Buell’s Gift Keeps Giving

Very few “06880” readers ever met Buell Neidlinger. But — thanks to his frequent comments on the blog, always providing nuance and back stories to the topic of the day — many of us knew and admired him.

He lived in Westport from 1938 through the ’50s. He had a long and storied career in music, playing bass with Billy Holliday, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Ray Charles, the Beach Boys, Elton John, Dolly Parton, the Carpenters, the Moody Blues, Barry White, Whitney Houston, Ringo Starr and Bill Monroe.

Ella Otis

When he died suddenly of a heart attack in March, at his longtime Washington state home, the “06880” community mourned.

Mary Cookman Schmerker was especially touched. The 1958 Staples High School graduate first got to know Buell when he responded to an “06880” story about the Saugatuck Congregational Church by asking Mary if longtime organist Ella Otis was her grandmother.

Buell was a member of the children’s choir, and remembered Ella.

“I loved the way she would improvise fab modulation sequences between the hymns,”  he wrote. “Kinda reminded me of the movie music I heard down at the Fine Arts on Saturday afternoons.

“Anyway, I could tell your grandmother loved music from the way she played. That was my first introduction to that feeling in music, and it made me want to be a musician. I was, and still am in music!”

Buell Neidlinger

Buell and Mary exchanged several emails. Once, they spoke briefly by phone.

Buell told Mary that he wished he could revisit his parents’ graves in Evergreen Cemetery. She lives near Houston, but promised Buell she’d take a photo when she got to Westport in the fall. Her mother, brother and grandmother — Ella Otis — are all buried there too.

However, Hurricane Harvey canceled Mary’s trip year.

A couple of weeks ago, she finally made it back to Westport.

“Unfortunately, Buell couldn’t wait for me,” she writes. “He has left us for his eternal home with the Lord.”

But Mary kept her promise. She found his parents’ graves very easily.

(Photo/Mary Schmerker)

Mary wishes she had paced off the distance from Buell’s parents’ graves, to her grandmother’s. They’re very close — just as she felt close to him.

Their paths did not cross in Westport. He was 4 years older. Yet as she read the comments following his death, she learned he grew up in an old house on Clinton Avenue. She lived nearby, on Calumet.

“We would have roamed the same woods, walked the shores of the Saugatuck down to Lees Dam, heard the noise in the summer from Camp Mahackeno, and watched weekend traffic from the bridge over the Merritt Parkway,” she says.

Rereading Buell’s first email, she noted it was sent just over a year ago: June 1, 2017.

“I encourage everyone to ask questions of your elders now while you can,” Mary says. “Share the stories for future generations.

“I am smiling, and thankful to Buell for sharing with me my grandmother’s influence on his life. What a wonderful gesture and gift he has given me, and our children and grandchildren.

“Buell will live on in our hearts. And his music will resonate for a very long time.”

11 responses to “Buell’s Gift Keeps Giving

  1. Hi, thank you for this coverage of Buell Neidlinger. I probably caught sight of him ( 1968-1970 time area ) in Cambridge, MA…may have actually heard him at a ‘casual recital-concert at Brattle Theatre area back then. Think that he may have played with folk and/or rock musicians quite well known locally to that area/globally. But, thank you for this coverage!

  2. John Knofla

    Rest In Peace Buell

  3. Bonnie Bradley

    Thank you so much, Mary – and Dan – for gifting us with this terrific remberance of Ella Otis and Buell. Both were amazing people – smart, compassionate, gentle and dedicated to their music. Everyone who knew either or both loved them and must miss their presence to this day.

    Throughout my childhood we lived directly across the street from Ella in Owenoke and I spent many happy hours with her. My mother loved her too. In those days my younger brother and I were the only children on the street and going out to play, almost every day I would visit one or another of the”grandmothers:” my own, Minerva Bradley, and Ella Otis, Fern Butler, Nell Jarvis, Lou Osborne. Cookies and tea. Conversation. They were all so good to me and interested in my little-girl life. It was a very special time.

    Readers of this blog know of my year with Buell so I won’t tell the story again. He was such a wonderful and amazing person. Our time together is a memory I cherish.

    • Mary Cookman Schmerker Staples '58

      Hi Bonnie, Thank you for the kind words and remembrances of my grandmother. I also have fond memories of your mother and birthday parties at your house. After all, I am one day older than your brother. We grew up in good times when kids could roam freely and everyone was friends. I’ll send you a private e-mail.….

  4. Morley Boyd

    Kind thoughts, beautifully expressed. Thank you Mary and Dan.

  5. Peter Barlow

    I never saw Buell after the 1950s but thanks to “06880” we had long telephone conversations in the last couple of years. Wish they had been sooner and longer.

  6. Regarding talking to elders…when we moved to the beach area 47 years ago many, many of the people living here were original owners of the “beach cottages”….they were old we were young. I regret to this day not reaching out to hear their stories of when they were young and enjoyed a very different Compo. My pal Paul Lane is the only one that I know left to hear about the “old days.” I pump him for info every time I see him.

  7. Bonnie Bradley

    Tom, I’m planning to attend Dan’s 06880 party and would enjoy having conversation with you about the good old days at the beach… “Talking to elders!” Yay!

    • Mark your calendars! This year’s “06880” beach party is Thursday, July 19.

    • Bonnie…I shall make every effort to attend the “06880” happening at the beach. In the old days it would be a simple stroll to South Beach…alas, not any more. Just got a mobility scooter to patrol my favorite place…Compo.

  8. Bonnie Bradley

    Tom, look forward to meeting you at the beach. We can swap stories.