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Sandy Erdman: Instrument collector makes homemade music

November 26, 2018

Gary’s Country Museum takes visitors back to days gone by. The museum at 7885 County Road 6 SW in Stewartville aims to appeal to a wide variety of folks. Owner Gary Froiland is the curator and enjoys collecting items that are out of the ordinary.

“My inspiration was visiting many museums in this country and around the world, from Japan to Europe, Israel and King Tut’s treasures in Egypt,” Froiland said. “The name came from a neighbor who thought that name would be perfect.”

Collecting and the museum

“I started collecting when I was still living with my parents, before I got married,” he said. “It mostly started with musical instruments, and now I have way over 100 instruments.

“In 1976, I bought two things, a Model-A Ford that needed restoring and a banjo. As I sat watching TV one night, I thought, ‘that Model-A is in the shed not getting restored, and that banjo is up in my room not getting learned.’ So, right then I decided to allow myself one hour of television each week, spend the rest of the time restoring the Model-A and learning the banjo. After those things were accomplished, I kept adding to the list of things to fix up and learn. I never did go back to watching TV, not even an hour a week!”

Froiland has organized the two pole sheds that house his museum into themes and rooms. None of it is for sale.

“I just give tours to individuals and groups who would like to see my collection,” he said. “But I do have hands-on things in every area for kids or adults to try.”

Finding items

“I have numerous items donated by individuals. To honor that donation, I make a brass label with the name of the donor,” he said. “Many items I pick up as I travel with my music, in antique shops, or on Ebay.”

Froiland said he looks for unusual items that people have not seen before.

“I have the museum pretty complete, but I continue to look for things to upgrade my displays,” he said.

“My military display is highlighted by a soldier mannequin, it features a military uniform I purchased in an antique shop in Sioux Falls, S.D. To my surprise, in the pockets were the man’s discharge papers, as well as his dog tag. So I researched him and have his military history framed on display.”

Froiland is also a wood-carver and plays “Home Made Music” with his one-man band.

“My music is the bluegrass style of music, with banjo, guitar and musical saw, backed up with sound tracks I create with bass, dobro, fiddle and mandolin,” he said. “I fell in love with the bluegrass style of music when my great uncle took our family to a bluegrass festival. I loved the happy and up-tempo sound.”

Family members have joined in and, “for 15 years we had a family band, but then the kids grew up and had to quit the band for jobs, etc. Once a month, some family members join me with other musicians who show up at our Cowboy Church with their music at Pleasant Grove Church of Christ in Pleasant Grove.

Folks come to the museum

“A lady who has donated many items for my school display lives in Norway and went to the school that my school desks are from” Froiland said. “The last thing she sent me from Norway included the original school bell her teacher used and a dress she wore when she was 10 years old. So now, at her suggestion, that dress is worn by a young girl mannequin who sits in one of the school desks.”

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