Watkins Glen Squires alumni honor founders

by Steve Rondinaro

This article originally appeared in the December 2010 issue of Drum Corps World.

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“Enjoy each other’s friendship. It’s the best legacy of all,” said Squires Drum & Bugle Corps co-founder Chuck Calhoun at a Schuyler County drum corps reunion October 9.

“Wow, what a special surprise! Thank you all so very much,” said the other living co-founder, Carl Isley.

The two Watkins Glen men, along with deceased Montour Falls resident Vern Alling, started the Squires in 1964. Nearly 150 people, most of them Squires alumni, turned out at the Watkins Glen Golf Club to honor the founders in an emotional presentation.

Jud Spena presented a copy of his history book covering the drum and bugle corps in Schuyler County, which led to Steve Rondinaro’s multi-media presentation on the founding of the Squires and the dream of Alling, Calhoun and Isley coming to fruition.

Former Drum Major Barb Cullen Chapman read excerpts of letters from other Squires alumni, writing about what the corps meant to them and the profound effect it had on their lives.

The Squires hit the streets of Schuyler County for their first parade in the summer of 1965. Originally an all-boy unit, girls were added in 1966.

Peggy Doolittle Scott was part of that first group. A former Watkins Glen School Board member, she said Saturday night that the Squires “Added so much to music education in the community. Kids who never would have been involved in music became a part of the corps and also learned about teamwork and life. It pulled the county together in a remarkable way.”

Watkins Glen resident Jim “Bernie” Riley was the youngest, and smallest, charter member of the Squires. He became one of the corps’ finest horn players and continues to play today as part of the St. Joe’s Alumni Corps.

“That’s all thanks to our founders doing what they did. They gave us kids a great opportunity. We had a lot of fun and learned a lot.”

Squires charter members Jud Spena and Bill Calhoun built on what they learned in the corps and became music teachers in upstate New York public schools.

“The Squires helped set our career and life path,” says Spena, who self-published the book on the history of drum corps in rural Schuyler County called “Echoes in the Valley.”

The corps went from dead last in the state to a perennial powerhouse, winning a remarkable four straight New York State Championships in the mid-1970s. The corps also won several national titles during that time and became internationally-ranked in the highest echelons of drum and bugle corps competition as a part of DCI.

The Squires finished 13th at the Philadelphia championships in 1975, just a few tenths behind the Casper Troopers. The corps was a consistently strong DCI Associate Member (13-25) throughout the mid- and late-1970s.

“The Squires’ story is still a special part of national drum corps history. What we did and how we did it from this little county was pretty amazing in hindsight,” says Squires charter member and longtime Drum Corps International broadcaster Steve Rondinaro. “Our story is featured in a new book on DCI’s first decade.”

Rondinaro remains heavily involved in drum corps today and has hosted DCI Championship broadcasts on PBS, ESPN2 and on theatre screens across the country for 32 years and counting.

“I have truly been blessed in that regard and none of it would have happened without Chuck Calhoun, Carl Isley and Vern Alling putting their dream in motion.”

The group also took time to remember former Corps Director Bill Wickham who died this past year. A man with a big laugh and ever-present grin, Wickham and his wife Jeanette provided the leadership that helped propel the Squires to their greatest accomplishments in the 1970s.

The Squires Alumni Association maintains an active Facebook page and members stay in close contact even though the last edition of the corps took the field more than 25 years ago.

“Some of us marched together for 12 or 13 years. You’re talking about a lifelong bond, no matter the generation,” says Rondinaro.