SPRING VALLEY —When John and Gwenn Noftsger started playing old-time country music, they were doing it just for fun.
They weren’t expecting accolades.
“We really just enjoy playing music,” John Noftsger said.
But 25 years later the Spring Valley couple better known as The Ohio River Minstrels are being inducted into America’s Old Time Country Music Hall of Fame in Iowa.
“We were surprised,” Gwenn Noftsger said. “I had to read the letter twice. We were really excited about it.”
The Noftsgers had no idea they were even nominated for a spot in the prestigious hall.
“We appreciate the people that wrote it up,” John Noftsger said. “Must have been convincing.”
It probably didn’t take much pleading. Not only do the Noftsgers play the old-time music, they are also ambassadors for that classic sound, having helped organize a festival in Warren County and Waynesville.
“The Ohio River Minstrels … still maintain the sound of what made country music famous,” said Hall President Bob Everhart. “As musicians, singers, historians, and composers, they highlight persons, events, and experiences that have helped shape our country’s history and its culture. They still use acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and harmonica, and their songs tell specific stories, none of which is found in the so-called country music hit songs of today. We’re very happy we can induct music preservationists like John & Gwenn Noftsger into this prestigious Hall of Fame.”
The couple will be inducted 5 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, at the Plymouth County Fairgrounds in LeMars, Iowa, where the 7-day hall of fame event takes place, Aug. 31-Sept 6. The Minstrels will also perform at the festival.
“We have 10 stages at this festival-convention, and our 2,000 seat main stage is air conditioned which makes it a comfortable experience for everyone,” Everhart said. “Of course we have a lot of excellent Iowa ‘rural’ food on the grounds, as well as electrical hook-ups for 350 RVs with additional restaurants and grocery stores within walking distance. Over 650 performers sign up to fill well over 2,000 performance slots during the seven days of the event. LeMars, Iowa, where the festival is held, is home to Blue Bunny Ice Cream, the world’s largest manufacturer of ice cream.”
When not in Spring Valley, the Noftsgers can be seen and heard at festivals, churches, and anywhere else old-time country music is appreciated.
“The older songs give more of a history of early America than the newer country songs do,” Gwenn Noftsger said. “We love to play for historical societies, libraries, and places where they want to learn. People enjoy that type of music.”
Not only do the Noftsgers like playing the old music, they love listening to it as well.
“We meet a lot of nice people through doing that,” John Noftsger said. “There are a lot of people that enjoy the older sounds.”
Established in 1976 to honor contributors to America’s rich and vibrant rural music heritage, the Hall of Fame was established as part of the Pioneer Music Museum, which is located in a very rural area of Iowa, the small village of Anita. Now entering its 40th year of operation, the museum is filled to the brim with past honorees who have made the trip to Iowa to receive this very-appreciated honor.
“We never thought we’d see 40 years of hard work bring about such an interesting approach at keeping the tradition and the heritage of rural music alive in America,” Everhart said. “Past recipients, Patti Page, Bill Anderson, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Mickey Gilley, Jim Ed Brown, Mac Wiseman, Bill Monroe, Jimmy Martin, the Everly Brothers, Hank Williams Sr., Jimmie Rodgers, the Carter Family, the long list of incredibly popular music makers that sang and played their way into the hearts of America’s rural folks, is huge, long, and incredibly prestigious, especially to those who understand the importance of keeping America’s rural traditions and musical heritage alive.”