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John Sollenberger: 1950-2022

Former Pasadena Weekly Calendar and Events Editor Dies Following Lengthy Illness

Published on Wednesday, January 12, 2022 | 10:59 am
 

Johnnie “John” Cleve Sollenberger, an Illinois native who started and ended his California journalism career at the Pasadena Weekly — at one point branching out to other publications covering the national rock scene and nabbing what he often called the “interview of a lifetime” with music icon Alice Cooper — died Friday. He was 71.

Sollenberger, aka “Sollie” or just “John” to his friends, was Pasadena Weekly’s calendar and special events editor for more than a dozen years, until he was laid off after Strickbine Publishing bought the paper in 2019.

As his health began to trouble him, longtime friend and former PW graphic artist Richard Garcia kept in regular contact with John, with Rich’s mom occasionally making him dinner. Rich also helped John get hooked up with unemployment benefits and figured out his tax returns.

A longtime smoker who had quit cigarettes nearly a decade ago, John was in almost constant discomfort in recent months due to a long-term respiratory illness, one that made it extremely difficult for him to breathe and eventually robbed his once powerful legs of the strength needed to simply walk. In his final weeks, every step taken by the former high school sprinting standout became a struggle, every breath a gasp.

Friends Clayton Loucks and Bob Harding cared for him as brothers would under such tragic circumstances. Before coroner’s personnel and police officials arrived at the North Marengo Avenue apartment they all shared, John appeared to be at peace — not fighting off the spirit or spirits that had finally come to end his pain and take him home.

Standing near his bedside, it appeared to me that his overworked heart simply couldn’t take any more, and just stopped. Boom. Lights out. To an untrained eye, it truly might have looked as though John was actually just sleeping when first seen shortly after his body was discovered by Clayton around 9 a.m.

“He was my baby brother. He’s the second brother I’ve lost,” lamented John’s sister, Judy Savage, who lives with her husband Charles in Madison, Wisconsin.

John, she said, “was just so kind. He was just a compassionate person.”

Judy remembers how much John loved playing the drums.

“It was fun watching him practice. His passion just came out when he did that,” she said.

His blood brother, Randy, recalls some of John’s prouder moments.

“One of John’s greatest loves is his Ludwig drum set, and he played in a number of bands, including Reverend Bill and the Soul Believers with bandleader Bill Evans,” wrote Randy Sollenberger.

(A full version of Randy’s letter about his brother appears at the end this story.)

Evans also served as editor of Pasadena Weekly in the early 1990s, when the paper was owned by Jim Laris. Evans hired John as a writer and they remained good friends over the years.

John, Randy continued, “also once filled in as drummer for (the popular local band) Snotty Scotty and the Hankies during Pasadena’s famed Doo Dah Parade, performing before thousands of people.”

I’ve covered or attended most Doo Dahs since 1990, and I remember that one and his performance. John did a helluva job, as usual.

Judy will be in L.A. in the coming days, retrieving John’s body and having him cremated for interment at home.

Check this website for any local memorial information. And be sure to say a little prayer, if you do that sort of thing, for John’s big sister. She will need all the help she can get in navigating Los Angeles County and its government agencies after she arrives.

A Brother’s Love Lives On

By Randy Sollenberger

Our brother, Johnnie “John” Cleve Sollenberger, 71, crossed the Rainbow Bridge at his home in Pasadena on Friday, January 7, 2022. Crossing over ahead of him and preparing a welcome were his parents and big brother, Jim (James Edward) Sollenberger.

John was born December 17, 1950, in Peoria, Illinois, the youngest of four children born to James A. and Berniece Brooks Sollenberger. His siblings are Judy (Mrs. Charles R.) Savage of Madison, Wisconsin, and Randy Sollenberger of Macomb, Illinois. Other relatives close to John’s heart include well over a dozen nieces and nephews.

John forged many paths in his life, beginning on the family farm at Edelstein, Illinois. He graduated from Williamsfield High School in 1969 and attended Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington, Illinois, majoring in journalism. He later graduated from Western Illinois University in Macomb with a major in French.

John’s dream was always to be a writer. From an early age, he showed a remarkable ability for interpreting the spoken and written word. In his career, he wrote for Gig Magazine, a music industry publication in the Los Angeles area. One of his proudest accomplishments was an interview with Alice Cooper that appeared in Gig.

He also wrote for the Pasadena Weekly and served as its calendar editor for many years. He was a freelance writer for the publication Front of House. Evans, who served as Pasadena Weekly’s editor in the early to mid-1900s, started both Gig and Front of House.

John’s writing skill is admired by those close to him, and appreciated by those he influenced.

One of John’s greatest loves was his Ludwig drum set, and he played in a number of bands, including Reverend Bill and the Soul Believers with bandleader Bill Evans. He also once filled in as drummer for Snotty Scotty and the Hankies during Pasadena’s famed Doo Dah Parade, performing before thousands of people.

John was easy to like, with a quick wit and many friends among his schoolmates. A few people deserve special mention. They include longtime buddy Pat Karrick of Bloomington, Illinois, and California friends Doug and Kay of Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, and special friend Debbie.

Other friends included co-workers and kind, generous, great good friends from his writing and music days: Evans, Richard Garcia and Kevin Uhrich.

John, to us you are still with us — an affectionate, loyal, and unselfish brother and uncle, a talented and creative drummer and writer, and a warm and caring friend.

We feel you here, in our hearts, every day.

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2 thoughts on “John Sollenberger: 1950-2022

  • I’m saddened to hear of John’s passing. I played with him in the Soul Believers and always appreciated his kindness and rock and roll spirit. My deepest condolences to John’s family and friends for their loss.

  • John Sollenberger was one of my favorite writers when I was the managing editor of The Pasadena Weekly in 1997. He looked like Keith Richards’ little brother and was happy to write about any topic I threw at him. After covering a board game tournament, he reported: “Those people are horny for Scrabble!”

    Rock on, John.