Memory Stories

The Wizard of Ahhhs, by Barbara McCalister

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:40 AM by Largo Gold

Seven years of memories of Band of Gold members, yes, all of you, parades, concerts, contests, seemingly endless bus rides, dirty spats, wet wool trousers, gold shirts to be ironed with no crease in the sleeves, brushing plumes, upset stomachs, cooking at band camp, "the pig table", the "A" lecture, inspections, rehearsals, and the Wizard himself. Too many memories to include here, but I'll share some of them now.

In the summer of 1971, our son Bruce came home and said he had volunteered my help with the Blue Band uniforms. I went to the band room and met Shirley Dill, whose son Philip had done the same for her. Shirley and I have been close friends since then. You know, friendships forged in the band are strong. Eloise Hussey was in charge of the BOG uniforms and spoke the unforgettable words about working with the uniforms, "There's really nothing to it." Do you have any idea just how much sand wet spats can hold? Far too much. We knew when you didn't have your suspenders hooked. We learned who didn't know how to hang up their uniform properly. We even had some ironing sessions for those who couldn't understand why we made such a fuss about it. We told you not to lock your knees during inspection. Then there were those among you who liked to see just how long your hair could be before you had to come in and have one of us give you a trim. The unfortunate ones received a trim from me... the world's worst haircutter. Sorry!

Our first big contest with the BOG was the 36 hour, straight through to Minneapolis trip on Greyhound busses, the summer of '72. Get off the bus and hit the parking lot for practice. On the trip home, how about the dinner stop in Nashville? Some people climbing back on the bus with a steak and baked potato in hand.

The next years were a whirl of parades, football games, The Festival of States, contests. Then The Magnificent Sound of Gold, and getting ready for Kerkrade and the tour afterward.

Walking alongside the band on the way to football games or contests, What an experience. It was like walking alongside the Roman Army. How proud, how sure of yourselves...magic! The Festival of Lights Parade when the Drum Major forgot his hat and marched along, proudly wearing a black cowboy from the Tuba section. Right Dave?

Over the years, people would come up to us and ask if we were with the Band of Gold. (we were wearing blue and gold ourselves). They would tell us how much they enjoyed seeing and hearing you, many said they had never heard anything like it. Then there were the ones who were amazed at how well behaved you were. The people in Europe would follow the band and try to have you play more music. They loved you.

Seven years of memories. I can't write them all, it would take a large book, but here are a some.....

The marks on the uniform room door as Kevin Gulliver grew taller.

Betts Barlow coming to us before the tryouts for the first World Band. Everyone was nervous, some even threw up, Betts donned her uniform and played perfectly.

Bill Schrader walking up behind me and lifting me off my feet.

Ken East eating an entire loaf of bread, with peanut butter and jelly for lunch at band camp.

Vonnie Wilson believing her roommates that the bidet in the bathroom in their hotel room was a large flower holder.

Pete Howdeshell putting his glass eye in a glass of water in restaurants.

Steve Farquhar tripping coming down a hill in Abbeville, and never missing a drum beat.

Charlie Lancaster telling me that he needed a gorilla costume for Mag Sound in two days and expecting me to make it for him, which I did, including six pack abs.

Tuba serenades on our comer, on some nights.

John Norris telling me that his eye wouldn't fall out, when he had a profusely bleeding cut above the eye, which he received while loading Festival flags after the Gasparilla Parade.I had told him he was in big trouble if it did. I didn't do eyes.

Wes Reppeto playing Taps as they cut the tires from the flagpole in front of the auditorium. How did they get those tires over the top of the pole?

Those of you who had to be restrained from marching when you were sick or injured.

Newly painted rifles hanging in our garage.

Painting the snaps on spats.

Saving a neck or two by making you take the Cheech and Chong record off before The Boss walked in and heard it.

The Boss going out on rainy days and saying, "It will stop". It usually did, except for one horrible night at The Flag Pageant.

Billy McCalister sucking the water from a tuba valve just before the judges arrived for inspection in Minneapolis.

The staff, Joe Donahey, Bob Jr, Roy Aerts, Dusty Durst, Ken Moore, Phil Dill.

The Klein family at virtually every performanceno no matter where we were.

The Boss coming up and telling me that the uniform boxes wouldn't fit in the hold of the plane before we left for Kerkrade in '78....every neatly pressed and packed uniform taken out and stuffed in the overhead compartments.

Yes, I remember each and every one of you that I had as my kids in 9th grade Band, Blue band, and two years in the Band of Gold.

When our son, Brad, was going into the 9th grade, I was drafted to work with them. It turned out to be wonderful, four years with that group, who were the seniors in the "78 World Band. They started out with old, heavy woolen uniforms, then became The Golden Colonials for the upcoming Bi-Centennial, then Blue Band and two years in the BOG.

Then there was Mag Sound, when we had the first small Fife Corps, and the Wizard told us we had a one minute change of costume for those in the Corps. Some of them had to run the entire length of the Bayfront Center, remove their shoes and trousers, put on the fife corps knickers, shirts, put their shoes back on, then had silver buckles tied onto their shoes. I said we couldn't do it in that amount of time. Nonsense, It will be done! I went to Herb Mellaney and told him. He said no problem, he'd just stretch the introduction and wait for a signal from us. It worked perfectly. The Wizard said, "I told you it could be done." Then I told him he was right, and how we managed. Over the years there were a number times we had to do things without telling him until later. We used to laugh about it in later years. He said it was probably for the best that he didn't know some things.

