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Addendum to Bill King's Memoirs
Reprinted by permission of the Menominee Historical Society Museum


The Story of
Menominee, Mich.


William C. King
Business Manager 1953 - 1968


All former Northernaires and
especially to Dean Hoffman and
Mickey Pichette who made 50 years
possible, and to:

GOD! How I loved this Corps!

© 2004 All Rights Reserved
Reproduction in whole or in part
without written consent of the
author is not permitted


While sitting around relaxing a bit and thinking about my sixteen years with the Northernaires Corps, I have often wondered how I would have done if I could have stuck it out and continued on after 1968. Besides being business manager of the Corps, I was also the writer of the Corps competitive routines and the drill instructor. I had been in military service for three years as Company Clerk for Company L, 347th Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, and, after discharge in 1948, graduated from Bright's School of Design, Chicago, Illinois.

Don't let the company clerk job fool you, as we had to complete basic training like everyone else and the assignments we got, after completing basic, came about. Our last major event in training was a 25 mile overnight march which I made to the end. But, the following morning came and I woke up with terrible cramps in both legs and the guys hauled me to the medic's building at Camp McCain, Mississippi. The Doc told our First Sarge to put me to work in the orderly room during the time the company was off to maneuvers in Tennessee. While helping there, an opening for the company clerk's job occurred. Sarge asked if I wanted to transfer there from Co. B., as I could type pretty good and he thought that's where I would be better off. So I said yes and away we went. So I had my share of military marching experience. I also was a model builder, an accountant with organizational experience, and had studied design.

When we first started the corps, Harold Nowakowski, my friend, and Mr. Patil, and Lenny Nordost put the parade marching together and worked out a few formations in case we were asked to perform on a field for local baseball opening days, etc. But when we were getting ready for our first competitive years in 1955 and 56, they found we weren't doing the right things drill-wise in comparison to others and asked if I could help on that. Harold was a real good drill man with service experience like my own, and we found we could work together well. We worked out all the military moves we wanted to use to adapt to a corps routine and spelled everything out on paper with diagrams so we would always be on the same page, so to speak.

I put my design skills to work and, by watching football game halftimes and reading and looking at everything Harold and I could find on Drum and Bugle Corps, we put together our first show. As I also had some music in high school playing a violin in the school orchestra, I could fit the routine to the music pretty well. Unfortunately my friend Harold died rather unexpectedly within a couple of years and I had to shift gears. This is when I started incorporating the use of our drum majors and color guard captains into teaching the routines, and made use of their input likewise. Thus we started our 16 year route TO THE FINISH LINE.


And just how would have W.K. (aka Bill King) fared in writing and teaching drum and bugle corps drills or routines after 1968? Let's take a look and see.

In the first year after 1968 and up through 1973, corps drills, routines, shows, or whatever you wish to call them, remained pretty much the same - primarily military style with some modest deviations. Inspections before the contest started had already long been eliminated. The use of flags was OK as long as you followed the U.S. flag code, which made it necessary for some corps to park their, what we called an Honor Guard, U.S. flag and usually one other, along with two Color Guards usually on the right corner facing out. All flags, at least in Michigan, had to be fringed and measure three by five feet. Two guideons could be carried if a corps sponsoring organization didn't allow arms of any kind. Some allowed sabers, so guideons were used.

In the early years after W.K. left the program, the starting line was abolished, and corps began on each side of the 50 yard line of a regulation football field. They soon started ending in the middle also, but still tried to make use of the entire size of a regulation football field. Sometime later, the ending line was abolished also, but the dimensions remained the same as a football field, and finally became marked the same as for football. This I would have liked to have had to work with in my time as it would have made planning and teaching much easier. I didn't care much for off-center or angle lines, but perhaps would have changed my mind about that if the fields were all marked. I always followed balanced designs in anything artistic I ever tried after going to Bright's School of Design in 1948 in Chicago. I also didn't much like using a time for warmup right on the contest field, and thought it should be done before then. My music people would have won out though on that one.

