Hillbilly-Music.comThe People. The Music. The History.
About The Artist
Vernon Elmer Reed was born in the town of Minden, NE which is just south of Kearney. His parents were Simon Peter and Mary Elizabeth (Powell) Reed. The family moved to a farm four miles southwest of Wichita by 1910. Simon died on September 18, 1902 from stomach cancer. Vernon had 3 brothers and a sister.
Around the age of 20, the 1920 U. S. Census shows him working in a Dry Goods Store and was living with his mom.
On December 26, 1921, Vernon married the former Lorena Bainum in Wichita at her parent's home. Both newlyweds were graduates of the dramatic art department of the Wichita College of Dramatic Art and took part in major plays while in college. An article of the marriage indicated the couple had plans to open a dramatic art school nearby in the spring. Vernon was working with the Spines Clothing Company at the time they were married. They had two children, Patricia and Tommy.
Vernon got into the radio business the following year. He was part of a broadcast on December 18, 1922 over radio station WAAP in Wichita. This was one of the earliest stations in the country. It was owned by the United Electric Co. Wilbur Cooper Jr. was manager and announcer. George E. Marshall was listed as the operator. The station's musical entertainment was arranged by The Wichita Eagle and The Innes-Cosgrove Music Co. The broadcasts took place from the Innes-Cosgrove Edison Shop on 407 East Douglas Avenue in Wichita. The program began at 9:00 pm.
The list of entertainment show some familiar names associated with KFH that were working together long before the Barn Dance shows went on the air. The orchestra that night included:
A "duologue" featured Mr. and Mrs. Victor Hawkins doing "He Tried To Tell His Wife." Later in the program the orchestra featured Vernon Reed and Guy Richmond doing "Carry Me Back To Old Virginny."
In 1923, he was the star of a four act play called "Clarence" by Booth Tarkington. It was being presented by the Senior players of the Wichita College of Music and Dramatic Art. Miss Alice Campbell was directing the effort. It was to be held March 17, 1923 at the Crawford Theatre. Even at the age of 24, he was gaining a reputation as the article states: "The play is admirably cast with Vernon Reed, who needs no introduction to Wichita audiences in the title role, ably supported by Victor Hawkins as Mr. Wheeler, the tired business man ... Genevieve Hawkins as Violet Pinney, governess.
His wife was also involved in the 1920's entertainment scene. As part of the expression department of the Wichita College of Music and Dramatic Art, she presented four members of her adult class in recital at the Philharmony Hall in May 1924. In May of 1925, she had some of her younger pupils do a recital at the college auditorium consisting of readings, dances and solo and two piano numbers.
Later in June 1925, she had a number of her students give a final recital at the college auditorium. This time, there would be varied readings, costumed dances, and a short sketch, "A Quiet Evening At Home." It was her last recital as she was going to take on similar work in Arkansas City.
Vernon attended the first annual banquet for Atwater Kent radio dealers in southern Kansas in August 1925. Harrison Albright pitched radio as a 'home affair.' A person could "...relax at home and it was not necessary to go out and seek entertainment. or go to different amusement places nightly."
Vernon and his wife Lorena took part in a program put on by the Saturday Afternoon Musical Club. A variety of entertainment was provided. The Reed's were part of the play "Ropes" that was put on by the group "The Prairie Players". Vernon played the part of Paul Whalen, the keeper of a lighthouse and his wife, Lorena took on the role of Jen Whalen, the wife of Paul. It was a one act play. The story line of the play was that the lighthouse keeper was blind.
In 1928, Vernon gained some notoriety because he was the last person to register to vote in October 1928. He had a good reason for being late. A child was born to Vernon and Lorena that evening (their son Tommy).
From the studios of KFH, the then Wichita Eagle and Hotel Lassen station, the Seth Parker singin' school was the latest programming innovation for the station. Vernon was in the role of Seth. Others on the program were "Ma" played by Sue Webb Fulton. Lucille Taylor, Francis Diers, Kenneth Gascoigne and Myrtle McGaugh were other cast members. "The material was both new and humorous and the songs were well done. It's a nice feature."
The character of Seth Parker caught on and led to personal appearances 'in character.' He spoke at the morning meeting of the Young People's department of the College Hill Methodist Church on Sunday, March 30, 1930 and he did so 'in costume.'
