The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps 1935-1978
Author: Lois Hopp Katon
The Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps had a proud history from 1935 until 1978. It was believed to be the first all-girl organization of its kind in the State of Michigan, perhaps in the country, and was known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for forty-three years.
Professor John F. Barnhill of Michigan State Normal College, now Eastern Michigan University, offered time on his day off to help organize a Boys Band in mid-year of 1925. He did not allow girls in the band because he did not believe in girls wearing pants, but because of the interest of about a dozen young ladies to play musical instruments, he agreed to lend his patient guidance to these ambitious girls the following year. By 1927 it became apparent that it was too difficult to teach this handful of girls to play the various band instruments, so plans were made to form a girls drum and bugle corps.
In the winter of 1935, Professor Barnhill and Principal Norris Wiltse screened 75 eager applicants from ninth to twelfth grades and selected 32 girls for the first marching group. High priority was given to scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and school service. They learned to play drums and bugles, and Miss Martha Wolter, secretary to School Superintendent, Ernest Chappelle, agreed to be the First Drum Majorette and Corps Advisor. Among the first girls to be chosen for the DBC was Dorothy Morhous (Hutchinson).
The girls practiced each Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 am, and agreed to drill during vacations. On March 25, 1936, the new Drum & Bugle Corps made its first appearance on the street in navy blue skirts and white blouses. They played two songs, “I'm in the Army Now” and “The Hunting Song” as they performed precision drills. In April of that year a benefit program to provide new uniforms for the YHS Boys Band netted over $1,000 surplus, so they donated the money to the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps to purchase attractive uniforms. The ladies of St. Lukes Auxiliary Guild took on the job of sewing the new outfits.
On Memorial Day in 1936 the girls make their first appearance in the new white uniforms consisting of a mid-calf poplin skirt with gold braid down the side; worn with a white long-sleeve blouse and tam cap with a band of gold braid. They had a purple and gold banner to carry with the flag, and stepped out at a smart pace.
On July 4, 1936, the YHS Girls Drum and Bugle Corps “stole the show” as they led the Centennial Parade. They played three pieces and performed precision drills. It was later told by charter member, Dorothy Morhous Hutchinson, that Mr. Barnhill was so proud of his girls that he often took the entire group to Gaudy's Chocolate Shop to treat them to a soda. After the death of his wife that year he seemed to put all his energy into music: The Normal College Band, Ypsi High Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Community Band. He was truly a dedicated man!
In the fall of 1936, the Corps played at YHS football games and led the Harvest Day's Parade. Among those selected to replace graduating seniors this year were Ruth Fleuelling (Deake), Mary Esther Ross (Miller) and Marjorie Backus. In April of 1937, the DBC led Girl Scouts for the Annual Tree Planting Ceremony, and thrilled crowds at the Prospect Park Band Concert with precision drills. After leading the Kids Parade on July 3, and dazzling viewers at the 4th of July Parade, the Corps disbanded for the summer. In the fall of 1937, the girls were honored to lead the Hudson's Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit. Then on December 7, they led the Welcoming Parade for Santa Claus and the street lighting ceremony for the Christmas Season.
On January 12, 1938, John F. Barnhill ordered new Scotch kiltie uniforms to be worn by the Corps. The $1,400 cost was paid for by donations and special projects. Among many events scheduled were: A UofM Band Concert at Pease Auditorium with Prof. William D. Revelli conducting, Ypsi Board of Commerce Uniform Fund, Dance at Masonic Temple, Policeman's Ball at the Armory and car washes and card games. Ypsilanti business men met at the Huron Hotel to pledge support from Kiwanis, Rotary, American Legion, Junior Chamber of Commerce, City of Ypsilanti, Teachers Club and Ypsilanti High School. The Ladies Literary Club, Business and Professional Women, and Women's Study Club also offered support. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps proudly showed off their beautiful, new uniforms in the 4th of July Parade.
The exclusive all-girl organization quickly became known as “The Pride of Ypsilanti” and attracted wide attention and received tremendous applause at the Michigan State Fair on Sept 9, 1938. On October 11, they paraded in Ann Arbor at the District Convention of Kiwanis and led the Pep Rally Parade for the first YHS football game of the season.
The final debt of $400 for the new uniforms was paid from the receipts at a U-M Band Concert at Pease Auditorium in January of 1939. In April of that same year Marjorie Backus gave a benefit dance recital to buy new pearlized drums for the Corps. She continued the benefits for several years thereafter.
The DBC led the Annual Clean-Up, Paint-up and Fix-up Parade on May 3rd of 1939 and the Corps won the first prize of $40 at the “Eagles State Convention Parade” in Ann Arbor on June 26. The July 4th parade ended the season.
The usual round of football games, pep rallies, homecomings, and the Harvest, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day and July 4th parades marked the calendar of performances each year for the well-acclaimed kilted lassies who led every parade with loud applause from the crowds.
