By Rich Holm
Union Feature Writer
It didn’t take little Tommy Neal Stahr long to make the front page of The Union. He was news the day he was born because he was a Leap Year baby. It was Tuesday, Feb. 29. 1944.
Tom Stahr died the same way he was born — family was gathered around him. It was Friday, Sept. 7, 2012. He was 68.
The 1962 North High grad became a legendary musician with several bands, but his claim to fame was with The Rubber Band. It was this group that was inducted into the Iowa Rock-‘n’-Roll Hall of Fame in 2010.
Friend and fellow musician Doug Koempel will be hosting a night of ‘50s and ‘60s rock-‘n’-roll songs Saturday, April 27, at Nob Hill, north of Decorah on Hwy. 52.
The night is being called “Remembering Tommy.” It is a benefit with proceeds going toward a memorial to be placed along the walking trail at the West Union Recreation Complex.
The Memory Brothers large band and its all-star friends such as Koempel, Kevin Conner, Dave Christopherson, Larry Crandall, Christopher Jon, Keith Zeller, Mike Flack, Erik Berg, and musical guest John Condon will be among the entertainers.
Music will play from 8 p.m. until 11 p.m. There is a $10 cover charge.
In spirit, Tommy will be watching and listening with his brother, Larry, and their parents, Pete and Hope Stahr. There were nine kids in the Stahr family that grew up at the bottom of South Vine Street in West Union.
All the Stahr kids were talented in different ways — Tom’s gift was music. His Carvin electric guitar is now cherished by his wife of 44 years, Janet Stee Stahr, and their three kids, Becky, Brian, and Brett.
Tom worked in the Fayette County Engineer’s Office for 43 years. In January 2008 he was diagnosed with cancer, but at all times he thought he had licked the disease.
Twelve days before he died, Tom was still on stage. As a member of Flashback, he played at the Club Pyramid in Decorah. Son Brett Stahr played bass for the band, but that evening he missed the show. Wife Janet was in the audience.
It was Brett who came up with the band’s name, thinking of the “oldies” his dad loved, from The Rolling Stones to The Beatles.
Del Shannon’s “Runaway” was among Tom’s favorite songs, along with any music Creedence Clearwater Revival played, especially “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”. J.C. Fogerty wrote the lyrics, “Someone told me long ago, there’s a calm before the storm; I know, it’s been comin’ for some time.
“When it’s over, so they say, it’ll rain a sunny day, I know, shinin’ down like water…”
When the song is played Saturday, there might not be a dry eye in the house because Tommy will be remembered.
The song means you go through some tough times in life, but that you always get back on your feet and everything is good, you are happy, and the outlook is great.
Tom would tell family and friends it’s a beautiful day, even if something bad happens again; you just deal with it.
Tommy would be asking, “Have you ever seen the rain? Yeah, it’s depressing, but it goes away, don’t think it doesn’t.”
That outlook on life made it easier on Tom’s family as they gathered around his bed that Friday at Palmer Lutheran Health Center. The nurses brought in a CD player, and Tom’s favorite songs were played.
Janet, Becky, Brett, Brian, brother Mark and sisters Laurie Cutsforth and Judy Schnuelle were there.
Tom had developed pneumonia, and his lungs began to fill. He died peacefully at 3:17 p.m. with “Little Surfer Girl” by the Beach Boys playing in the background.
His funeral service was held at Burnham-Wood & S.K. Rogers Funeral Home in West Union on Sept. 12. Tears flowed openly as the special music included “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” sung by Tommy himself.
The day Tommy Stahr died it was raining, but soon after, the sun came out.
But it was at Hawkeye Cemetery during interment when something happened that made every family member look at each other and smile as they glanced upward.
Tom Stahr loved Indian lore. He loved eagles and spending time outside with his family and grandchildren.
Flowers draped Tom’s casket as final goodbyes were being said before he was lowered into the ground. Out of nowhere came a hummingbird that hit one of the casket’s flowers and went straight upward.
According to Indian belief, the hummingbird is the sun in disguise, and at death it will take a person’s spirit to heaven.
Tom Stahr’s headstone has a guitar and a hummingbird inscribed into it. He is buried near his niece, Bliss Stahr, who died tragically at age 32.
Everyone has a story to tell about Tommy Stahr. Daughter Becky Conner lives in Oelwein and cherishes all the times she watched American Bandstand on TV with her father.
Son Brett still hears his dad’s music at night as he goes to bed. Janet recalls all the travels and great times with the only man she ever loved.
But it is Janet and Brett who tell the story of the quaint meeting with Doug Koempel at the West Union Recreation Complex that has made this Saturday night possible.
It was the fall of 2012. The Stahrs were sitting in their van as Koempel was riding his bike and stopped to visit.
Doug said, “I was just thinking about you guys. What do you think about putting up a monument out here someplace to remember Tommy?”
Of course Janet and Brett were humbled by such an idea, as Doug added, “As we get closer to next spring, we will talk about it more.”
Springtime is here, and so is the memorial concert. Ironically the land on which the memorial will be placed, if the money can to raised, once belonged to the Stahr family.
William Stahr farmed the land and Tom would tell stories of the area before it was developed.
So if the people of West Union and northeast Iowa can help erect the monument that honors not only Tommy Stahr, but West Union’s musical history, stories will continue to be told of the Stahr farm, CCR’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?”, and that hummingbird that appeared out of nowhere.
For people not able to attend Saturday’s big gig, memorial donations can be mailed to “Remembering Tommy” c/o Kerndt Brothers Savings Bank, P.O. Box 457, West Union, IA 52175.
Donations can also be made online by visiting www.memorybrothers.com and viewing the Tommy Stahr video.