The Seth Parker program was unique at the time. The program on KFH was a local presentation but other stations had their own version. The script for the show was written by Phillips Lloyd of New York .On Tuesday evenings at 7:00 pm, the KFH studios included the show's cast - Vernon Reed as Seth; Mrs. Harry Conney (Soprano), Sue Fulton (contralto), Frances Diers (tenor) and A. D. Otto (baritone) making up the quartet. Speaking parts were Sue Fulton, Ma and Lizzie, Frances Diers, Laugh Pettingalte and Dan Hosmer, captain.
Vernon was one of the original performers on the KFH Barn Dance when it went on the air on December 23, 1933 at the Uptown Theatre. It was to be "...the biggest array of exciting 1880 "Hot Cha" ever produced in this section of the country." Production costs were said to be $150 for the show which would start at 9:15 pm. The eleven piece string band of Joe Cos was to provide the music for 18 couples that would compete for a $10 prize in a dancing contest. The dance would continue until a champion was selected and a $50 prize awarded by the mayor of Wichita. Vernon was to be "maestro of the microphone" for the program. Other members of the cast were Harry Cheshire (a master funster).
In late 1932, Vernon again took part in another serial radio drama of sorts. The program was called "Savage Altars." The final two episodes were aired on Sunday, January 8, 1933. There were apparently five members in the cast based on a photo seen during research. A. D. Otto, who played the role of Francois LeJeune, 'the treacherous half-breed'; Harry Hoffman took on the role of Major Montgomery; Manly Wade Wellman, who was the co-author of the play, played the role of Zack Harper - the young, Missouri backwoodsman, and lover of Ruth Montgomery; Miss Alberta Watkins was in the role of Ruth Montgomery, the heroine and finally, Vernon Reed, who portrayed Hank Dawkins, the old trapper and was said to be one of th sensations of the program.
Vernon didn't rest long between programs. He became part of the program sponsored by the Home Town Grocers who had a show with their own "Home Town Minstrels" providing the entertainment over KFH. The show had eleven local Wichita musicians. Lester Weatherwax and Vernon Reed acted as end men. C. U. Price was interlocutor. Alan Irwin was a popular pianist and organist and acted as the special accompanist for the Home Town minstrel quartet. The quartet consisted of Willard Yenser, second tenor; Clifton Billings, baritone; Bill Passwater, bass; and, Ed Smith, tenor. Russell Lowe was the director of the program and had a combination minstrel orchestra and brass band. The group also featured Herbert Kratosk on banjo as well.
In the late 1930's, Vernon created an endearing character that became part of the KFH Barn Dance Frolic show. In fact, this character had his own radio show. The character was "The Old Trader." He had an old floppy hat and a long, long white beard as part of his stage costume in character. KFH aired an hour of "The Old Trader" beginning about March 21, 1938, pre-dating the arrival of Andy Crockett when he formed the Ark Valley Boys and the new KFH Barn Dance Frolic show. A KFH booklet of old said,
"The Old Trader has traded everything from goats or shotguns to airplanes or farm equipment. He offers for trade over KFH whatever trades are sent to him by listeners and is always many trades behind the supply. This friendly service has been a leading feature over KFH for many years."
In June of 1949, Vernon resigned from KFH. He had been appointed educational director at the station on June 5 by Frank V. Webb, general manager of KFH and KFH-FM, another in a line of positions he held with the station. He resigned effective June 21, 1949. He was going to take on the role of farm director at radio station KANS.
Vernon became a politician and won an election for County Commissioner. He served in that position until 1964. In the 1956 election, as the Republican candidate, he got 14,070 votes. His Democratic opponent got 13,320 votes.
Vernon retired from his position as County Commissioner by not running for re-election and was out of office by January 1, 1965. However, a Sedgwick county grand jury indicted eight people for purchasing practices such as paying too much or paying for goods / services not received. Vernon was among the eight indicted but he was on vacation in Colorado at the time the indictments came down. But a panel of five district judges threw out all charges. The judges cited several factors that entered into their decision to dismiss all charges.
Vernon passed away at his summer home in Waco, Texas on Saturday, April 3, 1971. According to his obituary, he had started working for KFH in 1929 and stayed through 1950; he then joined KANS. In 1936, he dedicated the necessary property to build Mount Vernon Road; in return, a short street was named Reed Drive. He served as Sedgwick County Commissioners from 1956 to 1964. He was survived by his widow, Lorena, a son, Tommy and a daughter (Mrs. James) Pat Jones.
Credits & Sources