I think Fred Markle was the first person I ever met in Linton.

Back in the early 1980s I had an older friend named Jack Watt, who was also a guitar player. My family and I were living in Coal City at the time, and Jack and his family came to the church I pastored there. One day Jack said, “Dave, let’s drive down to Linton so you can see that music store.” I said “Sure!” And one afternoon not long after, we got into his custom van and he drove us to Linton.

When we got to Linton, he turned right on Main Street and drove out of town, back out into the country again. I was puzzled. After a mile or so, he turned right again and pulled int a gravel drive between two buildings: a rambling one- story house on the left and a large metal outbuilding on the right. Jack got out of the van. I said,” What are we stopping here for?” He looked at me like I was crazy and said, “To go to the music store!” Then he turned the knob on a blank white door and stepped into the metal building. I got out of the van and followed him.

It was a little surreal. Outside, there were trees and birds, a lot of grass and a pond (a former coal pit, I found out later). But inside was a fully stocked music store! Dozens of guitars, basses and banjos hung on the walls. There were glass counters full of guitar strings, guitar cables, guitar pedals, and all kinds of musical accessories. And filing the floor space were guitar amplifiers, bass amplifiers, PA systems, and several full-size drum sets. I stood in the doorway with my mouth open. I looked back outside at the grass and trees, then back inside to see this fantastic music store. It was like stepping into another dimension! And I grinned from ear to ear.

I entered and walked around slowly, trying to take it all in. There was a lot of stuff to see! This little music store- Markle Music- was as well-stocked as anything I’d seen in a bigger town. As I looked around, I became aware of a guy behind the counter… A big guy! And that’s the first time I ever saw Fred Markle. Six-foot three or four, and three hundred pounds or more. He wore his hair cut short with bangs and had a little mustache- not unlike Oliver Hardy. I think he had on a T-shirt and a pair of overalls.

Jack was talking to Fred like he’d known him a long time. (He had.) And Jack introduced me to Fred. I don’t remember what we talked about. No doubt it was about guitars and guitar stuff. But that was the first time I ever talked to Fred Markle, and it was the first in a long line of hundreds, if not thousands of conversations I had with him over the years. This would have been about 1982.

I went back to Linton many times by myself over the next few years. Sometimes I brought others with me. And always, when I got to Linton, I turned right at Main Street and headed out into the country towards Markle Music. It was years before I went any further into town. I didn’t know the rest of the town was there, or that there was any more to Linton that the downtown area.

After a while, Fred and Kathy moved the music store into town, just off Main Street on the highway, catty-cornered from The Grill. It was a cozy, inviting storefront building, crammed full of guitars and stuff. It was a true “mom and pop” store, with Fred and Kathy making friendly conversation and great deals with anyone who walked in the door. I loved it. Of all the many music stores I’ve been to in my life, this was my favorite.

Fred worked on instruments, too, and people came from all over the area so he could fix their guitars and other things. He even worked on instruments for John Mellancamp’s band from Bloomington. Over the years Fred got to meet a lot of famous musicians, either at the store or the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) conventions he would attend. He had signed photographs of many of these famous people, often with him in the picture, too, hanging on the music store walls.

We moved to Terre Haute in 1990, and I didn’t get down to Markle Music much during that time. Terre Haute had its own music stores. But in 1997 I was called to be the pastor of the First Baptist Church of Linton, and I renewed my acquaintance with Fred and Kathy and their wonderful music emporium. By that time, Fred and Kathy had moved the store yet again, to right smack dab in the middle of downtown Linton at 44 Main Street.

Fred seemed especially please that I was the pastor of First Baptist Church and still wanted to hang out in their music store. We had a lot of good conversations in that store, ranging from silly to serious. I told Fred a lot of stuff, and he told me a lot of stuff. He told me once, “Dave, you can come in here and play anything you want, any time you want, for as long as you want.” He could see that sometimes my spirit was heavy about something, and he wanted their store to be a kind of retreat for me. He told me,” I’ll never tell nobody when you come and go, or what you do while you’re here.” For the record, most of the time I’d only be in the store ten or fifteen minutes or so, and I never did anything there I was ashamed of!

