Local performer bids entertainment adieu

Local area entertainer Louise Pickering

Local area entertainer Louise Pickering

By June Norvila

She has always thrived on entertaining. It started with her lovely soprano singing voice and over the years developed into much more than that. For decades Louise Pickering has been one of the first local names people thought of when they wanted a singer or entertainer.

Audiences have enjoyed the singing, narrations, jokes, impersonations, and characters she developed, some borrowed and some originals, but now at the age of 87, Louise has decided to slow down and take it easier.

Much of the time she was herself, but some of the unforgettable characters she developed on her own over the years included Lena from Norway and/or Lars the other Norwegian, complete with accents/dialects, with Ole the Swede included in some of her anecdotes. She imitated some characters from the CBS country music/comedy TV show HEE HAW and Grande Ole Opry fame and also included her own version of Dolly Parton, Phyllis Dillar, and more.

She seldom turned down a chance to entertain if she could work it into her hectic schedule. Pickering was constantly asked to sing at weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, funerals and other social events and was invited to perform often at local concerts and community gatherings. She voluntarily visited and entertained for senior groups, church groups, for lady’s clubs and at drop-ins, mostly in and around Bentley, Lacombe, Sylvan Lake and Red Deer, but sometimes as far away as Rocky Mountain House

“For events I was invited to perform at I wrote up (personalized) ditties to old fashioned familiar tunes and just changed the words to fit the occasion,” Pickering explained.

“I had no formal voice training and can’t even read a note of music. I did everything by ear. Sometimes when certain songs were requested I would practice them the way I thought they should be in my own way, so often when I got together with an organist or pianist (for accompaniment) they had to be pretty patient.” she says chuckling.

She fondly remembers performing at Christmas concerts and doing operettas at the local rural Aspelund Hall, once the hub of the community, which she sadly said is not active anymore. The Rainy Creek UCW ladies group traveled to the Lacombe Nursing Home to entertain for about 20 years she recalls, and she was a huge part of it.

After getting a musical instrument that few know much about, the electric Omnichord, an instrument introduced by Suzuki in 1981 as an electronic substitute for an Autoharp, but geared towards people who had no previous musical knowledge, she often accompanied herself. She used it until it wore out and it couldn’t be fixed or replaced. She was given a more modern version of the instrument but couldn’t quite get the hang of it she confessed.

Pickering, who has lived on the family farm in the Aspelund area south of Bentley for 68 years, has enjoyed volunteering her talents to groups and events around the area for most of her life, bringing lots of laughter and joy everywhere she entertained. That was what she enjoyed doing in her spare time while raising five kids.

She started singing to the cows with her sister Edna as they hand milked them. “I remember how hard we worked (Louise and her sister) to save up 39 cents so we could buy the latest Wilf Carter 45 record.”

The first public appearance she recalls was singing at the rural Rainy Creek United Church in the early 1950’s.

Her preferred songs were cowboy songs, old time family favorites and hymns. Most of the time she sang solo but sometimes someone else would partner with her and they would do a duet or quartet or a short humorous sketch, much to the enjoyment of an appreciative audience.

Clara Belle Witwer, formerly from the same area, sometimes entertained with her and Ella Barnes accompanied her on piano at times. Old time friend Doris Coulton encouraged her to take part in the United Church choir and drop-in choir and Louise did sing duets with Sam Wetzel and in quartets including Stephen and Pauline Cregg.

Having decided to slow down and give up taking on other engagements, Louise planned what she called a “retirement tea” at the Bentley Drop-In Centre on the afternoon of February 23 with a HEE HAW show theme program, and officially announced her farewell from entertaining. The place was packed.

In her Buck Owens overalls and straw cowboy hat, she sang while pretending to pick a small colored guitar. Pickering changed hats throughout her performance as she slipped from one theme to another.

Gail Wilson appeared with her as Mini Pearl. Witwer performed a piece with her too.

On display were a collection of some of the 25 old-fashioned ladies hats and 15 men’s hats; shoes, both men and women’s; fancy gloves; and costumes and props she has used throughout the years. Since about 1948 people had donated outfits to her so she ended up with quite an assortment, some composed in bits and pieces, and some given complete.

Favorites included some clothing, complete with bonnets, made by Gladys Calkins who had been involved in square dancing and a special dress made by Dorothy Hopkins for Alberta’s Centennial year.

Another outfit Louise was particularly proud of was a top hat, red vest and a man’s tux with tails, part of which was a wedding outfit of an early relative of early days from England.

For a donation to the Bentley Care Centre she invited people to pick through her costumes and take what they wanted.

“I wanted to find new homes for my outfits, or if those who had given them to me wanted them back they could take them. My kids won’t want any of them or know what to do with them and the care centre has been a part of my life so I thought it was a good place to donate to.” About $200 was collected.

Friends call Louise “the ultimate volunteer” and a “great organizer.” For years she would pick up friends and neighbors and happily chauffeur them around to events. After getting vertigo some three years back that never quite left, she was forced to slow down and not drive as much.

She was president/organizer of the Bentley Drop-In for many years and belonged to the drop-in choir as long as it was active. She is still active in the Bentley Drop-In and is a strong supporter of the Bentley United Church and its choir.

Following a spontaneous rendition of For She’s a Jolly Good Fellow, which broke out after her two-hour program, lunch was served. Her two daughters Elaine Oldford and Sylvia Bouteiller were able to attend, as was long time friend Clara Belle Witwer.