Gary Czapinski, Thanks For The Memories
The world of marching pageantry lost a giant in the activities of drum corps, color guard, and marching band scenes. As a show designer, instructor, judge, and graduate of Columbia University, Gary even taught master classes on the art of visual design to colleges and universities around the world.
Gary has worked with many units, among them were the Norwood Park Imperials, Madison Scouts, Santa Clara Vanguard, Saginaires, Toronto Optimists, and the Pioneer Corps.
His creative show design skills, as well as his adjudication abilities have been well recognized. He earned the honor of becoming a member of the D.C.I. Hall of Fame, Class of 1999.
I first met Gary when he was a performer with the Mariners Drill Team from South Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The Mariners were a very precise and highly entertaining drill team that earned an abundant amount of awards each time that they performed. I believe that it was about 1959 when they, the “Spectacle City Mariners”, became the National Drill Team Champions! Gary was a rifle bearer in the Mutineers Color Guard. He was part of the all-male color guard of the Mariners. His precise manner of performing was noticeable to all and especially popular with the female fans of the guard/drill team circuit of the day.
As a past time, Gary enjoyed playing basketball. He was a great player. It was his only sports interest at the time. Gary was a graduate of Milwaukee’s prestigious all male Catholic, Don Bosco High School.
He, along with Lee Boudreau and I were among the first individuals in the drum corps activity to travel to another corps in another city to march. That was almost unheard of in the late 1950’s.
The 82 mile trek from Milwaukee to Chicago either in my 1958 Chevy, or the North Shore Transit, or even hitch-hiking became a weekly tradition. We took the I-94 Caldwell & Patterson exit to march in the Norwood Park Imperials Corps. They were a national contender along with neighboring units such as the Cavaliers, Vanguard, Royal Airs, Morton Grove, and many others.
Gary was a baritone player. However, he was noticeably talented in his marching abilities and the intricacies of visual execution performance, Under the mentoring of Mr. Rick Maas, and then Art Guerikes, Gary quickly refined his skills of visual designing of the corps’ summer marching productions.
In 1961, the three of us were approached by the nuns of Milwaukee’s St. Patrick Parish’s School to start a new drum and bugle corps. The school was located on Milwaukee’s south side. Since we were members of the Norwood Park Imperials, we named the new venture as the “Imperials of St. Patrick (the name was changed to Pioneer in 1972 with a new sponsorship from Cedarburg’s Pioneer Box and Container Company)).”
On that November evening, the nuns introduced us to over 100 young boys and girls from the school’s 6th through 8th grade classes. The first surprise was that there were no instruments to play yet (the students dues were 50 cents a month). The second surprise was that none of these youngsters had any musical or marching experience. Gary “Chops” was quick to improvise, removing all of the poles from brooms and mops and began to teach the young ladies that art of 1950-60’s style flag-work.
In 1962 I had the honor of having Gary stand up for my wedding. We proudly wore our Norwood Park uniforms at the wedding that was held in St. Patrick’s Church of Milwaukee.
Gary’s reputation in the marching visual design world is well known today. He has helped to set the visual standards used in the marching arts. His wife, Marie, who is also a former member and instructor of the Norwood Park Imperials, is equally renowned in the specialty of color guard design and adjudication of drum corps, marching bands, and winter guards. No doubt Gary’s expertise and influence has helped to make Marie a standout especially in the judging community. To quote a fellow judge, Rick Kemp, “Marie was the great love of Gary’s life.” Kemp said that one would experience their love for each other by simply seeing them together. I believe that they, together, personified the passion and perfection of the visual art form.
I am comfortable to say that on behalf of thousands of students, hundreds of instructors, and most every band and corps director, “Thank you Gary Czapinski for the memories. Thank you for your caring attitude. Thank you for your consistent willingness to be of help, and most of all for your unending desires to make the marching arts something that we can all be proud of and continue to move forward with.
Gary, my friend, I will miss you!