Operation Happy Note provides gift of music to deployed troops

By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer

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What began with a gift that Steve and Barb Baker sent to Barb’s son Marty in Iraq has ballooned into Operation Happy Note, a program that provides musical instruments of every style and shape to deployed service members.

In 2005, the Bakers, former owners of Fergus Music in Fergus Falls, sent their son a guitar for his birthday.

More than 4,000 musical instruments have been donated or purchased and then shipped to deployed service members. Pictured above is Mark Rice, recently returned member of the Minnesota National Guard Red Bulls.

That simple gift caused such an enthusiastic reaction that shortly afterward they held a fundraiser and collected enough to buy and ship guitars to 20 other deployed soldiers.

In January 2011, Operation Happy Note (OHN) moved to Osakis when the Bakers retired and closed their music store. They were featured in “On the Road” with Jason Davis over Memorial Day 2011 and Easter 2012.

Kelly Randolph started as a minimal part-time volunteer in March 2011, later accepting executive director duties from the Bakers, who again retired. He is in the store from Monday through Thursday.

A Christmas packing party was held in 2011 to prepare 87 instruments for shipping in time for the holiday.

Operation Happy Note moved once more in February, to Alexandria. With fewer funds going to overhead, more is available for sending instruments.

“We get more foot traffic here in Alex and it costs less, allowing more money to go to the cause,” Randolph said.

Operation Happy Note will coordinate out-of-town fundraisers like county fairs and music festivals.

“We go to the annual Minnesota Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Festival at El Rancho Manana in Richmond,” he said.

Groups often hold fundraisers on their own, and then the office receives phone calls asking where the money should be sent.

There will be a motorcycle run and concert in the Alexandria Lakes area in July. American Legion Post #208 in Arlington Heights, Ill. is holding a concert to benefit OHN.

To date, more than 4,000 musical instruments have been shipped — guitars, keyboards, mandolins, banjos, violins, accordions and necessary accessories and lesson plans. Learning materials are donated by Play It Now Tunes.

Donations of money to purchase new instruments and accessories are welcome. Gently used instruments, preferably not needing repair, are accepted as well. There is always a need for packing materials such as bubble wrap and packing peanuts.

A donation of $200 will provide an instrument and shipping costs for one soldier, depending on the particular instrument and the location of the service member.

A photo of the individual or group making the donation is requested, to include with the instrument, Randolph said.

Packing materials are accepted as well. About once a month, Douglas Machine drops off a truckload of bubble wrap.

“The thank you letters are why I do this,” he said. “The soldiers are so grateful.”

Randolph is hoping people will become more active by being part of a “sponsor a soldier” program.

“Music raises morale and relieves stress for military personnel deployed overseas,” he said. “OHN is geared toward the lower-ranked solider who has less money available and is often in remote locations.”

OHN has sent groups of four to five instruments to unit chaplains for an entire unit to use and share. Requests have come in from chaplains for instruments to use in worship services.

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t use music to lighten their mood, express their feelings,” said Randolph. “It’s a little piece of home.”

Service members send requests online, or spouses or parents ask for their loved ones.

“We often get requests saying something like, ‘I was talking to my battle buddy and he told me to talk to you if I want an instrument,’” Randolph said.

OHN receives an average of 15-25 requests per day. When Randolph was gone for a week recently, there were 240 e-mails waiting when he returned to the store.

There are four ways people can help: financial help in any amount, donate an instrument, donate packing materials and/or sponsor a soldier.

For more information contact Randolph at (320) 759-9003. Find OHN online at www.operationhappynote.com. Donations may be sent to Operation Happy Note, 518-B Hawthorne St., Alexandria, MN 56308.