For ‘60s pop icon Bobby Vee, faith, family and friends were more important than stardom

While Bobby Vee was a rock-‘n’-roll pioneer, it was his sincere humility and deep love for his Catholic faith that family and friends say they will remember most.

“He was always smiling, always happy, always very affirming,” said retired Benedictine Father Eugene McGlothlin.

The priest was a close friend of Vee’s family for almost 50 years, after having met Vee’s wife, Karen, first.

When Karen was just 16 years old, Father McGlothlin served as the associate pastor at her home parish, Holy Rosary Church in Detroit Lakes. A few years later, he participated in the couple’s wedding.

He stayed in touch with the young couple and visited them when they lived in California where Vee — a native of Fargo, North Dakota —worked on his recording career. They later moved to Watab Lake and attended St. John the Baptist Parish in Collegeville, where Father McGlothlin eventually served as pastor.

Bobby Vee relaxed in his studio in St. Joseph during an interview with the St. Cloud Visitor April 18, 2002. In the background is a poster from the 2000 All American Solid Gold Rockin’ Roll Show at the London Palladium, where he performed. (SCV photo by Dianne Towalski)
Bobby Vee relaxed in his studio in St. Joseph during an interview with the St. Cloud Visitor April 18, 2002. In the background is a poster from the 2000 All American Solid Gold Rockin’ Roll Show at the London Palladium, where he performed. (SCV photo by Dianne Towalski)

Father McGlothlin received several visits from Bobby and Karen at St. John’s Abbey and made many visits to their nearby home. He spent numerous Christmases with the family, which includes their four children, Jeff, Tommy, Robert and Jennifer. He also visited their family’s vacation home in Tucson, Arizona.

“We had a lot of good times,” he said. “I feel privileged to have had that time with them. It was a wonderful, wholesome relationship God gave to us. I feel very blessed to have been included in their family for so long.”

38 hit singles

Vee, born Robert Thomas Velline, died Oct. 24 at the age of 73 after battling Alzheimer’s disease. The international recording star was diagnosed with the illness in 2012 and was under hospice care at a facility in Rogers at the time of his death.

Professionally, Vee had his first big opportunity in 1959 when he and his band, The Shadows, were called in unexpectedly to play at the Winter Dance Party tour in Moorhead, Minnesota. Vee filled in for Buddy Holly after he, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper were killed the previous day in a plane crash near Clear Lake, Iowa.

Vee’s musical career skyrocketed, resulting in 38 hit singles including some of his most famous songs “Rubber Ball,” “Take Good Care of My Baby,” and “The Night Has a Thousand Eyes.”

Father McGlothlin will miss Bobby and Karen, who died in August 2015 from complications of lung disease. He said he feels blessed that his relationship with the family has continued with the Vellines’ children, especially their son Jeff, who visited Father McGlothlin at the abbey just days before Vee’s death.

Father McGlothlin said Vee taught him a lot about life.

“He had a very strong faith. I learned from him how to be accepting of everyone and to always have something good to say about someone. Bob always did that,” he said. “He was a wonderful man. Most people knew him from his popularity. To me, his humility was outstanding. He had acclaim, but he kept all his old friends. I was very proud of him.”

Fast friends

Dr. Rick Rysavy met Vee more than 35 years ago when the Velline family first moved to the St. Cloud area, renting a house across the street from Rysavy’s sister. At the time, Vee was looking for a physician and Rysavy offered his services.

“Bob and I shared so many common interests — music, travel, family values — that we became best friends,” Rysavy said.

Like Vee, Rysavy always had a love for music. Early on, his parents sang in the church choir and now Rysavy and his wife, Wendy, sing in the choir at St. Paul Church in St. Cloud. Singing with Vee is one of the things he will miss most.

“That was the hardest part — seeing him losing his ability to communicate, not being able to talk with him, to sing with him,” Rysavy said. “But he went through this with such grace. It was inspiring.”

