- Associated Press - Saturday, July 12, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - As a radio personality, entertainer, musician and storyteller, Sam DeVincent lived much of his life behind a microphone and his ever-present accordion.

Born in Chicago, he and his wife, Nancy, arrived in Fort Wayne in 1945 when he joined the staff at WOWO - first with the on-air musical group Nancy Lee and the Hilltoppers, then, beginning in 1960, as the station’s music director. He stayed in that position until he retired in 1983.

His Dec. 1, 1997, obituary in The Journal Gazette, after he died at the age of 79, mentioned that he once said, “I knew instinctively that music was going to be my life, from the time I was a kid.”

Those who survived him were Nancy, who died nearly three years ago, three children and four grandchildren.

He also left behind a legacy that will endure for generations beyond his grandchildren and probably theirs. The Smithsonian Institution in Washington will see to that, The Journal Gazette reports (http://bit.ly/1mNuF19).

Sam was around the age of 10 when he began to acquire pieces of sheet music and song books. Not only was he enthralled with the music, he was particularly drawn to their covers and colorful artwork. Twenty sets of sheet music became 40, and a few stacks inside his Chicago home became many.

As he grew, so did the collection. As the family multiplied, so did the collection. Vacations with Nancy and the kids turned into back road adventures to tiny music shops with the hope of finding a jewel among the rubble. He sifted through antiques stores, scoured garage sales, crawled into dusty attics. He bought and he traded.

Hearing of Sam’s hobby through his “Little Red Barn” segment, WOWO’s 50,000-watt daily listeners from the Midwest to the East Coast would send sheet music to the station, addressed to Sam DeVincent.

Piece-by-piece, year-by-year, decade after decade, DeVincent’s collection grew to about 130,000 pieces. And in March 1988, at the suggestion of John Edward Hasse, who used the collection to research his doctoral dissertation, three moving vans arrived at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, where the collection now resides beneath the title “Sam DeVincent Collection of Illustrated Sheet Music.”

“We wanted to give the care, the love, the home it so much deserved,” said Hasse, who, as a graduate student at Indiana University, contacted DeVincent after hearing about his extensive collection. “We had become friends. He started off as a wonderful source of information, and we became friends very quickly. He and Nancy were just wonderful people. They were so welcoming and warm to me.”

As only fate would have it, Hasse was given a job at the Smithsonian, where he became curator for the Division of Culture and the Arts, which means he oversees the care and well-being of DeVincent’s lifelong passion.

Before the collection became the property of the Smithsonian, its residence was in DeVincent’s home in the Trier Ridge Park housing addition on the city’s southeast side. There were boxes upon boxes upon boxes.

“Our house was always filled with sheet music,” says the DeVincents’ daughter, Lori Deal, 51. “My dad had it in every room. He had it stacked in the living room. He had it down the hallway. He had his own little office of it. And the whole, entire two-car garage was filled with it. We were always going to someone’s house or a church, or someone would contact him and say, ‘We’ve got some sheet music, Sam, if you’d like to come look at it.’ And he would go everywhere looking for this stuff. My mom and I would sit in the car and he would go into houses and he’d go visit people.”

Except for the kids’ rooms, the sheet music was everywhere.

In the middle of the night when Nancy got up to go to the bathroom, she broke her toe on a box of Sam’s collection that was in the hall.

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