Let Freedom Sing

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— A walk through the woods with her dog Duke seems to spark revelations for local Jo Lauter.

Like many Americans, Lauter felt helpless and a loss of control soon after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. But a walk with her dog and a talk with God led her to come up with a day of unity that she hopes will continue throughout this community.

"All the things we see happen in life, our initial shock makes everyone come together," Lauter said. "But I want to 0bring our community together and keep us moving forward together."

Lauter has organized and planned the first-ever God Bless America concert featuring two choirs and a slew of local musicians. All proceeds from the concert will benefit local law enforcement and terrorist attack relief efforts.

While Lauter thinks it is important to send money to relief efforts in New York, she also saw the importance of keeping donated money in town.

Twenty percent of the money raised will be held in Steamboat Springs in case a firefighter or a law enforcement member is killed in the line of duty. Eighty percent will go to a particular relief fund in New York that has not yet been decided.

Lauter said local firefighters and law enforcement should be credited for their hard work in the community. She has given them the responsibility of finding the right place for the 80 percent.

"Thank you for your support of not only the Steamboat Springs Fire Department but also all of the fire departments that were involved in the Sept. 11 tragedy," said fire chief Bob Struble in a news release.

The Steamboat Springs Police Department, the Routt County Sheriff's Office and the Steamboat Springs Fire Department will keep the money in a Yampa Valley Community Foundation fund until the departments have reached an agreement as to where it should go.

"They may sit on it for six months," Lauter said. "One hundred percent is going to relief funds."

Lauter said she thought she needed the credibility of the three departments to pull this off with success. Because of their direct connection with other law enforcement and fire departments, she thought they would know where the money is needed most.

"It's unbalanced at this stage," Lauter said of all the money going to New York.

Volunteer firefighter Andrew Anderson said the relief funds are getting so large that they don't know whom to distribute the money to.

Anderson said the fire department has decided it will give the money to Kevin Nerney to distribute at his former firehouse in New York.

Nerney is a retired firefighter of 15 years with the FDNY in Brooklyn. Anderson said at least 10 of Nerney's colleagues were killed as a result of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Nerney will attend the concert to say a few words at the beginning.

Anderson said they would rather give the money to Nerney to distribute to various families because of his close connection with each of them.

"This is so we all feel good about it," Anderson said. "The bureaucracy is not getting money to some families."

Keeping some money in the community also is important. Anderson said President Bush recently gave a speech reminding people not to forget about their local charities that could be suffering.

"Why not do things for the local people? Do whatever you can locally," Anderson said. "Come by and say thank you. Nobody does that nobody."

The new fire engine, Engine No. 61, will be outside the God Bless America concert.

Lauter said her position in the Holy Name Catholic Church choir sparked an idea for a musical concert consisting of the community's church choirs and local musicians.

Initially though, Lauter had difficulty getting response to her idea.

Then Robert Ritschel, dean of Colorado Mountain College's Alpine Campus, gave advice to Lauter: try to get a few people from each different choir.

"My head was down because I'm not getting any calls. I went on another dog walk and I'm saying these prayers to God because I'm failing," Lauter said. "And then my phone started ringing off the hook."

Among the callers were professional musicians such as Mary Martin Stockdale, Steve Jones and Rick St. Pierre.

Lauter has pulled together a God Bless America Choir made up of members of various community choirs and the Concordia Lutheran Church Choir and the Bell Choir with their own patriotic medleys.

The concert will provide a combination of patriotism, faith and essential American folk music.

"Music is the language of the soul," Lauter said. "You can see how it brings people together."

When people are in trouble, Lauter said people ask God to help them. She said she thinks this concert is a way of praying for those who are fighting for America's freedom and liberty of faith.

"We are allowed to have whatever faith we want," Lauter said. "There are no atheists in a foxhole and we're in a foxhole."

Dock Lockwood will be the master of ceremonies, accompanied by musical host Terry Koch.

Because Lauter ended up with so many volunteers wanting to participate in this concert, she had to schedule another God Bless America concert for March 11 to get everyone involved.

The March 11 concert will demonstrate a variety of musically talented children.

Lauter said she is excited about tonight's concert, which she said is possible thanks to the artists participating as well as volunteers Cindy Svendson, Yvette Look, Sue Bockelman and Andrew Anderson.

"There are so many people," she said. "We can do great things."

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