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An Open Letter by Joe Donahey - July 8, 2000

posted Jul 21, 2012, 7:28 AM by Largo Gold   [ updated Jul 22, 2012, 6:17 AM ]
Written by Joe Donahey
Saturday, 08 July 2000




JULY 8, 2000


What a pleasure it was to have the Band of Gold web sites brought to my attention. The visits triggered a flood of wonderful, pleasurable and satisfying memories. Clearly my nine year BOG experience was one of my most satisfying, no, make that the most satisfying extra professional activities of my life. Once the dam of memories breaks, the overwhelming flood of wonderful thoughts flow on in an endless stream.

My memories as an adult involved in the program will be some what different then many of yours, but many of them you will recognize and share, and some will bring to your mind memories of your own that you may want to share.

People, all the wonderful adults I came to know and had the pleasure of working with. I am reluctant to mention any names for to do so will most assuredly cause me the embarrassment of leaving out names of individuals that I learned to admire and respect, however I cannot resist the temptation to mention a few. There were so many parents and non-parents alike without whom the program simply could never have reached the levels that it did. Just let your memory run along with mine. Remember these folks and then remind me of all the names that have escaped me for the moment. Bill Abbott, the Wunderlin clan, The Pattons, the McManus’s, Mel and Kathryn Porter, the Sundholms, Adelaide and Jerry Roth, Len and Helen Fisk, Billy and Barbra McCallister,, the Dills, Ken and Pat Moore, Cal and Ruth Harris, The Fontaines, The Bragins, Chick Smith, and on and on it goes. If I keep sitting here pulling the names out of my memory bank I’ll never finish the rest of this message, but there are so many more.

There were so many and they did so much: Ran the concession stands, sold programs, sold tickets, ran the Rummage Room, sold and bought candy, walked in walkathons, collected newspaper and cans, sold Christmas trees, solicited contributions, ran auctions (including the Chinese kind), built a house from scratch and at times just begged. When that didn’t work, they wrote checks. I know I haven’t listed all the activities by a long shot, but that’s what pops into my head at the moment.

I can’t help but wonder how many of the band-members knew that in most average years (average, that is, for the Band Of Gold) the budget ran over a hundred thousand dollars. How many of you knew that it cost an extra Two hundred thousand dollars PLUS to go to Europe in 1974 and an extra Four hundred thousand in 1978? The job that your parents and the community did in support of the work of the band equaled the magnificence of the band’s level of performance.

Most of what I have just described involved the direct participation of the students as well, which makes their on-stage and on-the-field accomplishments even more remarkable. I had the wonderful experience of sharing vicariously in many of your triumphs, but I also had the advantage of some experiences that only some of us Tag Alongs experienced. It is hard for me to describe the overwhelming feeling of pride I got when I would run a block or so ahead of you when you were coming down the street in a parade. I would run along the sidewalk behind the crowds gathered along the streets and listen to their comments as the band approached. First they would begin to hear the music drifting toward them and some would say, “Oh, that’s Largo, that’s the Band Of Gold” “Have you ever seen them?” “Oh, wait till you see them.” “What a wonderful sound.” “Is that a high school?” “Look at them, how they stand, how they march.” “Wow.” “How many tuba’s do they have?” “What are those long instruments?” “I think they are bassoons, and I think I see oboes, wow.” “I’ve never heard a sound like the from a high school band before.” Those were just some of the comments I heard, and how wonderful it was. By the way, I doubt they’ve ever heard a sound like that since then either…

I remember so well the never ending accolades heaped upon the 1974 band when I was dealing with World Band Officials in 1978. Some of them only hoped that the seventy-eight edition would be as good. They of course were not disappointed. I will never forget standing on the field in Kerkrade for the closing ceremonies and the announcement of the scores; the boss was pacing about twenty yards away from where I was wearing a trench in the surface of the field. The announcer was reading off the scores in the order the contestants had appeared on the field that day. You will recall that the National Band of New Zealand had gone just before us, so of course their score was announced first. We had been following the scores for the entire preceding month. We knew that a Dutch band had the prior week scored higher than the National Band Of New Zealand had scored in 1974 when they won and we finished with the second highest score in the tournament. Now they were announcing the New Zealand score - Bob and I had already agreed between us, that if they outscored the Dutch band, it was all over; there simply would not be enough room left at the top for a higher score and although that was one hell of a show we had just seen, we still were not that close to perfection. Then came the announcement. New Zealand had beaten the Dutch Band and they had recorded the highest score ever in the history of the World Tournament. Bob headed right at me and as he went by he paused and whispered, "We have just blown four hundred thousand dollars." The men of the New Zealand Band were cheering and hugging each other, celebrating their finest performance ever. And then, the final announcement came. Not only had you won, but of course it was the highest score ever in the World Tournament, before or since. Bob and I ran toward each other and met in mid air with a giant hug about four feet off the ground. I remember landing and turning back toward the band, everyone still standing at rigid attention and one of you saying, “Mr. Donahey, may we move?”, and my answer, “yes, you may move!” My next memory is looking back over in the direction of the celebrating New Zealand Band, resplendent in their red and black, but now suddenly silent and staring in amazement and then joining the cheer of thousands with their own polite applause. What a day! What an experience! For that and so much more you have my everlasting appreciation and gratitude. I’ll never forget it and I suspect no one who was there ever will.