Did you know that on the '74 Europe trip, The Boss would come out after a performance and help Clay Smith, Phil Dill, and Billy McCalister load the equipment?

Before we left to for Kerkrade in '78, the Wizard said he wanted us to lengthen the skirts of the Guard. Wails of dismay from the Guard!!! Lorrie Lundeen, Barbara Proplesch and I told them to take it easy. We had them switch skirts, or unzip the skirts and let them hang down, held by the suspenders. The Wizard had the Guard stand on stage when the change had been made. He said they looked great. They looked awful! We told the girls to roll up the waistband each time they dressed, just a bit at a time. I would ask how he liked the length. He was always happy. Then, when the girls had their original length, I asked him one more time. He snapped that he was tired of my asking him about it all the time. He looked, and said the length was perfect, exactly what he wanted. I smiled, I may have even saluted, and promised I would never ask again. I did tell him what we had done, but not until much, much later.

There was a time in in '75-'76 when a small delegation came to see me and said The Boss didn't seem to love the band anymore. He was too soft, letting them get away with too much. Would I please go and tell him so? One of those "kill the messenger" times. I had many of those. I went into the office and told him. He didn't kill me, but I thought he was about to come over the desk and throttle me. "Who said that? It isn't true! What do they want me to do, yell at them?" I refused to tell him who they were and he glared at me as he left for band class. I poured myself a cup of coffee and sat down to see what would happen. Things started off fine, but before long he was in great shape, yelling and fuming. I looked out at those who had spoken to me. There were no smiles then, but after class, they smiled and were happy. They were still loved.

Do you know what a wizard he was at getting you to peak at exactly the right time? He would bring you along, scolding, praising, always knowing what you needed at a certain time.

I remember one night when we had returned from a trip. It was very late, and school started very early. There were a number of kids still hanging around, in no hurry to leave. The Boss came out and said, "Why don't you go home?" Someone yelled out, "This is home." You all know what he meant.

Band camp and the "A" lecture. I wish I had recorded it. He was right, you know. The other favorite saying was, "Don't do it for the band, do it for yourself." How many times did you hear that one?

I hope you know how much he cared for you. He really did. He worried about you. You have no idea how much we talked about you. It was like having a very large family. Over the years we would talk about how well you were doing. He was proud.

Band of Gold uniform ladies had a special privilege, to be there when you tried on your BOG uniform for the very first time. There were many reactions, some were serious, nervous, smiling, some had tears in their eyes, excited, proud. It was a wonderful moment, to see you standing there in uniform for the first time, really a member of the Band of Gold. Do you remember?

Now about the Wizard of Ahhhs. He asked me why I called him that. I told him I was lucky enough to be like Dorothy. I had been able to see the Wizard there behind the curatin, operating the machine with the smoke, and mirrors, thunder.and lightning. The kind and caring man who was able to show you that what you were looking for, what you really needed, was always there, right inside yourself, all the time. The Wizard of Ahhhhs.....


Letter after 2002 Reunion, by Karen Cotter Roughton

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:35 AM by Largo Gold

Dear Alumni and Associates:

I hope you have all had time to reflect on the extraordinary weekend we recently experienced at the Belleview Biltmore. For those of you that couldn't attend, I hope you will make plans to join us for the next one because it was a weekend I will never forget as long as I live.

It started for some of us on Thursday night with the fireworks and some late night commiserating in the pub. I was so hyped about the weekend that I couldn't sleep a wink. Friday was exciting as everyone was arriving and recognizing old friends and classmates in the lobby. Friday night was for registration and cocktails and getting reacquainted with long lost friends and making new friends. The food was wonderful and the 300+ people there seemed to have a wonderful time. Later, a panel was set up and staff, including Bob Abben, Sr., Dusty Durst, Bob Cotter, Jr., Joe Donahey and Herb Melleney, recounted the behind the scenes and often "untold stories" of how things got started and how things were maintained. There were so many stories that I had never heard before and some that I could have listened to again and again. I was hoping it was going to last all night and was ready to go up to my room for my pillow and blanket to settle in. Again, I had a hard time sleeping and walked the halls in search of the legendary Belleview ghosts. I never did see any.

Saturday we boarded the bus and cars for our caravan to the high school where we toured the band room and gathered again as a group. Thanks to Chris Benoit, the current band director, and Alumni, Tom Seery, we were able to spend a while walking through the hallowed halls of Largo and I think we all felt the "sweet afterglow" as we had an impromptu rendition of the Lord's Prayer and the Alma Mater in the courtyard. As I was peering out through my misty eyes, I found I was not alone in my emotions. I think the most nostalgic moment for me was standing on the stage in the auditorium. I could actually see and feel the ranks lined up at attention going through inspection while the section leaders were breaking down instruments and adjusting plumes. I think that was the closest thing to perfection I will ever experience.

After the tour of the band room, we again boarded the bus for the Largo Library. The Band of Gold exhibit was amazing. Evie Rose, her committee and the library staff did a remarkable job on the Legacy Project. For all of us that had lived the life and walked the walk, the pictures truly were worth a thousand words and a thousand memories.

There were no planned activities for Saturday afternoon and I found myself missing all my friends. I went to my Mom's room and we talked about how Dad would have loved all this, and how proud he would have been. We laughed and cried because he wasn't there, but then agreed that he probably was.