In April of 1941, I was chosen to replace a girl who moved to California to live with an aunt after her mother died. I was given her uniform and a place as the first one in the first row to play tenor drum. It was a thrill as I was the only girl in my class to march in the Corps before the sophomore year.
May 19, 1941, was a sad day in Ypsilanti when beloved Professor John F. Barnhill suffered a paralytic stroke and died at the age of 64. He shared a good part of his life directing, teaching, and drilling his outstanding bands. The Normal College Band, Ypsi Hi Boys Band, Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, and the Ypsi Community Band all attended his funeral in uniform, at the Congregational Church in Ypsilanti. This was the first time that I marched with the Corps.
Mr. Leland Randall was hired as the new Band and Orchestra Director of Ypsi High and assumed duties of training new recruits of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Martha Wolter continued her duties as Drum Majorette and Advisor. Among the graduating seniors was Dorothy Rice (Norton).
In 1943, I was elected President of the Corps and designed the emblem (a musical lyre with the letters DBC) adorning a pocket of the new red sweaters to be worn with the skirts, shoes, socks and white spats during school hours when we marched for parades and football games in the afternoon.
During World War II the DBC marched in war bond rallies, and scrap metal and paper drives. In April, 1944, they were the featured attraction at the Pantlind Hotel in Grand Rapids as guests of the American Legion Post 282 at their annual convention.
1945 was the 10th anniversary of the kilted Corps. I was a freshman at Michigan State Normal College. On November 3, the 37 members of the Girls Drum & Bugle Corps broke a Michigan tradition and performed for a Michigan/Minnesota football crowd at halftime. The highly publicized Corps formed a B-24 airplane marching down the field with the majorette as propellor and special smoke effects from the rear of the plane. The crowd roared with applause as the Corps delighted them with a pinwheel formation. My sister was a member of the Corps and I was asked to be a substitute for a member who was ill.
On November 10, at the largest football crowd of the season, the DRC led the Ypsilanti Goodfellows Parade to welcome home service men and women at the game between Ypsilanti and Howell. Barbara Warner was crowned “Queen of Ypsilanti” and honored at halftime ceremonies in front of a huge “V” formed by the Drum & Bugle Corps. In 1946 the Kiwanis Club financed a trip to Chicago to march at the 32nd Annual Convention. The Corps appeared at famous Soldiers Field and was the only organization of its kind to perform before the 10,000 delegates from all sections of the United States, Canada, Alaska and Hawaii.
In September of 1947, the DBC led the Torchlight Parade for the Kaiser-Frazer Festival on the occasion of its 100,000th car rolling off the assembly line. Kaiser-Frazer occupied the former B-24 Bomber Plant where airplanes were mass-produced during World War II. An ice cream social was held on the American Legion Home lawn on June 19 to raise funds to replace worn out uniforms of the DBC. The Scottish Kiltie uniforms had been used since 1938 and were worn by over 250 girls during that time. The all-girl organization, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” brought a lump to your throat and a tear to the eye of parade watchers as precision marching was demonstrated and intricate drills performed.
On May 12, 1948, the girls rode by Greyhound bus to Chicago to participate in the Phythian Regional Rally. All Knights of Phythias Lodges in Michigan, Kentucky, Ohio and Ontario were represented. The Corps was now composed of 39 members had been a marching and maneuvering favorite from its beginning in 1935. The girls learned the Highland Fling and exhibited its intricate dance steps several times to the wild applause of viewers. Four bagpipes were purchased for the Corps to add authenticity to the unique and colorful group. Plans for new uniforms were underway, but samples from England and Canada had yet to be selected. Marlene Moffett (Britton) was one of the graduates this year.
In the fall of 1949, the DBC led the “shortest parade in history” to announce Fire Prevention Week. The procession consisted of the DBC, 2 Fire trucks, and the Ypsilanti High School Boys Band. By March of 1950, the Drum & Bugle Corps new uniform campaign was in full swing. Sponsors pledged included the Junior Chamber of Commerce, Kiwanis Club, Jimmy Hunt Dance Studio, Business and Professional Women's Clubs, Ypsilanti Teachers Club, J. LaRue and Lawrence Arnet, JCC's Auxiliary, Estabrook School PTA, and O. A. Hankinson. At the March meeting of American Legion Post 282, the Legion offered to pay for the remaining 13 uniforms.
The Lions Club invited the DBC to an expense-paid three day trip to Chicago beginning on April 16, to be a prominent part of their International Convention. Chartered buses were provided by Ford Motor Company.
In 1950, the beautiful, long-awaited kiltie uniforms with “RED” jackets arrived from Scotland through Canada. Their first sparkling appearance was September 15, at the first home football game for YHS. Don Gridley of Hiawatha Card Company in Ypsilanti had Moyer Studios assemble the Corps in front of the Washtenaw Country Club to take a color picture for a new postcard, to be produced for stores and businesses in the area.
