It wasn’t until Ted Staege was in fourth grade that his family put down roots that took him and his three younger sisters through high school. Staege’s father worked for the U.S. Forest Service moving through the Upper and Lower Peninsula of Michigan until they settled in Laona, Wisconsin, two hours north of Green Bay.
In that small Wisconsin town, Staege’s graduating class was 38 students. He played baseball and basketball in high school, but his main love was and still is music.
He grew up with his mother listening to Linda Ronstadt, Carole King and Neil Diamond albums to name a few. When he discovered the radio, it was his window into musical history.
Once Staege became a part of the junior high band, he joined every band available – stage band, pit band, jazz band, marching band. At some point, he decided to play the drums and bought his first set. Reading music is what Staege learned in band class but playing the drums came from deep inside.
“I am totally self-taught. I must have a natural aptitude,” Staege said. “Playing an instrument is like playing a sport. You can practice all you want, but you’ll never be Labron James. Some of it you are born with.”
During high school, he joined a band that played all country music in the Northwoods dive bars.
“I didn’t love it but. it was a paying gig and I loved playing live,” Staege reminisced. “We had fun.”
As the youngest member and underage, Staege would set up the stage and go outside to cool off. By the time he returned to take his place behind the drums, there would often be a bouncer who wouldn’t let him back in and didn’t believe he was part of the band.
Staege lived on the first fairway of a golf course. Situated in front of open patio doors, Staege put on his head phones and blasted the drums for practice.
“I couldn’t believe no one complained,” Staege said.
He eventually moved on to learn the complicated music of Kansas and Rush. As a child, Staege took piano lessons and discontinuing has been a regret.
“I wish I would have stuck with it. Elton John, Bruce Hornsby and Billy Joel are guys that make me wish I kept playing the piano,” Staege said.
Staege attended UW-Green Bay at which time he sold his drums. He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in math and a minor in computer science. His intent was to teach high school.
“I wanted to coach. I still loved baseball and basketball,” Staege said. “But I had a bad student teaching experience and ran as far away as possible.”
Staege met his wife, Karen, during his junior year of college. She was visiting from UW-Stevens Point, and his friends turned out to be her friends and the rest is history. The couple were married in November 1988. Even though they had a DJ at the reception, Staege set up his drums and played at his own wedding.
The couple moved to Madison where Staege found a job as an actuary at CUNA Mutual. He would work for CUNA for 28 years, the last 20 in the IT department. Three years before his full retirement, his position was eliminated.
“I bopped around a bit. I tried selling cars for Honda Zimbrick. It’s a great company but not for me,” Staege said.
Currently, Staege works as a contractor through Paragon Development Systems and his present project is with Dean/St. Mary’s.
Through his days with CUNA, Staege was very involved with his children, Ryan, age 27, Jared, age 25 and Cece, age 23. All of his children played sports, but it is his daughter who followed his musical footsteps playing piano and cello through high school and freshman year of college.
“That’s what she and I have,” Staege added.
His children’s sporting schedule became Staege’s.
“I figured while I had my kids I would do what they were doing – on a football field, on a basketball court or in a van going somewhere,” Staege said.
He ran Waunahoops, now called Little Warriors, for several years. During the season, every Saturday morning, elementary school boys would pack Prairie School gym for basketball drills, skill development and scrimmages. It was a popular program.
“Sometimes you couldn’t fit another body in the gym with kids, parents, and grandparents coming and going,” Staege observed.
When the kids were older, he was the Waunakee representative for Tri-county basketball for several years. For another six years, he coached youth football.
Staege spent many years in the press box for Waunakee High School football games as the “tech guy” working with the audio/video equipment. He also worked videotaping and broadcasting varsity football, as well as boys’ and girls’ varsity basketball. He currently runs the scoreboard for varsity football, as well as for boys’ and girls’ JV and varsity basketball.
When his sons were 7 and 10, they were talking about drums.
“I still loved music but I didn’t have a drum set for years. They were incredulous that I had drums and why would I sell them!” Staege said.
So, he went ahead and bought a set, but the boys’ interest waned and Staege was too busy to do anything with them.
“But when the kids started leaving home, I started jamming in friends’ basements,” Staege said.
Having little trouble with the basics, Staege played at Rex’s Innkeeper a few times with a group called REV 9, based on the Beatles’ Revelation 9 song.
Five years ago, a music friend of Staege belonged to North Ridge Church’s band and their only drummer was graduating from high school. Staege filled in and became a member of the band and he and his wife became members of the church.
Through the church connection, Staege met guitarist Kurt Quickel who mentioned he had a band, Retro Specz.
“I went to see them and I was blown away. It’s all the music I love – ‘70s and ’80s rock. I was amazed at every song. I told them if they ever needed a drummer, call me,” Staege said.
That was March 2013. In August, out of the blue, Staege received a text asking him if he still want to play.
“I practiced for three to four hours and gave it a shot,” Staege said. “In September, it will be four years since my first show and we have easily played over 200 shows since.”
Events include La Crosse Rock ‘n Ribs, Lodi’s Ag Fest, Sauk Prairie Fire on the River, WaunaFest and the band has had the privilege to open for the tribute band Hairball.
Summers will also find Retrospecz at Sprecher’s Restaurant and Pub patio and in the Dells. Most of Staege’s friends are musicians and he claims to have music playing all the time, even in his sleep.
“I’m a music nut. I have 24,973 songs on my iPod,” Staege said.
Karen, Staege’s wife, a second-grade teacher at Prairie, is the down-to-earth, homebody according to Staege.
“I’m the head in the clouds dreamer. I try to accommodate my wife with no music and conversation.
“When I hear a song, it takes me back to somewhere. Music is a time machine,” Staege said.