Now playing — Anonymous gift opens musical door

10-year-old Owen Sicka has been writing songs for years.
Thanks to an anonymous gift of an acoustic guitar, Sicka now can start playing them, too.



February 12, 2020 - 10:55 AM

Owen Sicka strums a few chords on his acoustic guitar, gifted to the fourth-grader from an anonymous donor. Photo by Vickie Moss / Iola Register

Owen Sicka.

Tuck that name in your memory bank. Because some day, this 10-year-old might be a country music sensation.

Or, if his current dreams play out, you might catch a glimpse of Owen on a street corner strumming his world-weary guitar, “Old-Timer.” 

“I kind of want this to be my side job. I’m going into the Army,” Owen explains. But after his military service, “maybe I can make some money by going on the road or doing a little concert.”

“You’re going on the road?” his mom, Laci Sicka, asks him in surprise.

“Well, maybe by Walmart. I’ll have my case open and people can give me money.”


Owen has been writing songs for years… at least since the second grade. Now a fourth-grader at Humboldt Elementary School, he’s learning how to play the guitar and put his words to music. 

The story of his budding music career is already full of twists and turns. 

In fact, it’s the kind of story you might hear in a country music song.

It starts with an autograph.

Owen Sicka of Humboldt meets with Iola musician Damaris Kunkler, who gave him a signed copy of her CD after he asked for her autograph at an open mic night in Iola in January.Courtesy photo

IN JANUARY, Owen and his family, including dad, Garrett Catron, were eating dinner at Iola’s Los Potrillos when Owen became mesmerized by the singing of Damaris Kunkler during the restaurant’s open mic session. 

Something about Kunkler’s music touched a chord with Owen. When she finished, he grabbed a napkin and asked for her autograph.

“You sure were good,” Owen told her.

Kunkler was so impressed with this red-haired, freckle-faced boy’s gumption that she tracked down his mother through mutual friends and hooked up with Owen.

“I write songs.” he told her, adding that he writes under his bed covers when he’s supposed to be sleeping. “It helps me go to sleep at night. It calms me down.”

Owen’s preference for country music comes through in his songs. He writes about chopping wood, riding in big trucks, girls and God. 

One of his songs, called “Budget,” says: “I got no money. I got no patience. Working all day. I still have no money.”

Kunkler suggested Owen broaden his repertoire by learning how to play the guitar. He set to work asking friends for donations or for chores he could do to earn money. He raised $22 in two weeks. 

Kunkler promised that if he got a guitar, she’d give him three free lessons.

She posted a story and photos about Owen on social media. Immediately, donations poured in.

ON JAN. 31, Owen was called to the principal’s office. 

“I thought I was in trouble. Everyone does when they’re called to the principal’s office,” Owen recalled.

Instead, Owen was given a Yamaha acoustic guitar, the gift of an anonymous donor.

With the guitar came this note:

“Dear Friend,

“This is a special gift from me to you. It was my first ‘Grown Up’ guitar, and I learned to play well with it. It has traveled to Ft. Knox, Kentucky, Germany, Kansas, Maryland, Korea, South Carolina, California and Illinois. It has brought smiles to people all over the world and played to thousands of people. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have, and that it joins you in your life’s adventures. Take great care of it and have awesome experiences! Play On, 

“Your Friend.”

Owen carried the guitar to his mom’s office at PSI in Humboldt  to show it off, his young body straining with the weight of a case just about as tall as he is. He casually stated, “I got a guitar.” His voice already has a country rasp to it.

Since that fateful day, the guitar has rarely left his arms. The smell of oil pervades the family’s home, as Owen rubs it into the guitar’s body every day with a care that borders on obsession. 

He teases his mom that he’ll probably stay up too late, writing songs and playing his guitar when he should be sleeping. He’s already planning a jam session with a couple of his friends. Perhaps they’ll start a band.

The gift came with a handful of guitar picks. Owen’s favorite is a marbled red-and-brown pick that looks like it’s on fire.

His second favorite is solid red. The logo is nearly worn off. “I like this one. It feels softer. Like free-er.”

He’s already broken a string. Kunkler, who made good on her promise to give him lessons, has taught him how to restring and tune the guitar using a cell phone app.

That first lesson was a tough one. Kunkler taught him four chords: E, G, A and D. 

His little fingers strain to reach their necessary mark. G is the most challenging. 

“I really have to stretch my fingers out to get that one. I have to put one up top, one all the way over here and the other all the way down here.”

With the optimism of a child, Owen thinks he’s learned enough: “Most people only use those four chords.”

Kunkler has more to teach. But it’s a start. 

“You have to name your guitar,” she told him.

“Old-Timer,” Owen decided. “Because it’s been all over the world. I believe that because there’s, like, some dents.” He points to a few dings here and there, clearly in awe as he imagines what escapades the instrument must have already seen. 

If he could talk to the anonymous donor, he’d say: “Thank you and I’m going to take care of it.”

“It’s really special. I’m going to keep it forever,” he vows, head down, lost in the sounds he coaxes from his guitar.

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