Ray Tenisci will be in the Silver City Days parade this year. But instead of practicing his march, he’s working on his “queen’s wave.”
“Wrist, wrist, elbow, elbow,” he joked, in a pre-parade demonstration at the Trail Times. “That’s what they tell you, pretend you are washing a window.”
After decades of entertaining the community with upbeat music, song and dance, Ray has been recognized for his unassuming ways as the 2016 Trail/Warfield Citizen of the Year.
“I got the call last Sunday and was totally shocked,” he said. “I am very honoured but it’s because of the City of Trail and all the nice people who live here.”
The community is invited to join Ray when he receives his award next week, which doubles as the traditional kick off to Silver City Days festivities. The public ceremony will begin at 7 p.m. on Tuesday in the St. Michael’s Elementary School gymnasium.
And it’s a good thing the event is on Tuesday – that is Ray’s only “day off” at the moment.
He entertains the other six days, whether it’s the spoons, guitar, singing or dancing, in seniors’ facilities around Trail, the Beaver Valley and Castlegar. That’s amid other activities Ray does on the side that he likely forgets about – when the Trail Times started growing vegetables in storefront planters and ran short on time and budget, Ray unexpectedly showed up to share buckets of his own rich planting soil.
His goodhearted nature really began in East Trail, as one of 10 children growing up under the watchful eye of two community-minded parents who immigrated to the city from Italy.
Music was always part of life. The Tenisics sang in church choir, his father Fred played accordion and taught Ray’s brothers the instrument, even his five sisters filled the house with music when they practiced the piano.
“We always went as a family to Colombo Lodge functions,” he fondly recalled. “Where we would dance with aunts and sisters … Dad used to get the whole family doing comedy sketches on stage and I got the lead role a few times because I was not given any musical training.”
He remembers another family tradition of yore, this one more acting than singing.
“We dressed up every Christmas as the Nativity scene and visited relatives and friends on Christmas Eve,” he chuckled. “I was always Saint Joseph.”
After graduating from J.L. Crowe, Ray left town for university. He married Carolyn, his wife of 44 years, had four children by the age of 26 and became a teacher on Saltspring Island for a number of years.
His life came full circle when the family moved back to Trail. He taught at Beaver Valley Middle School and Crowe before retiring from a 35-year career eight years ago, all that added to his new role of grandfather to eight (with one on the way).
In his spare moments, always with a big smile on his face, Ray was an active volunteer in the arts and culture scene around Trail – he organized the Italian Sidewalk Cafe and Grape Stomp for 10 years.
And he began performing music on stage. Given his talent, it’s surprising that Ray has never received any formal music training.
His first gig was on a whim at the old Eagles Hall in Trail.
In the late ’70s, Ray frequented the venue on Friday and Saturday nights. As is his nature, he volunteered to book the bands. That’s when he ran into a former acquaintance who literally threw him back into music.
“He was in the band that I hired and (recognized) me from the Cominco bag room,” said Ray. “He played the spoons and mouth organ, so he threw me the spoons and said. ‘See what you can do with them.’
“I never played them in my life, but I took to them, and they hired me on the spot.”
Another impromptu situation, this one during Silver City Days, led him to years of membership with the Trail Maple Leaf Band.
“My dad was in the band and played beside Dr. Stefanelli, they played the silver clarinet,” he began. “Then one day … the bass drummer got sick, so friends I made wine with asked if I would march in the parade (Jack Bailey and Bill Burkholder, longtime Maple Leaf Band members).”
This was 24 hours before the Saturday parade, and Ray had never played the bass drum. Of course, that didn’t stop him.
“So they gave me a uniform and said bring the bass drum,” he recalled. “I played the march and they said, ‘You’re a natural.’”
It wasn’t until the following Monday when Ray showed up for practice that he realized to be a regular, reading music was a must.
“So I faked it,” he said.
“But after the practice I went to Jack (Bailey) and he gave me a cassette for beginning drummers in Grade 8 music. I took it home and learned how to read music that night – 25 years later I retired from the Maple Leaf.”
He now plays 24 times a month, mostly for seniors, in various groups like the “Happy Wanderers” or his band, “Never Too Late.”
After countless performances over the decades, Ray reminisced about one particular event he was part of because of a very special person in his life – his mother, Emily Tenisci.
“My mother had been in a car accident in Italy … she had a head injury … so (in Trail) she was in Kiro Manor,” he shared. “We would play once a month at their pub night, my mother was the bartender, though she didn’t drink much,” Ray added.
“It was just to play for my mother, the biggest influence in my life.”
The Citizen of the Year award presentation is the first event heralding the annual Silver City Days celebrations. The award was inaugurated by the Fraternal order of the Knights of Columbus in 1957. Since then, 55 Trail/Warfield citizens have received recognition as well as three couples, the Trail Maple Leaf Band, and the Trail Pipe Band.