But many’s the time after a funeral I would go right over to Fred’s grab a guitar down of the wall and sit and play for a while. It got my mind off of whatever was weighing me down, stressing me out or breaking my heart. Usually, after a few minutes, I’d put the guitar back and tell Fred and Kathy, “Well, that was my fifteen minutes of fun for the day!” Sometimes, on my day off, or on Saturdays, I would stay longer. Somebody said that everybody needs a “third place”. You’ve got home, and work, and your “third place.” Markle Music was my “third place.” And Fred Markle was my friend.

Over the years I bought a lot of stuff from Fred and Kathy. ( My wife called Fred my “supplier.”)And I knew they always gave me great deals. But it took me years to realize that they hardly ever charged me more than their cost and the price of shipping! I thought I was supporting a local business, but I’m not sure they ever really made a dollar from any of my purchases. If they saw I was interested in something, Kathy would say, “Dave, ya want me to make ta out at card?” I’d give them a little bit of money, and Kathy would write it down on an index card with my name on it. Without any terms being stipulated, over the next month or two, every week I’d bring them in a little money to pay off whatever it was. I had my own musical layaway plan! I rarely took more than a few weeks to pay off whatever guitar or amp (or bass or banjo or mandolin or ukelele or drums or pedal or PA system) I was buying. And they always seemed so pleased to be able to help me get the instruments I wanted, especially when I told them that I played them in church.

I used to bring Fred and Kathy Frosties from Wendy’s. He’d put them in the refrigerator in the back and say, “I’ll eat it with my lunch in a little bit.” I quit doing this after I found out they were both diabetic! But he never told me that. I found out from someone else.

Lots of time I wanted to stop in and ask Fred something, only to find the store full of people who were lined up ahead of me, all wanting to talk to him. Often I just left and came back some other time because he was “covered up.”

But if the store wasn’t busy, and Fred was working on something- an old guitar, or a tube amp, or one of his projects- he’d say, “Dave, come on back!” And I’d go back and stand beside him and watch him solder, or restring, or refinish. And we’d talk, about anything and everything. We’d solve the world’s problems, talk about stuff going on in town (he was on the town council for a while), and talk about music and the joy of playing music. We’d even talk about life, and death, and Jesus.

Fred had a bad experience in church when he was young. After he got interested in guitar and playing music, a local preacher lambasted him from the pulpit. Fred said he never used his name, but it was obvious that the man meant him. It really hurt Fred’s feelings. I had a similar experience when I was a teenager. People assumed that just because you liked guitar and guitar groups, that meant you were a dirty, dope-smoking, maggot-infested hippie. I personally was too young to be a hippie, loved to bathe, never smoked anything expect a discarded cigarette butt (twice, for about 5 seconds each time- yuck!), and have been reasonably maggot-free for most of my life.

Fred and I talked about feeling misunderstood by judgmental people, and even feeling angry about it. But we also talked about how sometimes Christians don’t do a very good job of representing Jesus… and how Jesus still loves us, and died on the cross for us, and forgives us… and them. And if Jesus forgives us, and forgives them, then maybe we should forgive them, too. I told Fred,” I know there are hypocrites in the church. That’s not a surprise to any pastor. But some days it’s even worse than that. Some days, it’s me” It’s a good thing Jesus is the friend of sinners, or He could never be my friend.

Fred installed a lot of sound systems in a lot of churches over the years. He always wanted to help churches and church musicians with their sound and their music. On our church platform we two monitor speakers with a “Markle Music” badge on the front of them. He had a company make them to his own personal specifications.

I told Fred once that I always had a fear of my cell phone ringing while I was preaching some Sunday morning. He told me if that ever happened, I should just answer it and say, “Yes, Lord?” (I’m not sure I’d ever have the guts to do that. That’s why I leave my phone on my desk in my study.)

There is so much more I could say, but there isn’t room, and there isn’t time. If you knew Fred, too, I’d love to swap stories about him with you. But I need to bring this to a close. Besides, I’ve been choking up and crying the whole time I’ve been writing.

Fred Markle was my friend. So many times, since the store closed- and since he died- I’ve thought to myself, “Man, I wish I could go to Markle Music and talk to Fred today! “And I can’t count the times I walked into his store and heard him say (as only he could):” Well, hello, Da-vid!”

I’m really looking forward to hearing him say that again.

Soli Deo Gloria!

Pastor David