By 1974 or maybe 1973, whichever year it was that Drum Corps International (DCI) had started their National Championship contests, units had become much larger, at least the ones that we regularly competed against. Most seemed to have numbered around 120 or so, some up to 150. In W.K.'s time, the Northernaires largest corps was 84 people. There were 42 horns, drum line of 20, color guard of 20, one drum major and one guard captain, with sometimes two of each. This filled two Greyhound sized buses and a couple of cars along with the equipment van. This was mandated by the size of our budget for travel, meals, and quarters housing us. I really doubt if we could have had a membership of 120, and really doubt the 150-plus figure of the present time. Most corps now have huge drum sections, with a large portion parked at the center line, very much like a symphony orchestra, and they use banners now instead of regulation flags, along with large rifle squads and other props in large numbers. Its fairly easy to count 150 people in today's competitive corps, some of the same ones from the larger cities that we used to compete with. They also have more horns and smaller size drums in their regular field shows now. For a while, the corps still marched pretty much in a military style well after 1968, and I am not sure when gymnastic or ballet moves, swishes, swirls, and an abundance of circle moves started, all with what seems unlimited use of props of all kinds now in use. I think W.K. could have handled some of this, and believe me I tried to stretch things and get away with as much as possible.

We did venture into some dance routines in the mid-50's when we played "By the Waters of Minnetonka" and went into a teepee formation and came out of what was supposed to be the opening with the dance part to an Indian drum beat. We had two drum majors dressed with flowing war bonnets instead of shakos. It was very effective GE-wise, but on the downside we had to keep the war bonnets on all the way through.

The rules of the time didn't allow much, but we did try and use little gimmicks and I did have ideas for some other ones, hoping the rules would change a little. I remember very well out in Iowa in the mid-60's when we were on a long weekend swing, and it really cost us … literally … about $500.00 and a first place finish as we came in 3rd as a result. All year that season, we had our drum major make use of a white painted baton with our name painted on it very small, in green, and green tips. This he threw into the audience as a souvenir for someone at the show's end and no one even mentioned it on the score sheets, much less assessed a penalty. Out in Iowa they did, and we paid the price. I never heard the end of it from the boys and you bet we dropped that right away, and old W.K. didn't try to get cute anymore. We did get away with it most of the summer however. The Badgerland judges gave us a two point penalty for that one, for dropped equipment. We would have won that contest.

By 1973 the Drum Corps International organization (DCI) was coming into being, and I think their first national championship contest was held in 1973. To keep up with the changing times by then, we would have had to expand and line up some new or additional instructors, as music scores and marching routines were becoming more sophisticated. I imagine even the corps from the larger population areas were having some difficulty in expanding and therefore becoming more costly.

Menominee has a population consistently around 10,000 and Marinette, across the river, about 11,000 with about a total of 35,000 within a 20 mile radius, and half of that Lake Michigan. At the time, there were no nearby colleges or universities to draw instructors from. When you can produce a winner, its fairly easy to get participants. It's also easier to raise the funds. We had connected with Truman Crawford and Larry McCormick, and I'm sure we would have had excellent music scores coming from them. Regulation flags were being abandoned in favor of banners like the college bands, and in much larger numbers than with flags. We could have come up with the answer there. I really didn't like the idea of banners though, as I didn't like the idea of running from one formation to another as some of the corps had been starting to do, with a few even running from one drill pattern to another, which to me looked very sloppy. As I was no longer with a corps, I could only assume that covering and dressing a line was no longer an error reducing your marching score. I had seen a major California university band do that through a whole routine, along with abandoning their nice uniforms, and to me it looked terrible. Around 1980 or after sometime, the corps adopted a side step for the drummers. This I didn't like either, although it probably made it easier for the drum line. I saw the Troopers from Wyoming make excellent use of circles and curves in a routine in the 60's and I liked that, but was a bit scared to do that very much. Somewhere along the line, the use of props came about, and I would have given my eye teeth to have been able to do that, but the rules wouldn't permit it. I liked the idea of more sophisticated music coming into play as the use of a more diversity of horns and drums came about, except a lot of corps were starting to play music that no one knew. That part of the changes made I do not like very much personally, but I did note this year (2003), a number of the top corps were playing some recognizable music again, and that I for one applaud.

