'You knew you were at the convention when you heard his music'

American Legion Past National Commander Jake Comer has been coming to the Legion’s national conventions since 1970. And for 38 of those years, Comer heard a very familiar and welcoming sound coming from the floor: national convention organist Peter Ole (Olesnevich).

“'You knew you were at the convention when you heard his music,” Comer said of Ole. “He was a natural. His music really transcended the convention. When I heard Peter Ole playing, I knew I was at an American Legion national convention.”

Ole’s last national convention was in 2015 in Charlotte, N.C.; a little more than a year later, the New Hampshire resident was honored by the Legion’s National Executive Committee during its 2016 Fall Meetings in Indianapolis. Resolution No. 13 commended Ole “for his outstanding musical contributions during National Conventions for over 37 years.” The resolution bestowed upon Ole the title “The American Legion Maestro Emeritus.”

That honor was shared with Ole recently during The American Legion Department of New Hampshire’s Mid-Winter Conference, when Past National Vice Commander John Neylon presented Ole with a plaque containing the resolution and title.

“I absolutely did not think I would ever do this as long as I did,” Ole said. “But I am proud of the fact that I was able to do that. It’s been a joy, and it’s been an experience not many people have had. Getting the chance to do what I’ve been able to do has been amazing.”

Having moved from the East Coast to Colorado, Ole found work at an organ company, where he learned to play. It was in Colorado that he met American Legion Past National Commander Tom Bock in the early 1970s. The pair struck up a friendship and Ole began playing at Paul C. Beck Post 23 events in Aurora.

When Denver hosted the 1977 National Convention, Ole approached Legion officials to ask if they’d ever used an organist. When told no, Ole responded with “This is the work I do.” Apparently his live audition went well.

“I was flying by the seat of my pants,” Ole said. “I knew I could do what I needed to do, but I had no idea how I would be received. It was a bit scary at the time, but after the convention was over I was told ‘you’ll be hearing from us.’ The rest is history.”

Bock said his relationship with Ole grew through the years. “When we would get to the convention hall, (Bock’s wife) Elaine and I would both go right up to see Peter first thing. We loved his music. It makes me very happy that Peter was such a big part of the national convention all those years.”

Ole said he literally made thousands of friends over the years while playing at the convention. “People would come to my area – they actually made an effort to come up to me – and tell me they were glad to see me and glad to hear me,” he said. “That’s a great feeling.

“Playing at the national convention was a joy. It was the greatest opportunity of my life.”

Comer said it was important to recognize Ole’s contributions to the Legion. “When you have someone performing at the national convention as long as Peter did, it becomes more than just the music during the opening and the breaks,” he said. “I would always make it a point to say hello to him. I had a good relationship with him. I’m from Massachusetts and he’s from New Hampshire, so we had that connection.

“But all sorts of other people would come up to him on the convention floor and say hello as well. He developed friendships with Legionnaires. Every convention should have a Peter Ole.”