Discovering Nan Dorland:
By Joan Champ - [email protected]
The following is the seventeenth installment in a series about Nan Dorland, a radio star from New York City who spent six years on what is now Winoga Island on Abram Lake during the 1940s. Nan later struggled to become a writer and a prospector in northern Saskatchewan. Follow at www.nandorland.blogsot.com or on Instagram @discoveringnan.
Nan’s Son John Danke
John Ernest Albrecht was born August 18, 1950, in Stouffville, Ontario (near Toronto). His 38-year-old mother Nan died three weeks later from complications of childbirth. His father, John Albrecht told Berry Richards in a 1975 interview that his in-laws, Ernest and Ida Danke, came up to Toronto from southern California after Nan’s death. “John, do you want to go prospecting and wouldn’t the boy hamper you?” John quotes Danke as saying, “How would it be if you let me and my wife raise him?” John agreed, and on September 10, 1950, three-week-old John crossed the Canada-US border at Port Huron, Michigan with his father and his maternal grandparents.
After getting his infant son settled in with Nan’s parents in Yorba Linda, California, John Albrecht returned to northern Saskatchewan with Nan’s ashes.
Ernest and Ida adopted Nan’s son, renaming him John Danke. In 1954, the four-year old became an American citizen.
Albrecht continued his life of trapping and prospecting but visited his son in California every year until John was about 10 years old. “Pretty near every year I went, you know, to California,” Albrecht told Berry Richards. “There I stayed from October to March. They had a 35-acre orange grove.”
John Danke attended Vista High School in Vista, California where he was a member of the swim team and a diver during his junior and senior years. He graduated in 1968.
John’s real talent was as a pianist and organist. Like many other musicians, he got his start as a teenager in a rock-and-roll band. One of his friends from junior high school, Martin Kelley, posted the following story on the Tributes page of John’s obituary:
“In 1964 The Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and within weeks a couple of friends and I were getting a band together. I found out that John played an amplified accordion (of all things) and that he had a really large amplifier. I convinced my friends that we should let him into the band and then we would get to use his amp! Lo and behold we found out that this guy was a genuine musician! ... You ain’t heard nothin’ until you’ve heard John playing the lead guitar riff of The Byrd’s 8 Miles High on the accordion!! He was truly a wizard!! We were truly blessed to have John in our band and once we got to know him, we embraced him as a beloved and respected friend.”
Nan’s son John attended Chapman College in Orange County, California where he earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in music theory and composition. He then embarked on a career as a solo artist and accompanist, performing from Montana to Texas, and even giving a recital at the Rachmaninoff Conservatory in Paris.
Albrecht’s good friend Dr. Klaus Lehnert-Thiel lived in La Ronge, Saskatchewan from 1969 to 1979. He told me that during those years John never traveled to California to visit his son. However, in the mid-1970s John Danke went to La Ronge with his grandmother, Ida to visit his father. “They stayed a few days and I had them over for dinner at least once,” Lehnert-Thiel recalls. “His son was a pianist and John egged him on to play more pieces on my old piano but his son somehow balked. The visit did nothing to strengthen the father-son relationship, at least that I could see.” Lehnert-Thiel does not know if the two ever saw each other again after that.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Danke was living in Palm Desert serving as the pianist and accompanist at the College of the Desert and as the organist at the Palm Desert Christian Science Church. By the late 1980s John was back living with his step-grandmother Ida in Carlsbad, California. Ida Danke passed away in 1987 when John was 37 years old.
In 1991, John Danke met Rabeea (Robert) Shhadeh in Escondido, California. The two became close friends and traveled extensively together. Rabeea told me in a phone call that John visited Germany every year around Christmas. “He wanted to learn as much as he could about his German family,” Rabeea said. In 2015, they went to Germany together to visit John’s family and then to Israel where John met some of Rabeea’s family.
On New Year’s Eve 2015, three months after he and Rabeea returned home from Israel, 65-year-old John Danke collapsed from heart failure while practicing on the organ at St. Patrick’s Church. After he passed away, the tributes poured in. “John was the kindest, most generous person imaginable,” writes Patrick Anderson on the Forever Missed website. “The hole his passing leaves in our lives will be impossible to fill. I don’t know what we will do without the music that he brought into our lives.”
I had hoped that John’s estate might include mementoes of his birth parents, Nan Dorland and John Albrecht. I telephoned John’s friend Rabeea Shhadeh who told me that John did indeed have family letters and other documents but that these items went to an unnamed family member after John’s death. To date, I have not been able to locate this person to request copies.