Making history

Despite the chilly temperatures, performing at the Inauguration (pictured above) was “truly an honor and a thrill,” said Sally Simpson ’70.
Several IWU alumni entertained at
the Inaugural Parade as members
of 33rd Volunteer Regiment Band.

Editor’s Note: The 33rd Volunteer Regiment Band — which recreates a Civil War-era military band — was invited to Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2005, to play for President George W. Bush’s Inaugural Parade. Alumni C. Roland Hill ’51, Marie Ann Schlemmer Hill ’52, Sara (“Sally”) Simpson ’70, and Mark Lareau ’93 are all members of the band. Other members with an IWU connection include Steve Loomis, father of Matthew Loomis, Class of 2003; Kirby Reese, instructor of trumpet at IWU, 1976-1978; and Carl Bennett, husband of University Librarian Sue Stroyan.

The 20 volunteer musicians who comprise the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band play instruments and music from the 1800s while wearing authentically reproduced uniforms of the period. The Bloomington-based band, organized in 1995, performs for historic programs, re-enactments, parades, schools, and civic events about 35 times annually.

Although all of those events are special, alumna Sally Simpson says, “Being a part of the Inauguration of the President of the United States and representing the state of Illinois was truly an honor and a thrill!” Her account of the parade follows:

Wow! What an adventure! To be a part of our nation’s history is a memory none of us will ever forget. A very long bus ride to arrive in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday evening, reporting to the Pentagon at 6:30 a.m. Thursday to go through security, and meeting a member of the United States Marine Band all happened before we even arrived at Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20.

Many photo opportunities appeared along the route to the parade area and included such landmarks as the Washington Monument, the World War II Memorial, The Reagan Building, the White House, and the Lincoln Memorial.

A special elevated stage was ready for us along with music stands and chairs in front of the Old Post Office building which now serves as home for a food court. Police officers from Texas and Florida were already in place in front of the stage to patrol the area and keep us safe. An announcer gave history trivia questions about past inaugurations and announced the entertainment groups as they performed before parade time.

After three hours of performing, the group had to watch the parade go by. Roland and Marie Hill (left and center) and Steve Loomis (right).
The wind was bitterly cold. It chilled us to the bone as we began playing 150-year-old instruments that had been out in the cold for two hours. We wondered if we would ever get “warmed up” enough to play as well as usual. But the crowd and the anticipation of the exciting events to come urged us on. We performed songs of the 1860s for almost three hours with a short break for lunch.

Another “route act” — a jump-rope troupe from Cincinnati, Ohio, called the Firecrackers — took the street for their performance. These young girls appeared to be about the age of sixth or seventh graders and were very well trained in their routines. When the parade started, we shared our stage with them so they could have a front row seat along with us.

At the beginning of the parade, we were impressed by the large number of vehicles that carried the media and their cameras. They were followed by the President’s new black limousine with his usual security officers walking alongside and a Revolutionary War era Fife and Drum Corps.

All of the military bands were wonderful, staying in perfect lines and keeping in perfect step with the beats of the music. They were accompanied by many other military men carrying their weapons as they marched.

College and high school bands alike played beautifully and marched proudly to celebrate the inauguration of President Bush. One band featured tiny boys playing drums out in front of the flags and regular players. A bell choir from Oregon passed by playing from an old trolley car. A large group of military men rode horses and carried so many American flags you could not even count them all. Also included in the parade were several groups of people riding horses, walking their rescue dogs, or riding on floats.

This group photo of the band was taken on the Mississippi River at Keokuk, Iowa, on April 24, 2004.
Steve Loomis also commented on the quality of the parade performers, saying, "It takes a very capable country to plan and bring off such an astounding spectacle. I was fascinated by the precision performances of thousands of talented and dedicated high school and college musicians. It restored my faith in young people. The U.S.A. is a nation that works and has a bright future."

After the parade was over, everyone was thrilled to return to the hotel to rest and get warm. We enjoyed visiting, sharing our memories, and watching the news coverage of the Inaugural Parade on television.

One of the most satisfying parts of the experience was the opportunity of sharing the story and pictures with my students in music classes. Being a part of the Inauguration of the President of the United States and representing the State of Illinois was truly an honor and a thrill! — Sally Simpson, Class of ’70

> To go to the 33rd Illinois Volunteer Regiment Band's Web site, click here.