Wednesday, July 16, 2014

In Conversation With...Larry Ogden

First published in The Oxford Journal on Wednesday, July 9, 2014 by Sara Jewell Mattinson.

There is one thing that can stop Larry Ogden in his tracks and silence this born storyteller. 
“I was standing by the window on a cold and sunny day,” he starts to sing as he sits at his desk in a corner of the sitting room in his Tidnish home.
That song, Will the Circle Be Unbroken, is the one song of the hundreds he has sung in the last 15 years that brings such a swell of emotion that he has to rely on bandmate John to finish off the verses. 
It touches him deeply because Larry is compelled both by his Christian faith and by his lifelong commitment (bordering on pigheaded determination) to making a difference in the lives of others.  
“Volunteering comes naturally to me because I can’t stand and wait for someone to try and help somebody,” he says. “You’ll be waiting a long time.”
Hockey, 4-H, church, community centre and music are all the areas where the 66-year-old contractor has directed his energy, persistence and a certain “Really? You think we can’t do that?” attitude.
Larry’s passion for volunteering was sparked at the Amherst hockey rink, as a player and as a parent. The father of a son and daughter, he coached several boys’ teams then established women’s hockey. After being named Coach of the Year several times, he moved into what he calls a different kind of coaching, becoming a woodworking mentor with 4-H for almost a decade. 
In April, he was honoured as a Volunteer of the Year for the province of Nova Scotia. 
Larry says his motivation is simple: He likes what he does and he wants to help people.
“No matter what organization there is, there’s never enough money or people to help everybody. You have to take it on yourself as a volunteer to help people. Otherwise, it’s not going to get done. People say, ‘Oh, the government’ but the government can’t do everything.”
And yet, his most important volunteer experience almost didn’t happen. 
Once he’d stopped coaching, Larry had more time for playing guitar so when a buddy suggested they should get together to play, Larry went ahead and rented the community hall in Tidnish. 
“The first night, I was by myself,” he says. “Second night, I was by myself. Sang a few songs, played the guitar.”
Larry went home, undaunted. He made a few phone calls and learned that Wednesday night wasn’t a good night for the others.
“The following Tuesday night, I want you know, the four of us – Whoa!” Larry exclaims. “For the first time to get together, we played liked we’d played forever. The music that was coming out of that hall the first year was fantastic, just sitting in chairs in a circle, playing and carrying on,” he says of the gospel, country and bluegrass they played. “A lady came to me and asked if she minded if she and her friends came to listen. The first night, there were four ladies. The next night, eight. The next night, about 20. I said, ‘Guys, what about we put a show on every Tuesday night?’ I knew a guy we could borrow a sound system from. We went from five guys to 12 people on stage. We were packing the hall every Tuesday night,” he says, “so I thought, What a chance to charge a donation at the door and give it to a charity. We started pretty near the end of the first year.”
Jane Ogden, Larry’s wife of 50 years, estimates the weekly night of music has raised around $100,000 in 12 years, all of it going to local charities.
Both the event and the group became  known as the Pic ‘N Grin. Two years ago, the Pic ‘N Grin changed venues and now plays every Monday night at the winery in Baie Verte. Donations continue to be collected for a different charity each week.
There are eight regular members in the Pic ‘N Grin family with an extended family consisting of three young girls from Aulac who play fiddles as well as musicians from Moncton and Shediac who show up and play when they can. The musicians play guitar, bass, banjo, keyboard, fiddle, mandolin, accordion and harmonica.
“Since we started, there are two of the originals left,” explains Larry. “There are four of us who have been there for 12 years.”
The Pic ‘N Grin also performs gospel concerts at churches and travels around to long-term-care facilities where the young girls are very popular. 
“I’ll tell ya, what we do costs us money for gas, license and insurance on the trailer, and a sound system but when you see how many smiles and how many thank you’s you get, man, how can you say no? You can’t. Impossible,” he says. “These little girls come all the way from Aulac to go to Pugwash and now I don’t even dare to go to any of these places without those girls fiddling.”
The feeling is mutual; the girls have made it clear they’ll go even if they have school the next day. 
One gig had an unexpected outcome for the Pic ‘N Grin.   
“We went to the hospital to the palliative care unit and played our guitars and sang,” explains Larry. “We were in seven rooms before we left. I didn’t even know we were allowed to go in there and play. Oh, man, they loved it. This lady sent me a picture of her mother, who we played for in the hospital. She passed away.”
He pauses. “Oh, this is tough.”
There is a longer pause until he is able to speak.
“She was an excellent lady, right? I named our cancer concert after her, the Betty McLean Memorial Concert. We’ve been doing it every year since.”
The concert, held on Monday, August 25 at the winery in  Baie Verte, raises money for the Cancer Patient Navigation at Cumberland Regional Health Care Centre.
Of the weekly commitment to the Pic ‘N Grin plus all the extra concerts and performances, Larry says, “It takes an incredible amount of time but I can honestly say there isn’t one person in my group that when I call says No. We go to play and have fun.”

Larry stands next to his provincial volunteer award.

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