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IN THE SPIRIT: N.D.'s High School Centennial Band brings back memories

Naomi Dunavan1 / 2
Naomi Dunavan interviews N.D. band program students June 1989 when they traveled to California to march in the Rose Bowl Parade and the Very Merry Christmas Parade.2 / 2

It's funny how things play out.

Last week, I received a comment on something I posted two years ago on my AreaVoices blog.

In November 2011, I wrote about visiting, for the second time, the Crystal Cathedral in Garden Grove, Calif. I couldn't tell about the second visit without mentioning the first which was during an unforgettable trip to the Golden State in January 1989.

Unforgettable not only for me, but for each of the 200 members of the North Dakota High School Centennial Band (NDHSCB) when it marched in the Tournament of Roses Parade in Pasadena the same year North Dakota turned 100. It was during that trip that the band and I attended a worship service at the Crystal Cathedral.

The comment that popped up last week was from Tricia Newton Myran, who grew up in Belfield playing the flute. "I was a proud member of the North Dakota High School Centennial Band," she wrote. "It was one of the biggest highlights of my life."

Mine, too, Tricia!

An honor to cover

Hearing from Tricia sent me on another trip -- to my basement and my archives of the stories I've written for the Herald.

It was indeed an honor when Mike Jacobs, then-Herald Editor, sent me to cover the band that was put together to help North Dakota celebrate its centennial. Twenty band directors from across the state assisted co-centennial band directors, Dale Koppelman, Grand Forks Central, and John Warren, Mandan (N.D.) High School. Both Koppelman and Warren are now retired.

The band was comprised of students from every school in the state that had a band program. To get the band ball rolling, the musicians and their directors first met for an eight-day band camp in June 1988 at the University of Mary in Bismarck.

As parade day approached, we all flew out of Bismarck and into Los Angeles -- 25 years ago this month.

I wrote six stories while the band was in California. It marched not only in the Rose Bowl Parade, but also the Holiday Parade in San Diego and the Very Merry Christmas Parade at Disneyland. Photos that accompanied the stories were taken by bill alkofer (c.q.), a Park River, N.D., native who was living and working in California.

I filed my stories from a motel room on an apparatus we'd probably view as the forerunner of the laptop. I remember one night growing weary when I could not get that day's account to "send." I finally called the Herald and was told, "It's sending. We have three copies."

After our return, it was gratifying to hear people say, "We hung on every word."

Since last week, Tricia and I have exchanged several emails. She tells me many NDHSCB members keep in touch on Facebook.

"We are currently planning our 25th reunion for July 3 to 4 in Bismarck," she said. "We've never had a reunion, so this is a pretty big undertaking. We were like a big family who worked very hard together. We nursed each other through achy shoulders, feet and overall exhaustion. I still dabble in music for my own enjoyment. The flute that took me all over the state gets dusted off occasionally. I still have some of the songs memorized."

Tricia lives in Dickinson, N.D., has two children and is an imaging specialist/loan assistant for a credit union. "I've always lived in southwest North Dakota," she said, "so I think what made me rank the NDHSCB so high in my life is that it pulled me out of my comfort zone of quiet, nerdy high school student and opened up a world of possibilities for me, along with some personal connections that will forever warm my heart."

From the list of those 200 band members, now in their early 40s, I contacted three others:

n Mike Raber, who played percussion, is married and still drumming. I spoke with him by phone.

"I'm so glad you called," Mike said." I love to talk about it. I haven't stopped playing and don't know that I ever will."

Mike grew up at Hebron and earned a music education degree from Jamestown (N.D.) College. He taught band and choir for several years and for the past 15 has worked for Eckroth Music in Fargo.

n Mike and Terry Peffer, who was from Mandan and played alto saxophone with the band, reminisced as they watched this year's Rose Bowl Parade together. They're hoping many of their co-players will return for the reunion. Perhaps, they could even play and march in a parade.

The challenge will be, "finding everyone," Mike says. "They are all over the world. One or two are overseas. If we can get half or two-thirds, it would be a success."

Anyone wishing to contact Mike may email: or call: (701) 799-4591.

The whole California experience was "fantastic," Mike said. "What I remember is how organized it was." Before the parades, "we practiced marching in a parking lot and at a local high school. Our adrenaline was pumping. I can't imagine how they put that all together without the technology (email and cellphones) we have now."

n Angie Black Erickson, who played flute and piccolo, grew up in Grand Forks and still lives here, teaching 7th and 8th grade choir at South Middle School. She's also worked with the Summer Performing Arts Program for more than 20 years. Angie is married and has two children.

Angie remembers playing Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture" and the piccolo part on "Stars and Stripes Forever."

It was all, "amazing," she said. "It was a thrill. It was a musical experience. Two hundred kids meeting up and representing our schools. I had my eyes opened. Some of their whole schools weren't as big as our band. Kids came not knowing anyone and left as friends."

n Lorie Niewoehner Kienitz, was a clarinet player from Deering, N.D. Married and now living in Atlanta, Ga., Lorie has two children and works for a software sales company.

"Every New Year, I watch the Rose Bowl and relinquish the memories of turning the corner at Mile 8, which was the press box, and knowing that millions of viewers were watching us at that point," she said.

After the California trip and throughout 1989, the band toured North Dakota to help cities celebrate the state's centennial.

Lorie has a vivid memory of one of those stops.

It was, "playing 'Hail to the Chief,' on the 4th of July on the steps of the capital building and President George Bush Senior walked five feet in front of me since I was in the front row," she said.

"I remember tears streaming down my face as I felt the pride of being American and being part of the celebration of North Dakota's centennial. I know that many others felt the same way. I wasn't the only clarinet blubbering."

I closed my stories on the North Dakota High School Centennial Band's trip to California with these words: "They are the cream of all of North Dakota's crops.

Twenty-five years later, seems that still stands.