Martha Gleich is almost as giddy as a schoolgirl flipping through a couple of scrapbooks from January 1989 when she, as band director, and a group of 20 parent chaperones led the 49-member St. Francis Borgia Regional High School Marching Knights to perform at the Inaugural Parade for incoming President George H.W. Bush in Washington, D.C.
Memories of the experience have come flooding back to her as the 25th anniversary, Jan. 20, approaches next week.
Back in ’89, Gleich told the SFBRHS school newspaper, “I hope 10, 15, 25 years from now the students of the band, flags and rifles will come up to me and say, ‘Remember the year we played at the Presidential Inauguration? ” And they have.
Lorraine and Mark Struckhoff, Marthasville, who were two of the 20 adult chaperones on the trip with their children, senior Jeffrey Struckhoff and freshman Becky Struckhoff, said when the family was together this Christmas, the kids were still talking about the experience.
“It was always ‘This was the trip of a lifetime,’ ” said Lorraine Struckhoff.
Tough Application Process
It was the summer of 1988, months before the presidential election had even been held, when Gleich saw an ad from National Events tour company in a music magazine that she received.
“It said, ‘We can help you if you want to submit your group to be part of the presidential inauguration in 1989,’ ” recalled Gleich.
She quickly got in touch with the school’s music association to see if the parents would be willing to help her get the application together. There was a special inaugural committee that would choose the bands, Gleich learned. It involved a detailed application process that included getting letters of recommendation from local politicians like then-Mayor Steve Reust and others.
“Huge paperwork, huge! Gleich remarked.
“It was a lot of recommendations from all these politicians, both Republican and Democrat. We had to get both sides to recommend us.
“And we had to write letters to them first to ask them to please do this.”
Gleich composed the letters, and the music association helped her make contacts and move the process forward.
“They all started networking,” said Gleich, snapping her fingers to express the energy they had.
“And the politicians, too, because they wanted to have this for Missouri,” said Struckhoff. “They really worked with us.”
The timing of the opportunity was special, Gleich recalled. For starters, the Marching Knights had become their own success story, having a major turn-around from being a not-so-good band just a few years earlier to winning competitions.
Also, it was Washington, Mo.’s, 150th anniversary and the presidential inauguration’s 200th anniversary.
“And it was Washington to Washington,” Gleich remarked. “It was like it was meant to be and all these things started coming together.”
In addition to letters of recommendation, the Marching Knights included a video of them performing and a detailed resume of their accomplishments over the three previous years, said Gleich. She even had to provide a description of the band uniforms and tell how old they were — as it turned out, the uniforms were just a couple of years old, Gleich noted.
Back then, she told The Missourian many of the students were not expecting Borgia to be selected. The size of their band, just 49 members, was small compared to the 150-member bands from many of the 300 other schools across the country that had applied.
In the end, it seems Gleich’s motto prove true: “Quality, not quantity.” The SFBRHS band was selected as one of 10 groups to entertain the crowds gathered to watch the inauguration parade.
When Gleich gave the students the news that they had been accepted, “they yelled and screamed and started dancing,” she told The Missourian back in December 1988.
“Of course we are very excited. We worked very hard to make this a reality and I think it’s a tribute to the school, the band and to the band boosters.”
SFBRHS was the only Catholic school involved in the 1989 inauguration from across the United States.
Community Came Together
Gleich is quick to note that the Marching Knights never would have made it to Washington, D.C., had it not been for the support they received from the entire community, namely in terms of donations.
They had just six months (from August 1988 to January 1989) to raise the $17,500 they estimated it would take to cover all of their travel expenses.
The group traveled aboard two buses from Mid-American Coaches and stayed at the Howard Johnson Plaza Hotel in New Carrollton, Md., just outside of D.C. The trip began Wednesday night, Jan. 18, and ended Sunday afternoon, Jan. 22.
“We had to hurry back home because Mid-American needed those coaches back for the (adults’) pro-life trip,” recalled Lorraine Struckhoff. “They were leaving early that next morning.”
To raise funds, the band members held a dinner and worked at odd jobs individually and as a group — including inserting advertising fliers into newspapers at The Missourian. Mark Struckhoff often accompanied the students to The Missourian on these work nights.
“I remember one gal (employee) stood there with her foot up on the table, she was doing yoga while she was stuffing the papers,” he said with a laugh. “She had her foot all stretched out, up on a table, and then she’d switch.”
Civic groups stepped forward to make donations. Businesses hung fliers advertising the fund-raisers in their windows.
“It was never ending, how the community supported us,” Gleich remarked, recalling how many businesses even used their marquee signs to send messages of encouragement.
‘The President Walked Right in Front of Us’
For many band students, the 1989 trip to Washington, D.C., was their first trip to the capital, maybe even the biggest trip of their lives up to that point. Struckhoff noted that back in the 1980s, students didn’t travel to Washington, D.C., to be part of a pro-life march, like so many do today in eighth grade.
That added to the excitement everyone felt, she said.
