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Friday, May 6, 2016

Cherokee's own 'Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy'

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bob Conley still puts in a full week - and more - at work. Photo by Dan Whitney
I have written many times about my passion for "Halls of Fame " - be it a Hall for outstanding achievement in baseball, football, rock and roll, whatever. It is rare, however, to actually get to meet and talk with a Hall of Famer.

I had the chance to do just that recently, however - and I didn't have to go to Cooperstown, Canton or Cleveland to accomplish the feat. Nope, I got to meet and have a pleasant conversation with a Hall-of-Famer right here in Cherokee.

Bob Conley of Cherokee was recently named to the "Bugles Across America" Hall of Fame. Bugles Across America's Hall of Fame is not an actual building, but Bob did receive a certificate and medal from the organization, which was founded in 2000 by Tom Day of Berwyn, Illinois. Bugles Across America has over 5,000 bugler volunteers, located in all 50 states and a growing number overseas. Their purpose is to see that all veterans have a bugler available to play 'Taps' at their funeral.

Bob Conley is shown playing 'Taps' at a recent Veteran's Day program at Roosevelt Elementary school. File photo by Mike Leckband.
Bob Conley has been playing the trumpet since he was a freshman at the former Wilson High School in Cherokee. He first played 'Taps' at a military funeral in 1943, and continues to do so some 66 years later. Conley said he has played for two Civil War veterans, one Spanish-American War veteran, one U.S. Senator (Guy Gillette) and "thousands of WWI, WWII, Korean and Vietnam War veterans" as well as one Desert Storm veteran, Nate Schubert.

Though a Bugles Across America Hall-of-Famer, Bob has never played 'Taps' at a funeral on the bugle. He plays the 24 notes of 'Taps' in the same key as buglers, but prefers the sound he gets on his trumpet. He does, however, own three bugles, each one a different style.

Bob usually plays the "echo" part of Taps himself - playing the first chorus facing in one direction, then turning his back and playing the second chorus at a lower volume. He said it may sound better with two trumpeters playing, but that it is getting harder and harder to line up a second person to play.

Even though he never served in the Army, Navy man Conley was rewarded by the Army for his good work, too
"Taps' hasn't always been Bob Conley's only number, by the way. He led a dance band from 1951 until the mid -1980s, playing ballrooms, dance clubs, private clubs and high school and college proms within a 100 mile radius of Cherokee. One of the musicians in his band was his son Jim, who, along with his wife, is now a band director in the Battle Creek-Ida Grove school district.

Bob married Sharon Fuhrman in 1951, and Jim is one of the couple's four sons - the others being Rob, who now lives in Portand, Oregon, and Steve and Daniel, who both live in Cherokee. The four sons fathered eight sons among them, and it wasn't until his oldest grandson and his wife had a daughter that Bob finally had another female in the family.

Bob served three years in the U.S. Navy, where he was attached to the Marines and served two years overseas. After his discharge, Bob spent a year on the Capital Police Force in Washington, D.C., and then returned to Cherokee, where he worked in the Cherokee County Engineer's Office for eight years. In 1957, he started worked at Lundell Construction in Cherokee, and he is still there, working a 55-hour week as Vice President.

His beloved Sharon passed away on January 22, 1993, after almost 42 years of marriage. The two really enjoyed touring the country on their motorcycles when they were married, and Bob, who says he has had "seven 'Gold Wings' and three Harleys" in his lifetime, still rides his Harley in good weather.

Bob says, "I do not get paid to play 'Taps,' and I do not want to get paid. I do it out of respect for the Veteran, who fought hard for his country. I hope that when the time comes, there will be someone around to play for me, and take my place to continue to play 'Taps.'"

Conley thought his 66 years of playing 'Taps' was probably close to a record - until he saw an article about Leonard Ross of Prescott, Arizona, the oldest American Legion bugler, who is 101 years old. Said Bob, "I've still got a ways to go yet."

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