Saturday evening was, for me, an evening of magic. So many of the people there were a lot younger than I am, but we had parallel lives as teenagers. We were all part of something, to this day, we really can't explain. As I was talking to Meredith Harvey, Jeff's wife, she said she was finally realizing what all of this BOG experience was all about. Celeste Navon said we were lucky to have had something like this in our lives. I wondered if we had taken it for granted back then. In some ways I think we did. I think we knew we were different than the other bands, but did we really know how unique we were as an ensemble of people? Listening to the speeches and presentations on Saturday night it hit me that this group of people were my extended family. I knew that night if I needed a friend to talk to, I could pick up the phone and call just about anyone in that room and hear a friendly voice on the other end, and they could do the same. What other group anywhere can claim that common bond of love and friendship. The evening truly was a celebration of the heart.

As I was addressing the group later, I could feel the presence of my father in the room and I could feel his pride. Proud of what we had become and proud of us all for carrying on the tradition of greatness. I don't mean the greatness of the Band of Gold. I mean the ideals of greatness as people. The integrity that we learned was inside all of us, the ability to adapt to change, pride in the face of adversity, and the presence of greatness that can only come to you when you have done the very best job possible. These are the ideals of greatness in which my father would have been most proud.

As I drove back to South Carolina on Sunday, all I could think about was how I didn't want it to be over. All I could think of was the extraordinary "magic" of those past three days. Linda Fannin Menken and her committee put on an event that is hard to describe. The saying, "you had to be there" is an understatement. I hope they all know now, the magic they brought into my life. On Monday I had such a feeling of depression - something was missing! I had several emails from people and they were all describing the same "symptoms". More and more emails came and everyone seemed to be suffering the same malady. Neil Mayhew said it best: we were all suffering Post Reunion Melancholy Syndrome or PRMS. I felt better that we had a "clinical" name for it! I think the only way to cure this is by getting together and doing this all over again. The next one will hopefully include all those that couldn't join us this time. And as the saying goes, "you ain't seen nothin' yet"!!!

Thank you Linda for what you and your committee did to immortalize our BOG institution. Thank you Evie, for the Legacy Project that will hail our achievements forever. And my personal thanks to the Alumni & Advisory Boards for allowing me to be your President. It has been an honor beyond my wildest dreams. And last, but not least, thank you to the band members, band parents, and loyal friends who brought joy and love and purpose to my family. You were our strength when our lives were so filled with sadness. My father is the sunshine we will all bask in for the rest of our lives. Thank you all for sharing in this magical weekend.

With Love and Appreciation,

Karen Cotter Roughton
President, LBOGAA

The Things We Remember, The Things We Learn, By Jim Wright

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:27 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Jul 22, 2012, 7:28 AM ]

I remember being an 8th grader in the summer enrichment program and picking up a sousaphone for the first time. I remember Dave Brittain teaching me what a Bb, F and high Bb were and how to play them and the rest of the Bb scale. Gosh that mouthpiece was big!

I remember Dusty Durst teaching me in that tiny practice room. I was going to be good enough to make the Band of Gold because I had the best brass teacher around! I remember the first week of 9th grade when the Largo Jr. High band director promoted me to first band after only one summer of work on the tuba. Baby, I was on my way!

Then there was Blue Band summer! Or was it Marine Corps boot camp at Paris Island, SC? Who's that other tuba player and why is he looking at me funny (Peter Howdeshell)? OK, he seems ok. Then there was the first rehearsal of the football pre-game show WITH the Band of Gold. When they stepped off behind us I nearly got blown over! I had never heard anything so loud in ALL MY LIFE! I thought then, I'll never be that good! Our blue band was good, we had some good musicians and we learned our lessons well from Mr. Cotter.

Then came our first BOG band camp. We had to learn all three shows in a week! I thought the World show was a little flaky but I trusted the genius. Peanut Vendor sounded like a mess for weeks! How many BOG kids can you fit in the Edgewater Beach pool? Twenty or thirty more! Band camp taught me that every waking moment can be used to reach a goal and fun can still be had. Not too much fun, and not too much silliness.... but a little. Blue Band prepared us so well for the journey into "gold – hood". We thought it would be much harder but it was just more of the same program, but now we had GOLD T-Shirts and people stood and applauded longer!

I remember the inspections and cleaning sousaphones for hours (every week). Later during a full career as a naval officer, I would never see another command inspection even a tenth as detailed as those. I remember fainting once in Blue band during one. I remember running at band practice once and getting tripped by one of those skinny little flag girls' flags. I went head over heals with Rob Hendrickson's (a senior) sousaphone. I got up and guess who was right in front of me to make sure I was OK? He must have run a 9.5 second 100 yard dash to get there, The Boss. He looked into my eyes and knew I was OK. He let me know that taking ten percent off my foot speed for a safety margin was ok if we had the sousaphones on.

I can't remember when but at some point this stranger started showing up at practice and the Boss told us he was an old drum corps guy and he was gonna help us with our marching and brass playing. He told us to quit tonguing with "too-kah" and start doing "doo-gah". We were suspect, but again, trusting. The Boss knew best, he was the best at it, and he'd pick the right help. Some called him the yellow pad guy but I always thought of him as Mr. Doo-gah, ... heah! I'm just glad I never had to stand in front of him and say "Your Honor". He gave us close order drill in band practice, and heck, after that I was way ahead of the other plebe midshipmen in college.

