The Skagit Historical Museum is hosting a unique exhibit about Hugo Helmer, a local man who made music and memories for local kids. Photo courtesy Skagit Historical Museum

The Skagit Historical Museum is hosting a unique exhibit about Hugo Helmer, a local man who made music and memories for local kids. Photo courtesy Skagit Historical Museum

Who was Hugo Helmer? New exhibit at Skagit Historical Museum strikes a local chord

Many folks who live in Skagit County know the name of Hugo Helmer because of Hugo Helmer Music. But who was the man behind the name?

The Skagit Historical Museum is hosting a unique exhibit about this local man who made music and memories for local kids.

From Sweden to Skagit

Hugo was known as a musician, but he was much more to those who had the fortune to learn to play the accordion from him.

In 1925, Hugo arrived from Sweden with his brother-in-law, Jack, to start a new life in the rapidly growing United States. Landing in New York, likely going through Ellis Island like so many before them, they immediately made their way out west to work as loggers. Why they went west remains a subject of speculation among family. Perhaps opportunity and adventure beckoned.

Jack’s sister, Gertrude, joined them the following year and she and Hugo were married and had two daughters, Carol-Anne and Lillian.

Hugo soon realized that what he really loved was music, particularly the accordion. He began to teach, and his joy was infectious. At one point, Hugo had more than 90 students.

On the move: Hugo Helmer’s band. Photo courtesy Skagit Historical Museum

On the move: Hugo Helmer’s band. Photo courtesy Skagit Historical Museum

Hitting the right notes: more than just a marching band

What does one do with a profusion of accordion players? Form a marching band, naturally! Established in the 1930s and the first of its kind in the US, Hugo Helmer’s Accordion Band became a fixture in parades across the Pacific Northwest.

As musicians, they were exceptional. “The average age of the players was 10,” says former student Selma Garberg Johnson.

Duane Bretvick recalls, “I can’t remember a time when we didn’t win money as a marching unit. Hugo would divide the prize money among the band, which usually amounted to $2 0r $3 dollars a person,” meaning the kids could go and have some fun!

Hugo had high standards and a big heart. Everyone was expected to practice, practice, practice. Uniforms were to be immaculate before the parade, and Hugo even kept a jar of white shoe polish on hand! A former student says that Hugo insisted that the band “look good together, be accurate together, be steady together, and stay together.”

Hugo’s high expectations taught self-esteem, self-respect, teamwork and accomplishment, and gave the kids great lasting memories. In the Second World War, money was tight, yet Hugo still got the kids up to Victoria and Vancouver in British Columbia, or to Seattle to march in the big parades. Those trips were “as much anticipated as if we were going to New York City,” remembers Selma.

It was about more than music: Hugo was in it for the kids. His big heart shone through in his ability to notice when someone was having a bad day, helping the kids by talking stuff through.

A man with vision

Hugo opened Hugo Helmer Music because his kids needed hard-to-get accordions. He was the first to bring TV to Skagit County in the 1940s, selling the units through his shop.

While Hugo may be gone, his legacy lives on in the music store, still run by family, but most importantly, in the many young lives he made better in tough times by giving them the gift of happy memories, a sense of accomplishment and the ability to find strength in themselves.

Check out the amazing life of Hugo Helmer and the legacy he left behind. Museum exhibit runs June to the end of the year. Temporary hours are Friday to Sunday, 11:00 am to 4:00 pm.

For map directions, click here. To learn more about the museum, check out the website.

Talk to us

More in Local Marketplace

Katherine Bumstead, M.D., is a family medicine physician practicing at Providence Medical Group Harbour Pointe Clinic. She says establishing a long-term, personal relationship with a trusted health care physician may be one of the best things we can do for our overall health.
Got a doc? The benefits of a long-term relationship with your health care physician

So many of us live transitory lives today, moving from place to… Continue reading

Everything at The New Mexicans is made from scratch using the authentic South West recipes.
Everett restaurant serves up South West cuisine and Pacific Northwest hospitality

Everett residents are spoiled for choice with great places to eat, especially… Continue reading

Humana teaser photo
Eligible for Medicare? The Clock is Ticking to Choose Your 2022 Coverage

Making a list and checking it twice isn’t just for the holidays… Continue reading

Laura Williams, Executive Director, GenCare Lifestyle the Village at Granite Falls.
Home for the holidays at Granite Fall’s senior living community

For many folks, the holidays are a time of happy memories, especially… Continue reading

Whether it’s occasions shared with loved ones, or the time to indulge a hobby or pastime retirement living should be about doing what you want to do.
Seniors celebrate an extra-special Thanksgiving with family, friends and community

Thanksgiving is about spending time with friends and family, sharing stories, good… Continue reading

f
Lung screening (and robots) bring life-saving effects to Puget Sound

Lung cancer screening is now covered by most insurance providers for high-risk 50 to 80-year-olds

Share International
A Ray of Hope in Chaotic Times

Even in these chaotic and perilous times, there is reason for hope.… Continue reading

j
Using experiential learning to create stronger teams

To make the most of a team building challenge don’t just climb higher, hire an expert!

Skagit County Historical Museum photo.
Discover Skagit County’s remarkable hidden history

Museum offers a glimpse into the community’s storied past

Rather than taking time off work or driving across town, with virtual visits your Providence clinicians are one click away.
Convenient health care: Choose the appointment type that works best for you

Virtual care expanded out of necessity, but offers many benefits beyond the pandemic

Quail Park of Lynndood residents Gary Hoskins takes in some of the gorgeous fall colors brightening up the garden.
GenCare  The Village at Granite Falls
For your loved one, the comforts of home, for you, peace of mind

Granite Falls and Lynwood retirement communities takes care of the little things, so you and your loved ones can get back to enjoying life