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From his two-room apartment in St. Augustine's Retirement Home, Enrico Mastro-Nardi is leading a quiet crusade for a noisy instrument.

He's trying to revive the accordion to its glory days of the 1940s and 1950s, the days of Lawrence Welk and Dick Contino.Mastro-Nardi, 77, spent 57 years teaching accordion in Chicago and Peoria. Now, he spends up to eight hours a day writing letters and mailing tapes of famous accordionists to the faithful - those who also remember the accordion in its heyday, the days when Mastro-Nardi and his band played six concerts a week.

Those were the days when everyone wanted to repeat the Dick Contino story, and parents couldn't get their kids accordions and accordion lessons fast enough.

Those were also the days when a new accordion cost $250, not the $2,500 a good new instrument would cost today.

Nonetheless, Mastro-Nardi believes firmly that the accordion's golden age is in the future, not in the past.

"The accordion is coming back, and it's going to be better than ever," says the onetime band leader, who now limits his performances to playing with the Peoria Senior Citizens' Band.

The accordion business was good through the 1940s and into the 1950s, but the coming of rock music saw its popularity plummet among the young who turned to guitars, electric organs and drums.

During the last 10 years that Mastro-Nardi played and taught, he had to supplement his income with a job at Caterpillar Inc.

He played his retirement concert last September, and since then he has been the Accordion Crusader. It says so on his business cards and letterheads.

He is glad to hear that the accordion is finally making some headway with young people. December's edition of Keyboard magazine called the accordion "rock's new main squeeze" and listed accordion contributions to recent albums by such stars as Paul Simon, Los Lobos, Talking Heads, Bruce Hornsby, the Hooters and John Cougar Mellencamp.