I remember so many hours of practice as the Kerkrade trip got closer. So many hours of fund raising. Clearing land for the Largo Rec center, marathon car washes, walkathons, delivering those damned phone books. Then as we got close I felt things unraveling. We were stagnating. Then Mr. Cotter got sick a short time before the trip. Bob Jr. held the practices and after the first one or two he gave us a tongue lashing I'll never forget. It was in the band room during concert rehearsal. He talked about how the Boss was overworked and how he was concerned about his dad's health. I think he scared us all to death. I think Jr. won us those two 1974 gold medals with that speech. I remember the first time we practiced after the Boss returned the look on his face. We blew him away. We had taken a huge leap forward while he was ill. And we continued that steep improvement curve all the way until we left. I wonder even today if he was really ill, or was it staged by the genius? I remember almost crying when Jr. gave that speech.

Then there was the trip, with the plane in the mud, the snafu about open versus junior band division. The bicycle band we saw practice and how the Boss wanted to talk about "what ever you do, do it well" when we watched the pedaling sousaphones. I remember Dr. Sourbeer feeding me muscle relaxers for a pinched nerve in my back. Suffered when another brilliant tuba player jumped on my head in the Edgewater pool.

Then came contest day. We sang and prayed, then marched in, and as they announced our name and division the crowd started laughing at us! After Stars Fell, they weren't laughing. By the quiet part in the middle of Barnum and Bailey's they were all on their feet applauding! They never sat down, and I will never forget that day. Then I'll never forget the look on the Boss's face when they picked Manx Overture instead of Shashtikovich (spelling?). It was rare that the Boss got fooled, but his face always looked the same when he did! He looked like a kid at those times.

I remember the days of my junior year, as we got ready for Kerkrade. School, band practice, woof down two school lunches and go swim 5,000+ yards with the swim team in 62 degree water. Go home and stuff myself again and try to stay awake long enough to study some. I still can't believe that the Boss let us do that. He was extremely ethical and fair about kids that also did sports. Mr. Cotter taught me so much about how CONSISTENT work and improvement was far more important than any one day. The only day's effort that was important to measure was today's. When today was over it was either used wisely, or wasted. But it was gone.

I remember one thing in particular and have learned later how rare a quality it is. Bob Cotter never gave up on anyone. He valued every human being immensely. He knew that his call was to consistently help all kids that he could. I can remember the times he had to deal with some of us that would have been expelled, thrown out or ignored by other leaders and teachers. He never gave up on any of them. He always treated them with the same respect that he treated the rest of us. Heck he even treated the worst kids like he did the real superstars of the band, the drum majors, the captains of guard and gals, and the few really great musicians we had. If you wanted to be in the Band of Gold he'd welcome you no matter how badly you played or marched. I remember him saying, "I can teach a monkey to blow a horn and to march, I'm here to teach you to be good people". I have all too often seen the US Navy, and my two other employers "give up" on people. When I was a mission commander of a P-3 aircrew I tried my best to always treasure these raw materials (junior pilots and other aircrew) I had to work with on my crew. As a leader, without your people, you've got nothing.

A few times since then I've applied the Boss's "formula" when I thought it was worth it and each time it has worked flawlessly. I am amazed sometimes by peoples' ego and fear of failure. I never fear failing, and love the learning process of "doing", and it's because of the Boss. Because of the Boss, I reached "championship" level in two long-term pursuits: hunting Russian submarines from navy P-3 airplanes (building a crew) and road racing bicycles (building a winning masters racing team that was genuinely feared by others). In both those endeavors, I made a decision to do what it took to try to reach the highest possible level. In both cases I far exceeded my wildest dreams! It wasn't me though, it was our friend and extraordinary mentor, Robert Cotter.

Thank you Lord for Mr. Cotter.


Memory, by Evelyn Rose

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:23 AM by Largo Gold

Throughout my adult life, I have maintained excellent attention to detail, a skill that has been extremely helpful in my career as a clinical pharmacist monitoring medication use in patients, and now in my medical information role in the pharmaceutical industry. In a period of post-9/11 introspection, I was considering how I acquired this skill in the first place. Suddenly, it struck me like a bolt out of the blue – because of the Largo Band of Gold.

I had been out of touch with the Band of Gold and its alumni for a quarter century, and it had been a very long time since I had even thought about the band. But, for some reason, a memory of the BOG suddenly flashed into view.

I was a Flash Flag in the Band of Gold Color Guard in 1973, and was Section Leader my senior year in 1974. We were practicing for the 1974 World Music Contest in Kerkrade. It was May and I recall it was a particularly hot and humid day. Rather than being in Largo High School Packer Stadium, the Band was practicing in a pasture just east and across the road from the Pinellas County Fairgrounds in Largo (both the fairgrounds and the pasture are now long gone). I remember the starting line for the show was on the downhill side of the field. At the time, I thought the hill was enormous but now, after having lived in San Francisco for almost 30 years, it was probably only just a gentle rise.

The show for the World Contest began with The Stars Fell on Alabama fanfare, followed by Barnum and Baileys Favorites, at which time the band began marching down the field (uphill, for this particular location). Suddenly, our band director, Robert Cotter, who we affectionately called “The Boss,”waved his arms wildly, a sure sign for us to immediately stop in our tracks. He identified our misstep and told us to “Go back and do it again!” We all ran back to the starting line and lined up again. The fanfare complete, we started marching uphill. Again, his arms waved, we stopped to receive his critique and then heard, “Go back and do it again!” We ran back, lined up, and re-started the show. As before, we only advanced a few steps before we had to stop. This went on and on – I remember counting the number of times he sent us back to “do it again” and it was over 30. When we finally marched off the starting line and continued the show without having to stop and go back, there was an enormous feeling of not only relief but also of success in having conquered a major obstacle. As I remember, we were able to complete the entire practice show that day without stopping again.

