Gretna Van Fleet and Greta Van Fleet are bonded through music

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FRANKENMUTH, Mich. (WJRT) - A name says so much.

It may surprise you to know that the name behind rock band Greta Van Fleet came from a sweet, 88-year-old woman.

She's a star in her own right and dealing with the fame that the band has brought to her name just fine.

Gretna Van Fleet spelled her name then recalled how it came to be.

"Actually my grandfather named me. He had a book which I still have the remnants of the book," Van Fleet said

She read from the tattered 19th-century large print children's book while sitting in her favorite chair in her Frankenmuth living room. She's coming to grips with her newfound fame as a local rock band reaches another level of superstardom.

"The original drummer is the one that brought the name to the band because we are friends with his grandpa, and his grandpa is the first one that told me, and I thought he was kidding," Van Fleet said. "It's kind of funny. I did, I laughed and thought that's a silly name for a band to begin with."

Greta Van Fleet got rid of the 'N' in Gretna's name. They researched 'Van Fleet' and fell more in love with it. Bassist Sam Kiszka told the Detroit Free Press, "It's Dutch but it sounds Nordic...it sounds very classically seafaring and pleasing."

Gretna shyly played mellow church hymns on her piano that she says she doesn't use much now except around Christmas time. To say her style of music isn't quite the same as the group that's been labeled by some as rock revivalists, would be an understatement.

ABC12 has been along for Greta Van Fleet's journey from the garage to their gargantuan sold out shows at the Fox Theatre in Detroit. However, it's a show at home in Frankenmuth that let Gretna know Greta Van Fleet was for real.

"It was Snowfest downtown in 2013 when the name showed up on the marquee and then an article in the paper came out that Greta Van Fleet was playing at the Snowfest, and I had people calling me asking if I was going to be playing downtown and I said 'no, if I'm going to play, I missed rehearsal," Van Fleet said.

Her husband, Dale, investigated further.

"My husband went into Fischer Hall where they were playing here in Frankenmuth and found out that was their name. So they invited us to come back to the concert that night and I did. That's the first time I really knew it was named that."

The band has honored her most recently in May 2018 when GVF played at the Fillmore in Detroit. She cherishes the pictures with the band and a white rose as a reminder of that moment.

"I think they want to stay grounded because they think they're not only representing themselves; they're representing their parents. They're representing Frankenmuth, which is a tourist town, and they're also representing me," Van Fleet said.

Van Fleet, who worked as a medical secretary, also grew up on a Hillsdale, Michigan, farm in a music-filled house. She even played in a dance band with her brothers in the 1950s or '60s. While rock isn't her first choice, she can appreciate the band's talent.

"That's not my favorite kind of music so I'm not a good judge, but I feel that they're very talented. I do like classical music. I like marches. You know, the old ones like that," she said. "I like most music except I just don't like the hard rock and that ... I like church music. I love to sing the choir parts and play the hymns."

She goes to church with her husband just about every Sunday and sews for a mission group on Tuesday. Bible Study is Thursday at DaVinci's and she has been doing community service projects with the Frankenmuth Women's Club since 1979.

Talk to her any length of time and more secret talents are uncovered, from painting to quilting. Her modest and kind spirit does not go unnoticed by those at one of her favorite Frankenmuth stops.

"She showed up for one of my Bible study groups that I wait on and, when I saw the name on her card and saw that it was Gretna Van Fleet, I was starstruck," said Jennifer Strobel, a waitress at DaVinci's.

"So you do get recognized and you know we go to places and as soon as they see the name, they'll say 'Are you really...? and I'll say, 'Yeah, that's me,'" Van Fleet said.

She's known around here but has found lately she's getting recognized in other parts of the state too. The great grandmother of seven takes it all in stride.

She didn't become Gretna Van Fleet until 1949. For, as different as she is from the band, the name fits them both. They are united through a love for music.

"It's a relaxation to go and sing in the choir. You forget everything else. You're doing the music."

Gretna is able to laugh about what the band's name might have been.

"A rock and roll maiden name? Well, my maiden name was Sanford. My middle name was Marie, so we could've gone Gretna Marie. That's sort of musical," Van Fleet laughed.