An interview with Mighty St. Joe’s Director Bob Sullivan

by Steve Vickers, DCW Publisher

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This season was a special one for Mighty St. Joe’s Alumni from Le Roy, NY.   Their founder is Bob “Sully” Sullivan, who also served as director of St. Joseph’s of Batavia, the junior corps that existed from 1931 until 1971. He started the alumni corps in 1990 and this summer will mark the organization’s 20th anniversary.

I see Bob annually at both the DCI and DCA Championships. He’s still a big fan of the entire drum and bugle corps activity.

Steve Vickers: Tell me about how the alumni corps came about.

Bob Sullivan: Tommy Cecere and I saw a group of old Kilties members in Madison and decided we could do that. We called a meeting of 16 former members and decided to see if we could find a few more. At our first rehearsal there were 32 people in the hall.

SV: You’ve had many people participate over the last two decades. How many from the original group in 1991 were alums of your St. Joseph’s of Batavia junior corps?

BS: Of the members in the first year, we had about 50% former members. Most of those were horn players and girls from the guard.

SV: You were director from 1958 until the corps ceased operations. What was the primary reason the junior corps folded?

BS: Two reasons — DCI and money. Batavia, NY, is in an area of very few drum corps. We traveled more than other Eastern corps. We went to the Midwest every year. DCI quickly killed many of the East Coast corps until they had a chance to catch up [from a touring standpoint].

SV: I know some of your instructors and performers have been with you from the beginning. Name some of the prominent individuals who have helped make the alumni corps successful.

BS: Most of our instructors are local and were part of the junior corps. Larry Darch does percussion and Donny Allen does brass. They are both members of the World Drum Corps Hall of Fame. Our M&M instructor is Vic Genberg.

SV: You live in Le Roy, NY, and that’s the business address of the corps. Is that near Batavia?

BS: Le Roy is just six miles east of Batavia, so the roots of the corps are still very close to its origin.

SV: Your group was one of the early corps in the alumni movement. What have been some of the most significant performance opportunities you’ve had over the years?

BS: There have been many. Our first time in Harrisburg, PA, at “Serenade in Brass,” the DCI Finals exhibition in 1995 at Buffalo, Rochester, NY, DCA in 1996 and Whitewater, WI, in 1997, the Wellsboro, PA, “Laurel Festival” every year, playing Bully for the Chicago Cavaliers.

SV: What kind of geographic scope do you draw members from?

BS: Members come from Western and Central, NY, Pennsylvania, Canada, Florida, Texas, Arizona, but most are in a 90-mile radius of Le Roy, NY.

SV: Fans have been treated to a variety of musical selections, including some notable tunes from corps that were competitors of the junior corps. What are some of the tunes you’ve featured?

BS: Bully (Cavaliers), Hey Big Sender from “Sweet Charity” (St. Joseph’s of Batavia) and Battle Hymn of the Republic (Troopers).

SV: How about the repertoire for 2010?

BS: Bully, Swing Battle Hymn, If My Friends Could See Me Now, Memories/Traces Medley, Brazil, Georgia On My Mind and one other tune yet to be picked.

SV: Where will fans get an opportunity to see and hear the alumni corps this year?

BS: As we have aged and cut back on our travel, we will be appearing in Rochester, NY, at the Vince Bruni “Preview of Champions” and the DCA “Alumni Spectacular,” Hornell, NY, at “Music Under the Stars,” Cicero, NY, at “Pageant of Drums” and at Buffalo, NY, for “Drums Along the Waterfront,” plus several local parades.

SV: Anything else you’d like to share?

BS: The past 20 years have been a blast. What has made it so great is there has been no competition. We do it for the enjoyment of the activity and to entertain the fans. Depending on your age and memories, we are better than we once were. We have no trumpets, tubas or trombones, we don’t dance, run, hop or skip. All we do is perform — “good-time, old-time” drum corps as we remember it.