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Northernaires left their mark on area

Reprinted by permission of the Marinette EagleHerald. Published July 28, 2003.

Hearts will race to a rhythm of memories, some throats will swell with pride and most folks will rise from their chairs to signal a standing ovation when the Menominee Northernaires Drum and Bugle Corps comes marching down the parade route. The corps that stole the hearts of Twin City faithful three and four decades ago has turned 50.

It's hard to believe a half century has passed since the splashy "Green Machine" first proceeded along local parade routes, its colors skimming the breeze, horns and bugles blaring, and drums beating a snappy cadence. Although the Northernaires no longer compete in drum and bugle shows, there's a cluster of alumni that keeps the tune of memories alive. The alumni will stage a reunion to observe the golden anniversary of the corps during the Waterfront Festival.

Our two towns have always had a soft spot for high school marching bands, pep bands, color squads, drill teams, and drum and bugle units. The many parades and home football games we've enjoyed would have been dreary without them.

Old Company I of the Marinette National Guard had a drum and bugle corps more than 100 years ago. Rutherford Spoor started with only 16 recruits in 1902.

Marching bands, and drum and bugle corps have come and gone over the years, but no single entourage of young people ever commandeered the attention of Twin City folks like the Northernaires did. The corps had such an impact on its loyal followers that when it strutted down a parade route it would instantly spring the arm-waving, hand-clapping fanatics to their feet amid a spontaneous round of cheers. Even John Philip Sousa would have been proud of the cadre of musicians when they raised instruments to their lips while the drummers tapped a beat and delightful music filled the air.

Sporadic attempts to revive the luster of the old corps floundered. Recruiting adults dedicated to the task of organizing and training a large group of young men and women, and competing with a growing number of distractions for their time and devotion to duty, is an awesome assignment in today's breakneck social climate. The enormous cost factors for uniforms, instruments, transportation, food and lodging, and insurance premiums are enough to shake the wisdom of buoyant volunteers contemplating such a challenge.

I have fond recollections of the earlier Northernaires when they were still a struggling group. As a novice newsman at the Menominee Herald-Leader, I had no clue about horns, bugles and drums. To me, every note was a sweet tune. That's why I had difficulty understanding the scorecards of judges when the Northernaires didn't place high in the competition.

Founded in the fall of 1953 at the DAR Boys Club, the corps didn't make its first entry into field competition until 1956. The original unit embodied about 60 playing members, ranging in age from 14 to 20. The Northernaires won the first contest they ever entered and by 1966 their roster of success included six titles, three Michigan American Legion Junior Corps crowns, one Michigan VFW championship, and four Wisconsin AMVETS junior titles. The sprint to the top was impressive.

An important part of the Northernaires was a classy color guard that won numerous awards in competition. An old news clipping noted the Color Guard captured four Michigan American Legion Junior championships, four Michigan VFW banners, and one U.P. American Legion Junior pennant by 1966.

Thirteen years after marching onto the field for its first taste of competition, the Northernaires had garnered 41 championships in 99 contests. It was the only corps in Michigan ever to have held all of the existing corps and color guard titles at one time. The corps entered between 35 and 40 contests a season between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

The corps marched in uniforms of two shades of green with white trim. The stylish garb was introduced in 1959. Buglers wore dark green trousers with light green and white trim. The drum section wore light green with dark green and white trim. Color guard members were attired in light green with white trim blouses and a dark green trim. The trousers were dark green. The color blends gave the entire unit a dazzling face to enhance its image as talented musicians.

Parents and other volunteers involved in sports and music booster activities in current times will appreciate what the untiring Parents Club of the Northernaires went through many years ago while raising funds to keep the corps alive. The corps also had a "feeder unit" called the Northernlites, a 50-member troop of youngsters 9 through 13.

The Northernaires left a mark on Twin City life that will be remembered for generations. Music of appreciation, in the form of cheers and hand-clapping, will ring down on them when they make their 50th anniversary march Aug. 10 in the Waterfront Festival parade.