The group left Wednesday night and drove straight through, arriving at their hotel on Thursday afternoon.
“We could have been leaving the country that night,” Sara Shipley wrote for her story in the school newspaper. “Most of the band members had more luggage than we could carry in both arms, not to mention instruments, equipment and uniforms.
“We were loaded down with generously packed coolers and a thousand good-luck wishes from people we knew and people we didn’t.”
Friday morning, the day of the inauguration, the Borgia group arose at 5 a.m. and were on buses by 7 a.m. to begin their day.
“We went to the Pentagon and they bused us to (the assigned position at) 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue,” Struckhoff recalled. “When we got there, we played all morning for the crowd that was lining up on the streets.
“Once the parade was ready to start, our job was over. So it was really kind of nice,” said Struckhoff, adding that the band members had been interviewed by St. Louis news media who were covering the inauguration.
“That was the slowest and longest parade,” she said. “It didn’t get started on time. It lasted forever and ever and ever.”
The band played patriotic songs and songs they would perform for their field competition the next day.
“The kids memorized everything,” said Gleich. “There was no using music. Not in my band.”
At one point, an unexpected blast was heard and everything came to a standstill, recalled Struckhoff. Initial fears were that there had been some sort of assassination attempt, but it turned out to be a gas tank exploding on a food truck set up a block or so away.
“Everyone was running everywhere. Then we got word that everything was OK, but the Secret Service were just lined up all over the place just watching us,” said Struckhoff.
Another unexpected surprise came when the President and Mrs. Bush got out of their car about half a block from where the Borgia band students were watching and walked right in front of them, said Struckhoff.
They also saw President Reagan drive by.
“We were playing for an hour at 13th and Pennsylvania Avenue, when President Reagan drove this way, and we were told to play something patriotic,” said Gleich. “So we played for Reagan, and then when the swearing-in ceremony was finished . . . President Bush and Vice President Quayle walked right in front of us.”
After returning home in ’89, Gleich told The Missourian, “Everything went very smoothly. The kids were always on time and they played their hearts out. They really responded to the crowds who were very receptive to our performance.”
The band had to battle bitter, sub-zero temperatures on the trip, “but that did not affect their performance,” Gleich noted.
It was so cold, in fact, that on Saturday at a field competition held at the University of Maryland, icicles formed on some of the band members’ instruments. Three other bands were scheduled to perform in the field competition but elected not to show up, Gleich said.
“It was so cold, the judge went into a building and hung out the window to watch us perform, because he didn’t want to be outside in the cold,” she recalled.
Struckhoff laughed remembering how Gleich sent her to Wal-Mart to look for mouthwash with the highest alcohol content she could find, “so we could mix it with the valve oil so the horns wouldn’t freeze.”
There also was a harried moment just before the Marching Knights took the field when someone realized a set of hammers for the xylophone was missing.
“So we had to run to get them . . . We dropped them into the xylophone and stepped back just as the player walked up to it to play,” said Struckhoff.
The Marching Knights received a high rating for their performance.
Comments From ’89
In her scrapbooks of the trip, Gleich documented comments from some of the band members from the day about what they would remember. Following are a few of their responses.
What will you remember about Friday, Jan. 20, 1989:
“The way the flag looked against the bright blue sky”;
“Playing ‘God Bless America’ when the President walked by”;
“The excitement of the crowd”;
“Meeting Julius Hunter and being interviewed.”
What will you remember about Saturday, Jan. 21, 1989 (the field competition):
“My instrument freezing up”;
“The icicle on Shelley’s clarinet”;
“Getting my picture taken in front of a limo”;
“The Mass at St. Mary’s (Parish in Landover Hills, Md.)”;
“ ‘Aerobic Val’ flipping over Ken’s shoulder during the field show”;
“Receiving a Division II trophy.”
‘We Had Our Own Pep Assembly’
Looking back, Gleich said a big part of what made the experience so memorable and special was the fact that the band, which hadn’t garnered a lot of respect up until then, finally got the recognition it deserved, both from the school and broader community.
“I think it really made a difference in their self-worth, attitude,” she said.
People started recognizing their talent.
Struckhoff agreed. The school’s sports teams had always been revered for their skill, “but the band hadn’t ever been very big, done very well or gone anywhere, so this was a big deal,” she said.
“We had our own pep assembly,” said Gleich. “The music department had never had its own pep assembly. We always played the music for the sports and everyone else.
“It was a turnaround. This was a big deal, to have the recognition of the student body.”
For Gleich, taking the Marching Knights to the 1989 Presidential Inauguration ranks at the top of her list of band trips.
When she was at Helias High School in Jefferson City, she took the band to march in the New Orleans Mardi Gras Parade in 1978 and to perform at the World’s Fair in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1982.
Neither compares to taking the Knights to D.C., she said.
“To say that we were part of history, and we took Washington, Mo., to Washington, D.C.,” she said. “In my heart of hearts, my musical heart, it just stands out at the top of all trips I’ve taken with bands.”