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The Big Reds Marching Machine – Then, and NOW! Part 3

1972 Big Reds Marching Machine at the State Capitol

The Big Reds Marching Machine – Then, and NOW!

Originally Published on March 19th, 2018.

This is the third in a series about how the whole city of Port Huron came together and made the impossible possible. If you’re old enough to remember, the Port Huron Big Reds Marching Machine (BRMM) went to the Olympics in 1972. With the benefit of a few years, the 250 members and chaperones who went have realized just what a feat it was – to engineer a plan for a mammoth project which included raising a staggering sum of $1,120,000.00 in today’s money, persevering through nine months of sweaty work to gain the skills to succeed, and finally achieving their goal. 

In our articles, we’ll be talking to the people who made it happen and how it changed our lives in the process. This week’s article, Turning “The Impossible Dream” into a Reality talks about how businesses, alumni, and the whole community worked and donated the needed funds to make the trip and Olympic Competition possible. We’ll also be looking at what the current Big Reds Marching Machine (BRMM) is up to and the people making them successful.  This week’s article, And Now! Talks about today’s community stepping up to help the band, why band is important and its affects on kids, as well as the Annual Recruitment Extravaganza!  We want to do everything we can to ensure their ongoing success. We remember how fortunate we were. To read the first article in this series, click here. To read the first article about the 2017-18 Big Red Marching Machine, click here

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Turning “The Impossible Dream” into a Reality

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.” Henri

Band Director, Eric Payton recognized raising the necessary $160,000 to take the two-hundred member Marching Machine to Europe would prove to be the most difficult task of this massive undertaking. Traditional fundraising the band did every year would never bring about the amount of funds needed to turn “The Impossible Dream” into a reality.

If the Big Reds were to be successful, a combination of traditional fundraising and enlisting the help of the entire community would be necessary.  Fortunately for the band, this was Payton’s forte. For the next few months, students, parents and the community would be immersed in constant fundraising.

It began with the yearly fruit sale.  A shipment of two semi-trucks from Indian River, Florida was delivered to the band room at Port Huron High School. All classes had to be moved to the Salvation Army as the band room was turned into one great big fruit stand!

The heat had been turned off and the room was stripped by the Stajarmy of chairs, music stands and instruments. The Stajarmy was a select group of students who were responsible for setup, tear down and loading of all of the Marching Machine’s equipment. With the help of band booster parents and students, Andy Pochodylo, a Port Huron school principal, supervised as the boxes of fruit were piled seven feet high, completely filling room 411.

The sale began on Friday and lasted through Sunday. Orders which had been taken in advance were filled and picked up throughout each day. The Stajarmy was enlisted to help carry boxes of fruit to customer’s vehicles in the parking lot. Fruit was also delivered to the local nursing homes.

“Fundraising is the gentle art of teaching the joy of giving.” Author unknown

Mr. Payton’s promo business card. Businesses needed to know where to send their donations.

When the sale was completed, a total of $6000 was netted. Everyone went home after the sale except the band’s unsung heroes.  The Stajarmy remained behind to clean up the bandroom, set up the chairs and music stands so classes could resume the next morning. Even the Stajarmy’s cleanup could not keep the band room from smelling like citrus for days!

Community businesses got into the fundraising act. George Lang donated a Volkswagen Beetle, moving it around the city for all to see. Raffle tickets were sold with the proceeds going to the BRMM for their trip to Europe. The winning ticket belonged to a lucky man from the city of Marysville. Through the generosity of George Lang, another $7,500 was realized.

Gas stations throughout the city donated two cents on a gallon of gas for two days.  The Marching Machine’s Display Flags were on the job, standing outside the stations using their flags to wave in the customers.  Band members took turns cleaning the windshields on the vehicles as the gas was being pumped. The total donation from the gas stations was $4,000.

Mile of Dimes was a unique fundraiser.

