1936 - 2010
Roger Thiesen, talented improvisational pianist and organist and sound and recording engineer, enjoyed a successful career as a keyboard performer and creative innovator in the area of sound reproduction. He worked primarily in Southern California for most of his career, playing in groups which performed a wide variety of music, including country and western, early rock and roll, ballads, and religious music.
Thiesen was born in Bakersfield, California, the son of Aaron and Hilda Biloff Thiesen, both of whom were children of parents who had been homesteaders in North Dakota. When his parents' families had lost their farms in the Great Depression, they had moved to California. In 1940, four years after Roger was born, his parents returned to North Dakota and bought a farm where they lived until 1949 when they moved to Walla Walla.
Roger had artistic talents which led to him painting backdrops while he was still in grade school. By the time he entered Walla Walla College Academy, later Walla Walla Valley Academy, in 1951, Roger was doing backdrops for most of the academy and Walla Walla College, later University, programs. He also painted a mural of the Northern Lights, which included a polar bear, for the Alaskan Room, a banquet area in the new Kellogg Hall cafeteria at WWC. He later enrolled in, and graduated from Upper Columbia Academy.
He then spent a year at the high school in Walla Walla, where he took additional classes before enrolling at WWC in 1957. He dropped out of college at the end of the first term and then worked with his father, helping him renovate rundown houses, which were then rented. Roger formed a jazz band with some friends where he played drums and rhythm guitar. He also played in other area groups, being in demand since he was the first person in the area to own an electric bass. While doing all of this playing, he developed an extensive playing repertoire of music in that era and from the 1930s and 1940s.
He was drafted into the US Army in December, 1958 and was shipped to San Antonio, Texas, to be trained as a medic. He shared a portfolio of his work with the graphics department at the base and was reassigned to that area. In his two years there, he played his electric bass in three different groups, a county music group with the Forse brothers, a Mexican ensemble, and a nine-piece swing band. He particularly enjoyed playing in the Louis Reams' Sunny Ace swing group, which performed frequently.
He returned to Walla Walla in January, 1961 and formed a small group that played in the area and at Seaside, Oregon, in the summer. The Forse brothers with whom he had played in San Antonio contacted him and invited him to join them in Los Angeles, California, to play piano, not electric bass, in a group.
This was the beginning of a long career in popular music for Thiesen in which his natural artistic and musical ability and developing facility on piano led to many opportunities. He also became known for his sense of humor and the comedy routines he developed with the group that played an important role in developing rapport with audiences.
Thiesen returned to the Walla Walla area in the 1990s, when his parents became ill. He spent the rest of his life there, doing some recording studio work in his home and playing as a pianist in retirement centers and for events in the area, where his repertoire of popular music from the 20th century made him a sought-after
and popular performer.
The graveside service will be 11:00 a.m., Sunday, April 18, 2010, at Mount Hope Cemetery, Southwest 6th Street and Grandview Avenue, College Place, Washington. The memorial service will follow at 2:00 p.m., Sunday, April 18, 2010, at the Walla Walla University Church, 4th and Bade Streets, College Place. Chaplain Walt Meske and Pastor Neil Biloff will officiate. Memorial contributions may be made to the Christian Aid Center through Mountain View-Colonial DeWitt, 1551 Dalles Military Road, Walla Walla, Washington 99362. Thiesen is survived
by the love of his life, Ellie Prusia of College Place; Uncle Hagen and wife Gladys Biloff of Milton-Freewater, Oregon, Aunt Nina West of Clackamas, Oregon, numerous cousins and many lifelong friends. Friends may write memories and sign the online guestbook at www.mountainview-colonialdewitt.com