As much as I loved the drum and bugle corps movement as a whole, and working with the much younger generation than myself, for a while I couldn't help but feel that it was slowly being destroyed in its original concept. When viewing their performances now they are more of a theatrical or stage production performed on a football field, and that may not be a correct assessment. In any event, it has become far too expensive for any small city the size of ours to support. Our minds are willing but our pocketbooks are not. The costs of uniforms and equipment, travel, housing and meals for such a large group would alone be too expensive for cities of our size or even a little larger, to say nothing of the possible costs of hiring professionals or college teachers to handle some of the work, especially in the music line. Then to go out and hire professional choreographers and personnel to put things together would be too costly, and just to get them would be almost impossible for small cities like ours, or even get them to our distant locations. The movement has all but eliminated small towns like ours from this level of activity. But many of us have responded by keeping our organizations alive with an alumni group, and still have some activity yearly by inviting the sons and daughters and members of other corps who moved to the area to join with us. It is thus that we were able this year to celebrate our 50th anniversary and participate in a parade and a concert made up of well over 100 this summer of 2003. And how about the wonderful show the Chicago Royalaires did last year with about 150 ex-corps personnel?

I am pleased though, that the basic concept of why there were drum and bugle corps, and perhaps they should now be called just drum corps, still exists and the purpose is still the same. And though they appear different physically, the whole thing is very worthwhile, just as it had been all along.

To sum it up, I think old Bill (W.K.) could have survived in producing competitive routines for a larger group of young people, at least through the 70's, and perhaps well into the 80's. The big problem would have been a financial one however. While the city of Menominee is not a rich town, or the area for that matter, it's not poor either. Perhaps a foundation could have been established that could provide some of the income to cover operational costs, events to raise funds for equipment by the very active Parents and Booster Club we had established, or maybe we would have received some additional bequests in wills in addition to the ones we did receive. It wouldn't have been easy, and perhaps the odds would have been terrible. But nothing worthwhile is ever easy to do. I kind of wish I could have stayed beyond 1968 and helped push things in this direction, but it wasn't in the books.

W.K. is now in his 80's and doing pretty well, and still active with the alumni group, and plans to keep it up. The ulcer problem that so suddenly came about at the end of the 1968 season took a while to clear up, and I have to watch things of course, but it hasn't surfaced again.

The drum corps program and the many shows and things that are involved led to many acquaintances and friendships. We are fortunate to be located only 50 miles from Green Bay and the Packers. This resulted in us doing many of the Packer game halftime shows, some of them on national TV. We had to work with Ray Scott, their CBS play-by-play man, and Johnny Lujack their color man, who did the halftime shows. That required meeting with them and following their instructions, and, if we did so, were never cut off. Wilner Burke, the Director of the Packer Band, was a personal friend, and used to stop by the radio station I worked at, and that led to the Packer halftimes. Johnny Lujack was a great quarterback with Notre Dame University.

