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Menominee Northernaires Remembered

“Menominee Remembered” honors
Northernaires Drum and Bugle Corps

By Jay D'Auria and John Wills

It's fall in the Midwest and just like every year for the past 17, the Menominee Middle School 8th grade English class awaits their unique assignment. The teacher, Mr. John Wills annually picks a theme and each student is assigned an individual from the community to interview based on that theme. The idea for this unique assignment came to John Wills in 1983 after viewing another Upper Peninsula Middle Schools project similar to this. In February of 1988, after a search for ideas as to how to make writing more meaningful for his students, he entertained the idea of collecting stories from members of the community. He needed a way to accomplish two things: “Find opportunities for kids to take ownership of their writing, thereby giving them a reason to improve upon what they have to say, and look for links from one generation to another. What better way to accomplish both then to have the kids go out into the community and gather the information needed to make them better writers as well as better citizens, who, through the process of writing about others who came before them, are made aware of the importance of history, of community, and of their role in it.”

That was 17 years ago and he and his students are still at it. In 1992 he included the first themes, which were a short history of the Bohemian Community (done with the help of a writer-in-residence) and the 25th anniversary of the 1967 Michigan State Class B Basketball championship Menominee Maroons. He and his students actually invited members of that team back to Menominee to be interviewed at a Maroon home game, and to also take part in a heartwarming reunion with others including coaches and townspeople. It was a great night and one that John will never forget. Mr. Wills has always considered it a personal high, as the editor and project director of the fledgling publication.

In the years since, there have been stories written within the following thematic areas: Corner grocery stores, commercial fishing, country schools, firefighters, policemen, and local musicians, the latter of which became a labor of love for John because of his close relationship with most of the people who were interviewed. Other themes were local athletes, small gas stations, teachers, the medical community, self-made people, the 50th anniversary of World War II as well as Korean War Vets, women's baseball ("A League of Their Own" was a popular movie that year, and he had become acquainted with one of the former players), the family farmers of the area, and the 100th anniversary of Spies Library. This years publication will honor the men, women and families of the Menominee Northernaires Drum and Bugle Corps who celebrated their 50th Anniversary last year, and the Menominee Middle School, upon the celebration of its 35th and final year.

The 2004 edition of "Menominee Remembered" will feature interviews and pictures from 17 former Northernaires, some family members and supporters. Those interviewed from the Northernaires are: David Hultgren, his mother, Gladys Hultgren, David Frisque, Paul Stello, Jeff Seymour, Mike Kushman, Dean Hoffman, Bill Evans, Bob Tordeur, Jerry Whitton, Tom Ennis, Calvin Fernstrum, Jack Fischer, Bill King, Lloyd Pesola, Mick Pichette, and Donna Stage and myself (Jay D'Auria). The Northernaire interviews range from what it was like to be a Northernaire in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's to how drum corps influenced our lives over the years.

With input from friends in the community, Mr. Wills chooses themes in the summer and tries to make connections with people who have access to information regarding the theme. For example, he spent an afternoon with Bill King (one of the first Northernaires Corps Directors in 1953). Bill gave John a list of names of people to call in regard to the Northernaires. He told John to contact Dean Hoffman, who has become the point man for the project and aided in gathering names of former Northernaires. In September, the assignments were made to the students. When I spoke with Mr. Wills he said “I have been at the Menominee Middle School as a teacher for 34 of the 35 years of its existence. I know the staff, I know the stories. I am definitely having fun this year with the Menominee Middle School theme and the Northernaires as well, a group I have vicariously marched with for 30 years, and the Blue Notes previous to that. I refuse to believe that it is impossible to get major goose bumps when the horns and mallets are raised and the chords are struck. How can you not get excited?”

In September the interviews were completed. They were then transcribed from the tape-recorded interviews to paper and then they are checked by Mr. Wills for length and neatness. These are the only criteria for the initial step of the project. In October and November the stories are written and edited and in December they are typed into the computer network at the school. Over Christmas John selects the stories that are to be published. He bases his decision on one criterion only: Interest. Often this can only be determined by the participant's responses to questions. Nothing else. It's pretty hard to create interest at the level of writing skills of an eighth grade student. Granted, he will grade the story on a number of criteria on a scoring rubric, both objectively and subjectively, but a story is selected for publication only if it can be perceived to be interesting. And, agreed, there are multiple levels of interest. And he has to weigh the reasons for or against publishing a story often times on how interesting others might deem this work, and how hard the person worked to earn the honor.

In January, John makes public the names of the students whose stories will be published. They, in turn, will take the story back to the subject for them to read and approve, gather photos, and return to school with the packet, which John will take and edit at home, at his own pace. It usually takes from February until late March to put the stories in publish order, write liners and photo cuts, select photos, and order the stories. He puts it all in a box, brings it to BANDR Printing and there the magic happens. In May, he has 500 copies of the book delivered to him and then the rest is history - literally - and they usually sell out by late summer. The 2004 edition, which will feature a Corps photograph of the Menominee Northernaires of the mid-1960's for its cover, will be released sometime in May. Cost of the book purchased locally will be ten dollars, and if you wish to order by mail or email, the cost will be twelve dollars. Checks may be made payable to the Menominee Area Public Schools, and attention: Kelly Hofer. Locals vendors include Angeli's of Menominee, Trends and Tradition, BANDR Printing/ Graphic Apparel, ABC Printers of Marinette, Schloegels on the Bay Restaurant, Timeless Treasurers, Van's IGA of Menominee, and the Superintendent's Office at Menominee Middle School.