March 6, 1932 — Feb. 18, 2023 

His father sent him to Princeton to learn engineering and launch a career in industry. Dick Shallberg ’54 had other ideas, which led to the moment when Satchmo himself, the great Louis Armstrong, finished a number, turned to the band behind him, nodded toward young Dick and said, “Nice banjoing, son.”

Shallberg’s other ideas also catapulted him to the many moments when he finished work in his grapefruit groves in central Florida knowing that, as his son Karl put it, “the end of each day meant something accomplished — a pile of wood, a plowed field, always something new.”

Shallberg’s ideas steered him to produce maple syrup and grow blueberries on his farm in Vermont, raise cattle there and in Wisconsin, and build a mill to make hay pellets that became a condensed meal for livestock.

Shallberg spent a lifetime going the other way. At Princeton, he had roommates all four years who had prepped at places such as Taft, Punahou, and Cranwell. Shallberg went to Baldwin High in Birmingham, Michigan. On campus, Shallberg, manager of the Student News Agency, was up each morning before dawn to collect The New York Times and other newspapers from the Dinky station and distribute copies around campus.

His friends were heading into law and finance and medicine; Shallberg figured he’d end up in auto manufacturing or sales.

He loved farm life — up at 5, milking cows, tending to the fields. At day’s end, “before showering up, he’d make martinis” — Bombay —
“and he and our mother would sit together and talk,” Shallberg’s son Karl says.

But he came to Princeton with one skill that injected him into the heart of campus life: He played the ukulele, at least until his girlfriend (and future wife) Ann accidentally sat on it. Freshman year, with lessons from his Henry Hall neighbor Victor Williams ’53, Shallberg switched to the banjo, which happened to be a vital piece of the rhythm section in the Dixieland and dance bands that were the rage in the last years before the rock revolution.

The next year, Shallberg joined Stan Rubin ’55’s Tigertown Five, a band that mastered the right sound at the right time, becoming a regular on the New York party circuit. Cramming themselves into Shallberg’s 1941 Chevrolet coupe, they took to the road, playing at the other Ivies and at schools along the East Coast, performing three or four gigs each weekend.

“We got a car permit so we could drive up to the girls’ colleges and play,” says Jim Denny ’54, one of Shallberg’s roommates and the guitar player in the Tiger Black Notes, the first campus combo Shallberg joined.

The Tigertown Five won a recording contract, appeared on national radio and TV shows, and over one spring break, provided the entertainment at the Elbow Beach Hotel in Bermuda, a “coeds-only” resort that was then hosting 800 college women — and the Tigertown Five. Ann and her brother flew down to join Shallberg for some R&R and to make sure everything was on the up and up.

The next year, when Shallberg was stationed in Germany with the Army, the band played at the wedding of Grace Kelly and Monaco’s Prince Rainier, but Shallberg’s commanding officer wouldn’t let him join them.

After Army service, Shallberg, now married to Ann, followed his father’s direction and found work as an engineer at a chemical company. But the firm moved him around the country, and Shallberg found the job stifling. He wanted to be outside, doing his own thing.

“So he went his different way,” Denny says. “We never had an inkling of it in college. It wasn’t something a lot of Princeton men did.” Shallberg became a farmer.

It wasn’t a family tradition; he just loved the idea, the independence, the chance to settle down and raise a family with a strong work ethic.

He consulted the dean of agriculture at the University of Wisconsin, who sent Shallberg to a dairy farm to learn the trade. He did everything from mucking stalls to planting and harvesting. “He loved being in the field,” his son Karl says. Shallberg bought 240 acres in Wisconsin in 1963, planted corn and oats, and invested in beef cattle.

He and Ann had five children, and the family spent winters in Fort Lauderdale. Tooling around Florida, Shallberg became fascinated by the citrus trade. He bought 100 acres of orange and grapefruit groves in the lush Indian River region and sold fruit by mail.

Then, a family vacation to Vermont got him dreaming once more. He snapped up a dormant 80-acre farm and focused on dairy cows, hay, 1,000 blueberry bushes, milk he sold to the Cabot Creamery Co-op, and maple syrup bottled under the family name. Shallberg would walk tree to tree, checking the precious liquid. The family staffed their pick-your-own business.

“That was him, always trying something new,” Karl says.

He loved farm life — up at 5, milking cows, tending to the fields. At day’s end, “before showering up, he’d make martinis” — Bombay — “and he and our mother would sit together and talk,” Karl says.

Shallberg farmed until he was 60, when he and Ann bought a small Chinook RV and took off to explore the country. They drove to 49 states (and flew to Hawaii) and every Canadian province, meeting up with Princeton roommates and other friends.

In 2006, Ann’s 28-year fight with cancer ended; that winter, Dick sent a newsletter to every person on Ann’s Christmas list. He heard back from one of her sorority sisters, Aleen. Three years later, they married.

Both in Florida, where he and Aleen lived, and then in Wisconsin, where he moved into an independent living facility following Aleen’s death, Shallberg dug out his old Bacon and Day Montana Silver Bell banjo and joined local Dixieland bands. He was back on stage, strumming to a different tune.

Marc Fisher ’80 is an associate editor at The Washington Post and chair of the PAW board.