May 18, 2016 // Local

Musician Fred Rothert changing lifestyle and location

Fred Rothert receives a copy of St. Mary’s Hymnal, signed by the choir members, and presented by Michelle Colchin.

By Gary Huhn

FORT WAYNE — Most people in the Fort Wayne and northeastern Indiana portion of the Fort Wayne-South Bend Diocese are familiar with the name, Fred Rothert. His musicianship and musical talents are the stuff that easily bring the word “legend” to mind.

Fred Rothert recently left his hometown of Fort Wayne and moved southwest to Arizona where it is assumed that he will continue to entertain people using his God-given musical abilities — whether in a religious venue or in various clubs as he did in the Fort Wayne area. Some people have used the word “retired” for his move, but actual retirement doesn’t seem to fit his persona.

Rothert has been leading the congregations of both St. Mary Mother of God Parish and the 5 p.m. Mass on Sunday at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception for well over 30 years. He began playing at the Cathedral in August 1980 and at St. Mary’s in 1983. He did so continuously at both parishes until April 24 of this year.

Rothert is a native of Fort Wayne, having grown up in the area around Pontiac Street, and attended Weisser Park School. He graduated from South Side High School in 1965. Following high school, Fred was honored with an appointment to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.  He completed one year there before transferring to Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio and graduated in 1969.

The choir sings their farewell songs to Fred at the retirement luncheon held after his final Mass as music liturgist for St. Mary Mother of God Parish.

Upon returning to Fort Wayne from Heidelberg, Rothert began performing at various venues in the Fort Wayne area including performing country music at The Picker, a very popular country music spot on Northrop Avenue, from 1974 to 1977. His next stop was at VaChon’s in downtown Fort Wayne on Pearl Street where he played for about two years with a variety of partners including Arvel Bird, another well known area musician. After VaChon’s closed, Rothert and his wife, Bonnie, moved to Nashville, Tennessee. After a few months there, they returned to Fort Wayne and he began performing at Mothers (now Columbia Street West).

As the story goes, Rothert was performing at Mothers in the late 1970s and while there was approached by Mickey McCardle of Cathedral parish who asked about playing for the 5 p.m. Sunday Mass on a regular basis. While playing guitar for one of those Cathedral Masses, the late Father Tom O’Connor from St. Mary’s was in attendance and asked Fred if he was interested in playing regularly at one of the Masses at St. Mary’s. Thus began Fred’s association with both parishes situated three blocks from each other.

While playing guitar and cantoring at St. Mary’s, some of the parish’s young people began coming up to sing along with him. This quickly led to the choir members joining in the singing and this also resulted in
Rothert being named the choir director and conducting rehearsals as well as playing for the Mass.  Additionally, this found Rothert being involved in helping plan the liturgies at St. Mary’s.

After a short time at St. Mary’s, the late Jimmy Benson came on board and at Father Tom’s request, a bass and drums were added to the musical mix for liturgies. The current drummer, Ted Brown, has been playing for the Sunday Mass since that time. Ted joined the group just a few months before the fire that destroyed the Church in 1993.

After the fire, the St. Mary’s congregation met at St. Paul’s Catholic Church and the musicians collaborated with the Hispanic musicians there with some interesting results. After five years at St. Paul’s — “in the wilderness” according to Father Tom — parishioners were able to return to a new church at Lafayette and Jefferson Streets.

Following that move, Rothert was inspired to write a setting of ‘The Gloria’ for the Dedication Mass. The congregation continues to sing that Gloria to this day. It is very uplifting and anticipated by the congregation which finds participation easy.

Over the years, the St. Mary’s choir has grown and changed many times due to members passing or moving from Fort Wayne. Several members have been in the choir since 1983. One of the more memorable events for the choir was a performance with members of the Fort Wayne Philharmonic with proceeds going to one of the local food banks. The choir also sang at the Cathedral for Bishop D’Arcy’s installation and, sadly, returned to the Cathedral for the Funeral Mass for Father Tom O’Connor in 2004.

During all those years, Rothert continued to play music at many night spots in the northeastern Indiana area. The first several years found Fred and his group concentrating on Country music, while the last 10 years or so had rock ‘n roll at their core with Freddie and the Hot Rods. In addition, Fred was fond of entertaining at the annual Johnny Appleseed Festival in September — something he did nearly every year.

Rothert continued his education and in 1988 got his teaching license and taught English at Leo Jr./Sr. High School. Fred retired from teaching in 2012.

On Rothert’s last Sunday playing at St. Mary’s, a luncheon was held following Mass and many people got a chance to let him know how much St. Mary’s appreciated his efforts. For that celebration the choir at St. Mary’s secretly prepared a couple of songs in his honor with new words written to old songs:  the first was, “The Ballad of Freddie Rothert” and the second was entitled, “Stay, Fred.”

Gary Huhn is a member of the choir for St. Mary, Mother of God Parish, Fort Wayne.

* * *

The best news. Delivered to your inbox.

Subscribe to our mailing list today.