REXFORD, N.Y. (NEWS10) — On Sunday, October 30, at 1 p.m., 102-year-old musician and World War II Veteran, Earl St. Onge, will be joined by friends and fellow musicians for a jam session at his home at Coburg Village, an independent living community in Rexford. Throughout the summer and fall, Earl and area musicians have been delighting residents with impromptu bluegrass jam sessions on the Coburg Village grounds.
A self-taught musician, Earl has been playing stringed instruments since he was a young boy. He was born in Tupper Lake, New York, on New Year’s Day in 1920. When he was four years old his family moved to Graham, North Carolina, where he attended grade school.
At that time there was no television, and radio was just coming into its own. The only other entertainment was listening to phonograph records. So, Earl and his family would pass the time making their own music. One brother played the violin, his other brother played the piano, Earl the guitar, and his dad the harmonica. The family would often attend local fiddlers’ conventions. During the depression era, many families couldn’t afford to buy records, so they would get together and play with other musicians at the conventions.
When Earl was 14, he and his family moved back north to the Oneonta area. He, his dad, and his brothers formed a family band. The band became well-known in the area, mostly playing at dances. At one point they were playing six nights a week—but never on Sundays and never in bars.
When World War II broke out on Dec. 7, 1941, Earl quickly realized that at age 21, he was the perfect candidate for the draft. He decided to take matters into his own hands, and in January, enlisted in the Army. After training, he went on active duty in the South Pacific where he spent two-and-a-half years in the jungles.
Just before the United States entered the Philippines, Earl had just enough points to come back to the States where he was stationed in California. Being happy just to be alive and well, Earl bought himself a Harley. When the war ended, he hopped on his new bike and headed back east to be officially discharged. He traveled from California to New York on the famous Route 66.
Earl arrived back home to Oneonta to learn that his girlfriend had married someone else. In retrospect, that was a good thing— it led Earl to his wife, Eloise.
Through the GI Bill, Earl was able to go to school for radio and communications. After graduating, he worked at Motorola; he then went on to General Electric; eventually ending up in its research lab.
He and Eloise lived in Loudonville, Watervliet, and then eventually ended up in their home in Burnt Hills where they lived for 57 years. Together they raised three children—two boys, and a girl. Earl and Eloise were married for 70 years.
Eloise, known far and wide for her amazing pie-making skills, passed away six years ago. Earl describes his wife lovingly as one of the most unselfish people you will ever meet.
After the war, Earl’s brothers also went back to school and the family band dissolved. Earl’s love of music continued. Wherever life’s journey took him, he always found musicians to share his passion. At age 69, Earl started playing the fiddle. He frequented bluegrass music festivals where he met and played with other musicians. Some of those musicians still come to play with Earl at Coburg Village.
After Eloise passed, Earl lived alone for two years with Becca, their cherished poodle. He decided to move to Coburg Village, which Earl describes as the best move he ever made. When he first moved to the community, he wasn’t able to walk down his own hallway without taking a break. He’s now averaging 4,500 steps per day.
Earl keeps his mind sharp by memorizing the first names of all his friends. When he turned 100, Coburg Village held a birthday celebration in his honor. He was able to greet all 185 people at the event by their first names.
Earl’s doctor is amazed by his continued good health and keen mind. Earl attributes his health to
exercise, and the good meals he enjoys at Coburg Village.
If you are lucky, you can catch one of Earl’s jam sessions. You might also hear Earl playing the fiddle inside his apartment with the accompaniment of a CD. His dog, Becca, likes his music too, sitting by his side as he plays.