Over the years, the Rysavys traveled to various shows around the country with Bobby and Karen. Some of their most memorable experiences include the 50th anniversary Clear Lake concert and a celebration of Buddy Holly’s life in New York City, where they met Paul McCartney.

After Vee’s diagnosis, Rysavy said he visited him regularly — having lunch, taking walks and just spending time together. In the last few years, Vee adopted the mantra, “Don’t pass up any parties,” which he shared with Rysavy often.

“He loved people. He truly loved them,” Rysavy said. “I think the greatest thing he taught me was simply to find joy in life.”

Love for Catholic education

Mike Mullin, president of Cathedral High School, met Vee for the first time over a cup of coffee at the old Ember’s Restaurant in St. Cloud.

“It was about this time of the autumn in 1980. He had just moved to St. Cloud with his family,” Mullin recalled. “The two youngest children, Jennifer and Rob, were enrolled at Sts. Peter and Paul School; the two oldest, Tommy and Jeff, were at Cathedral.”

Mullin, who was working as assistant administrator at Sts. Peter and Paul at the time, was encouraged by his then-boss, Benedictine Sister Gen Maiers, to reach out to Vee.

“My job was to raise money, recruit students and conduct marketing. I phoned Bob and he agreed to meet,” Mullin recalled.

“We got to know each other as a result of establishing an event eventually called Rockin’ ‘Round the Clock.”
The first year, Vee performed at a fundraiser that benefited Sts. Peter and Paul School called “Bouncin’ Back with Bobby Vee.”

“It is among my wife’s and my most cherished memories,” Mullin said. “It was a dinner theatre type event at the old Sunwood Inn. We had a lovely meal, a capacity crowd, and Bobby’s concert was incredible.”

The next year, Mullin was recruited to Cathedral to serve as its first director of advancement. Mullin approached Bobby and Karen to help put together a major event for Cathedral using the Sts. Peter and Paul event as a model. The event became known as “Rockin’ ‘Round the Clock,” which Mullin said piggybacked on an already-successful event that had been put in place several years earlier by Cathedral’s then-music director, Delphine Sexton.

Rockin’ ‘Round the Clock included a rock ‘n’ roll concert headlined by Vee, his kids, The Oldy, Moldy All-Stars, and according to Mullin, a “parade of ‘50s rock stars who were Bobby’s friends and acquaintances from the Hollywood/American Band Stand/Dick Clark era. Dozens of them eventually made their way to St. Cloud at Bob’s invitation,” he said.

When the 24-year stint at Cathedral ended, Vee and his family took to the stage in St. Joseph, sharing their talents at the annual Joetown Rocks Parish Festival which continues today.

Over the years, the Vellines impressed upon Mullin and the community their love of Catholic education. Their cumulative in-kind gifts over the years totaled more than $1 million, he said.

“At Cathedral  — and at Sts. Peter and Paul — Bob and Karen recognized a mission, vision, philosophy, values and goals consistent with their reason for moving back to Central Minnesota,” Mullin said. “[They] were motivated by what they referred to as the values they experienced growing up in Fargo and Detroit Lakes. They insisted from the very beginning that if they were going to get involved, they wanted it to be an event for the entire family, young and old; wholesome fun, a rekindling of the idyllic ‘Ozzie and Harriet’-’Father Knows Best’ eras when life was arguably simpler and better.”

Mullin warmly remembers Vee for his genuine, humble, friendly personality.

“Someone of his fame could have easily been arrogant or aloof, but he was neither,” he said.

“And, on top of that he was a fabulous, talented musician,” he added. “Bob and Karen will always be a big part of Cathedral, not so much for their in-kind gift of Rockin’ ‘Round the Clock, but more so for their humble and huge personalities. Bob’s and Karen’s grandchildren are at Cathedral now — their presence is the greatest and the longest-lasting legacy.”

Visitation will be held Nov. 1 from 4-8 p.m. at St. John the Baptist Parish Center in Collegeville. Mass of Christian Burial is set for Nov. 2 at noon at St. John’s Abbey and University Church in Collegeville.

Author: Kristi Anderson

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