One would not think that the dead set of winter would be a good time for a teeter-totter Marathon, but some members of the Big Red Band didn’t let the cold or the snow deter them.  Chuck Cleaver, Rick Simpson, Tom Mills, Dave Zimmer, Larry Cowper, George Rinderspacher, Kent Bolt, Joe Lentz, Jeff Friedland, Greg Curtis and Debbie Mills took part in the teeter-totter marathon in front of McMorran Place.  They “teetered on the edge” all through the night as people drove by and put money in the canisters. A small motorhome was parked nearby so that the kids could periodically go inside and warm up. Yet most of the time, they braved the cold and teetered … or tottered, depending on which side they were on!

The Mile of Dimes was another successful fundraising adventure. Double edge sticky tape was placed down the sidewalks throughout downtown Port Huron and Krogers. Marching Machine members in full uniform lined the streets as shoppers placed coins on the tape.  It was not uncommon to see twenty-dollar-bills stuck to that tape. When the event ended, it was rolled up and the money counted. Again the community came through with another $4,000 towards “The Impossible Dream.”

“When we recognize that a better word for fundraising is friend raising, we open limitless doors to creativity of our causes.” Sue Vinyard

The band room was changed from a fruit stand into a candy store as the band’s annual candy sale took place, taking advantage of Port Huron’s sweet tooth.  Students took orders and sold hundreds of boxes of the World’s Finest Chocolate door to door. The net profit was $6,000.

A local photographer, Askar Shane, offered to take family portraits of all members of the BRMM and their families.  A portion of those proceeds was donated to the Machine’s trip. One large portrait was created of individual pictures of the director and all members of the Big Red Marching Machine. It was displayed in the band room for years to come.

McDonald’s gave part of their profits one Saturday, courtesy of Gunther Schultz.  Members of the band entertained customers playing tunes throughout the day. They marched in and out of McDonald’s and around the store.  At the end of the day, the band had $3,000 more towards their trip. On another Saturday, Burger King followed suit and donated a portion of their profits as the Band again entertained.  

Mr. Payton sporting whiskers, getting ready for the first St. Patrick’s Day Parade in Port Huron.

One of the more popular fundraisers was the German dinner.   In honor of the trip to Germany, the entire cuisine had to be German dishes. Henry Myers, of Myers Moving and Storage, donated the meat for the dinner and Cal Miller donated the vegetables. Band Booster parents prepared and serve the food. The dinner was advertised and opened to the public.  It was so successful that it became a yearly event with different cuisines each year.

Band members raised even more money in a 24-hour Play-a-thon held in the band room.  The Port Huron radio station, WHLS broadcast the marathon. Members of the community called in and made donations. Students in the band spelled each other off, making sure that a balanced instrumentation was maintained to keep the sound of music going nonstop.  

Mr. Payton found himself in his own personal fundraiser.  A member of the Port Huron High School faculty, Charlie Lincoln, challenged Payton to a beard growing contest!  Mr. Payton and Mr. Lincoln put away their razors and let the whiskers grow! Two jars were placed in the main office, with Payton’s picture on one and Lincoln’s picture on the other. The students dropped donations into the jar with the picture of the teacher they believed would win the contest. Just before the Honors Band’s spring concert in April, the beard growing contest was judged by Principal Chet Wydrzynski and one of his assistant principals.  

“Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.”  Helen Keller

Payton had many talents, but growing a beard turned out not to be one of them! His sparsely grown beard was no contest for Charlie Lincoln’s thick, heavy one. The band would have liked to see their hero win by a hair, but Lincoln won the contest hands down! However, this time all the students of Port Huron High School took part in helping their fellow classmates in the quest of their dream.

Despite the excessive fundraising as well as a steady stream of donations from businesses and individuals from all over the state of Michigan, the Marching Machine was still well short of its goal.  It had been decided early on, if by spring, enough money was not raised to ensure reaching the financial goal, a decision would have to be made as to whether the trip would have to be abandoned.

Unwilling to accept defeat, and believing that the goal could still be reached, Payton and Smith decided to seek help by contacting Representative Bill Jowett, who put them in touch with Michigan Attorney General Frank Kelly and Governor John Swainson, a Port Huron High School graduate.  They were able to obtain an appointment for Mr. Payton and Dr. Smith with the Matilda Dodge Wilson Foundation who had $60,000 to award to a worthy cause. Payton and Smith met with the Foundation; they told them about the invitation and what the band and the community had achieved in raising money for the trip.  The Big Red Band director and his co-planner waited as others also sought out the help of the Foundation. When the decision was made, Payton and Smith were called in and told that the $60,000 would be awarded to the Big Reds for their trip to Europe. When asked by Payton why they chose his kids, he was told they were chosen because they had made a tremendous effort and worked hard on their own to raise the money. Many others that were seeking the funds simply came with hat in hand and had done little or nothing to help themselves.