Many naysayers in the local community criticized The Boss’ teaching style and the Band of Gold as being too militaristic, or as cruel and unusual punishment for teenagers, generating periodic letters to the editor of local newspapers. None of us felt that way. We knew The Boss cared deeply for all of us. He taught us that first impressions are everything and, if you’re going to do it, do the very best you can and when you do it next time, do it even better. These are probably the most important lessons I learned from Robert Cotter – persistence pays off, always strive for the best, and work hard at being the best. No one can ever be perfect, but we can endeavor to get as close as we can.

Not long after this recollection, I searched the Internet for information about the Largo Band of Gold and found the Largo Band of Gold Alumni Association. I was very sad to learn that The Boss had passed away only a few months before. Shortly thereafter, I rekindled my connection with others who lived this “once-in-a-lifetime” experience. I have since become an association board member, and have had the distinct privilege of interacting with both of The Boss’ children, Karen Cotter Roughton and Bob Cotter, Jr., in addition to Mr. Cotter’s right hand man, the Honorable Judge Joseph Donahey.

We were just kids in a little town called Largo. In music, largo refers to a musical direction. Primarily, it means “slow.” The town of Largo at the time was just that – it was a sleepy little community that was borderline rural, with quite a bit of open space in the area. We had a Future Farmers of America chapter at the school, and the feed store was just down the street. Our football team, the Packers, had adopted the warthog as their symbol.

In addition to slow, largo also means “stately” or “with dignity.” That is how this one man taught us to lead our lives. He made 16- and 17-year old girls and boys from the little town of Largo, Florida national and world champions. We were the antithesis of teenagers during an era of cultural rebellion – boys in the band were required to sport short hair, we were non-smoking, non-drinking, and did not use illicit drugs – and we were very proud of it! Bob Cotter taught us how to walk tall with shoulders high, with pride and dignity. We repeatedly heard from others that something about us was visibly different from other music organizations – whenever we marched on a field or in a parade, the pride we felt in the Band and ourselves was clearly evident.

Band of Gold alumni from the Cotter years have a deep bond like no other, a bond that people who were not lucky enough to have this experience are not quite able to grasp. My single regret is that, as an adult, I was unable to personally thank Mr. Cotter for all the things he did for us, and for teaching me important, lifelong skills.

Evelyn Rose, PharmD

San Francisco, CA


Dear Mr. Cotter, by Julie Howdeshell

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:19 AM by Largo Gold

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking.......I saw you hug a band mate, and I knew despite the yelling and foot-stomping when our music was less than par, you did care about us. And we could share our thoughts with you and you would listen with sincerity.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking...I saw your grief when a band mate lost a loved one. I learned you shared our hurts as well as our victories. And we should as well.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I'd watch you straighten your tie and adjust your coat before you went out of the bandroom, and I learned you wanted us to take pride in our appearance as well.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw your head bent over, sad and lost in thought, because we came in second place for the first time ever in a competition, then in a moment you were the Boss again, shouting encouragement and reminding us the next time we would win, but we had to work harder. I learned not to collapse during the hard times, but drive myself to do better at the next opportunity. We were still Champions in your heart.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you bend your head to kiss your wife, and knew, that marriage was meant forever, and that when I got older, no matter how old, affection and love would still be there for me and my spouse.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you scold and yell at a band mate who was floundering at their marching, and I saw them strive harder and practice harder and you smile when they got it right!

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you help students who had no money for instrument rentals, and I learned you must have charity in your heart. Everyone has the right to participate, learn, and express themselves.

Dear Mr. Cotter, When you thought I wasn't looking, I saw you be caring yet hard, loving yet strict, helping others who needed help, and that it went far beyond your job as a Band Director. I saw you were so tough because you knew what was inside of each and everyone of us. And you knew how to bring it out, keep it out, and keep it going.

And, Mr. Cotter When "I" thought you were not saw me and my brother not speaking for three days. You actually noticed this and it will forever be in my heart that you knew, that you noticed a brother and sister who were always together, always close, had not spoken to each other in THREE days. You knew how long this had been going on. You had been aware of our conflict, aware of a problem that no one else knew. Only you. And it broke your heart. You called us into your office and asked why we had not spoken in three days. We had an argument, and you made us realize, the argument was unimportant, that the bond between us was. That nothing was too big to come between a brother and sister, and you ordered us to hug. I have always felt so deeply honored that you and you alone, noticed and cared enough to stop a stupid fight and bring us back together. I will always be grateful and thankful to you Boss.....I watched you, I learned how to make it through this life from you, and I can look back with no regrets. It did not matter if we won or lost, just that we did our job to our best capability and we tried. Something I instilled in my children, as I think all we band members did. It runs in our veins, to remember the words you spoke. Out of the entire staff at LargoHigh School, alot of us felt you were the only teacher who really cared. The others did their jobs and graded papers. You taught morals and lessons for life and you were the only teacher who cared that much. I Thank God we crossed paths, and your life touched mine. I know you are in Heaven, yelling at Gabriel that he is a panty-waist cream puff and if he is to play that trumpet on Judgment day, he better practice his rump off!


Thoughts of Mr. Cotter, by Maelouise Tennant

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:13 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Jul 22, 2012, 7:14 AM ]

He's the reason I walk without bobbing.

He's the reason I don't shy away from hard work.

