CHEROKEE, Iowa | Charlie Leissler writes and performs original songs about Cherokee, about Spring Lake Park in Cherokee, the Kid-Around Playground at Cherokee, St. Paul United Methodist Church of Cherokee, and the Book Vine of downtown Cherokee.
On Tuesday morning, I observe as Leissler, finance manager for Holzhauer Motors in Cherokee, takes his guitar and sings "Teach Your Children," the classic by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young.
It strikes me as I listen -- and watch Holzhauer customers do the same -- that if your town has a Charlie Leissler, embrace him with all you've got. People like Charlie represent the subtle sales force every city needs to survive and flourish.
"Somebody's gotta be the town songwriter," Leissler says modestly.
It's a peculiar statement for Cherokee's leader of the band. He's a native of West Caldwell, N.J., after all, recruited to Northwest Iowa by Morningside College in 1971.
Which leads me to repeat an observation: We are indebted to the places of higher education that annually plant people like Charlie Leissler in our midst. People like Charlie Leissler, who stick around to raise businesses, families and their adopted hometowns.
This week, Charlie helps raise the 15th Cherokee Jazz & Blues Festival, a music celebration that attracts hundreds, perhaps thousands, of visitors to downtown Cherokee in the dead of winter.
It'll be anything but dead on Friday as Charlie and his Daylight Again band break into song from 9 p.m. to midnight at The Gathering Place. Following the group's polished Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young cover set, the band stages a tribute to the Beatles.
If the Beatles or Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young aren't your thing, walk across the street or two doors down for jazz or folk or something else. You'll get to see performers like Chad Elliott, Johnnie Bolin, Sena Ehrhardt, Jim Suhler and more on Friday and Saturday.
How Charlie sings for Cherokee is a life verse I must learn. He smiles and takes me back to the early 1970s, recalling how Morningside recruited students from all over the East Coast. He came to the Sioux City school to play a little football for the Chiefs while studying education. He became a certified science teacher, but never found the classroom full time. (Concussions thwarted his football career.)
He toiled as a substitute teacher for a few years in Sioux City. He also played guitar and sang, performing in places like 20th Street Tap, The Carousel in South Sioux City and on the second floor at Miles Inn.
He moved to Cherokee to manage Scottie's restaurant in 1977 and has been a fixture in the county seat ever since. He started at Holzhauer Motors in 1980. He's 62 and now looking back on 33 years as finance manager, where paperwork for every vehicle transaction in four Holzhauer sites crosses his desk.
"Performing is wonderful therapy for a finance manager," he says with a smile.
The self-taught guitarist got a boost in 2007 when he worked with Randy Martin and Jimmy Davis in creating a six-person Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young tribute, complete with photos, historical anecdotes and lots of music.
Charlie narrated the show for the first time last January during the Cherokee Jazz & Blues Fest.
"You bet I was nervous," he says, nearly answering the question before I ask.
He and Davis will join Brooks Begay, Andy Juhl, Dave Hinners and Steve Alingh on Friday in doing the same. They'll add a second set of Beatles music, a nod to the "Fab 4."
"They're very popular, we're tickled to have them," says Jim Adamson, the local volunteer who helps oversee this $15,000 musical production that brings downtown Cherokee to life.
Saturday's forecast calls for temperatures topping 40 degrees, a 60-plus degree swing from Tuesday's morning low of 22 below zero in Cherokee.
Charlie says he's happy to be a part of the celebration, just as he has been on past occasions. It started years ago when he helped dedicate the Kid-Around Playground with a song. He did the same when his church, St. Paul United Methodist Church, had to relocate for a short time after a fire.
When Cherokee celebrated its 125th birthday, the singer took the microphone and belted out "Cherokee," his original composition.
"Cherokee reminds me of my hometown," Charlie says.
After 38 years of moving, singing and building for this community, I'd say -- or sing, in this case -- that Cherokee is his hometown.