“Donors don’t give to institutions. They invest in ideas and people in whom they believe.”  GT Smith

The generous award put the fundraising over the top! What little was remaining was quickly raised by the Port Huron citizens. Due to the hard work of the Big Reds, their director, their parents, boosters and the Port Huron Community, “The Impossible Dream” was now a reality.  The Port Huron High School Big Red Marching Machine was headed to Munich, Germany and the 1972 Olympic competition!

Next up:  Preparing the Olympic show.

…And Now! 

Today’s Big Red’s Marching Machine continues in the tradition of hard work and making their own way.   Winning contests and awards is the small part of we see from the outside. But there is an army of Band Boosters working behind the scenes and band members are working tirelessly. Scrimping, saving, and creative fundraising like their annual Apple pie sale (their costs are minimum and all of the profit goes right to the BRMM) have helped give the band new life. A shot in the arm. Through their own efforts, they renovated the band room and purchased new music stands and chairs. On their own, they raised over $70,000 to replace some of their ancient instruments:  3 Sousaphones, harmony instruments, a marching drum line, and also an equipment trailer to get all the instruments to parades and contests. That still left them nursing most of the old instruments many of which sported Bondo and duct tape.

BRMM members playing at the PHHS Annual “Victory Day” Event at Memorial Stadium giving kids with learning disabilities a chance to play in and experience a (mock) football game.

But just like getting the 1972 BRMM to the Olympics, the Port Huron community stepped up.  Last year a bond was passed and the Port Huron Area School District gave each school funds for their music programs.  The funds going to PH bands, director Scott Jones allocated for replacing all the leftover instruments that were past their real usefulness.

If you see them in a parade or their half time show, you’ll see and hear a big difference.  No Bondo. All new, matching Sousaphones, silver Baritones, a new “wall of Trombones.” As Bass Trombone player, Isaac Bonner puts it, “The sound of the band is more powerful, unified, and clearer.  More in tune.” When you have good instruments, they’re easier to play and you play better.

Junior Drum Major, Brady Butler, talked about the importance of how having new instruments helped give band members more confidence and unity.

“Leave things better than when you found it.” Scott Jones

Dir. Jones’ saying rings true not only for the band’s instruments.

Why being in band is important

One of  the most important “behind the scenes” things taking place an audience doesn’t have the opportunity to see is this: It is well documented that learning music and especially leaning to play an instrument raises  learning skills, and improves coordination and fine motor skills. The so called “discipline” of music making transfers to any other kind of learning. Kids do better in their other subjects in school and have better personal interaction skills.  Music makes kids happy.

That alone seems to be enough to want to be in band, but in talking to current BRMM members and alumni, a host of other benefits is brought to light. Teamwork is learned and exercised every day. If you don’t work well with a team, you stick out on the marching field.  Even now, many years after my band’s Germany trip, a small army of fellow band members is helping us put together these articles.

Jr. Drum Major Brady Butler conducting the BRMM.

Jr. Drum Major, Butler says “Being in band has taught me leadership skills and responsibility. Things I wouldn’t have learned outside of band.” Butler plans to study Chemical Engineering or Law when he goes to college.

Bass Trombonist and section leader, Isaac Bonner, talked about band helping him meet new people and be more outgoing. “In every class, I would know someone from band. That helped in such a big school.”  Bonner is planning on going into engineering or the Bio Medical field.

“Our Performance starts the minute we put on the uniform, while other groups are goofing around. We take pride in what we do.”  Brady Butler

In Band you learn Ethics beyond just learning rules.

Dir. Scott Jones goal is to look back “and know I did things to help even one student be a better person or help get a career.”

Beyond learning great life skills, band is just fun.

Central Middle School’s 8th grade band on stage.

