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Charles Wesley Froh

By Chris Guthrie

Charles Froh taught music at Tarleton for thirty-eight years, arriving at eh school in 1909 and retiring in 1947. He was born in Madison, Indiana, in 1880 and attended school in nearby Shelbyville. Although his father wanted him to become a shoe salesman, Froh loved music and, encouraged by his mother and an uncle, he attended the Indianapolis Conservatory and then the Bush Conservatory of Music in Chicago. He left Chicago when Professor Charles Landon of the Landon Conservatory in Dallas, eager to enhance the reputation of his school by attracting a talented student from out of state, offered him a part-time job if he would come to Texas. Froh “packed his accordion valise and went to Dallas.”

Froh discovered that the part-time job that Landon had for him was as a janitor. He nonetheless stayed at the school and impressed Landon with his talent and determination. Froh gradually moved up to the position of part-time recruiter and instructor. While at the Landon Conservatory he met and fell in love with another student, Miss Edna McKinsey. They married shortly before their graduation; together, they moved to Fresno, California, in 1904 so that he could take his first college level teaching job at Western Plano College. Froh taught there until 1906 and then returned to Texas to become head of the music department at Add Ran Jarvis College in Thorpe Springs. He served in that capacity until the fall of 1909, when he moved to Stephenville to assume the position at Tarleton.

Froh did not arrive at a great time in Tarleton’s history. Plagued by financial problems, a deteriorating and inadequate physical plant, and a succession of less than outstanding chief administrators, Tarleton’s future looked increasingly dubious until James F. Cox took over as President in 1913. Many faculty left during this period, frustrated at the poor facilities and uncertain paychecks. But Froh, convinced that real potential lurked behind the peeling wooden buildings and grassburrs, stayed—even though he could have easily found employment elsewhere. In fact, when Cox first took control of the institution in 1913, Froh was the only faculty member who remained on the college payroll. All the others had resigned. In addition to remaining with the ailing school, Froh assumed duties beyond his field of music. During his first years at Tarleton, he encouraged the school to start a physical education program for female students and coached the women’s basketball team for several successful seasons.

Froh’s loyalty to Tarleton eventually paid off. Once the college became a branch of the A&M System in 1917, its financial situation and its ability to support and promote the fine arts improved dramatically, Froh playing a large role in this development. When he firs arrived at Tarleton, the music program consisted of little more than a few students who took piano lessons on an irregular basis. Under his guidance, a full-fledged program emerged after 1917, with courses of study in piano, percussion, brass, woodwinds, strings, and vocal and choral performance. He created a sequence of courses in music theory. An untiring performer, he gave recitals whenever he could (on a variety of instruments: piano, accordion, xylophone, drums, etc). He recruited a talented faculty, which at various times included his brother, Garnett Froh, (piano and accompanist). Legendary band director D.G. Hunewell, and future Fine Arts Department head Donald Morton (an Eastman School of Music graduate who came to Tarleton as a piano instructor in 1938). During Froh’s tenure as department head, Tarleton witnessed the creation of a marching band (1920), an “all-girl” band (1938), the Little Symphony Orchestra (a 45-piece orchestra), and the steady growth of the school’s choral group from a “glee club” to the “Tarleton Singers.” These groups often presented concerts for students and the Stephenville community. For example, in the early 1940s, Froh combined the Tarleton Singers and Little Orchestra with the Stephenville High School Chorus and the Stephenville Music Club to perform a Christmas presentation of Handel’s Messiah. Tarleton musical groups also played a featured role in Dean Davis’ frequent public relations events; such as “Tarleton Day” at the 1922 State Fair in Dallas and the WBAP live broadcast from the college gymnasium in 1924. Froh firmly believed in the importance of exposing students and the larger community to the best cultural events available. Early in his career, he convinced a local businessman to become his partner in bringing the St. Louis Orchestra to perform in Stephenville. Friends warned him that a small farm town with a tiny college of only a few hundred students would never be able to support such a major event and that he would lose all the money he invested promoting the endeavor. Mr. Froh pressed on despite these dire predictions of financial ruin and staged the performance. The concert sold out and Froh’s partner made a small profit. Froh himself broke even on his investment, which was all he ever intended to do in the first place since his primary goal had always been to give the people and students of Stephenville the opportunity to see and hear a first-class orchestra perform in their town. Froh envisioned this event, and all the others that he would promote over the years, as a way to provided the same sort of inspiration to the young people of his school and community that he had received when, as a boy, he heard his first concert back in Indianapolis. By the time Froh retired in 1947, the music department at Tarleton had several hundred majors and six full-time faculty members. He moved to Dublin, Texas, shortly thereafter and continued his involvement in music by giving private piano lessons until his death at age 72 in January 1953. No building on campus is named for Charles Froh. But the school’s excellent music department of today owes much to the man who devoted his life to inspiring and training future musicians.

Guthrie, Christopher. John Tarleton and his Legacy: The History of Tarleton State University, 1899-1999. Acton, MA: Tapestry Press, 1999. pp. 377-379.