Members of the Bridgeville American Legion make beautiful music

Published Feb 17, 2014 at 11:40 am (Updated Feb 17, 2014 at 11:40 am)

What started out as a low-key jam session between fellow veterans and friends a few years ago has turned into a full-fledged band that plays weekly at the Bridgeville American Legion.

The band, which has no official name, is made up of about a dozen musicians ranging in age from their 60s to 80s. The group gets together every Tuesday afternoon at the Legion on Station Street.

Marty Chabala of Bridgeville is one of the band’s founding members. At 83, he is one of the most senior members of the band.

“It makes me feel good that I’m the oldest one,” Chabala said.

He said the idea came about a few years ago when he asked the Legion’s manager, Jerry Pappert, if he could get a piano for sing-a-longs.

The Legion acquired a piano free of charge and Chabala has been playing ever since, although his background in music, along with many of the other band members’, goes far beyond the Legion.

“I walked in and Marty was playing and I said, ‘I like what you’re doing,’” said fellow Legion band member Jim Bogdon of Bridgeville. At 75, he plays the saxophone and clarinet. Bogdon said he’s played in many bands over the years, performing all over the region including Ohio and West Virginia.

“We play anything – from the 1940s, ’50s, ’60s and polkas. It’s all by ear,” Bogdon said, referring to the fact that most of the band members don’t rely on any type of sheet music when performing.

Chabala said the best part of performing at the Legion is, “Friendship. We are all friends.”

Vic Manella of Imperial plays drums and is one of the youngest members in the band.

“We kind of have two bands,” Manella said. He said when the more senior members of the band need a break, the younger ones take over and they play more jazz and rock music.

“We do a little bit of everything,” added Tom Palastro, who plays the accordion in the band and is also a member of the Western Pennsylvania Button Box Club.

John Presto of Bridgeville plays guitar and sings in the band. He has played in three different bands, starting in the 1950s. He said the band’s name should be “The Legion of All-Stars.”

“I just like playing and I like the camaraderie,” said guitarist Dick Day of Heidelberg. “This just started out as a jam.”

“It’s good therapy for us,” said Steve Lewis of Ross Township, who also plays guitar.

It’s not just men who play and sing in the band. Joy Heaps of Bridgeville had a career in Florida as a singer with her husband, Al.

“These are all my boyfriends,” joked Heaps. When they can, the Heaps come to the Legion to sing and play guitar with the band.

“Come down – it’s a relaxing afternoon. We have eats and we have drinks,” said Day about the large roasters full of haluski and other goodies people bring in to eat.

“They’re terrific,” said Legion manager Jerry Pappert. “Tuesday is a good day for us,.”

The public is welcome to come hear the band play on Tuesdays – just ring the bell at the door and he’ll let you in, Pappert said.

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