William J. Schergens Music Scholarship Fund

William J. SchergensLife often has something in store for you that dramatically changes the course of your future forever. The Schergens family planted its roots in Tell City in the mid 1800s. My father, William John Schergens, or Bill as he was called by everyone except his mother, was the second of two sons of Mari and William Schergens. His older brother, Edgar, became the publisher and editor of the Tell City News. No one ever left Tell City! My father was a promising athlete as a young boy. He loved basketball and other sports, running with his faithful dog Pal and his cousin Howard around the town and, I suspect, courting a little mischief along the way. Winters were spent sledding down Pestalozzi Hill near his home. Sadly, he developed a growth in his neck and had to have it surgically removed. The doctor ordered that he could no longer play sports, a crushing blow for someone so young and energetic. His mother, Mari Schergens, was a strict disciplinarian, so that was that!

Who encouraged him to pick up a musical instrument or whether it was a young boy reaching out for something to do, we will never know. But the young man that you see in the picture cradling his saxophone with all the seriousness of a professional musician is my father. Legend has it that my grandmother named the band the “Gloom Chasers,” an apt name in the late 1920s. Times were hard but somehow the whole family worked to send my father to Indiana University, where he majored in music. Frank Clements, who is also in the picture, was a best friend and IU classmate. Early on, they organized what became a popular dance band on the IU campus, the Clemens-Schergens Band [photo courtesy of Tell City Historical Society.]

When they graduated in 1933, my father, Frank and others were “picked up” as musicians with Jack Crawford Crown Prince of Jazz, a band of some renown. They traveled the Midwest appearing at upscale hotels and broadcasting over radio. Dad’s girlfriend from IU, my mother, traveled to Denver, where the band was appearing, and they were married by a newly arrived minister from … Tell City! What an unbelievable coincidence! Following their happy days “on the road,” they settled in Tell City, where my father was a music teacher at Tell City High School and did graduate work at the University of Chicago. The TCHS band director, Claude Smith, was named to a new position in Evansville and he recommended my father for his position. The rest is history, with my father becoming band director and leading the TCHS Marching Band to a number of state championships in their class. Alas, I came on the scene and my father decided that he would take a quantum leap into the world of insurance. We moved to  Indianapolis in 1943 and on to Shreveport, Louisiana, where he was the general agent for Aetna Life Insurance covering a multistate area. His training in teaching and motivation served him well as he became a nationally recognized leader with Aetna in achieving new records in insurance sales. But music was always a major part of his life and ours. We listened to the radio, played records every night, went to musicals and concerts. He even served as try-out coach for my high school “girl drum corps.” Showing no favoritism, he assigned me to the cymbals. So much for heredity! When he died in 1996 and was buried next to my mother in Tell City, my husband and I wanted to assure that my father’s love of music lived on! What better way than to establish a music scholarship in the county and town he loved but left so many years ago! The happiness we receive each year in learning about the newest recipient of the W.J. Schergens Music Scholarship is really my father’s legacy to a young person to assure that the music does indeed live on!

–  Becky Schergens