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Menagerie back together again

Staff photo by Clay Schuldt Bob Wirtz, front and center, led the reunited “Menagerie” singers in a special reunion concert at the State Street Theater on Saturday. Over a hundred members from the group’s 30 years of singing showed up to perform for the reunion concert. For more photos, see page 8A

NEW ULM — It was a music-filled weekend in New Ulm. “The Menagerie” reunion began Friday evening and continued through Saturday.

Menagerie began in 1970 when Bob Wirtz was the Luther League advisor at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church alongside his wife Bettianne. One of the youth activities was to write and conduct Sunday morning worship services. Wirtz let the kids select the music as well. Menagerie grew out of this experience.

The Menagerie was a mainstay in New Ulm from 30 years, running from 1970 to 2000. Between 700 and 900 New Ulm youth were members of the music group. Friday, nearly a hundred former members turned out for a reunion The New Ulm Country Club.

The reunion was a chance to catch up with former Menagerie members and sing a few songs. Even though Menagerie membership spanned 30 years, at least one member from every era banned attended.

It was not unusual to see members from the early 1970s sitting next to singers from the 1980s or students from the final 2000 lineup.

Some members only traveled a few miles to attend the reunion in New Ulm. Others came further. Marcia (Wasmoen) Ahlgeren, a member from 1971 to 1974, traveled from Janesville, Wisconsin to attend the reunion.

“I would do anything for Bob,” Ahlgeren said.

Lorie (Brey) Jewell traveled from Denver, Colorado to sing with the group. She performed with Menagerie from 1986 to 1989.

“I Love to come back,” Jewell said. “Who knows when this group will get back together again.”

Its a family reunion for others. Sheri Windschill was an early member of Menagerie and her two daughters, Jen Verzalik and Laura Leighty would later join the group. Windschill said music ran in the family.

Menagerie founder, Bob Wirtz said it fantastic to see so many returning kids, though technically of the members were grown adults now.

“They will always be my kids,” Wirtz said. “I am 78 I can call them that.”

Wirtz said it was the kids who kept it going. In the early years, they would all help pick the new member, which was important because a third of the group graduated each year.

Duane Lambrecht attended the reunion. He served as a chaperone on several of the trips Menagerie made over the years. He said the group was a great opportunity for kids from the Catholic School and the public school to interact.

“There is more crossover today, but back then not so much.”

Wirtz agreed Menagerie’s non-denominational background made it popular with the youth.

Menagerie members were not selected through musical auditions. Wirtz said they tried to find kids with good morals, great attitude, dedication and those not afraid to be spiritual.

“This is just a great tribute to the kids,” he said. “They are the biggest part of it.”

Friday night was about reuniting with friends and family. Saturday morning was dedicated to commemorating the past.

Members gathered in Nehls Park to commemorate a new bench added to the park that honors Menagerie. The bench is located near a tree planted in honor of Bettianne Wirtz and tree for former member Megan Lorette.

Ted Wirtz said the bench in Nehls Park was only the first step. They are fundraising to place a second Menagerie bench in German Park.

After the dedication event, the group left for rehearsals at State Street Theater. They had seven hours to prepare for the concert at 7 p.m.

The concert was more than a reunion show. Ted Writz said it was arranged as a history lesson for Menagerie.

The show began with Bob and the early members and was slowly joined by members from later years until all returning singers were on stage.

The performance featured songs from the whole history of Menagerie. The show attracted a crowd of nearly 300. Family and friends of returning members attended in full force.

It was a once in a lifetime opportunity for a collection of diverse talents to gather together. The group more than lived up to their name.

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