Franc and Louise Wanda Luschen
Bonnie Wayne McGuire

I feel fortunate to have personally known Franc and Louise Wanda Luschen, who emigrated to America (from Germany) just before World War I started. Those who have lived in the Nevada City/ Grass Valley area a long time will remember the Luschen’s  for their valuable musical contribution to the Nevada City and Union Hill schools... and music community at large. While they may have seemed somewhat eccentric to some, I doubt if many people realized how talented they were.

Franc was born and raised in Holland. He liked to reminisce about picking wild strawberries, and the millions of wild ducks and geese that stopped at the Netherlands to rest during their yearly migrations. Consequently their abandoned eggs were crushed and used as mortar in the seawalls (or dykes) and castles. His stories stirred my own childhood memories of stories like the boy with the silver skates, and  Hansel and Grethel picking wild strawberries, and brave little Peter stopping the leak in the dyke. Franc’s father was a musician. One day, when Franc was very young, his father brought home a small Cello and a puppy. The puppy was to be the reward for Franc learning to play the Cello. Eventually Franc studied music with such famous cellists as Anton Hekking of Berlin; Mossel of Amsterdam; and Klengel of Liepzig.


Franc became the personal musician of Germany’s Kaiser Wilhiem. During the maiden voyage of the Kaiser’s ship,  Kaiser's  brother Prince Hendrich was put in charge of the musicians so that he could play his violin with them. Franc mentioned a frightening experience that happened while they were playing dinner music for the Kaiser and his formally attired guests. They were about 200 miles from the coast of South America when the ship suddenly collided with something and stopped. The Captain quickly rose to his feet and calmly informed the terrified and somewhat soiled diners that there was no need to be alarmed, because they had merely struck a mound of mud deposited by the Amazon River. When they finally docked at Rio de Janeiro, Franc and another musician went ashore to look around. It was oppressively hot, so they stripped and went for a swim in the nearby river to cool off. Later they mentioned their refreshing dip to the dismayed Captain, who motioned them to observe. He took a loaf of bread, walked over to the ships railing and tossed chunks of bread into the water that came alive with fierce, voracious fish. “You were very lucky," he scolded. " This is why no one swims in these rivers.”

Louise Wanda was born in Berlin (then Prussia), and her father owned a large grain storage facility and flour mill in the farming area. After their marriage, she and Franc lived in Berlin where he played Cello with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra. On the surface, all seemed well, but political bitterness was building, inflation rising, and some items like butter were becoming scarce. Franc felt uneasy. Even worse was the disappearance of a musician acquaintance and others (according to Franc) who were stupid enough to criticize the Communists. This prompted him to ask others if musicians could earn a living in America. The news was encouraging, so he and Louise Wanda made the necessary arrangements, and were soon packed and on their way. When they reached the border, Louise Wanda discovered she didn’t have her passport. Franc waited, while she returned to their Berlin apartment hoping to find it.


The atmosphere at the border was tense. No smiles, or spoken assurances from anyone. Franc noticed an old piano in the corner of the room, so he decided to wile away the time doing what he enjoyed most. He seated himself and began playing popular waltzes and songs and everyone began singing and chatting like old friends. Before long Louise Wanda returned with her passport,  and they were soon on their way to visit Francs' mother in Holland. After a brief visit, they departed on the last ship allowed to leave for America.  World War I started, and Franc received news that he was excused from serving in the German military.


During his musical career in America, Franc played cello with the Cincinnati symphony under Eugene Ysaye’s baton, and later with the Los Angeles Symphony. He traveled extensively and met many interesting people. On one occasion in 1934, he was with a musical group providing entertainment for a reception in Pasadena. Albert Einstein was there and asked the concert master if he could play the violin with the group.... proving to everyone that he was a very fine violinist.



Franc's expertise at the piano.


Intuitively Franc was pretty paranoid about rumors of when Pearl Harbor was bombed in 1941, he feared LA would be next. The Luschen's had visited Nevada County before and liked it, so they purchased property on Red Dog Road where Franc built their home. About that time, our mother met the Luschens and decided we three girls needed piano lessons. This expanded to sister Kathy learning violin, which she still plays in musical groups. Virginia played the clarinet and saxophone in the local high school orchestra and band. After a short time learning the basics of piano and Cello, I decided musical instruments were not my forte'. That, and the realization that Franc didn't have much patience. Some musicians are better performers than teachers, so it wasn't long before Louise Wanda took over teaching the basics.

Left to right: Franc, violinists Nelda self, Kathy, Debra Thompson, Rosemary Freeland. Back row: Allan Haley on the base and Brian Haley on the flute.

Our friendship grew up with us. Eventually my husband and I built our first home on family property next door to the Luschens; where we lived until Franc passed away, and Louise Wanda moved to Fresno to live near her sisters for the remainder of her life. Looking back, I realize they grew up in a nice world much like ours that evolved into a political hell that resulted in the deaths of millions of people. During the earliest stage, they didn't like the negative changes taking place in their world, so they chose to find a better place where they used their creative abilities to please and teach many others.





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