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Holiday special with Welk regular taped

November 12, 1998

Tom NethertonBy RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Writer, Waynesboro

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer




BERKELEY SPRINGS, W.Va. - About 80 times a year, buses filled with seniors, church groups and tourists pull into the parking lot of The Country Inn and disembark their passengers for a visit to television nostalgia.

In the Garden Room, Tom Netherton, longtime heartthrob of "The Lawrence Welk Show," croons his way back into their hearts and memories with the brand of music that made Welk the king of Saturday night television.

The show ran from the 1950s through 1982. Welk died at age 89, 10 years after its demise. The show's reruns, hosted by some of his former stars, including Netherton, remain popular on PBS Television. The show is done through flashbacks of old performances.

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Other regular hosts of the PBS show are accordionist Myron Floren and singers Kathy Lennon of the Lennon Sisters, Joanne Castle and Annacani, Netherton said.

Many of the show's stars, including singers Norma Zimmer and Bob Lido, are retired, Netherton said. "Norma is doing great. She skis every day," he said.

Netherton doesn't readily give his age, but he tells his audiences that he's eligible for AARP's monthly magazine, said his brother, Brad Netherton, marketing director for the Country Inn.

"Tom brings his special kind of warmth to each show, often walking among the audience as he sings, giving kisses and hugs along the way," Brad Netherton said.

Tom Netherton started singing at the inn two years ago. He's single and lives in Arlington, Va., but stays at the inn when he's performing. His brother began working there in April.

Tom Netherton first sang on a dare when some of his high school buddies challenged him to take a role in "Brigadoon," his high school play in Bloomington, Minn., where the family lived. "He didn't even know he could sing," his brother said.

When he was 18 he joined a singing group called the Edgewater 8, which sang in area clubs. He met Welk on a golf course in 1973 and the band leader asked him to sing at a concert he was giving that night at the Minneapolis Civic Center, Brad Netherton said.

Welk was so impressed that he hired him as a regular on his show.

"Our family was awed by Tom's success," Brad Netherton said. "It was wonderful to see him on television. He became a matinee idol. He had a real prominent place on the show."

The Country Inn will be the setting for Cornerstone TeleVision's annual Christmas show this year, Brad Netherton said. Crews from the Pittsburgh-based Christian television station are in Berkeley Springs this week taping the show.

Tom Netherton will sing several songs and give a religious reading for the show as a special guest, said Chris Kalkomey, the show's producer. Netherton's segments were taped Wednesday. The show's regular singing groups will fill in the rest of the hour.

Several of the inn's public rooms, its 35-foot-tall Christmas tree, which is made from more than 6,000 red silk poinsettias, plus scenes of downtown Berkeley Springs, will provide back-ground for the show, which will be aired at 8 p.m. from Dec. 23 through Dec. 25 on the Sky Angel satellite system, Kalkomey said.

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