GREEN BAY — At age 7, Roger Bader started piano lessons and he’s never looked back.
Today he’s looking forward to beginning his 60th year of music ministry in his home parish of Ss. Peter and Paul on Green Bay’s east side. It is his music that tells the story of Bader’s life as he became known as one of the renowned music ministers and organists in the area.
In some ways, most of Bader’s life has been spent within a couple miles or so from his beloved parish, where he has been music director for 35 years.
He met the love of his life, Lois, there and on Aug. 9 they celebrated 40 years of marriage. In 1970, he became co-owner of University Travel Service and Moore Fun Tours, also nearby on University Avenue. He retired after 44 years in the travel business.
It was on a memorable summer day, at age 16, when Bader’s career in music really began.
The sisters at the parish asked him if he could accompany the Mother of Perpetual Help devotions. “I’ve been there ever since,” he said.
He earned his degree in music education at St. Norbert College in De Pere. It was shortly after that he became the parish choir director.
Many people today wouldn’t even know there was a time when women weren’t allowed to be in the parish choir.
“I started the first mixed choir,” said Bader. That was in 1967. “I can’t believe the number of women who came to be part of it. They were just enthralled,” he said.
“It was great because everyone was so excited,” he remembered.
Bader earned his master’s degree in music education from the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and taught for five years at St. John Nepomucene School in Little Chute and the public school in Luxemburg. He stopped school teaching when he entered the travel business.
Plenty of people know Bader for his work as an organist and parish music director, but there are also plenty who know him for rock and roll as well.
Back in the late 1950s he taught lessons at Mecca Music and there he met other musicians who loved the sound of rock and roll as much as he did.
“We would just have little jam sessions,” Bader recalled, and at the suggestion of Mecca Music’s owner, Eddie Parmentier, they formed The Vibratones.
“We started in the late ‘50s and went through the ‘80s and we were Green Bay’s and Northeast Wisconsin’s top rock and roll band,” he said.
The band had six members originally and four in later years. Among those is a familiar face to Ss. Peter and Paul parishioners, Deacon Bob Ellis, who played drums and bass.
And for those watching today’s many television musical competition shows, their early predecessor was Ted Mack’s Original Amateur Hour.
It is a fond memory for Bader when The Vibratones traveled to Fort Wayne, Ind., for a pre-talent search for the show. “I think we were runner-up in that particular thing,” he said.
People loved The Vibratones, he said. “We used to get crowds of 500, 600, 700 people.”
But even during the days of The Vibratones, Ss. Peter and Paul Parish was never far from Bader’s mind.
Music permeates their lives. “Sometimes it runs it,” said Bader, a Premontre High School graduate.
“Saturday and Sunday is pretty much committed,” said his wife, Lois. But one of her fondest memories is how her three sons were gently woken up on a Sunday by the sounds of her husband warming up before heading off to church.
Their sons are Aaron who lives in Chicago, Garritt who lives in Green Bay and Jordan who lives in Madison. Aaron and Jordan are also musicians.
“My family always had to adjust to his weekend schedule,” said Lois, adding that their boys respected him for that commitment.
“Roger always takes everything in stride,” noted Lois. Hence, his favorite saying, “Cool your jets,” was something their kids were very familiar with, she said with a laugh. “Think it out,” said Bader, and a problem can be solved.
Known as a detail person, Bader has many friends who share his passion for music ministry. “In general, church musicians are the most dedicated of people all around,” he said.
Bader has two pianos in his home as well as a three-rank pipe organ. “Actually it came from Annunciation Church,” he said.
“It was a big job,” he said of moving it to his home about 30 years ago, “more than we expected.”
For Bader, music brings “faith emotion, peace, tranquility” to a worship experience.
Bader thanks his parents Violet and Jule for the opportunity they gave him through those first piano lessons to live a life filled with music. His mother Violet played guitar and a little piano.
For those young musicians looking to their futures, Bader’s advice comes through six decades of music.
“It’s very rewarding and never turn down or downplay your gifts,” he said, emphasizing, “If you have a gift, use it, share it.”