As the men gathered for their weekly practice, laughter and joking filled the air. Hugs and handshakes conveyed the warm greetings as they came together to begin what they come together to do – make music.
For over 25 years, Winter Texans and Valley men have joined their voices – first and second tenors, baritones and basses – to create melodious, rich sounds, taking their audience on a trip through time. Singing show tunes and barbershop, patriotic and sacred tunes, their concerts have quite a variety of styles of music.
Directing the choir for the fourth year, Virgel Kroeker is obviously enjoying this part of his “retirement.”
“I’ve been a choral director all my life and a music educator way back into the ‘60s when I started my career. I’ve been in choirs since high school. Ironically, the first group I directed was a church men’s chorus in Inman, Kansas, where I grew up,” Virgel’s voice was calm among the clamor of the room.
He had heard the Senior Ambassadors many times since arriving in the Valley 15 years ago and invariably admired their work.
“Their director needed to leave because of health reasons and they needed to find a new director,” he explained. “A friend of mine who was a member of the group asked me if I would be interested. The rest is history.”
Coming from 27 RV parks, 14 states and three Canadian provinces, they make their way to Bentsen Grove Resort every November to begin practicing for their concert series, which starts in January. Ranging in age from the upper 50s to the upper 80s, they sing for the love of it.
Most of the men are involved in other choirs. Among them are 14 educators, 4 music educators, a medical doctor, dentist, pharmacist, and others with PhDs. A few volunteered a favorite story of their time in the choir.
“When I came down here five years ago, my life here revolved around sports,” Chuck Maier from Nebraska said. “When I joined this group, it suddenly changed so now my life revolves around music.”
“I’m not retired. I’m still teaching,” started out Manny Gutierrez of the Rio Grande Bible Institute. “I usually come with a tie on from work. About the second time I arrived like that, Virgel stood me up in the front and said, ‘Men, this is going to be our regular uniform.’ I almost got lynched during break time!” The whole crowd roared with laughter.
There are no tryouts. If someone has sung in another choir they can join the Ambassadors.
“We have a number of people that come for one or two rehearsals and then they can decide if this is something they’d like to do. We welcome them with open arms. If not, that’s all right too,” Virgel stated. “Many of them learn by listening, learn by ear. We have some very good musicians here that read music very well. It’s a good blend of good solid musicians as well as those that like to hear it first and chime in.”
Esther Hewitt and Rosetta Jeffery are the two accompanists for the group. Rosetta, like some of the men, will return to the Valley in January.
“Over 28 years ago, some men were doing some barbershop songs. One man wanted to see if there was a group that wanted to do more than just the barbershop. That was before I started accompanying with the second director in ’91,” Esther said.
“My husband was asked to join the group with somebody in our park. As they were doing their rehearsals, the accompanist they had at the time had fallen and couldn’t play anymore. They were looking for another accompanist and my husband, George, said, ‘My wife plays!’ I’ve been playing ever since. There’s a lot of practice but the guys are fun and I enjoy it. We go to a lot of different parks and see a lot of the Valley I don’t think we would see if we weren’t in this group,” she finished with enthusiasm.
Keeping track of the group’s history, the men are quick to insure the little piece of history belonging to each director. Virgil Anderson started the group, then came Chuck Emrick, next was Gary Schmidtke and now Virgel.
Dick Corle, in his 21st year with the group, a band director for 40 years and heavily involved with other local and Winter Texan bands, gives Virgel the credit for rebuilding the group.
“He’s a rebuilder. He’s bringing us back to what we were before we took a downhill swing,” he said with pride.
Practice begins and their voices float across the practice hall - clear, strong and joyful. What else could be expected from a men’s chorus whose motto is … Loving Life, Making Music?
The Senior Ambassadors will be performing this month at Oleander Acres, 3 p.m., Jan. 20; Enchanted Valley Ranch, 7 p.m., Jan. 23; Mobile Gardens, 7 p.m., Jan. 24; and Tip O Texas, 7 p.m., Jan. 29. In February, the group will perform at Golf View Estates, Feb. 6; Wagon City North, Feb. 16; Aladdin Villas, Feb. 17, and Pleasant Valley Ranch, Feb. 27. Showtimes are at 7 p.m.
Admission is $4 or $5, depending on the location.