Ron Rochat was a standout three-sport athlete at Osseo Senior High School in the late 1930s, but it was his ability to coax music from a trumpet that would be his claim to fame for more than 50 years.
From troopships in the Pacific during World War II to the in-house band for the Minnesota Vikings at old Metropolitan Stadium, Rochat’s professional life focused on entertaining audiences and teaching young minds the magic of music.
Rochat (pronounced Ro-shay) was 94 when he died Dec. 15.
Rochat was a junior-high band instructor in St. Louis Park for 29 years, and, before that, for three years in Shakopee.
But performing for others was in his genes.
“My grandfather was a good trumpet player, too,” said Rochat’s son Tom. “When my grandfather was invited to play with the Anoka town band, he said he would only play if my dad could play, too.”
In high school, Rochat was captain of the Osseo football, basketball and baseball teams. At the University of Minnesota he tried out for the Gophers but eventually became a member of the school’s marching band and played the Minnesota Rouser during the golden era of Minnesota football, when Bruce Smith and Bernie Bierman were household names.
Midway through college, Rochat enlisted in the Navy and was assigned as a bugle master to the troopship USS Admiral W.S. Benson, where his duties included taps in the evening and reveille in the morning for soldiers on a slow, tedious trip to the battlefront.
“There were almost 5,000 troops on the ship, most of them below deck, and one of my dad’s duties included organizing entertainment ranging from band concerts to barbershop quartets,” said Tom Rochat.
After the war, Ron Rochat moved to Los Angeles in an attempt to sign on with one of the movie studio bands that were still part of Hollywood in the late 1940s. But eventually Rochat moved back to Minnesota to start a family, finish his teaching degree and become a music instructor.
Rochat also joined up with big-band leader and pianist Jerry Mayeron and performed in Twin Cities supper clubs and country clubs for weddings, bar mitzvahs and other events. Rochat played for Mayeron from 1951 until his last gig on New Year’s Eve, 1986.
On Sundays during the 1960s, Rochat could be found in a faux Viking ship in the end zone of Met Stadium as a member of the football Vikings in-house band.
“They had no heat in the boat, so on cold days Dad would bring a sleeping bag with him to keep his feet warm and his trumpet warm,” said son Tom.
“My mom would always get anxious when it was cold because my sisters were at the game too in just tennis shoes and tights as cheerleaders with the St. Louis Park Parkettes.”
Rochat could also play the saxophone and the trombone, his son said, and all of the children in the Rochat family could play piano and another instrument.
Rochat loved to perform jazz standards.
“He never collected a lot of records, but he seemed well plugged in to what was going on in the music scene,” said Tom. “I remember him talking about a new group in 1963 called the Beatles before I ever heard of them.”
Rochat is survived by his wife, Margaret, daughters Jena and Marilyn, sons Tom and Jim, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.