WILLMAR, Minn. (WCCO) — Aging gracefully is something we all hope to do. For some it’s harder than others, but it appears to be no problem for a New London man.
Burt Lundberg turned 100 in early October, and his music skills now span a century. He’s still jamming with the band.
In this week’s Finding Minnesota, John Lauritsen takes us to Willmar where Burt has discovered the Fountain of Youth through music.
It’s a Tuesday morning at Jazz N Java Coffee house, and the place is packed. The crowd claps and keeps rhythm. And while the music is good, the piano man is legendary.
“I don’t even know if I’ll last to 100-years-old, let alone keep playing like that,” said fan Clair McLouth.
On October 7, Lundberg turned 100. But that’s not how he feels.
“I don’t feel 100. I feel about 89,” said Lundberg.
To understand why he still packs a coffeehouse or cafe, you have to go back about 95 years, when Lundberg used to watch his parents play piano.
“I loved the way they played piano so I copied them. It worked out,” said Lundberg.
It worked out for his friends, family and the United States Army. Born at the very end of World War I, Burt played in the Army band in World War II. He performed on the front lines playing trumpet, accordion, and whatever else he could get his hands on.
“The General sent me from one side of Italy to the other side of Italy to get me a new accordion,” said Lundberg.
The music didn’t stop when the war did. He played in a number of bands, and for his day job he became the band director at New London-Spicer high school. When he plays today, many of his former students still come out to watch. Some of them are now in their ’70s and ’80s.
“I can’t believe it. All the stuff he can do at his age, and do it so well it blows your mind,” said former student, Bill McLouth.
“It gets our heart pumping and everybody’s smiling and having fun and clapping and Burt will say something like – don’t clap – just throw money,” said lead singer Bob Whitney.
Years ago, the West Central Tribune even called him the Lawrence Welk of Kandiyohi County.
“Oh, he’s inspiring, he’s Mr. Music, you know. He has a cap that says Mr. Music right on it,” said friend, Jane Hofstad.
But it hasn’t always been about the chords and scales. A few years ago, Lundberg’s beloved wife, Toots, passed away. And then he encountered health problems of his own.
“He almost died a year ago. He ended up in a hospital very dehydrated and disoriented,” said son in law David Olson.
Slowly but surely Lundberg regained his health and vitality and it wasn’t long before he was right where he wants to be.
“I think music keeps him going. I think that’s why he’s 100-years-old to be honest,” said David.
Music never forgets and neither do Burt’s students. His life lessons go well beyond the piano or keyboard.
While the songs change, Lundberg never does.
“It just speaks to my heart. To think, 100 years. He will be music until there is no more,” said Jane.
Proving that true happiness is measured by how you make others feel.
“It keeps me on my toes. And I love to keep coming down here,” said Lundberg. “We play their requests and they’re happy. And that’s the reason we go- to make them happy.”
Lundberg was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 1996. He also plays at nursing homes in Willmar.