Poggenklass shares talent
By Pam Reinig
Marge Hamann cautiously navigates the hallways of Elkader Care Center, leaning on her walker and a friend for support. Her destination is the center’s spacious dining room and common area, where pianist Dave Poggenklass has just started an hour-long program.
“He’s really special,” Marge confides, as she glides toward her usual table and chair. “He’s so good and he always sings my favorite song.”
Dave finishes his usual opening number, “You Are My Sunshine,” and after a quick nod and a “How are you?” to Marge, he plays the first bars of the tune she’s come to hear. It’s the 1921 Eddie Cantor classic, “Margie.” Several residents mouth the words as Poggenklass sings them in his soothing, flawless baritone.
Poggenklass is an Elkader Care Center fixture. It’s one of 35 facilities he plays at regularly. Though much of his work is in Northeast Iowa, he travels as far as Cedar Rapids to perform a 40-song set of familiar tunes popularized by Tommy Dorsey, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo and others from the jazz, swing and Big Band eras. The music resonates with the residents; some sing along and others dance, aided by family members and caregivers. It’s hard to know who gets more out of the performance—the audience or Poggenklass.
“I’ve had care centers tell me that if they had to cut all but one activity from their budgets, music is the one they’d keep,” Poggenklass said. “I get that. Music is so universal. It touches everyone in some way, shape or form.”
To illustrate his point, Poggenklass shared an especially poignant story. The director of nursing at a facility where he often plays told him about a woman struggling with chronic pain who had to be cajoled into attending his performance. She not only relented but got so involved in the music that she forgot her pain for an hour.
“Don’t ever wonder if what you do makes a difference in people’s lives because it does,” the nurse later told Poggenklass. “You made a real difference today.”
Poggenklass, an Oelwein native who has lived most of his adult life in Guttenberg, has been playing piano since the age of 8. As a boy, he was more interested in baseball than piano practice but his mother was adamant—he had to spend 30 minutes daily at the keyboard.
“I learned to love the sound of a rooster crowing,” he recalled. “My mom collected roosters and she had a timer that she’d set at the beginning of practice. I knew that as soon as I heard the ‘cock-a-doodle-do,’ I could go out and play ball.”
By the time Poggenklass was in high school, he was playing drums with a three-piece group that performed at the Mental Health Institute in Independence. He eventually became the trio’s pianist. He also played for more than 20 years in a quartet called the Four of Us.
Poggenklass is a University of Northern Iowa graduate. Following his graduation, he taught for a year in western Iowa. He then moved to Guttenberg where he taught the next 32 years. That’s where he and his wife, Barb, raised their three boys—Mike and Dan, who both live in Cedar Rapids, and Robert, who lives in Virginia. They couple also has five grandchildren.
Retired from teaching since 2008, Poggenklass is a popular substitute teacher described by one area first grader as “that really tall man with the really happy face,” an apt description of the lanky Poggenklass whose perpetual smile is as much a trademark as his musical talent. Poggenklass is also an interior/exterior painter and one of two pianists who provide music for Sunday services at St. John’s Congregational Church in Garber. His most recent endeavor is the completion of a CD of music that he’s leaving behind at care centers so his program can be enjoyed even when he’s not there.
“The CD is something that’s been on my bucket list,” said Poggenklass, adding that he’s already given away 30 copies. “It’s my way of giving back a small bit of the joy and happiness I’ve received from playing for these people. It’s a true privilege.”