By Carlienne A. Frisch
Descended from a grandfather who fired a cannon in Lincoln Park as a prank, it’s no surprise that Pete and Billy Steiner have led interesting lives.
Many people have enjoyed the music of City Mouse, a band Billy Steiner formed a half-century ago, and they may be familiar with Pete Steiner as the long-time moderator of KTOE radio’s “Talk of the Town.”
Fewer people know that their grandfather, Jabez Lloyd, was the character Cab Edwards in several Betsy-Tacy books written by Maud Hart Lovelace. In real life, as well as in literature, Jabez Lloyd was one of seven Mankato boys who fired a cannon in Lincoln Park on July 4, 1909. (They were found out and had to pay for damages the reverberation caused.)
Billy Steiner said of his grandfather, “He had a great sense of humor and loved to have fun. He was even more of a character than he was in the Betsy-Tacy books.”
Pete added, “He loved to laugh. He was a rascal as a youth, but then a stickler for doing right.”
Lloyd was precise about details. The brothers each have one of their grandfather’s five-year dairies in which he kept records, such as the purchase or gift of a watch or a suit of clothes. (The suits were tailor-made.) Attention to detail served Lloyd well when he founded Lloyd Lumber, which he ran with his sons Bob and Dick. His daughter, Millicent Lloyd Steiner, was the executive secretary and later worked for Lloyd Management, a property management company, until shortly before her death at age 97.
“Jab Lloyd was a proud Welshman,” Pete said. “He wanted the business to be profitable and to serve the community. One little known fact is that he had a farm in the 1930s and ‘40s. His Jersey cows each had a name tag.” After he established the lumber yard, Lloyd found he didn’t have time for both enterprises.
Pete and I always liked music and listened to it a lot—big band or folk. We listened to Marty Robbins, Tony Bennett, the Mills Brothers, the Sons of the Pioneers.Billy Steiner
Lloyd’s grandsons, both now in their 70s, had what Pete calls “a Norman Rockwell childhood.” He said, “We grew up in a neighborhood near the edge of town with about a dozen boys. In the summertime, we ran all over. The Red Jacket Trail was still railroad tracks, and we could hike the tracks. We’d come home in the afternoon and play ball in our back yard. Our mom and dad finally gave up on growing a lawn and blacktopped a basketball court for us.”
Both brothers were drawn to music. Billy said, “Pete and I always liked music and listened to it a lot—big band or folk.” Pete added, “We listened to Marty Robbins, Tony Bennett, the Mills Brothers, the Sons of the Pioneers.”
Billy played the trumpet in junior high school, then picked up the harmonica, but admits to being “a closet drummer” who learned by watching others. In 1971, while a junior at Gustavus Adolphus College, he started the band City Mouse, which continues to entertain today. Graduating with an art degree in 1972, he took the band on the road throughout the Midwest; they specialized in singing folk songs. He did the artwork for the band’s first two album covers and still paints landscapes from photos.
Billy met his wife in 1973. He said, “We were playing the River Serpent Club in St. Paul when I met Patti. We got married in 1980. Our son is named Dylan—for the poet Dylan Thomas and the singer Bob Dylan.”
Billy began working in ad sales for the Linder Farm network in 1985. As a North Mankato resident, he became involved with the North Mankato Civic and Commerce Association and has been elected to seven terms on the North Mankato City Council since 1996. Not yet retired, he remains involved in local government and playing mostly regional gigs with City Mouse.
Pete’s musical interest also began in school, where he played the saxophone and sang bass in the choir. He enjoyed playing folk music on his guitar while at Macalaster College in St. Paul. When he later found himself facing the military draft, he accepted an alternative option—a three-year enlistment that included an Army language school where he learned to speak Polish. (He had studied Latin in high school and German and Spanish at Macalester.) He was stationed in Germany, where his unit interrogated refugees from behind the Iron Curtain.
“After the military, I floated for about five years,” Pete said, “doing odd jobs, including musical theater in the Twin Cities. Billy helped me move 10 times in five years with his band truck in which he normally hauled equipment. I was running out of money and knew I should do something more permanent. I saw an ad for radio school, so I went to Brown Institute in Minneapolis.” After completing the course, he began working 70 hours a week for $500 a month at a Cambridge, Minn. radio station. When he learned of an opening at KYSM radio in Mankato, he applied, got the job, and remained there for 11 years.
Pete’s life acquired an added dimension in 1978 when he met his future wife, Jeanne, in a photography class. He said, “I eventually got the courage to ask her out, and we married in 1980.” They have two daughters and three grandchildren.
Pete moved to KTOE radio in Mankato in 1988 and stayed for three decades. He became the program director and was known for his daily “Talk of the Town.” Now retired, he looked back on conversations with authors, politicians, musicians, pastors and said, “I figure I did roughly 7,500 interviews.”
For nearly a half century, City Mouse has performed a musical blend of country, bluegrass, country-rock, blues and five-part vocals. The lineup consists of Billy Steiner (harp, electric guitar, and vocals), Dale Haefner (piano), Ron Arsenault (acoustic guitar and vocals), Dave Pengra (bass guitar and vocals), Mike Pengra (drums and vocals) and Tim Waters (vocals, electric guitar, banjo, and pedal steel). They’ve performed in night clubs, at colleges and in concert with national acts. Before COVID-19, the band performed on festival stages like the local Rock Bend Folk Festival and Blues on Belgrade, as well as with the Mankato Symphony Orchestra at the Vetter Stone Amphitheatre.
The band and its members have been recognized for their outstanding performance. Billy Steiner was inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2002, and every City Mouse member has been a finalist for a Minnesota Music Award in various individual and group categories. In April 2007, City Mouse was inducted into the Minnesota Rock/Country Hall of Fame.
A good place to live
Pete and Billy Steiner both appreciate the community to which they have contributed time, talent and energy. Pete said, “I think this is a good place to live.” Billy added, “It’s very supportive of the arts.”
What might Jabez Lloyd think of the community his grandsons call home? Pete said, “There has been a vast transformation of Mankato and North Mankato. Places we used to play are now housing developments. Our grandfather Jab would have been dumbfounded by it.”