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Dick Larson, former WHS band director who will lead the reunion band, looks over some of the band memorabilia that has been collected during a meeting of the "Salute to Excellence" committee earlier this summer.

Notes come together for planned WHS band reunion

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WORTHINGTON -- At venues across the country, veteran musicians are practicing their instruments with a common goal in mind -- playing with the Worthington High School Alumni Band during King Turkey Day weekend.

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The Alumni Reunion Band Concert is scheduled for 7 p.m. Sept. 15 at Worthington's Memorial Auditorium, the crescendo of a weekend filled with nostalgia and music. Called a "Salute to Excellence," the reunion will pay tribute to two beloved WHS band directors: Gerald Niemeyer, who served the district from 1946 until he and his wife were killed in a tragic car accident in 1961; and Glenn Evensen, director from 1962-1983.

All the musicians who played in the band under the two men's direction have been invited to take part in the weekend. Richard "Dick" Larson, who was the first-year junior high band director at the time Niemeyer was killed and assumed his duties, will direct the reunion band. Larson now lives in the Denver, Colo., area. After departing Worthington, he changed his focus to choral music, first working in Austin and then leading choral and orchestral programs at schools in Colorado. He is now the artistic director of an elite choral group, Kantorei, in Denver.

Larson will lead a musical ensemble of about 50 local graduates who have kept up their instrumental skills since leaving the hallowed halls of Worthington High.

Many have gone on to careers in music, such as Tom Peck, who now lives in Pierson, Mich. A 1967 graduate of WHS, he was one of the students who had all three men -- Niemeyer, Larson and Evensen -- as a band director, and the experience had a profound effect on his life.

"I was thinking about going into the ministry, but no, music was it," he recalled in a phone interview from his home. "Mr. Evensen and Mr. Larson had both gone to Luther College, so I went to Luther and followed in their footsteps."

Peck first worked as a band instructor in the Twin Cities schools, then transitioned into music publishing in California. Eventually he started his own publishing business in Grand Rapids, Mich., before going back into education.

"As I look back on my career, it was about building programs -- building a program back up that was decimated by bad teaching or for schools that wanted a program." Peck said. "I'd build it up and then be hired away by someone else."

Now retired, Peck says that Parkinson's disease has affected his activities, but he's been actively practicing his trombone in preparation for the reunion. All the participants were sent the sheet music well in advance, and Peck even contributed to the musical lineup, composing an arrangement that combines selections that have special meaning to the WHS alumni -- the "Worthington High" school song, "Parade of the Charioteers," which was the band's signature marching song for many years, and the national anthem.

During the Evensen era, Peck recalled that he donned the costume as the band's first Trojan mascot, which led to an encounter with a historical figure.

"In 1966, I had the opportunity to meet Sen. Robert Kennedy," who was the speaker at that year's King Turkey Day Celebration, Peck explained. "We were lining up for the parade, and he started talking about football, and I told him that the only thing I know about sports is what time does the band play. Much to my parents' chagrin, I invited him and his staff over to our house. Dad had hamburgers on the grill, and we had an interesting discussion with Mr. Kennedy for probably an hour and a half, two hours."

Peck will have the opportunity to share that story again during King Turkey Day 2012, as there will be several interludes for reminiscing amidst the rehearsals and other events filling the weekend. The reunion is slated to begin with a prelude, a musical showcase of talent called "Sentimental Journey II" from 7:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 13 at Memorial Auditorium. The event will be open to the public.

The Sept. 14 schedule tentatively includes rehearsals, a reception and social hour and a tribute program, "A Salute to the Gerald Niemeyer-Glenn Evensen Era: Pursuit of Excellence," that evening, followed by the Alumni Homecoming Dance.

More rehearsals follow on Sept. 15, but there will also be time for a tour of WHS, riding on a float in the King Turkey Day parade and a band exhibition at Trojan Field before the climatic evening concert, which will also be open to the public.

A committee of local volunteers has worked for months to put the weekend's program together and get the word out to musical alumni who are scattered across the country. In addition to the 50 alumni band members who have kept up their musical skills, a good number of other band alumni have signed up to participate in the weekend activities and pay tribute to their beloved directors.

"We have a good-size band of quality players coming from coast to coast," said organizer Steve Rubis. "Aug. 1 was the deadline we set, but if people are interested in still being involved, we will take late registrations."

Anyone interested in participating in the reunion, whether they can play an instrument or not, are urged to go to the city website, www.wgtn.net, for more information and registration materials; or contact Rubis, (507) 360-9653, email scrubis@frontiernet.net.

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Beth Rickers
Beth Rickers is the veteran in the newspaper staff with 25 years as the Daily Globe's Features Editor. Interests include cooking, traveling and beer tasting and making with her home-brewing husband, Bryan. She writes an Area Voices blog called Lagniappe, which is a Creole term that means "a little something extra." It can be found at http://lagniappe.areavoices.com/.  
(507) 376-7327
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