He's the reason I'm on time to appointments and parties.

He's the reason I trust my body to always perform when I need it.

He's the reason I tirelessly pursue my goals and know that I will reach them.

He's the reason I know that some people with bad tempers are really soft hearted.

He's the reason that as a 43 year-old student, I still sit in the front row of every class I attend.

He's the reason I feel empathy with Olympic gold-medal winners and know how wonderful it feels to be the best in the world.

I feared him. I loved him. I respected him. But most of all, I trusted him. And because of that trust, I gave him my time, my obedience, and my attention. In return he gave me a vision, self-discipline, and the drive to achieve. And though my life may seem humble to others, it is certainly pleasing to me and better than it would have been without the lessons I earned from Mr. Cotter… Thank-you Mr. Cotter, the pleasure was all mine.

Reflections of the Band of Gold Experience, by Troy Fontaine

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:09 AM by Largo Gold

It is said that the stimulation of the senses is what revives memories. For me, there are two things that always bring me back to the Largo Band of Gold. The first is anytime I hear Hey Jude on the radio (even the Beatles’ poor original rendition…Jr.’s arrangement sounded so much better in the field show). The second is the smell of Greyhound bus fumes… it never fails to take me back to packing up and pushing out of the parking lot for yet another competition/performance, another adventure. For each of us, no matter what year it was, or what Band of Gold we were in (for each was unique), we have both common and personal memories. Probably the most common memory we shared was

what the public knew us best for…winning! For one brief moment in the summer of 1978, on a soccer field in Holland, we were the best in the world. I will never forget the hero’s welcome we received returning from Europe as World Champions. The police escorted buses with every marquee of every restaurant and business between Tampa airport and the packed Largo High football stadium beaming with congratulations, the banner headlines, the letter from the President … no Olympic gold medalist, Super Bowl Champion or Word Series winner ever had it better!

As far as personal memories, I was lucky enough to be one of only twelve that got to wear the white gauntlets, stand on the podium, and “flip the switch” that ignited the big gold machine. For that unique perspective I will always be eternally grateful. What was supposed to be a rebuilding year turned into one of the greatest years in the history of the BOG. Standing on the second base line in Al Lang field on a cold night during the Florida Tournament of Bands with guard captain Ann Klein and band president Todd

Hartzel, we waited anxiously to hear the scores for the concert,parade and field show competitions. The Grand Champion would not host, but compete for the first time in the Festival of States that spring. It was going to be extremely close. As they were read I kept telling Ann and Todd to “add up the numbers.” The three of us had marched up, taken the 1st place plaque for the parade and we were just marching back to the band when they announced the scores for the field show competition. Under my breath I told Ann and Todd, “We just took Grand Champion.” We performed a perfectto the rear- march, all the while Ann asking quietly, “Are you sure, are you sure? Add it up again...” Some months later I hoisted the 40 lbs. (plus) Governor’s trophy over my head to show the BOG they were the new National Parade Champions at the Festival of States. So much for the “rebuilding”year...

Through all the competitions and performances, the band camps, the practices in the hot sun, the Mag Sound’s of Gold, the gold medals, trophies and plaques… it is the memories of the people I cherish most. My senior year I started dating the 1st chair clarinet player; Deb and I just celebrated our 15th anniversary and have two wonderful children. Outside of my parents, Bob Cotter taught me more about life than anyone I’ve known. As drum major every morning we had this unspoken ritual, I’d come in his office before school, we’d discuss the world events for 2 to 3 minutes (politics, sports, history, etc.) and then we’d talk about the agenda for that day’s band practice. We never planned that morning meeting; it just happened and it “clicked.” I look back and realize the band worked so well that year because he and I worked so well together that year. He taught me the right way to lead. While Joe Donahey was a juggernaut during band practices, it is only now that I’m realizing the depth of the conviction and courage of the man; even today he continues to be an inspiration. There were so many others, from Len Fisk to the Band Moms to the band members themselves. We all learned so much (the band was just the vehicle)… from self-discipline, to goal setting, to hard work and determination. I know personally, more so than anything else, the band taught me how to perform well under pressure, to concentrate on the task at hand and to pay attention to the details. This has paid BIG dividends in my career and in life in general.

Lt. Col. Troy Fontaine, USAF Test Pilot

’80 Band of Gold Drum Major


Memory #5 - How Bob Cotter Brought Out the Best, by Joe Donahey

posted Jul 22, 2012, 7:03 AM by Largo Gold

It should not come as any surprise that many of my memories of Bob and the BOG are of practice sessions during the school year and at camps. It was very early on in my relationship with the Boss and the Band that I learned how well planned and thought out those sessions were. Bob and the active staff of the moment would frequently meet following a practice, in the office or else where, discuss what happened in the just completed session and he would formulate the goals for the next practice. Some of you may not have known that those practice sessions were so carefully planned, down to and including the amount of time that would be spent on each segment.

In the field shows of other bands, did you ever notice how so many of them started off really strong? Your first impression would be, “wow, they’re really good,” and then as their show moved on, it slowly lost its sparkle. The music became muddled and unclear, the attacks and releases were gone, the dynamics disappeared, the clarity was gone and their marching fell off right along with the music. Oh, sometimes their performances would pick up again with the finale and sometimes not, but in any case the inside of the show would deteriorate into a disaster. This was not the case with Band of Gold shows because he would not let it be. Do you remember how many times rehearsals began with the second, third or fourth numbers, or for that matter the finale? He would explain that the level of focus and concentration varied during a practice, therefore the order of rehearsal must also be varied.

