Jim noted. “They bring their harmonica, ukuleles, guitars, whatever and then we jam for about two-and-a-half hours. It’s lots of fun, and anybody can join in.”
Besides their love of sharing music, the Wasdykes also both love to create arts and crafts. They can be seen just about every Wednesday creating their works from 9-11 a.m. during arts-and-crafts mornings at Sartell Senior Center. All are welcome to join in on those mornings, including those who are just beginning a craft or want to learn how to start one. People can just show up.
Shirley started oil painting many years ago but then switched to cross-stitching. She makes exquisitely detailed items, such as Christmas stockings, by making thousands upon thousands of tiny cross stitches in her works. They include flowers, Christmas themes, animals and landscapes.
Jim always had a knack for drawing. While in Kansas City he took lessons at the Jewish Community Center there and began oil painting. He creates vivid pictures of animals, landscapes, still lifes and just about anything else that strikes his fancy. Wasdyke presumes he took after his father, who also had the oil-painting bug.
Several of the Wasdykes’ artworks are on display at the ongoing art exhibit at the senior center within the Sartell Community Center.
Long, busy lives
Jim Wasdyke was born in Paterson, N.J., and earned a degree in mechanical engineering at the New Jersey Institute of Technology. In U.S. Navy Officers’ School, he became a lieutenant and served three years in Kansas City as a construction engineer for the Navy air base in that area. That is when he met Shirley Sulzer, who was born and raised in Kansas City.
Shirley earned a degree in medical technology at St. Teresa’s Girls School in Kansas City and worked in that field for years.
Among the cities the Wasdykes lived and worked in were Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Washington, D.C.; Baltimore, Maryland; and cities in California and Nevada; and then Boise, Idaho, before moving to Sartell and retiring.
It was in Boise that Jim learned to play the fiddle, a 150-year-old Italian “Cremona” given to him by his brother. A female physical therapist taught him to play the instrument. And then a Boise mayor’s wife in her 80s taught him more about how to play the violin – by heart, without reading musical notes.
The Wasdykes have three children – Carla, a computer expert who lives in Australia; Lisa, an insurance specialist in Alaska; and Joel, an engineer who lives in the Twin Cities.
They have seven grandchildren – all boys, of which they are very proud. Most recently, they are thrilled grandson Trent Sanders of Tennessee, who has a master’s degree in English, was recently chosen as a recipient of the highly prestigious J. William Fulbright Scholarship to pursue studies in Romania.
Jim and Shirley Wasdyke always extol the virtues of music and art, which have so enriched their lives.
“Creativity is good for the brain,” Jim said. “Art and music keep the brain active. They can help keep you young. Just look at Shirley. I bet she’ll live to be 150. I’d bet on it!”