Frank Gosman, 85

Frank Gosman, 85; Milkman and Entrepreneur Was a Country-Music Impresario

By Patricia Sullivan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 23, 2009

When Frank Gosman started his working life as a Sealtest milkman in the 1950s, he was so successful at attracting new customers that the company soon split his route in half. Starting again with half as many customers, he sold even more people on home delivery of milk. The company told him that the route would be split in half again, and that's when Mr. Gosman decided it was time to go into business for himself.

He had been selling eggs from his chickens on the side, so he began building up a new business, which he dubbed Dawnrose Farms. He added garden produce in the summer, then apple butter and other homemade staples, eventually expanding into freshly slaughtered chicken. At the peak of his farm business, he had five refrigerated trucks on the road and moved from his back yard to a warehouse, which he built himself, on U.S. 1 in Laurel.

Francis Harry Gosman, 85, entrepreneur, country-music impresario and operator of the Laurel Farmers' Market, died of prostate cancer July 14 at his home in Clarksville.

The warehouse was a meat market and grocery store, and he opened a small restaurant on the side, which he called the Dawnrose. Mr. Gosman was also a drummer in a country music band, and eventually the restaurant became a nightclub, the Tin Dipper. It became so popular that he added a second story in 1970. The downstairs club, and a 350-seat twin called the Big Dipper, featured male and female "go-go" dancers -- the kind who wear G-strings, not the kind who dance to the D.C. rhythm and blues beat.

"I believe that for the first time the girls have a place to go to be uninhibited because their families aren't with them. They feel good about that," Mr. Gosman told The Washington Post in 1980, six years after the strippers started. "They usually come in groups. They get braver when they have more than two."

Upstairs at the Big Dipper Country Ballroom, Mr. Gosman installed a mechanical bull to take advantage of the brief craze for all things Western in the wake of the hit film "Urban Cowboy."

"We went Top 40 there for a while," Mr. Gosman said at the time. "Had a disco motif though we weren't really disco. I saw that thing coming to an end and got out fast."

The mechanical bull didn't last much more than a year, either, which was probably a good thing. It took so much electricity to keep it going that the club's air-conditioning dipped and the lights dimmed, then the circuits blew. The amped-up cowboys waiting their turn on the bucking, twisting machine wilted but usually stayed in line.

Country music greats such as Ernest Tubb, Jack Greene and Lester Flatt played Mr. Gosman's clubs, and his weekly talent shows led up to a single grand-prize winner each year, who won a Nashville recording contract on Mr. Gosman's label, Country Showcase America. He wrote hundreds of song lyrics, his children estimated, and recorded many of them with area singers.

Every Sunday afternoon from the late 1960s through the 1970s, he also hosted his own radio show, live from the Tin Dipper, on WDON (1540 AM). After he closed the clubs in 1986 and stopped broadcasting, Mr. Gosman became a real estate broker in Laurel, joined the Laurel Board of Trade and began organizing the farmers' market every summer, while also promoting the music acts for the Main Street Festival in the spring.

His marriage to Thelma "Peggy" Roby ended in divorce.

Survivors include three children, Russell Scott Hamilton of Seattle and Shelley Sue McNeal and Julie Francine Sullivan, both of Clarksville; five grandsons; and two great-grandchildren.

Twelve years after he closed the Dippers' doors, Mr. Gosman got the itch to run a club again, so he opened Remington's in Laurel, which he renovated to remind old patrons of his former clubs. He wore his silver hair in a pony tail as he approached 80 and revived the live Sunday radio show "The Country Showcase America Jamboree," this time for Annapolis-based WYRE (810 AM). He also wrote and self-published a local history of country music, "Country Music 1950-2000 According to Frank Gosman and Friends" (2000).

"Country music to me is just a delight," Mr. Gosman said. "I love the atmosphere and the friendliness between the band and the customers."

By 2002, in a drafty converted barn on his family property in Howard County, he'd taken the radio show to the Internet, broadcasting a gospel-music Easter service, but no hymns, please.

"Hymns are five verses you sing in church with an organ," he said with a laugh. "Gospel is more hand slapping and fun and a joy to sing."

The only admission for those who found their way to the barn was a contribution to the potluck Easter dinner. And after the show, fresh eggs were for sale.

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