And the Band Played On

And the Band Played On

Vern Steffel has always loved to make people smile. As the band leader of the Whoopie John Band Orchestra, he played venues across the upper Midwest and as far away as Bavaria. With a focus on old-time music, primarily polka, the band played to standing-room only audiences until 2004 when it came time to hang up their flannel-lined hats.

A young Vern Steffel with his personalized accordion.

Although Vern joked that he was going to take everything with him when he died, his cousin, Gladys McClendon, urged him to get his affairs in order.

Much of the band memorabilia and bandstands were donated to the McCloud County Museum where they are now on display in a new wing. Vern updated his will to leave the majority of his estate to his beloved nieces and nephews. But in talking with Gladys, he expressed an interest in leaving a little something to a group of people that would have an impact on their lives and maybe make them smile.

It was Gladys who suggested Hammer to Vern. She has known Sue Walker, Hammer’s Chief Program Officer for 25 years as their career paths have crossed. Vern liked the idea and said, “let’s do it!”

From left to right: Angela Bernhardt and Sue Walker from Hammer with Vern Steffel’s cousin, Gladys.

Although Vern didn’t have a connection with Hammer, he had family members with developmental disabilities, and a soft spot for the work done by Hammer.

Vern passed away in 2020 at the age of 91 and yet his memory will live on with his gift to Hammer of just over $27,000 going to Hammer’s Area of Greatest Need.

With these funds, Hammer can continue to meet the needs of 370 individuals living in our group homes and apartments, who might just do a little dance and the band’s trademark “Wooohooo-hooo-hooo-hooo” call in celebration of Vern.

Your life’s work (and subsequent legacy) is your opportunity to make others smile. Whatever the reason behind your giving, we are here to help you fulfill your goals. To learn more about making an estate gift, go to Hammer.planningyourlegacy.org. If you’d like to talk about your plans, contact Angela Bernhardt at Abernhardt@hammer.org or call the Development office at 952-473-1261.

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