The Corps was hosted during the year by the Kaiser-Frazer Corporation, the Kiwanis Club and the D.A.R., and participated in the E.M.U. homecoming parade and other Ypsilanti parades. They were featured at the Holland Tulip Festival in May, traveling in courtesy cars donated by Kaiser-Frazer. In January of 1951, the DBC surprised the Ypsilanti School Board by giving a $1,120 check in payment of loans to the uniform fund. This money was raised from the efforts of Student Council at car washes, bake sales, dime dances and other special events.
On July 28, a farewell party was held for Director George Cavender who accepted a position at the University of Michigan. His new duties consisted of conducting the UofM world famous marching band and the Symphony and Varsity Bands, as well as teaching in the music department. The Girls Drum & Bugle Corps won State honors and national recognition during the five years he was Director.
The April highlight in 1953 was at Metro Airport, when the YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” was invited to greet President Richard M. Nixon and Senator Homer Ferguson upon their arrival in Michigan. Among the graduating seniors this year was Ada Minges Kisor.
In 1954, Miss Martha Wolter was honored for her 21 years as secretary to the Superintendent of Schools and Board of Education. She had begun her duties in 1931 after graduation from Ypsilanti High School. When the Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was formed in 1935, she became the 1st drum majorette, and was the leader until 1947 when she relinquished her ostrich feather bonnet to a student. She continued as advisor, leading booster and counselor. Martha was best described as “having the complete faith, friendship and admiration of everyone who knew her.”
The DBC led the Annual Christmas Religious Parade while forming a
Tree and playing “Oh Christmas Tree” and formed a Church while
playing “0 Come All Ye Faithful” while they were marching.
The girls practiced each morning at 8:00 am and each evening at Frog Island to perfect their skills, formations and precision marching. They skillfully danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at homecoming to thrill the Ypsilanti crowds. Each girl took pride as a member of this exclusive group, and it was always sad at the end of a year to say goodbye to members. Karen Benson (Nickels) was a graduate in 1957.
Allan Townsend, a former trombonist with Big Bands of the 40s, was the new Director of the Corps in 1958 and Miss Martha Wolter became the bride of J. Walter Daschner. In 1960 identical twins, Sandra and Susan Palmer were the first second generation members to march in the Drum & Bugle Corps. Their mother, Vera Beck Palmer, was a member from 1938–41.
March 21, 1961, marked the 25th Anniversary of the Drum & Bugle Corps. As the Corps celebrated its birthday, fellow Ypsilantians believed it was one of the unique all-girl organizations in the entire country. It was said that the Scottish Plaid Uniforms were as much a trademark of Ypsi as the Water Tower. Other communities have had girl bands, but none achieved the prestige of the Ypsilanti group. Professor John Barnhill saw that the group contained only the best, and belonging was one of the highest honors attainable to YHS girls. The rules were strict and the Corps marched only with full ranks and spotless uniforms. Girls had to maintain a B-average, exhibit quality leadership and good citizenship. With these regulations, the city sent the Corps anywhere and knew each member would conduct herself so as to reflect honor to the city and the school she represented. The original Corps in 1935 had 32 members and, after 25 years, the 41 members continued to be a great public relations instrument for the city of Ypsilanti.
On October 5, 1962, at Briggs Field, American Legion Post 282 presented the Corps with a new 50-star flag for the color guards to display. This was one of countless times a civic organization had honored the Corps. In 1962 the DBC was chosen as guests at the U-M Army football game in Michigan Stadium, Michigan Week Festival-Sturgis, Hamtramck Christmas Parade, Holland Tulip Festival, and a spectacular Detroit Lions Halftime Show on National TV. Our daughter, Cheri, was a member of the Corps that time, and we were chaperones at the game. The Scottish lassies have paraded in city, state, and country celebrations to honor our city and school. To be a member of the DBC was the most prestigious honor given to Ypsi High girls.
In 1964 they appeared a 3rd time at a Lions football game on national TV, and drew loud applause and cheers when they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance. Again Roger and I were chaperones at the event and nearly froze in sub-zero weather. The Memorial Day and July 4th parades closed the marching season for 1964.
Besides 1965 football, E.M.U. Homecoming, Kiwanis Charity Game, and the Wayne Fall Festival, the DBC marched in the Hudson Thanksgiving Day Parade in Detroit, on national TV and Tulip Time in Holland in spring. Cheri was a ‘66 graduate.
