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The Douglas County Public Library was presented a book last week that is sure to be of interest to a lot of folks in the Ava and Douglas County region.
L.D. Keller and the Promenaders was compiled and written by Willie Washam, and edited and designed by Bob Chancellor.
Washam and his wife, Pat, a member of the original Promenaders, were in Ava Friday to present the book to the library. A complimentary copy of the book was also given to the Douglas County Herald.
Douglas County was selected to receive a free copy of the book because Wanda (Sallee) Carras was also a member of the original Promenaders in 1952, while attending Missouri State University (then Southwest Missouri State).
For those too young to remember, the Promenaders was a popular square dance team formed at SMS. Under the direction of caller and coach L.D. Keller, the group created an informal, free-lance jigging style while following traditional square dance patterns.
In December 1953 KYTV and KWTO radio started a one-hour TV show called The Ozark Jubilee. Not many families in the rural area had televisions at that time, but most everyone relied on KWTO radio for news and entertainment. The Promenaders were included on The Ozark Jubilee program, and their popularity grew when the Jubilee was picked up by national networks.
In September, 1954, the show moved from the KWTO studio to the 1,200-seat Jewell Theater in Springfield to accommodate the growing audience. Red Foley was signed to a contract with the show to gain national popularity.
An excerpt from the book describes one event that boosted the popularity of the Promenaders:
“Big doings were afoot in Springfield, Missouri, in 1952. This growing, ambitious city annexed the surrounding area of 30,000 people increasing the population to 104,500, as they were preparing to host a reunion of the 35th Infantry Division. This was President Harry Truman’s military unit, and since the president planned to attend the reunion, the city went all out. He marched on foot through the city with his division. A film starring future president Ronald Reagan had its world premier in town.
“The Promenaders entered the 35th Division Reunion square dance contest at Springfield’s historic Shrine Mosque. They breezed through the first two trials and entered the finals against three other sets. Two groups were quickly eliminated, leaving the Sashayers and the Promenaders tied for the lead. Voting was by applause. The next round, they were still tied. In the third round, the judges decided the Sashayers had won and the Promenaders were second. The Sashayers got to dance for President Truman at the Presidential Ball in June.”
Officially titled, America’s Favorite Square Dancers L.D. Keller and the Promenaders, the book contains many, many pictures that will bring back memories to those who have reached their fifth decade. There are pictures of the Promenaders with Stan Musial and Alvin Dark, of the St. Louis Cardinals, Clayton Moore (The Lone Ranger) and Jay Silverheels (Tonto), Gene Autry, Red Foley and Joe Slattery, former Cardinals announcer Harry Caray, entertainers Ferlin Huskey, Sonny James, Carl Smith and Bobby Lord, and many others.
Washam said he has given copies of his book to libraries and schools throughout southern Missouri, especially targeting towns that had original Promenaders.
Wanda Sallee Carras is the sister of longtime Ava Ford dealer Don Sallee, of Ava. She was a cheerleader for Ava’s first football team in 1948 and was also Ava High School’s first Homecoming queen. Her father, Joe Sallee, owned the Ford dealership in Ava prior to brother, Don, assuming the business.