DERBY – For 40 years, area residents flocked to Paul’s Sugar House dance hall to shake their booty. Yesterday, all those dedicated fans paid tribute to what has become a local institution.
Paul and Rhina Letourneau opened the dance hall in 1972. The hall was a dream of Rhina but she passed away in 1979. Paul, with the help of family members, kept his wife’s dream alive. Paul's son Leo is pleased the dream continues. He said his father loves the business and spends a lot of time there.
For 30 years, the Letourneaus held dances, but 10 years ago they began to focus on functions like birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries. “You name it, we cater them,” said Paul. Many bands got their start at Paul’s Sugar House. “I use to have 35 bands working for me.”
One of those bands is the Warner Band, which helped open the dance hall in 1972. The band performed at Sunday’s celebration.
“This brings back so many memories, it’s unreal,” said Alden Warner. “The first night we opened here, it was an unbelievable crowd. The atmosphere was like – wow.”
“It’s so neat to be back on the stage with my dad,” added Wayne Warner, who has performed all over the country. “To sit on stage and in the same place where I played when I was 10 years old is just amazing. I can’t wait to be back here in the next 40 years to do it again.”
Roger Lenoard of Barton, who lived by Jay’s Snack Bar, remembers attending the dances in his early days.
For Bruce and Lynda Leonard of St. Johgnsbury, Paul’s Sugar House is a special place. The couple had their first date there. They credit their son Sgt. Ryan Leonard, who passed away several weeks ago, for bringing them together 18 years to the day.
“This is a very special place for us,” said Lynda Leonard. “We’ve come to all the dances, his bingos, and we just love Paul to death.
Bruce feels Ryan would have wanted them to attend the celebration. “We’re here to honor not only our son, but to honor Paul and the dedication that he had to our community all these years,” said Lynda.
The band, Echoes, played after the Warner Band's performance.