Editors note: This is Part 1 of a two-part story. Look for the conclusion and the rest of Sara Pope’s story in Monday’s Daily Record.

Sara Pope’s return to Ellensburg in 2013 after 66 years away was, so to speak, coming back to her musical roots.

Pope, 71, credits her father and mother, Wendall and Elizabeth Kinney, for those deep family and musical roots that continue today in her daily life, and in the lives of her brothers and sisters, their spouses and their children, grandchildren, and her nieces and nephews.

“When you look at my mother and father’s life, and how their kids and grandchildren and great-grandchildren have got on, well, you might say music was in our genes, and it was passed on in most cases,” Pope said recently in recounting her family’s life journey. “Music has been a kind of uniting thread through our lives.”

That thread goes back to April 1918 when Sara’s father was born and when her father’s family later settled in Ellensburg.

The thread continues today through her family’s lives in singing, song-writing, and performing in bands, orchestras, musical theater, dance and accompaniment, and teaching music, dance performance and piano.

“Yes, the beat truly goes on and on,” Pope said with a wide smile.

An Ellensburg start

Pope’s parents — Wendall, now nearly 101, and Elizabeth, 95 — live in Bakersfield, Calif., but Wendall’s early years were spent in Ellensburg where his musical skills first blossomed, and when the radio age first came to the Kittitas Valley.

“I had quite a talent early on, I guess,” Wendall said in a recent telephone interview. “My dad grew up in Ellensburg and my mom, well, she could play piano by ear; any song she could hear she could play. I probably picked up my interest in music from her and away I went.”

Wendall’s father and mother, Roy and Addie (Breedlove) Kinney, after marriage in Ellensburg, moved frequently to wherever his father’s accountant and bookkeeping work took him: Tacoma, Portland, Salem, Granger, Wenatchee and The Dalles, Ore.

They later decided on a life of farming in the Moses Lake area when Wendall was 11. A opportunity later arose to own and operate a farm in the Ellensburg and Kittitas Valley area, and lease another, and Wendall’s dad embraced it.

Wendall and his three younger sisters did chores on the farm, and Wendall’s music abilities were encouraged both at home and in school.

While attending Ellensburg High School, Wendall formed a dance band, The Blues Chasers, playing at high school proms and other occasions as far away as Toppenish.

“I could see that I was really gifted in music; I could play sax, trumpet, drums, vibraphone, you name it,” Wendall said with a laugh. “Sometimes, I guess, I kind of operated as a music director of sorts at the high school, you know, in band, orchestra and choir. I was all over the board.”

Wendall graduated in June 1935 in the midst of the Great Depression, and in fall 1935 began attending Central Washington Normal School, now Central Washington University. He wasn’t quite sure he wanted to be a music teacher, although he took classes toward that end. His main instrument was the piano and was active in choir, band and orchestra.

“I was versatile, that’s for sure,” Wendall said. “I could play most anything. I followed music wherever it took me.”

In his sophomore year he transferred to the University of Washington and continued as a music major. He dropped out in his junior year. He said he “didn’t see his preferred future as a music teacher” and, besides he needed a job to get by; the lingering effects of the Depression continued.

Music, more music

In Seattle he worked for Zinke’s shoe repair and at a Remington typewriter and shaver store. But in the evening on weekends he really worked from his heart. That’s when he played in swing bands at large dance ballrooms in the Seattle-Tacoma area.

After World War II started, and defense factories were going full bore, his band work included evening performances to midnight, then after swing shifts got out of the factories he played from 1 a.m. to 5 a.m.

By fall 1942, a call went out from the U.S. Navy for skilled musicians to form military bands to provide morale-boosting music at large naval bases and air stations. Wendall said he and his fellow bandmates enlisted in the Navy as a group in September 1942.

“We got uniforms and learned a little of the Navy way, but, really, we didn’t have to go to boot camp, they needed us so bad and right quick,” Wendall said. “That was part of the persuasion to join up. But we all wanted to do our part in the war effort.”

Their part would be to lift the morale of navy personnel and give them a taste of home.

On the air

Wendall served first in a band at the Pasco Naval Air Station where the Navy gave initial training to future pilots. Then it was off to the Bunker Hill (Indiana) naval air station. While at Bunker Hill he got to know his future wife, Elizabeth, who was a Navy WAVE (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service).

Elizabeth sang in the naval station’s choir and was an accomplished soloist. She first noticed Wendall when the local radio station at nearby Fort Wayne featured a live performance of the naval station’s choir and band. That was in 1943.

“I was dating someone else at the time, and it looked like he already had lots of girlfriends,” Elizabeth said.

“She was an absolutely fabulous singer, still is,” Wendall said.

Wendall noticed her, too. He also said it was exciting performing in a live radio show.

Later they had their first date watching a movie together in the theater’s balcony while eating sandwiches. From that their interest in each other grew.

After Wendall was sent to Anacosta, Virginia and the Navy’s music school, Elizabeth quickly requested to be reassigned to nearby Washington, D.C. Letters, dates and phone calls between them continued.

Wendall, after the war ended, was assigned shipboard duty on vessels bringing troops home to the United States, performing in bands to and from France and India.

Once Wendall was home, the couple married in November 1945 near Baltimore, Maryland, Elizabeth’s home.

After discharge in early 1946, Wendall and Elizabeth decided to initially settle in Ellensburg, Wendall’s hometown. Once here, of course, he again formed his own dance band — Wendall Kinney’s Orchestra — and in the day worked in a downtown music store.

“We played from Cle Elum to Toppenish and all points in between, anywhere there was a dance needed by anyone,” Wendall said. “I was glad to be home.”

On the radio

Word around Ellensburg spread quickly in early 1946 about the coming of the area’s first radio station to be located off Vantage Highway on the outskirts of town. Station KCOW, the precursor to today’s KXLE, was due to begin broadcasting in July 1946. Wendall was interested and the station operators were hiring.

“It’s in the same building, with the same front door and the same sidewalk and parking lot that I remember coming to as a young man,” Wendall said about the local radio station today. “Of course, the inside is all different now.”

Wendall was a radio advertising salesman and wrote ad copy for on-the-air delivery. He has fond memories of his own live radio show.

The station began broadcasting on July 19, 1946, according to a large, framed newspaper ad now hanging on an inside office wall of the radio station.

“We had a grand piano in the studio back then, and my weekly daytime show was sponsored by Cle Elum-area merchants,” Wendall said. “It was called The Upper County Show. I suppose you could’ve called me, at the time, a radio entertainer.”

He would introduce the show, perform contemporary music with the piano, and read the commercials, too. He always started the show with the words, “The Upper County is on the air!”

“I threw in a little hometown humor and a little bit about community happenings in between songs. People really started to know me, I think. I don’t know if you could say I was popular. It was work, but I really enjoyed it.”

The couple’s first child, Sara, was born in Ellensburg in May 1947. Elizabeth, Wendall and little Sara moved in fall 1949 to Tacoma where Wendall worked for radio station KMO and got in on the start of regular television broadcasting there.

The couple’s second child, Cynthia, was born in 1950 and the third, Nile, came along in 1953. In January 1956 the family packed up and moved to Bakersfield, Calif., where Wendall became the star salesman for a new radio station.

“Along the way he was told he better get out of radio and into selling life insurance, that was the up and coming place to be,” said Elizabeth in another telephone interview. “Well, he later was with New York Life for 25 years and then retired.”


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