The Future Big Reds Marching Machine

700 students will be taking part in the Extravaganza. It will be a full house.

This past Friday, the “Recruitment Extravaganza” was held for Central Middle School Cougar Bands and Holland Woods Warrior Bands – future Big Reds Band and Marching Machine members! Over 500 fifth graders from the district descended on the PHHS’s Performing Arts Center to hear the Middle School bands as well as the Big Red’s Marching Machine play. Kids were able to hear each instrument and chose which one they want to learn. There were raffles, give-aways and fun things for the kids to do. Scott Jones, Dir. of Port Huron High School Bands talked to the kids about what it’s like being in band and being a BRMM member. Shawna Manhart, Dir. of Central Middle School Bands as well as Angela Larner, Dir. of Holland Woods Bands were on hand to explain how to choose an instrument and sign up for band (with a student’s fifth grade teacher). The event opened with the BRMM marching through the crowd playing a rousing version of the Big Reds Fight Song.

It isn’t too late! If a student missed the “Extravaganza”, there is still time to sign up!

You can play football AND be in Band.

Middle School Band offers Concert Band, Pep Band, and Jazz Band. They also march in 3 parades yearly and have trips to see the U.S.

After the big Extravaganza, Port Huron Music Center will visit each Elementary School with instruments in hand so every student who wants to be in band can have some hands-on time with their favorite instrument. It’s a good time to make sure next year’s Cougar or Warrior can reach all of the keys.

The Band directors will provide a list of recommended brands and models of each instrument. Instruments can be purchased or rented or if needed, each band has some instruments donated by the community and alumni to make sure each student will have an instrument.

Central Middle School Dir. Manhart welcomes new Cougar Band members.

Middle School Band Directors pictured above: Manhart (Left) and Larner (Right) coordinate programs and curriculum with PHHS Band Dir. Jones.

No one will be turned away because a family isn’t able to afford an instrument.

Every student needs the opportunity to be in band. It’s unlike any other class or learning they’ll do in school or they’re lives. Directors, Manhart and Larner make it possible.

“It’s not just about ‘being in band.’ It’s about relationships, learning, teamwork, AND laughing.” Shawna Manhart

Holland Woods Director Larner at the Recruitment Extravaganza.

 Instrument Donations

Instrument donations are needed to keep this kind of program possible. Any instrument, in any condition is welcome. It’s ok if you played it when you were in Middle school and it’s spent the last 20 years in your closet. Call Central Middle School, or Holland Woods Middle School and they’ll tell you where you can bring it.

 Contact information:

Central Middle School, Shawna Manhart, Dir. : 810-984-6533

Click here to go to Central Band’s web site.

Holland Woods Middle School, Angela Larner, Dir.: 984-6548 ext. 2353

Click here to go to Holland Woods Band’s web site.

Next Time:

  • The Alumni Project.
  • Big Upcoming Performances.
  • Planning for Band Camp.
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Kathleen Knowles is a life-long resident of Port Huron and a 1973 graduate of Port Huron High School. After attending St. Clair County Community College, she has worked for credit unions all of her life as well as a professional dog show handler, known for handling Pekingese. Kathleen has been writing fiction for years as a hobby, having posted many stories online.

Pat North, a native of Port Huron, graduated from Port Huron High School and is a proud alumna of the 1972 Big Reds Marching Machine Germany band. She holds a Bachelor’s of Music in Flute Performance from the College Conservatory of Music, Univ. of Cincinnati, with graduate studies at the Univ. of Illinois where she also received her Pilot’s license. Pat was apprenticed to professional flute builder, Jack Moore, and later started her own company, Cincinnati Fluteworks, in 1980, specializing in the technical and acoustical aspects of the construction of the flute as well as branding. She authors a quarterly technical and promotional newsletter for the company. In addition to her passion for the flute, she hosted and produced community radio and TV programs, focused on civil rights and justice issues. Her other passion is for Standard Schnauzers. Pat produced and was co-editor of The Standard Schnauzer Club of America’s Source Book 4, as well as several other educational interactive and print publications for them. She lives in Cincinnati with her very own home bred Standards, but once a Michigander, always a Michigander.

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