Ron Husted is almost unrecognizable in regular clothing. However, if you have ever been to an event for which he has been hired, his presence is unmistakable.
“Ambience, appearance — a friend and I have talked about that — what we do is ceremonial,” Ron said. “There are theatrics involved. The way we dress, paying attention to how we dress and setting the bar as high as we can when playing, completely changes the entire tone of an event.”
Better known as Bagpiper Ron, he has more than 30 years of bagpipe experience. He is also proud to be a third generation Scottish-American and, seeing his craft as way to honor that heritage, he does just that while playing some of the major events in Iowa.
“It’s been quite a journey,” Ron said. “Piping has allowed me to meet people I would have never met. Make friends with people that I would have never known. (I’m) piping at events that I would have never even went to. It’s been wonderful. I’m still on the adventure. It was magic when I first started learning, and even after all these years, 35 to 36 years, it’s even more fun now. Especially since I retired.”
At 65 years old, the former Alliant Energy employee said he is busier than ever thanks to piping. Locally, Ron has piped multiple Freedom Flight ceremonies, at “The Wall That Heals” stop in Newton and various other functions.
“I’ve always been interested in bagpipes, even while I was young before there were very many around,” Ron said. “I think my first real exposure was back in the day when Al Bell used to go around to the schools and put on assemblies.
“He would travel to different counties, learn about the culture and bring back artifacts and talk about his travels, and it was educational,” Ron said. “One year, he went to Scotland. I’m Scottish-American, and, boy, that perked my ears up. And of all things, he brought a bagpipe back. When he played that, my blood just boiled, and I just really never knew why.”
In addition to piping, Ron launched www.iowabagpipe.com as a way to provide piping supplies to those curious about taking up the art form. He even has protégées in South Dakota and Sioux City and is passing down the traditions handed to him from his piping mentor.
“Some years later as an adult — I was around 29 or 30 years old, something in that area — I met Thomas S. Coulson,” Ron said. “He was a piper during World War II with the Essex Scottish of Canada. He was a part of the liberation of Holland during World War II.
“He passed his years of piping on to me, even the British style of military drill,” he continued. “It’s just been an adventure ever since.”
While Ron has had many memorable moments as a piper, one of his favorites is when the 133rd Infantry of the Iowa National Guard returned from Iraq.
“It still gives me goosebumps to think about it,” Ron said. “It was the longest deployment since World War II, and it was 640 soldiers, and it was held in the baseball field. They lined 640 troops up behind the bagpipes. One of the officers came by, and we said, ‘Are you going to cue us when to bring these guys in?’
“He said, ‘No. Just bring them in whenever you are ready,’” he continued. “So the call came to attention, pipes came to attention and the minute the pipes went off — I think there were at least 10,000 people, if not more, there, (as) the stadium was at capacity, and people were clear out in the infield — it was mass hysteria.”
“I’ve never experienced anything like that. It was surreal,” Ron said. “People were screaming, shouting, and we brought them in. We went to the home plate and circled up and played as they were filing in, and when they were all in place we cut off. It was the most amazing experience I’ve had in my life.”
With all of the weddings, funerals, events and the newly formed Newton Professional Firefighters Pipes and Drums to occupy his time, Ron has no plans to slow down and credits piping for keeping him young.
“This is going to be fun and really neat for the community,” Ron said. “It’s fun having somebody up here to play pipes with. We are laying the culture, so that this will go on without any one of us. This will maintain a good strong culture that will go on beyond me. That is what I’m hoping for.
“I told them, ‘I’m 65 years old. I’d like to pass this on. I may only be around another 45 to 50 years,’” he said.
Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at email@example.com.