The Great Bend Public Library lower meeting room was filled to standing room only Saturday afternoon for the dedication of the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps The Hometown Teams exhibit dedication. Alumni and their parents, including members of the Legion Riders, past instructors and past participants in the corps, some of whom travelled from out of the state to attend, were there to celebrate and reminisce about the years the drum and bugle corps brought national attention to Great Bend.
Father Don Bedore of St. Rose Parish gave a short invocation at the start of the ceremony, followed by a message of thanks from former Rebel and Pageantry Inc. representative Jeff Yeager.
Pageantry Inc. is the nonprofit organization that promotes drum and bugle corps related activities in the Kansas area.
“It was about the kids, the community, and the hometown team,” he said. “Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, the community would communicate with the Rebels via telegraph.”
He shared a favorite telegraph, which came from “All of us at the Mayflower,” received by the corps when they travelled to Florida in the late 1960s.
“The exhibit is not about the corps and its accomplishments,” he said. “It’s about the community, and we’ve come home to say thank you.”
Mayors Mike Allison, Great Bend, and Clayton Williams, Hoisington, and County Commissioner Homer Kruckenberg were in the audience, and recognized for the support by elected officials past and present, along with other dignitaries from the city. He also gave thanks to the American Legion membership and St. Rose Parish that provided decades of support to the corps.
Finally, Sandra Opie, long-time bugle instructor of the corps, was recognized with a rousing round of applause. She and husband Glenn were major supporters of the corps, and it was from their collection of memorabilia the museum-quality exhibit was made possible. He talked about how the idea of the exhibit, which began when Glenn Opie was still alive, finally came to fruition with the Smithsonian initiative.
“At first, it started out as a low risk event, but then we realized it provided an opportunity to reestablish the history and heritage of the program, and to come home and say thank you,” Yeager passionately said.
The organizers asked those that could to give money in relationship to the impact the corps had on their lives over the years, he said. The response was overwhelming.
Yeager thanked the Great Bend Chamber of Commerce, the Great Bend Public Library, the Drum Cops International and Drum Corps World, the Great Bend Tribune, and parents, a lot of whom are gone.
“In a lot of ways, we’re here to tell their story,” he said. “A lot of them are not here.”
Walts remembers 1971 and 1972
Steve Walts, one of the 1971 and 1972 Argonne Rebels drum majors, a classmate of Yeager’s, and the keynote speaker of the afternoon was then introduced. Today, he is a superintendent of a school district which serves 86,000 students. He introduced his wife Kathleen and daughter, Delaney, going into seventh grade.
“Today, we’re Rallying Round the hometown team,” he said, remembering the saying Glenn Opie is fondly remembered for saying at nearly every practice and competition, as he gathered the corps to give them their “marching orders.” Then, he ran through a top 10 of the people and groups that had the most impact on the development of the corps. First, he recognized the members of the corps themselves, then Glenn Opie for the administration of the organization during his tenure. Third, he recognized the instructors, including Sandra Opie, who received a standing ovation from the audience. She was remembered for saying, “ Practice isn’t fun. Why should practice be fun? Winning is fun.” Her attention to detail and striving for perfection was credited with the success the corps achieved. Marching and maneuvering instructors, he noted also, were not always the most popular of the instructors. But the corps achieved visual perfection through their efforts.
“All the instructors were dedicated and passionate, inspirational and motivational,” he said. “They took kids, and helped them become larger than what they were, and they became part of a community that strove for excellence.
Walts also recognized the wider community of Great Bend and Barton County for their financial and moral support. He recalled how the community would come out night after night in the heat and the mosquitoes to observe the practices.
The sights, smells, tastes and sounds of being a part of the Argonne Rebels were tallied, from the taste of Gatorade after performances, to the smells of mosquito spray on practice nights.
In conclusion, he urged the audience to do anything they could to promote the arts, stating that music and arts programs in the schools were worth the money it takes to support the programs.
Concluding his address, Walts assumed his old position as drum major, and asked the audience to stand and recognize people that were no longer with them.
He recently received a challenge,
“I think you will all know what to do,” he said. With that, they gave a salute to those who have passed.
Yeager then took the podium once more to dedicate the exhibit. He urged visitors to spend time with the exhibit, both today and in their solitude. Scott Ward, who was in the audience, was also recognized for his work with By Design, Chicago, who put the exhibit together.