SHALHOUP: With the passing of Roger W. Gaskill, Nashua’s Crown Hill loses a beloved, respected neighbor
For the first time in something like 75 years, the trumpet that put forth military marches, solemn hymns, upbeat polka tunes, sing-a-long ditties and, most of all, the mournful strains of the somber ballad “Taps,” was still and silent.
Polished bright and shiny for the occasion, the instrument lay atop a banner-draped casket before roughly 100 men and women who gathered to both mourn the loss of a father, brother, uncle and beloved friend and celebrate a nearly century-long life of family, community, unsung selfless acts and contributions that left not only his lifelong Crown Hill neighborhood, but society in general, better off than when he arrived in September 1924.
Roger Gaskill was a “rare bird,” in that he “was born, grew up, and lived out all his years right here in Crown Hill,” Matt Van Wagner, Gaskill’s longtime friend and fellow musician, noted while reflecting on Gaskill’s life during a roughly one-hour funeral service Thursday at the Arlington Street United Methodist Church.
Roger Warren Gaskill was 97 when he passed May 26, less than a week before the holiday observance in which he and his trumpet had participated since he was a teenager playing for the venerable music director Elmer “Pop” Wilson in what was then called the Nashua Boys Band.
As for taking part in holiday observances, Gaskill was still going strong well past age 80, marching and playing with the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 483 band and the James E. Coffey American Legion Post 3 band.
Van Wagner recalled traveling to the town of Danville when the Legion band was invited to participate in its parade. Upon learning that Gaskill was 84 at the time, Van Wagner approached him.
“I said, ‘you’re 84? You’re doing great,'” Van Wagner said. “Roger said, ‘I’ll let you in on a little secret: I don’t march uphill anymore.'”
Over the decades, Gaskill and his trumpets were involved in many events beyond marching in parades and playing Taps at veterans and military services.
For instance, he was one of seven musicians in a World War II-era polka band called The Cavaliers, who played clubs in the Merrimack Valley and, by chance, landed a gig at a Lake Winnipesaukee resort.
The resort owner wasn’t all that interested, but when an employee urged him to “ah, give ’em a shot,” the band apparently impressed him, according to Van Wagner.
“They ended up playing every Saturday night for the next 30 years,” he said.
The Rev. Rich Bensinger, who presided over Gaskill’s service, remarked during his eulogy that Gaskill exuded “a plethora of Nashua history … especially Crown Hill history.”
Indeed, Crown Hill was once home to generations of the Gaskill family, most all of which lived around the corner or just down the street from each other.
It was either Gaskill’s grandfather, or great-grandfather, who provided a home for the Crown Hill Chapel — the first incarnation of today’s Arlington Street United Methodist Church — by alloting the chapel’s founders space in their grocery store at the corner of Arlington and Gillis streets.
A turn-of-the-20th-century city directory lists 10 Gaskill families; the keepers of the grocery store where the church was founded were Burton T. and Samuel J. Gaskill.
Other Gaskill families lived at 67 Arlington St., and on Cherry, Underhill, King and McKean streets.
Roger Gaskill’s childhood home appears to be 70 McKean St., where, on Sept. 10, 1929, he “gave a party to five of his little friends in honor of his fifth birthday,” according to an item in the Nashua Telegraph.
About nine months later, young Roger Gaskill would gather with a larger group of his “little friends,” this time on the property of the original Arlington Street School up on the hill.
They weren’t alone: Crown Hill residents “were bringing their cars, their horses” up that way in an attempt to get out of the path of the rapidly-spreading flames engulfing building after building in Nashua’s worst fire in history.
“One person even went back (to their home) to rescue a baritone horn,” Van Wagner said. “And it’s still being used here in Nashua.”
In June 1944, another Telegraph story reported on the Nashua Business College’s graduation, at which, naturally, “Roger Gaskill played a trumpet solo preceding the presentation of diplomas … .”
Incidentally, Gaskill was named president of his class and a member of the executive committee — perhaps a harbinger of the leadership roles to come.
Dean Shalhoup’s column appears weekly in The Sunday Telegraph. He may be reached at 594-1256 or firstname.lastname@example.org.