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CLEAR LAKE | Nona Marsh of Liverpool, England, remembers the newspaper headlines in the days after Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and The Big Bopper died in a plane crash at Clear Lake.

"It was just horrid," said Marsh, who is 67.

She and her husband, Tony, 69, were among the 26 Brits who gathered Friday with friends, old and new, at the 25th anniversary British Luncheon at the Best Western Holiday Motor Lodge. The luncheon is held each year during the Winter Dance Party.

About 200 people attended this year.

Tony Marsh, a cabaret performer and guitar player, said Buddy Holly was probably the single greatest influence on him.

"You try your best to recreate it," he said.

Kelvin Wakeling, 53, of Maidenhead, England, was too young to remember Buddy Holly, but he does remember a Buddy Holly record album his older sister had.

"I was drawn to the picture," he said. "When I was old enough to read I would read all the sleeve notes. I found out that his birthday (Sept. 7) is two days before mine."

Later British rock bands such as The Beatles and The Hollies created their names around Buddy Holly and the Crickets, Wakeling said.

Clive Harvey, 67, a retired printer from Farthinghoe, England, has attended the Winter Dance Party since 1989. On Friday he was selling commemorative sweatshirts with a logo, "The British Society," at the British Luncheon as he does each year.

"It started out in a coffee lounge on Main Street," he said of the luncheon. "It's sort of progressed to bigger and bigger venues."

Harvey was a 13-year-old British school boy when he heard that Buddy Holly had died.

"I remember people talking about it," he said. "It was quite emotional."

One of the guys in his class started a band, Buddy Britten and the Regents, in Buddy Holly's honor, Harvey said.

Buddy Holly was special to the Brits because he came to Great Britain to perform, he said. 

"He was just an ordinary guy, a guy with glasses. We loved his music."

Dennis and Kathi D'Hondt of Waterford, Ontario, made the drive from their home to attend their 16th Winter Dance Party. They learned about the annual Clear Lake event on the Internet, said Dennis, 65, a Buddy Holly fan.

"I thought that looks like a neat place to go," he said.

Kathi said their trips to the Surf Ballroom may have started because of the music, but they keep coming back because of the friendships.

"It's like a family reunion," she said.

They also appreciate the friendliness of the people in Clear Lake, including the merchants who remember them by name each time they return, said Dennis.

"It really makes you feel like you're home," he said.

George Wilson of Newcastle, England, remembers that Buddy Holly appeared in Newcastle in 1958, although Wilson was too young to attend.

"Buddy went down well," said Wilson, who attended the Winter Dance Party with his friend, Shelley Stephens of Clear Lake. "The place was packed out. They were even on the stage with him."

He has always loved Buddy Holly's music, Wilson said, "because he's so different."

"It just hits you here," he said, motioning to his heart.

Although he had not heard of Clear Lake before he started coming to the Surf Ballroom seven years ago, Wilson said he had definitely heard of Iowa.

"I just didn't know it was so cold."

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