Truman Crawford wrote a lot of our music and Larry McCormick the drum scores, but I didn't meet Truman until he brought his silent drill team and the drum corps from the Marines to Green Bay, when I was a guest of Wilner Burke the Packer Band director. I also got to meet a lot of the Packer players, including Bart Starr and the great Ray Nitchke, who owned a fast food restaurant in Menominee and stopped in to our radio station often to visit. Acting as the director of our annual corps contest "Drums in the North" was the opportunity to get to know the corps people also, such as Don Warren from the Cavies and old Mr. Beebe from the Madison Scounts, and the leaders of almost every major corps in the Midwest. And this summer when Ken Norman came from Racine to direct our mass corps concert at the beach following the Waterfront Festival parade, I finally got to meet him. I had a couple of nice chats with him at rehearsals, but the weatherman dumped a violent wind-rain-lightning storm on us right at the end of "Auld Lang Syne" and everyone had to scatter, and we never did get together again as planned.

As I close this short story about the past 50 years of the Northernaires Drum and Bugle Corps, things are in the process of getting ready for the 51st year come August, 2004. And there is some talk already of mounting the Alumni Corps on a trailer because of our old age, so we can make even a few more as time goes by. Who knows, maybe something could come about that we could once again revive the whole operation. I will tell you my picks for three of the best shows I have seen in the DCI finals in their past 30 years, including 2003. But first of all, the best piece of music I ever heard played by a corps: Victory at Sea by St. Vincent's Cadets, and a little more to say.

I don't want to leave the impression that W.K. abandoned the corps program all together. Far from it. After some recuperation time, the corps president, Bill Evans, invited W.K. to present the awards at the closing banquet, and that I was happy to do. For the next couple years, I acted as a contest director for Badgerland Association, then headed by Anne Mixdorf. And my friend Wayne Haasch, our ex-drum major of some repute himself, was my assistant. We did a number of shows each year I think until 1973, most in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, with a few in Northeastern Wisconsin. We also went to the nearby contests as much as possible, and my parade crew that included Wayne, Tom and Lynn Rynish, and a few other corps people put together our annual Waterfront Parade, which has always been billed as the largest parade in the Upper Peninsula. I did that into the 80's.

I should mention this also: Wayne Haasch came to the Northernaires as a young boy in 1954, showed talent for being a good drum major, and was just that until he turned 18, our age-out time. He then remained with us and became assistant drill instructor with myself. Another boy who aged out, Rick Sonntag, was our color guard instructor. Lloyd Pesola, who became a well-known person in drum corps circles, became our music director and went on to the East Coast corps, and also became a music judge for D.C.I. Wayne's father died suddenly when Wayne was in his early teens, and his mother shortly after followed. Wayne was living with his older sister, who was a friend and old school mate. She asked me if I would sort of look after Wayne as he had no dad any longer, and his older brothers had all moved away, and I agreed. I started taking him to Packer games and other activities, and he worked with me while with the corps, and for years after with contests and parades until he died suddenly in 1988.

When a group of alumni started some activity to form a senior or alumni corps and an annual get-together, old W.K. had to poke his nose in there, and before long got put back to work. Mickey Pichette, our very first boy to sign up in 1953, was one of the founders of the alumni group, along with some go-getters like Dean Hoffman and Tom Longlais and a few more, and the Northernaires has been perpetuated.


All-time favorite show: PHANTOM REGIMENT, Swan Lake

Best show following the theme: SANTA CLARA VANGUARD, Phantom of the Opera.

Most Original Theme: CHICAGO CAVALIERS, Spin Cycle

All-time favorite routine within a show: MADISON SCOUTS, Head Chopper



Most Favorite Color Presentation: WALK HAND IN HAND

Most Favorite Concert Number: VOLGA BOATMAN

Most Favorite Closing: SHEHERAZADE


And finally, a big thank you to Mickey Pichette, the very first boy to sign up at the Northernaires' first registration; and to Dean Hoffman, who with Mickey stuck with it over all these years and kept things moving with the NORTHERNAIRES ALUMNI. And a special thanks to all the young people who WERE the NORTHERNAIRES. May all your days be Drum Corps days! OLAY!

Incidentally, the Northernaires won their very first contest and their very last contest, which was 3 July 1973. In between, they won 52 firsts and 51 seconds out of the 136 contests I had records on. Not too shabby!