The interview with Bill and Judi Baldwin in last week’s Amery Free Press prompted memories to flood the minds of many readers who were a part of the Amery High School Band family. Former marching Warriors and their families had fond recollections of concerts, band trips and parades.
As mentioned in the Baldwin’s story, Bill implemented the very first band trip for the musicians. Kay Erickson was a chaperone on the excursion and shared her experience of Washington D.C. where the Amery High School Band under the direction of Bill Baldwin was voted the best band in the National Cherry Blossom Festival parade on Saturday, April 4, 1981.
Erickson’s son Mark played trombone in the band. She had volunteered her time with the group on many occasions, walking alongside and providing water to the hot and thirsty marchers. Erickson said, “Nobody knew Bill had put Amery’s name into the hat to represent Wisconsin at the Cherry Blossom Festival. When Amery’s band was selected, it became an intense time of practicing and marching. They practiced outside and when weather didn’t allow for that, they marched back and forth in the gym.” Fundraising took place to ensure the band would have the money they needed to travel. “The kids worked so hard. They would do anything. They had bake sales and rummage sales. It was an absolute community effort to get those students out there. Mark and three of his buddies cleaned out a cattle barn and I remember I wouldn’t let him walk into the house in the clothes he had on,” laughed Erickson.
She said as a chaperone for the band trip, she and Shirley Monson were assigned to ride the bus carrying the color guard and pom pom squad. “They hired Greyhound buses that picked us up. Those bus drivers are only allowed to drive for eight hours, so after that amount of time you would have to stop and have new bus drivers take over. Our first stop was at the Greyhound bus station in Chicago and let’s just say that it was not a very classy neighborhood. The kids were allowed to get off of the bus to go eat supper and it didn’t take long for them to realize they were not in Amery anymore and maybe they should stick close to the chaperones,” Erickson said.
She said they stayed in a motel just outside of D.C. The day of the parade, it was so unbearably hot. Erickson said it was nice to see some Amery faces in the crowd and it was such a cool feeling to think the band had actually made it there.
“Before we knew it, the band rounded the corner onto Constitution Avenue. Bill Baldwin blew his whistle; we heard ‘AHS kick’ and we were off. When they reached the end, the kids collapsed onto the lawn of the Capital building. They were exhausted, as they had marched through the heat in those heavy uniforms and high hats,” she said.
That evening after eating, the group returned to the motel. The group did not attend the awards ceremony that night, but Ron and Marilee Anderson did. The commanding general of the Washington D. C. National Guard made the announcement at 9 p.m. in the armory before 6,000 persons. After hearing the results, the Andersons called Baldwin.
“Bill called all of the kids out of their rooms to come out onto the motel grounds. I think the kids were nervous about why they were being gathered up and thought someone was in trouble and being sent home. Bill had really instilled in them that if there was any funny business from anyone, they would be heading home.”
Baldwin handed band member Pete Kittel a paper to read to his band mates. Kittle announced first place had been given to the Amery High School Marching Band. “There was a split second where it was silent as the news sunk in, and then the crowd erupted. It was just amazing to beat out bands from all over the country. There were tears and cheers,” said Erickson.
The band won the honor over 43 other bands. Effie Barry, wife of Washington Mayor Marion Barry, presented the Mayor’s Cup to Amery school officials at the ceremony. This was not only a win for the band members, but a victory for the whole community of Amery. It was true testament to the support the musicians had from the Baldwins, band boosters, parents, school staff and the entire City of Amery.
The Andersons had called back to Amery to share the big news. When the buses approached home fire trucks and many cheering parents and friends welcomed the band. Erickson said the trip was exhausting, but absolutely memorable.
When recalling his Cherry Blossom experience Kittel said, “I have many great memories of the opportunities I was afforded at Amery High School and have a great deal of pride to this day in being an Amery High School graduate. The Cherry Blossom Festival was a very special high school memory for people in the 1981 band. The entire process from getting selected to the return home was surreal. There were many steps along the way, and each step provided some great memories. Getting selected was the start of the excitement, which was an unbelievable feeling.”
Kittle said many things that went into the trip were all special pieces in the experience. “Morning workouts in the gym, practicing marching outside in March, President Reagan getting shot right before we were to go, loading the buses, the bus trip to DC and waiting on the Mall as 46 other states went before us each provided uniques memories,” said Kittel.
“The march down Constitution Avenue is a feeling I will never forget. Being part of a group of over 100 people who each took great pride in doing their part for the good of the whole was a special feeling. There is no real way to describe the pride we felt in representing our school and community,” he said.
Kittel remembers reading those results vividly. He could not believe his eyes as he paused and read the words, "first place". He said, “The group exploded in excitement. The excitement level never seemed to diminish from there as we stopped in Madison to be recognized by the legislature and the Governor. The show of support and pride displayed by the school and community when we arrived home to an unbelievable welcome was inspirational to all of us.”
Kittel said, “I am extremely proud to get the chance 38 years later on behalf of the 1981 band, and dare I say all Amery High School band members, to congratulate the Baldwins on this honor. Bill Baldwin had two key components of a great leader. He had a vision of what the Amery Band was about and was able to get all of us to understand how to accomplish that vision. He also had great support around him, with the most consistent and unwavering support coming from Judi.”