I have been asked on occasion, “which year had the best band?” The answer to me is quite simple: THE BAND OF GOLD was the best band. They were not separate bands, or different groups, or separate programs; you were all part of the whole and the parts and the years can never be separated. Each level reached laid the foundation for the next level and one would never have existed without the other. That applies to the entire organization and its structure. It matters not what year or years you may have been in the Band Of Gold, for you ARE the Band Of Gold.

I cannot end these comments without mentioning a few others that I had the pleasure of meeting and working with. Herb Melleny and the wonderful Festival of States and the assistance he provided in making the annual Magnificent Sound Of Gold a reality. The staff people I had the privilege of working with: Roy Aerts, Bob Cotter Jr., Dusty Durst, and all the others. Then of course there was Mary Lou Cotter with her mothering and caring ways. Not only did Mary Lou and my wife Tena and many others prepare your food at Band Camp, but I know many of you took personal problems to them that they ministered to, each in their own way.

Does the name Bill Flemming mean anything to you? To many it will, to some it won’t, to all it should. Let me take you back to a day in the late summer of 1976, I believe (I may have the year wrong, but not the occurrence). The Band was marching and competing in the Virginia Beach parade competition on a sunny afternoon. The Band was stopped on the street getting ready to march into the judging area for competition. The staff and quartermasters and the uniform mothers were all over the band, adjusting pants to the correct level above the spats, adjusting the hats, buffing off the shoes, checking the flags, the rifles, giving their attention to every detail while the band members stood erect and silent, without milling around, preparing themselves mentally for the job ahead. A gentleman who had already seen the band perform on the stage and had seen them come down the street stepped out of the crowd and approached Ken Moore and later myself. He wanted to know just who this group was, how and who trained them, how did they get this way? This was a degree of excellence that he simply was not use to seeing in the seventies. The long and the short of it is that Bill Flemming and his wife Bobby, from Virginia Beach, VA became your fans and supporters. They began coming to the Florida West Coast for band performances, meeting us at various places around the country, traveling to Europe with us in 1978 and becoming very substantial financial supporters of the Band.

I could relate Band Of Gold stories for hours, recounting the effect that your dedication and commitment to excellence had on the lives of so many others, not just in the community of Largo, not only in Pinellas County, not only across the country, but across Europe. There are so many stories that could be told, things happening all around you, most of which you were not even aware was occurring, but I’ll let you off the hook for the time being at least.

Well, what is going on here? He’s rambled on and on and has not even mentioned himself. Well, there is little I can add to what you have already learned from your own personal experience. It goes without

saying that without Bob Cotter there would never have been a Band Of Gold or a Band Of Gold Program and all it stood for. He set the parameters, he made the rules, he issued the challenges and set the goals. He is without a doubt one of the finest motivators of young people that I have ever heard of, read about, or had the privilege of meeting and working with. I continually marveled at his ability to take you to a level that he had set for you, then raise the bar and take you right on to the next level. There was always room for improvement, and his genius was in convincing you that you could attain it, only then to challenge you again and lead you even higher. He never set the goals higher than he knew you could attain, whether you felt you could or not. It was a wonderful thing to behold, and it was a wonderful thing to be a part of. I will be forever thankful to the Boss for giving me that opportunity and to all of you for permitting me to be a part of what I hope was a rewarding and significant part of your lives.

Thank you for being who you were, what you were and what you are, I hope this finds each and everyone enjoying a rich and bountiful life, filled with family, accomplishments and the opportunity to pass along whatever lasting lessons were learned in your Band Of Gold experience.

God Bless Each And Everyone Of You!

Joe "Old Yellow Pad" Donahey