~ Who We Were ~
Cooperative Recreation Service
The Cooperative Recreation Service (Precursor to World Around Songs) was founded by Lynn and Kathryn Rohrbaugh in the 1930's. They started when they were in graduate school at Boston University's school of theology. A group of students got together to pool their ideas for church parties, and Lynn edited their first game book and recreation kit. These were so successful that Lynn and Katherine got a Mimeograph machine and went into the publishing business as the Church Recreation Service. In 1929, they made a down payment on a farm near Delaware, Ohio (Lynn had been a student there, at Ohio Wesleyan University), converted the barn into a recreation center and print shop, and set up a publishing firm that was to become known all over the world.
But success came later. To pay off the mortgage and buy groceries, the Rohrboughs struck out to tour the country as recreation leaders in churches. It was the early 1930's and there was practically no organized recreation in most towns. People didn't have much money, so they put on parties where nothing much was needed but enthusiasm. They taught people some square dances and folk dances and play party games, and everywhere they went they learned more games and songs. Lynn once mused, "One time we drove from Toronto to San Diego and gave a party at some church or hall nearly every night. The pay wasn't so good but we usually had enought to eat, and we collected the most marvelous songs and games. We took the music and the words down where we found them and later put them into print." After 11 years of traveling and party-giving, the mortgage on the farm was paid off and the Rohrboughs could get into the publishing business in earnest. They assembled the music and games they learned into handy, pocket-sized booklets, or "kits"--"Play PartyGames," "Quadrilles," "Southern Singing Games," "Big Times in Small Spaces,""Ancient Games," "Party Programs." The booklets sold well and the business gradually became know as a source for authentic folk games. Then the Rohrboughs started publishing booklets of folk songs, and soon the firm's reputation spread world-wide. Today the little (3-3/4" by 6-3/4") booklets are known and used across continents.
"Music speaks its own language," Lynn said. "You don't have to know the words of a folk song to understand its meaning. That's why music is such an excellent bridge between people and nations." Sources for the songs and games were almost as varied as the titles. Exchange students at Ohio Wesleyan were invited to parties at the Rohrbough farm, and sometimes they knew folk songs or games that could be recorded or published. A retired Norwegian opera singer recorded several songs without charge. Ukrainians in Alberta, Canada sent a number of published songs. A physicist at Oak Ridge trained a choral group and sent several old songs on a tape recording. Often, booklets were traded for tapes, in an international barter system that enabled people in dollar-short countries to replace worn-out song books with new ones. Other songs and games resulted in being recorded from correspondence. In the forty years the Cooperative Recreation Service was in operation it made a disproportionally large impact on the world of recreation relative to its modest size.
By 1976, Katherine had died and Lynn was no longer able to run the business so the Rohrbough family decided to sell Cooperative Recreation Service. A group of friends of the Rohrbough's were asked if they were interested in carrying on the enterprise. They researched it and decided to purchase and move the entire business to Celo, North Carolina. For many years it was located there, and under the custodianship of the Old Time fiddler and singer Bruce Greene in a building near the base of Mount Mitchell, the highest mountain in eastern United States. The main business became more strictly in distibuting songbooks than when the Rohrbough's ran the business. While over the years we have prepared custom songbooks for Girl & Boy Scouts, 4H groups, camps, colleges, schools, churches, and many other groups, the custom song book service is no longer part of our business activity. For an even more vivid and detailed accounting of the history of the Cooperative Recreation service, read Dr. Larry Nial Holcomb's dissertion right here.
~ Who We Have Become ~
World Around Songs
In 2020 Bruce Greene approached songleader and songwriter Brian Dolphin to see if he wanted to continue the legacy of World Around Songs. Brian was eager to accept but understood that what made World Around Songs so vibrant was the community that circulated around and through its songs. Brian thus approached Jalopy Records - an arm of one of the biggest centers of folk music in the United States - Jalopy Theater and School of Music, and Jalopy was eager to partner up to get these wonderful song books out to people. Now Jalopy Records and Brian both distrubute these songbooks and help to get people singing these old songs together.