It was February of 1968 and I was in my second year at WSU La Crosse. Several of my friends in the Marching Chiefs and the Tribe were also in the Blue Stars and it became almost a daily ritual, that someone would try to coax me to the next Blue Star rehearsal. Bob Schneider and Ken Dissmore were relentless. I hated to leave the Blackhawks. But my better judgement, convinced me that they weren't going anywhere.
I remember walking in to hear that rehearsal in the old warehouse on Front Street. I thought "this place is really a dump". I was really impressed with the horn line. I couldn't believe Dave Kasten's chops. I was surprised at each group working so hard on their own. Drums in the basement-the floor was always bouncing, the horn line on the first floor, color guard, 2nd floor, rifles on the 3rd floor.
Dave Dummer called me into the "office" during the break and told me how great things were looking for the 1968 season but they still had an opening for a soprano or two. At the end of the night they put the whole corps together for a final run through and I was gassed. My life would never be the same.
We worked so hard that spring. Rick Young worked the horn line. I never knew anyone could be so picky. I had never even considered how long you should hold a note. Boy, did I have a lot to learn. Of course I had to be the only person born with two left feet, everyone else made it look so easy. I sure must have looked silly marching up and down our sidewalk at home, trying to play my part.
The next big shock, besides some of those horn line rehearsals at the old Logan High Band room, was learning the show. All of a sudden here is a guy called "Chops" telling me to "mark-time 44, step off 26, pivot 4, mark-time 16, half step backwards 28, watch your diagonals, pick up your feet, now, lets try it playing"--HELP!!
From the first show on, I knew I would be hooked on drum corps for the next 3 years. Going into Nationals was extremely intense. Talk about hard work. We were a corps on the rise, trying to play things so musically. I guess we were just 5 or 6 years ahead of our time. We could always count on our guard for high scores. Frank and Judy had helped them build a reputation as "one of the best".
I had never seen so many gorgeous 14 and 15 year old girls in one place. John Gates came in a few days before the Nationals tour to clean up the horn line. Terry Thirion was really whipping the drum line into shape. A tic here-a tic there.
Nationals were held in Detroit that year. I was really tense. Everyone kept talking about "inspection". I had never had anyone look me over so close, head to toe, just like the army, I guess.
I was nervous on the line at finals that night but once Roger Oelke gave the command, "Marktime, mark" it was all concentration. "Let Me Entertain You" went real smooth, the crowd loved it. As I recall our trio on the "Odd Couple" turned out great. "Red's White & Blue" complete with our outstreatched quot;peace" signs was a hit. "In the Hall of the Mountain King" went smooth-Bloomer's solo was perfect as usual. What a tongue. "Our Day Will Come" was our most musical effort, but we usually got blasted for it. "Mugsy" and "Diz" pulled me through my first Nationals-Great Job!!!
We placed 8th that year-the best yet, but we knew we could do better next year. Practice just a little harder...
Author: Mike Snustead
"How you gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've joined Blue Stars." This old barbershop Iyric could have been the theme song of the first group of real "out oftowners" in Blue Stars history. Tom Bernett, Adrian Roberg, and I would drive 40 miles through rain and snow, three times a week, to a dirty, cold and dark warehouse on Front and Pearl Street. What was the music in 1968 that lured these small-town boys to the "Big City?"
Could it have been the kind, gentle hospitality of Director Dave Dummer and Drum Major Roger Oekle? Could it have been the quiet, softspoken words of inspiration from Frank Van Voorhis? Maybe it was the intrigue of the famous Wayne Dusterbeck stories! Could it have been Mike Anderson's flawless trombone or Sam Anderson's ragtime piano? Could it have been the short shorts on the Colorguard or the John Gates arrangement of the "Lord's Prayer"? (If you recall, the winter corps progressed from Viroqua Main Street Lutheran Church to the Chicago Civic Opera House. The Vanguard stole the show with their shotguns, chimes and smoke bombs during the "1812 Overture").
Was the charm of Blue Stars in 1968 those three wonderful Hiawatha coaches and the countless stories within? One of rny favorite bus stories had to do with the neverending feud between Gary Gardener and Dave Mandehr. It seems Gary headed to the back of the bus one day in a fit of rage intended for some antagonist (not Dave). It was all staged very well. As Gary prepared to deliver a blow to his supposed opponent, his fist changed direction and caught the surprised jaw of onlooker Dave Mandehr! If you can believe it, Dave was very quiet for the rest of that trip.
Ken Dissmore's skate case became legendary on Hiawatha Coaches. Apples going for a dollar, crackerjacks with the toys removed, Slo pokes, Powerhouse candy bars and the infamous "Mallow Cups" (without the cards of course!)
The biggest show for the entire Drum Corps World in 1968, without a doubt, had to be "Loyalty Days" in Viroqua, Wisconsin. Corps from all over the country were pleading to be in this show! By showtime, only the "elite" had been accepted to perform on the night of June 22, 1968, in the newly prepared Viroqua Astro Dome Stadium. Last minute rumors of age violations had circulated about the warm up areas causing a little panic for our elder statesmen. Facial hair was hastely removed and wallets were exchanged in an attempt to appear "youthful". (We should have known better, we had little to fear compared to the St. Paul "Senior Citizen" Scouts!) The Grand Finale that night in front of a capacity crowd of 48 plus, were extremely tense as the Blue Stars were announce the winners!!
As for the rest of the season, things calmed down a little and every other show seemed to be plagued with rain, (liquid sunshine). Nicknamed the "Great Monsoon", 1968 proved to be a very good year for ducks!
As for the competition, the Royal-Airs, Troopers, Cavies, Des Plaines Vanguard, and Kilts continued to elude our hot pursuit. Our best weekend came with an outstanding swing into lowa in July. Fort Dodge, Cedar Rapids, and Waterloo fell head over heels for "Stout Hearted Men" and "Hall Of The Mountain King."
Somehow, to our dismay, the "East" squeezed in St. Joe's and Blue Rock at V.F.W. Nationals in Detroit. The heat and humidity on the line that night even made our white bucks sweat! By the time Scotty Paulson took the field, the air was crystal clear and Kenny Norman's "Mac Arthur Park", pulled it out for the Kilts.
In retrospect, I have to admit Blue Stars was probably the worst thing that could have happend to me! Just think, l could have been rich and famous. l could have been a doctor, a lawyer, a rock star, or maybe even President. No! I ended up a band director! Small town, small income, still riding buses, still marching in the rain, still arguing with judges, and thanks to Dave Kampschroer, still stuck in God's Country! But then I guess it beats Outer's Lab!
Thanks "Blue Who", from one who never did shake the fever!
Author: Cory Groves
1968 VFW Nationals-Detroit
1. Racine Kilties
6. St. Joes
7. Blue Rock
8. Blue Stars
9. Racine Scouts
10. Argonne Revels
11. 27th Lancers
12. Norwood Park Imperials
"Stout Hearted Man"
"Zippety Doo Dah"
"Hall of the Mountain King"
"Up, Up And Away"
Because of my experience wiith the Blue Stars, I was able to secure a full time job at Walt Disney World and am now playing with the first and only professional drum corps in the world!