LAKEVIEW — When folks in Lakeview talk music, especially those who have lived there a while, the name of Elmer Coon tends to come up frequently. His death, on June 10, again brought his name to the forefront of the conversations of longtime locals.
For nearly 30 years, Coon’s name was synonymous with musical performances at Lakeview High School. From 1949 through 1977, Coon taught music at the school and during that time produced dozens of live musical performances that are still remembered with fondness all these years later.
Lakeview businessman Dallas Lincoln was in fifth grade when Coon first came to town. According to Lincoln, the shows Coon managed to pull together with the limited resources of the high school, at that time, were nothing short of superlative.
“He rekindled all sorts of Broadway musicals,” Lincoln said. “In Lakeview, you could see ‘Man of la Mancha,’ ‘South Pacific,’ and ‘Brigadoon.’
“He had this Pied Piper aspect to his character,” Lincoln said. “Kids would do stuff for him that they wouldn’t otherwise do. If a kid didn’t have an outlet, he would find a spot for them on the stage when he was doing a musical.”
In his earliest years at the school, Lincoln recalls, the school would produce a minstrel show — complete with blackface; something that would strain the boundaries of political correctness just a decade or so later.
The minstrel show eventually gave way to the talent show.
“The minstrel show was the beginning of the whole thing,” Lincoln said. “Soon after that, he was doing ‘My Fair Lady.’ People were stunned. They couldn’t believe that would be working at the high school level. Folks from Greenville were driving up to see some of those shows in the early days.”
After he retired from teaching, Coon went on to direct plays with the Flat River Community Players. He also served as co-founder and administrator of Sunshine Camp for underprivileged children.
Moving to New Mexico with his wife, Mary, in 1985, Coon taught strings at Western New Mexico University from 1992 through 2001.
Former Lakeview resident David McIntire, who now resides in Muskegon and continues to act in community theater there, appeared in Coon’s production of “The Music Man,” playing the role of Harold Hill. Coincidentally, McIntire recently appeared in the Frauenthal Theater’s production of that same play.
“I have some very fond memories of Elmer,” McIntire said.
Lincoln adds that, after Coon left Lakeview, the music program there never fully recovered.
“If you hadn’t lived here, you probably would never have heard about his production of ‘The Music Man,’” Lincoln said. “So many people were excited by (Coon’s) production. It was a memorable time and we had a lot of fun.
“After Elmer left, they tried to do a few things after that, but it was never the same. The time was just right then, and Elmer was the right man for the job. The talent was there.”
A memorial service for Coon was June 17. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to The Elmer and Mary Coon Memorial Scholarship Fund in care of the Lakeview Area Community Fund 101 N. Lafayette St. Greenville, MI 48838 or the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd, PO Box 2795, Silver City, NM 88062.
Funeral arrangements are with Terrazas Funeral Chapels and Crematory (www.terrazasfuneralchapel.com).