April 2, 2002
Ashley Alexander grew up among some of the hardscrabble farms of Noble county during the worst years of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. As an adult he provided a kaleidoscope of entertainment for audiences numbering in the thousands all around the world, but he never forgot his roots. Itís not likely that folks who came to know him will soon forget him, either.
For 22 years Ashley headed the Oklahoma State University Student Entertainers Bureau. During that time hundreds of eager, fresh-faced students made their way through the maze of fees at OSU by playing the accordion and many more musical instruments, singing, dancing, practicing ventriloquism and other talents. Rotary and Lions clubs and many other organizations all over the state relied on Ashley to furnish great entertainers for their special meetings. They always knew that he would come through for them, on time and at the right location, and he endeared himself to the Student Entertainers by coaching them and encouraging them to broaden their horizons.
In later years he organized groups of OSU students who traveled all over the globe as USO entertainers. They logged thousands of miles visiting U.S. troops and other Americans who were temporarily located on foreign shores. I think Ashley once told me that he had taken performers to every continent at least once. His own musical skills were considerable, but never showcased at the expense of his student entertainers. He enjoyed playing the piano, accordion, xylophone, vibraphone and marimba and virtually any other instrument either as soloist or part of an ensemble. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever saw him use sheet music. If you could hum it, he could play it, and do so with a. carefree, happy style that was his trademark. His wife, Beverly, who was assistant director of Student Entertainers at OSU, was equally gifted, as is their son, Richie. Ashley had three other sons by his first wife and they also were born musicians.
One recent summer, a couple from Newton, Kansas, came to Perry to meet Ashley. For a few years prior to that they had taught at an American school in Pakistan, where my niece, Sydney Flynn, and her husband, Vince, also taught. When they heard that Sydney had lived in Perry they became excited because the husband directed the student band at the Karachi school and he was a great fan of the late Ashley Alexander Jr., a nationally known jazz trombonist. They came here for lunch one summer day when the Flynns were visiting and we made arrangements for Ashley and Beverly to be there. The Kansas couple were thrilled to meet the Alexanders. Ashley presented them with some of his own tapes and hi-fi recordings made by Ashley Jr. It was an enjoyable day.
There is so much more to say about Ashley and his musical ministry at area nursing homes and retirement centers. More to be said also about Beverly and Richie as they continue the proud tradition of the Ashley Alexander Association, a non-profit organization that perpetuates the familyís musical style and their desire to brighten the hours for many, many friends, new and old. It would take a book, really, even to begin that story. Many of us will remember Ashley Alexander, his ever-present smile and his love for all kinds of music. People like that donít come along very often in a lifetime. We are thankful for this one.