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Exhibit, weekend pay tribute to Argonne Rebels
Events include library display, reunion and drum and bugle show
new deh argonne uniform pic
The dedication of the Argonne Rebels exhibit at the Great Bend Public Library is set for Saturday. It opens four days of events remembering the drum and bugle corps. - photo by SUSAN THACKER Great Bend Tribune

The dedication of the Argonne Rebels exhibit at the Great Bend Public Library takes place at 3 p.m. Saturday at the facility, 1409 Williams. The event is free and the public is invited.

It is finally here. The much-anticipated Argonne Rebel weekend officially opens Saturday afternoon with the dedication of the Argonne Rebels exhibit at the Great Bend Public Library.

The event will be at 3 p.m. Saturday at the library, 1409 Williams St. Admission is free.

The dedication kicks off a four-day weekend. For promotional purposes it has been branded as Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps/ Rally Round the Hometown Team and there are three major events – the dedication, an Argonne Rebels reunion and the March of Champions presented by Drums Across Kansas.

The March of Champions is at 7 p.m. Tuesday, July 14, at Great Bend High School Memorial Stadium, 2027 Morton St. Tickets range from $15-$40 and may be purchased at any First Kansas Bank, Great Bend Walmart or oneline at www.drumsacrosskansas.com.

The keynote speaker for the dedication is Great Bend native and Rebel drum major alumna Steven L. Walts, the superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools.

“There are no finer people in America than the parents, friends, and businessmen and women who fostered and contributed to making the Argonne Rebels national champions,” he said, addressing what he will discuss Saturday.

“The dedication, hard work, and culture of perfection taught to young men and women have been reflected in what are now countless career success stories,” Walts said. “The vision of the leaders of the drum corps inspired a community to support its kids in achieving local, state, and national prominence for decades.”  

For the past decade, he has served as superintendent of Prince William County Public Schools which encompasses 86,000 students in 95 schools, based in Prince William County, Va.

The exhibit

As for the exhibit, it tells the story of Great Bend’s celebrated youth activity, the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps, said event organizer Ron Straub. It features uniforms, flags, musical instruments and trophies, as well as photos and narrative, including audio-visual displays.

“The theme of the Exhibit is the Rebels as the hometown team and how the community championed its youth,” Straub said. It is open to the public through Sept. 5. 

The Argonnes’ Smithsonian/Kansas Humanities Council exhibit was designed and created by Scott Ward. A Great Bend native, he carried a bugle with the corps from 1971-1976.

Ward now lives in Chicago and is a design consultant and senior collaborator at The Millenson Collaborative.

The library exhibit is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Museum on Main Street program, sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council.

According to drumcorpsworld.com, the project is one of several designed to show various teams, or in this case youth organizations, that exemplify the spirit of “hometown teams” in their community. 

Alumni of the Argonne Rebels have assembled the collection and the alumni group Pageantry Inc. planned, raised funds and worked for a year to assemble memorabilia, photos, news articles and even video to tell the story of the corps — how Great Bend and the Barton County communities supported the corps for decades. 

Late corps director and DCI hall of famer Glenn Opie kickstarted the project and the alumni continued the work following his passing. 

Humble beginnings

The Argonne Rebels started modestly.

Information at the library notes that in August of 1947, John Taff, the driving force behind Great Bend’s school music departments and the city’s summer band concert program, organized and directed the St. Rose Drum and Bugle Corps with the help of the Rev. Joseph Tockert, assistant pastor of St. Rose Church. The group, composed of a handful of Boy and Girl scouts, ages, 9-12, had less than a dozen valveless, World War I brass bugles. 

Taff provided the boys and girls with private music lessons for 50 cents a month in a garage on an ally in back of  the St. Rose Church. Under the direction of Taff, the corps gave its first public performance on Nov. 26, 1947, at a farewell program for the Rev. John Butler, departing pastor of St. Rose.

Interest in the program exploded, but the growth presented financial difficulties for St. Rose Parish. Through the coordination of Taff, Ray Schulz, and Emmett Brewer, in late 1948 the local Argonne Post 180 of the American Legion assumed sponsorship. 

The group was then known as the Great Bend Drum and Bugle Corps. It was subsequently named Junior American Legion Drum and Bugle Corps, and finally, the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps. 

The Argonne Rebels final season was in 1983.