October 19, 1999
In my estimation, one of the most interesting stories that emerged from this area during the 20th century concerns Prof. Leopold Radgowsky, the handsome Russian royalist who spent the last ten years of his life as director of the Perry high school orchestra and band. Rivaling that is the saga of the fabulous 101 Ranch of northeast Noble county and portions of Kay county. How fascinating that the two of them are woven into a single epic tale seasoned with high drama and political intrigue on an international scale against a background brushed with a romantic, historic period of the American frontier. Yes, truth is indeed stranger than fiction.
Many of you are familiar with the strange circumstances that brought Professor Radgowsky to Perry. He was part of the 101 Ranch Wild West Show, a thundering, exciting traveling production that entertained and intrigued this country for years with live recreations of stagecoach holdups, cattle drives and many of the elements that now comprise modern-day professional rodeos. The Professor led a Cossack band, mounted musicians in traditional Russian costumes who delighted audiences wherever the 101 Ranch Show played. When the show fell upon hard times and eventually went bankrupt, the Professor was among the dozens of its entertainers who were left high and dry.
He spoke and understood little of the English language. So, here he was, in the heart of his adopted country, a man targeted for death and pursued by the Bolsheviks of his native Russia. He was broke, out of a job, at a loss to decide his next move. Fortunately, he had made several friends while traveling with the 101 Ranch Show. One of them was Bert Shaw, a young trombonist and showman with a heart of gold. Bert, like the Professor, was stranded at the 101 Ranch. Bert chose to come to Perry to start anew with his wife, Ethel, a gifted pianist, by opening a beauty shop. He persuaded the Professor to survey Perry residents concerning private music lessons for school-age children. The Professor relied on Bert to ask the questions when they knocked on the front doors of a few homes. The initial reactions convinced him that the Professor could at least earn a living by teaching boys and girls to play a musical instrument. Any instrument; the Professor could teach them all.
That was the beginning of this community's interest in developing a quality instrumental music program in Perry schools. For the first time, we also had a school orchestra and Professor Radgowsky even expanded on that. He organized a civic symphony orchestra composed of violinists, other string instrumentalists, reeds, brass and percussionists from throughout this part of north central Oklahoma. His school bands were notable for the quality of their concerts and other performances. In appreciation, the Professor was declared "Perry's Most Valuable Citizen" in a 1934 poll conducted by the local Rotary Club. District Judge Claude Duval approved his final naturalization papers, making him an official U.S. citizen, on August 22, 1936. Professor Radgowsky felt it was one of the proudest moments of his life.
Sadly, the Professor died on April 19, 1938, after a prolonged illness. It was the top news story in that day's Perry newspaper. Schools were dismissed for his funeral and a crowd filled the high school auditorium for the service. In 1990, the Oklahoma Bandmasters Association elected him posthumously to their Hall of Fame. Although he never married, Professor Radgowsky left a full complement of adoring young people, some of them well on the way to maturity, who regarded him as one of the finest teachers they had in any subject. His enigmatic life story could be the basis for a major Hollywood movie.