You can get a sense of Len MacEachron's impact on Minnesota folk music by some of the musicians who attended a service for him last week in St. Paul. Among them were Ross Sutter, Paddy O'Brien, Laura MacKenzie and Peter Ostroushko. "Prairie Home Companion" icon Garrison Keillor sent a poignant tribute.
After 25 years as a patent attorney, MacEachron quit in 1968 to focus full time on his passion: folk music and making dulcimers, harps and other instruments in a shop he and his wife opened in Minneapolis.
"Len and [wife] Su were almost like parent figures to a lot of us," said Sutter, who worked at the shop and learned to play the dulcimer there. "They helped a lot of young musicians by getting people together and networking in the '70s. ... He really loved good music."
MacEachron, 91, died in his sleep Aug. 30 in Minneapolis. He had Alzheimer's disease.
Guitarist Adam Granger, also was at the service and recalled MacEachron's legendary jams and parties. Granger, of Keillor's Powdermilk Biscuit Band, said he often saw MacEachron at square and contra dance events. The latter often were held at the Tapestry Folkdance Center in south Minneapolis, which MacEachron, at about 80, helped remodel and which has a lounge named for him.
"He was a true folkie," Granger said. "He and Su were doing this folk outreach back in the '60s. He was very instrumental 40 or 50 years ago in laying the early foundation for the folk scene in the Cities."
Granger read a eulogy in which Keillor recalled "Len's big grin and his resilient humor and his great love of music and musicians."
MacEachron and his wife played dulcimers years ago on the "Prairie Home Companion" radio show, Keillor said by phone Tuesday.
He "was an active, enthusiastic supporter of folk music in all its forms," Keillor said. He recalled many jam sessions at the couple's old farmhouse in New Brighton. The sessions "were the kind of party where 15 are invited and 60 show up," Keillor said. "They were in the middle of it, wonderful hosts.
"They were a remarkable phenomenon to people in the acoustic music tribe who were mostly in their 20s and 30s," Keillor continued. "Here was a couple a generation older; his and Su's importance was one of encouragement for younger people, who tend be very competitive, very self-critical and easily discouraged because the [folk] music business is so discouraging ... you were basically signing up for a vow of poverty. Here was a very gracious, smiling, educated man who loved what you did."
The MacEachrons, who retired in 1984, loved folk and traditional music and traveled as a family to folk festivals in Newport, R.I., and elsewhere before they started making and selling kits for dulcimers, said their daughter Mary O'Driscoll, of Cork City, Ireland. Their motto was, "Music can save the world," she said.
Her dad, an Air Force plane mechanic instructor in World War II, was an inventive man who liked solving problems. He also enjoyed making things, including toys for his kids and sails for his catamaran, she said. He loved dulcimers because they were fairly simple to make and play.
"He became almost evangelical about encouraging people to build and then play their own instruments," she said. "He was into the joy of making music and the fun of it."
MacEachron, whose sole survivor is his daughter Mary, was preceded in death by his wife, Suanna, and daughter Judy.