Story by MARK SAAL • Photos by SARAH WELLIVER • Standard-Examiner Staff
SOUTH OGDEN — Harold “Hal” Golde may not be the oldest person to perform the national anthem at a baseball game, but he’s certainly in that ballpark.
On Friday night, the 94-year-old — “It’s actually 94 and a half,” he corrects — sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” before the Ogden Raptors baseball game at Lindquist Field in downtown Ogden. The proud World War II veteran, decked out in his Army uniform, was invited to sing the anthem for the Raptors’ Military Awareness Night.
So, how did a 94-and-a-half-year-old WWII vet end up singing at the ballpark? It all started with a no-show.
Karen Summers is the connections manager at the Treeo retirement community in South Ogden. In June, Summers invited Hal and a few other veterans to attend a veterans event at the Riverdale-based Utah Military Academy, where her son is a student. At the last minute, the singer scheduled to perform the national anthem was unable to attend.
“Karen knows my dad can sing,” said Hal’s son, South Ogden resident Rick Golde. “She walked over and asked if he’d mind singing the national anthem. He cleared his throat and said, ‘I’ll give it my best shot.’”
Summers said Hal stood as straight and tall as he could and “belted it out.”
“Apparently, he hit it out of the park,” Rick Golde added.
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When the audience found out the owner of such a strong singing voice was 94 years old, everyone started clapping wildly, according to Summers.
“And Hal starts doing this,” she said with a laugh, clasping her hands together and shaking them first to one side of her head and then to the other.
Rick Golde said when he asked his father if he remembered the words to the national anthem, he replied: “The day I can’t sing the entire national anthem is the day I don’t deserve to live in this country.”
Summers later approached the Ogden Raptors baseball organization about having Hal sing the national anthem at a game, and management jumped at the opportunity. Fittingly, they arranged for him to sing at Friday’s Military Awareness Night. Hal called the experience “an honor.”
Harold William Golde was born Feb. 11, 1923, in the New York City borough of the Bronx and grew up in the Queens neighborhood of Flushing. Hal started singing in his Lutheran Sunday school when he was just 5 years old, but it wasn’t until high school that he got serious about singing. He joined a school choir that met on Saturdays; they ended up singing throughout New York City.
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“We sang in Carnegie Hall, the civic center, town hall — any place they had an opening for music,” he said.
It was in one of these school choir rehearsals that Hal met his future wife, Mary Patricia Zarth. They would end up performing a duet of “Indian Love Call” from “Rose Marie,” the 1936 MGM musical starring Jeanette MacDonald and Eddy Nelson, the “singing sweethearts of the silver screen.”
“After we sang, the school newspaper called us ‘the singing sweethearts of Bayside High School,’” he said.
Hal was drafted into the Army at age 20 and served as part of the liberating force in the Pacific theater. In a “Forrest Gump”-type moment, family members say Hal is seen in the background of the famous 1944 “I shall return” photo of Gen. Douglas MacArthur wading ashore on the beach at Leyte in the Philippines.
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Hal says he and Mary had been “just friends” until he was drafted into the Army. While overseas, Hal started receiving these parchment letters with beautiful, flowery love poems that Mary had written.
“I wrote back and said, ‘Who’s the lucky guy you’re talking about,’” Hal recalled, “and she said ‘It’s you, stupid.’”
He promised Mary that if he survived the war, they’d marry. He did, and they did. Hal proposed the day after returning from the Pacific theater, and the couple was wed June 22, 1947. They were married 65 years, until Mary’s death in 2012.
Although Hal spent his career in the grocery business, he and Mary always made time for singing. They were inaugural members of the well-known Robert Shaw Collegiate Chorale in New York City, singing with the group for about 10 years. And over the years they rarely passed up an opportunity to sing at church, weddings, funerals and other events. The couple would often rehearse their songs while doing the dishes.
“Mary would wash, and I’d dry,” he said. “And we’d sing.”
These days, Hal dearly misses his duet partner. He tells the story of watching “Rose Marie” on television one night, and Jeanette MacDonald and Eddy Nelson started singing “Indian Love Call.”
“I squinted my eyes, and I didn’t see Jeanette MacDonald on the TV, I saw my wife,” he recalled.
It brought tears to Hal’s eyes.
“I said, ‘You’ve still got it, honey. You’ve still got it,’ ” he said.
Hal Golde will continue singing as long as the Good Lord allows him. Maybe longer.
“Did he tell you he’s singing at his own funeral?” Summers asked. “They’ve recorded him singing ‘The Lord’s Prayer,’ and they’ll play it at his funeral.”