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The Journal Gazette

Saturday, May 06, 2017 1:00 am

Entertainer, Portland native Imel dies at 84

Journal Gazette

Lawrence “Jack” Imel, an entertainer who gained national fame on “The Lawrence Welk Show,” died April 30 at age 84.

During a 1995 interview with The Journal Gazette, Imel credited his mother – and Fort Wayne – with setting the stage for his entry into show business.

He was born June 9, 1932, to Jennings and Opel Imel in Portland, Indiana. As the only child of a grocer, Imel was given a lot of advan­tages, including tap and marimba lessons.

After a 9-year-old Imel failed to earn a spot on a talent show at radio station WOWO-AM in Fort Wayne, his mother decided to add music to the act.

Not long after, Imel came home from school to find a xylophone – an instrument he could play while tap dancing.

Imel credited Dorothy Durbin of Fort Wayne with getting him his first booking: a Fort Wayne labor hall. The next week, she booked him twice.

When he was 11, Imel switched from xylophone to marimba, and after high school graduation studied at Arthur Jordan Music Conservatory in Indianapolis.

In 1952, Imel married Norma Jean Denney, his high school sweetheart, and enlisted in the Navy. 

In 1957, as he was leaving the service, Imel auditioned for Lawrence Welk, who invited him to join the show. Imel was a featured orchestra member for 25 years and eventually an associate producer.

The group also toured, including a local performance on Imel's 50th birthday, which the mayor proclaimed as Jack Imel Day in Fort Wayne.

After the TV show ended in 1982, Imel continued to perform, working on cruise ships and in Branson, Missouri, at the Lawrence Welk Theater. In 2002, the Imels retired to Porterville, California.

Jack Imel is survived by Norma, his wife of 64 years, sons Gregory and Timothy, daughters Debra Charton and Cynthia Buttner, as well as 12 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.

He was preceded in death by his son Terrance.

Visitation will be from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the First Presbyterian Church, 402 N. Ship St., Portland. Services will begin at 2 p.m.

Burial will follow at Green Park Cemetery in Portland. The American Legion Post No. 211 of Portland will conduct military graveside rites.