Have you ever reflected on the gatherings in the center of the field at the end of a field rehearsal? Your initial response might be, well yes; we got together for an announcement and to review what had occurred during the practice. That would be quite correct but, take a moment and reflect upon what else occurred on many of those occasions. First of all, you gathered in a group - as a team - as a family. Many times, salve was administered to wounds inflicted during the practice in the form of words of praise and encouragement. It was a wonderful thing to be a part of, to watch him bring you down and then build you back up. Sometimes the motivation came in the form of criticism and challenges, and other times in the form of praise and encouragement. It was a marvel to me, how he seemed to know what was needed when and in what amount. After we developed a really close working relationship, it would sometimes become my role to be the bad guy and he the good guy and sometimes the roles would be reversed, but his goal was always the same, increasing the challenge just a little bit more, getting you to push yourselves just a little bit more and moving you to levels of performance that I suspect you never realized you were capable of.

It was a wonderful talent that he possessed. I’m sure you recognize now, if you did not then, that it was a rare talent, one that we are very fortunate to encounter at least once in a lifetime; so many never have the benefit of such an experience.

Joe Old Yellow Pad Donahey


Memory #4 - The First Trip to Europe, by Joe Donahey

posted Jul 22, 2012, 6:55 AM by Largo Gold

How many of you recognize the name Hans Schillings?

How many of you who went to the Netherlands in 1974, remember the very tall and very thin young Dutchman with the mode hairdo, Prince Valiant style down to his collar? He was the young man assigned to us as our English-speaking liaison to the World Music Contest and its operating committee.

For those of you who were on the 1978 trip, you should remember Hans. By this time he had become a friend of the Band of Gold. He had been relentless in his pursuit of the band’s return in 1978. When we went back in 1978, he met us upon our arrival and stayed with us during every waking hour while we were in Kerkrade and environs.

Do you know how I first met Hans? Probably not, let me share with you the story...

Page back to 1974, the Pan Am plane going off the runway delaying the band’s departure from the U.S. and preventing the connection with the “tagalongs” who had proceeded the band on a separate flight. We were supposed to have met in Cologne, Germany for a leisurely tour up the Rhine on our way to the Netherlands. The connection was never made as planned, after a long wait the “tagalongs”took a shortened version of the Rhine cruise with everyone so tired they could barely keep their eyes open. But finally the Band arrived, the connection was made and we proceeded by bus, make that “COACH”to Kerkrade.

Soon after our arrival and while the details of housing and other facilities were being made and everyone was trying to find a place to lay their heads for a much needed nights sleep, someone from the Contest committee delivered our official Contest document along with our instructions and schedule. No one had sufficient awareness about the instructions to pay any particular attention to them when first received, being consumed with fatigue.

The following morning with everyone gathering at Rol Duc Abbey, someone examined the documents with some care; I do not remember whom. This is when it was discovered for the first time that a monumental misunderstanding existed between Mr. Cotter and The World Music Contest Committee. Some of you may not know that the WMC, like most American band contests, is broken down into Divisions.They had a Division for Middle schools and below, another for the secondary school, high school level, and the Open Division reserved for college, university, community, regional and national bands. These were, of course, primarily adult organizations. The Boss had very carefully filled out our application back in the U.S. a year earlier and applied, of course, for entry in the Open Division. Little did we know that when the Contest Committee received our entry, they just naturally assumed, “Silly Americans! They did not understand the application and made a mistake in applying for the Open Division!” They took it upon themselves to amend our application and placed us in and scheduled us for the high school division. The poor representative of the committee who was present at the Abbey (not Hans) struggled with his English and could not understand Mr. Cotter’s dismay.

Most of you who were on that trip will remember Mr. Ken Moore. Ken had an international driver’s license and a rental car and was doing the errand running and coordinating for the organization. Mr. Cotter, after being told by the on site Committee representative, that, well it had been done, the schedules were set and nothing could be changed, terminated the conversation. He turned to Ken Moore and me and said, “ Donahey, go down to the Rol Duc Hall, the Committee Headquarters, and tell those people, that if we are not changed to the Open Division, we are packing up and leaving. We will not compete! There will be no compromise. We did not come all this way to compete against high school bands.” I’m sure I sputtered some dismay, said something about not being able to speak Dutch, he glared at me, turned, strode away, started dealing with other matters and brokered no further conversation. I had my marching orders.

We got into the rental car and moved out. Fortunately, Ken had already reconnoitered the area and knew where the building was located. Down we went. After we arrived, and after receiving several unhelpful directions and instructions, we found the main office of the Contest up on the second floor of the Hall. We talked first to one and then another, and another and then another, who was identified as the headman, the Secretary of the Contest Organization. He first spoke in English, assured me the mistake was ours and not theirs and that we would be most happy with the decision to put us in the Second Division before it was all over. When I insisted that would not be the case and that we simply would not perform and would leave and go home, he apparently decided that we were not communicating and that perhaps his English was not so good after all. He turned and walked away. It seemed to be my day for having people turn their back on me and walk away.

Ken and I just stood there, contemplating our next move. I didn’t have one in mind, and if he did, he did not share it with me. Fortunately, in a few minutes the Secretary returned with this young, six foot seven, thin as a rail gentleman, with a very perplexed look on his face. We were introduced to Hans Schillings for the first time. Hans then became the interpreter for the secretary and me. We went through the discussion several times. They very carefully describing the differences between the various divisions and why we belonged in and should compete in the division they had assigned to us. We kept responding that the application had been understood, we applied for the Open Division because that’s where we wanted to compete and would not compete in any other. While this was going on, we were informed that the Band’s buses had begun to arrive. The Secretary, I believe, interpreted this as a weakening of our position and we adjourned to the parking lot.