They led all parades and festivals in 1967–68, and marched at Shadford Field football game half-time shows. A social event was a “Fun Night” with the YHS Band as guests, and a senior banquet and pajama party at the drum majorette's home. The colorful Corps traveled to Jackson to perform and went to Benton Harbor in 1968–69, along with their trip to the Holland Tulip Festival and all other parades in Ypsilanti and surrounding towns. The YHS Girls Drum & Bugle Corps, “The Pride of Ypsilanti” for 35 years, was nearly cut from the budget in 1971 when two millage requests failed. Because it was temporarily disbanded, the Corps did not march in the July 4th parade for the first time in the history of the acclaimed group. A second tragedy hit on July 25, when beloved Martha Wolter Daschner, the first majorette, and long-time advisor to the Corps, was killed in an auto accident in Canada. The people in Ypsilanti and many former DBC Corps members were shocked and saddened by the news of Martha's untimely death and many attended her funeral.
This merged photo shows Dorothy Rice (Norton), as she looked in 1942, with her
daughter Cindy as she looked in 1966.
By the fall of 1971, after strong protests from parents, local citizens, and Ypsilanti service organizations, the DBC was reinstated with the understanding that they would be a self-supporting group. Long time fans remembered the dazzling Scottish uniforms, polished brass buttons and sparkling white spats of the DBC Corps. Unfortunately, the glamorous uniforms of the past had now seen almost 25 years of wear.
Mrs. Barbara Weiss took over the leadership of the group and began to teach new songs and intricate formations. By February of 1972, a drive was underway to replace the rotting uniforms. Costs would be about $12,000 since the Brodie Tartan outfits were imported from Scotland, and each uniform contained about 12 yards of cloth. The goal was to raise money and have new Scottish kilts by the fall of 1973 when the new Ypsilanti High School opened.
In mid-March, 19 new girls were welcomed into the Corps and began to practice instruments and learn to keep in step while marching. A spaghetti dinner and rummage sale raised $500 for the new uniforms and $1,000 was received from the estate of the late Martha Daschner. A Tag Day was held in the spring, and the DBC marched in Sturgis in the Michigan Week Parade. The girls won first place in the Detroit St. Patrick's Parade in March and performed at a Scottish festival at Alma College in May. Charlene Britton was a graduating senior at YHS.
In 1972, Christine Edmunds was selected as Drum Majorette. Mrs. Nan O'Hara announced in March that $10,000 was raised and the new uniforms were to arrive by the Sesquicentennial Celebration in July. The generosity of Ypsilanti townspeople and civic organizations was greatly appreciated and three organizations designated “golden patrons,” pledged $1,000 each for the purchase of five complete uniforms.
In 1973 my niece, Lauri Hopp served as Assistant Majorette. The DBC continued to dazzle crowds in the new uniforms, leading all Ypsilanti and EMU parades. Since the Corps was still self-supporting, it had several ongoing money-making projects. Tag Day, spaghetti dinners and car washes were held to raise money for out-of-town trips.
The Drum & Bugle Corps Scottish lassies thrilled crowds as they danced the Highland Fling and Sword Dance at YHS and EMU Homecoming and Band Days. A citrus fruit sale helped defray costs of flags for the additional flag corps, new uniforms, instrument repair and other expenses. The Drum & Bugle Corps entered the Great Lakes Drum Corps Association in the spring, and it was the first time the 56-member Corps performed in the summer competition in the 40-year history of the DBC. Mrs. Barbara Weiss said they practiced many hours to master the unique marching style described as a glide step. “Nothing moves from the waist up, at least that is the theory,” she stated.
Brenda Kisor was selected as new Majorette in 1976. Again the DBC led the Ypsilanti and surrounding area parades. Sadly 1977–78 was the last year “The Pride of Ypsilanti” marched and performed as the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps. Class sizes had increased and more competition developed between sports, band and the “Golden Garrison International Drum Corps Group” in which both girls and boys were eligible. There was pressure on the girls in the Drum & Bugle Corps as some compared it to a sorority, which was illegal in high school.
The Girls Drum and Bugle Corps was not an elective, but a type of Honor Society where girls were chosen on the basis of scholarship, leadership, attractiveness and service to school. Only 15–20 girls were chosen each year to replace graduating seniors, and the number was small compared to the hundreds of students now in each class. Also, the Corps was self-supporting and transportation costs increased as well as the costs for upkeep of uniforms, supplies, and maintenance of instruments.
After 43 glorious years as “The Pride of Ypsilanti,” the DBC Highland Lassies disbanded. As the only all-girl drum and bugle corps in the state, or perhaps in the country, it became famous for the many years it thrilled home and away crowds. As flags passed and our Scottish Corps marched by in perfect precision, it brought tears to the eyes and lumps to the throats of Ypsilanti townspeople, and especially former members of the Corps. In 1979, a proud Ypsilanti tradition ended, but to those of us who remember it well, the Ypsilanti High School Girls Drum & Bugle Corps will live on in our hearts forever!