Page 17 - Salem Magazine Spring 2011
P. 17

 Your Salem
His talent was very evident, even at a young age, and the crystal clear baritone he possessed was far too special to be heard just on occasion. The Waldrons were members of the Mount Union Church of the Brethren and although it was a small congregation, it was big enough to produce a gospel singing group known as the “Happy Hearts.”
“We were pretty much a local or regional group that stayed close to home and didn’t travel too much farther than Galax,” he says.
But soon after the “Flood of 85” the group was singing at a benefit show on the same bill as a number of other gospel groups, including the well-known Virginians Gospel Quartet. The night of that flood relief performance the leader of the headlining group heard Mark sing and asked him if he would like join their touring group to sing and play bass guitar in a big-time professional group.
“Well, nothing I’ve ever done singing- wise has been professional,” he jokes. “But I got on a bus with them in January of 1986 and hit the road.”
The members of the Virginians would sing close to 40 weekends a year while still maintaining their regular Monday through Friday jobs, and Waldron kept up that pace for 17 straight years.
“I remember a lady asking my daughter, Courtney, when she was little if she wished her daddy would quit that old singing and she told the lady, ‘No ma’am, my daddy is doing what he’s supposed to be doing,’” he says.
The members of the group traveled in an old 1957 GMC diesel bus that had eight bunk beds in the back, but not a single seat belt in the front. It was a customized tour bus, but only to a point in that it had air conditioning, but no bathroom facilities.
“That old bus would eat up half of what we took in just keeping it on the road,” says Waldron.
It wasn’t unusual for the group to put a thousand miles or more on the bus in a single weekend. The members normally did at least three shows on a Saturday and Sunday stretch, as they spread their uplifting, witnessing message from South Carolina to Pennsylvania to Ohio.
“We never charged anyone to come and sing,” he says. “It was always faith-based with a love offering and sometimes we got a whole lot more love than money, but God always made up the difference.”
When the Virginians finally took the bus off the road and retired in December of 2002, Waldron wasn’t ready to quit singing and spreading the gospel, so he formed the group “Beckon Call” in 2003. The group’s touring schedule isn’t nearly as rigorous, but he’s still singing in churches all across
Virginia at least four times a month.
“It’s still fulfilling for me, if not more so now,” he says. “We’re able to spend more time in our home churches, but still travel some, so it’s really the best of both worlds.”
Waldron graduated from Cave Spring in 1973 and moonlighted at United Virginia bank as he worked his way through Virginia Western taking data processing classes. He eventually got his degree from Western and his wife of 35 years, Donna, who also was a student there at the time.
In 1978, he went to work for Roanoke County schools as a programmer and quickly moved up the ladder and became the director of the school division’s data processing division in 1980. He had barely settled into his new office when Frank Cosby approached him about doing the same type of work for the brand new City of Salem School division.
In November of 1981, he came to Salem and inherited a state-of-the-art character based computer system that featured disc drives as big as dish washers and a storage capacity that was hardly worth discussing. The city’s entire computing system consisted of 160 megabytes, or about 12 times less than that of a little iPod shuffle.
Salem Magazine Spring Issue 2011 17
       circa 1981
Waldron and Members of Beckon Call

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