When we emerged from the building and started walking toward the buses, Bob stepped out of the first one, fixed his gaze upon us, walked directly over to us in those strides and determination that only he could take, completely ignored everyone but me and asked, “ What did they say?” “Well,” I said, “they say it’s too late. We will have to compete in the division they have assigned us to. Nothing can be done!” He ignored them, and looking only at me, said in a loud voice, “Tell them we are not competing, we’re going home”, and with an abrupt about-face, strode back toward the buses and said in a voice loud enough for them to clearly hear, “Load up the buses. We’re going home.” I looked back at Hans and the Secretary. There was a moment of silence, and then the Secretary spoke, “Alright, alright, we’ll put you in the Open Division. But, you will not win ANY prizes! You will have to explain to all your people back home why you did not win any prizes and you will never come back!” I went to find the Boss and convey the news. He grumbled a little and then shouted out, “Alright, get them off the busses.”

The Band then went into the concert hall and performed and never again was a word spoken about the Band of Gold being anything but Open Class and World Class.

Thanks for the Memory…

Joe ‘Old Yellow Pad’ Donahey


Memory #3 - I Become Involved at Practice, by Joe Donahey

posted Jul 22, 2012, 6:51 AM by Largo Gold

After attending my first rehearsal of the Band of Gold and sitting in the stands, listening and watching, I was back at the next evening practice. Only this time I came equipped with a yellow legal pad to make notes on. (That’s what lawyers do, you know.) Again I sat in the stands and watched intently, listened carefully, and made notes. After the rehearsal, the band assembled in the middle of the field. Mr. Cotter went down to the center of the gathering to make some announcements and critique the practice. I could not hear all of his comments up in the stands and wondered what all was being discussed. Again, I observed that everyone was silent and paying rapt attention. “High school kids, imagine that!”

When the meeting in the center of the field ended, everyone headed toward the band room and Mr. Cotter motioned for me to follow. I joined him and we went to the band room and his office. After a brief flurry of activity, the office door was closed and he started asking me questions about what I had seen. I told him that I was impressed with the high foot lift. I told him I realized that most bands would simply not attempt such a task understanding that they could never get it done uniformly, consistently, and well. I told him I admired his willingness to take the risk and exposure to error. He observed that the risk was worth what you gained by doing it right. Ah, there is great risk, but the benefit is well worth it. The impact of the well-executed high foot lift emphasized by the white spats over the black shoes at the bottom of those blue pants is worth every step. I said I agree, but you can do it better. It is not totally consistent throughout and even when the height is the same, there is phasing. He invited me to go on. I told him the marching over all was crisp and clean, but it could be a lot better. There was too much anticipation of starts, stops, and turns. I told him the flash flags, lancers, and rifles were wonderful but could be a lot better. Their phasing, anticipating moves, some equipment positions were not uniform, and much more. We talked for longer than either of us had intended I’m sure, but I think it became apparent to both of us that we were on the same page and were talking the same language. He thanked me and asked if I had anytime to spend with the band and to give him the benefit of my observations. My instant response was that I would make the time. Little did I know what this would entail.

So, back I came and we followed the same routine for a number of practices. I sat in the stands, took notes, and we talked about them in his office after the practice. Then, unexpectedly, one night at the end of the practice when the band assembled on the field for the critique of the evening, Bob asked me to join him on the field. It had become Bob and Joe, or Robert and Joseph by then. I walked down to the field with him and stood on the outside of the circle and before I knew it he was introducing me to the band and inviting me to step into the center and give you the benefit of my notes and observation. Well, that did it! What a thrill for me! Here was this group of wonderful, dedicated, committed people with a common goal and unlimited potential, and here I was being asked to make a positive contribution. It was important to me to understand that Mr. Cotter felt that I could be of some help, and it was exciting for me to understand that the goal to which you were all committed, was to be the very best you could be wherever that might take you. That was exciting. That was a challenge. Just how good could you be? I did not know. I was never sure whether Mr. Cotter knew or not. If he did, and if he ever thought there was a limit, he never told me. The message to you from Mr. Cotter was always, “you can be just a little bit better,” “ you haven’t quite reached your limit,” “work a little harder, push a little higher and you will be surprised where you will end up.”

Bob was never shy about telling me that I, or we had not done a very good job in a certain circumstance, that we had to work harder, do a better job for you, because you were giving it all you had and you deserved better from us. Oh yes, he could drive, cajole, and motivate the staff, just as he did you. We were not immune. That was the true genius of the man, to get everyone to do just a little bit more when they thought they had done all they could do.

The atmosphere he created with his leadership and single-minded commitment to excellence was contagious. It swept not only the band members, but the staff as well, and as you know it did not stop there: The entire high school felt it, the entire community of Largo, then the county and ultimately the entire Tampa Bay Community. It was exciting and satisfying. When you went out and performed at your highest level, the reward of satisfaction you provided to all of us who were involved was immeasurable. I wish you could have shared with us some of those private moments when we basked in the warmth and pleasure of what you had accomplished. Thank you Robert, and Kids for letting me tag along.

This isn’t the end, there's a lot more to come.

God Bless,

Joe “Old Yellow Pad” Donahey


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