Drum Corps Unites Madison Families In ALS Fight
Drum & bugle corps has a rich heritage in Wisconsin with marching units scattered throughout the State. With thousands of young adults in the activity, dating and serious relationships among drum & bugle corps alumni are not uncommon – in many cases leading to marriage. This was the case for Madison residents John Weekes and Cristin McKenna, who were marching members from two different drum and bugle corps. They married in 2006 and are now proud parents of sons Michael and Matthew. John and Cristin’s union was typical in many ways. However, they shared an especially unique bond – each lost a close family member to Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS).
John lost his brother Steve Weekes in 2005 at the age of 44 and Cristin lost her father Mike McKenna in 2001 at age 53.
Family roots in Wisconsin drum & bugle corps
The McKenna and Weekes families are passionate supporters of drum and bugle corps, and their involvement dates back many years. The families were highly involved with the Madison Scouts Junior and Senior Corps, the Appleton Americanos, and the Capitol Sound. Mike McKenna began with the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps as a marching member in 1964 and served afterwards in a variety of volunteer roles, including board of directors’ member.
The Weekes brothers – Karl, Steve and John – joined the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps in the early 80s and 90s, and later Steve became an instructor for the Madison Scouts. Meanwhile, the McKenna siblings, Cristin and Kelley McKenna, marched in the Appleton Americanos Drum & Bugle Corps, and Joe and Tom marched in the Madison Scouts Jr. Drum & Bugle Corps.
John Weekes and Cristin McKenna met in 1996 because of their family’s dedication to the drum and bugle corps activity, and following Mike McKenna’s diagnosis in 1998 and Steve Weekes’ diagnosis in 1999, John and Cristin had their first date in 2002. In the following years, their relationship would grow, but neither Mike McKenna nor Steve Weekes would be at their wedding.
ALS disease finds advocate in Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps
Steve Weekes wasted no time becoming an advocate for ALS after his diagnosis. While waiting for treatment at an ALS clinic, accompanied by siblings Monica and John Weekes, Steve resolved to create an ALS fundraiser. Steve was currently the drummer for the band Wall of Sound, and the brass-heavy group eagerly volunteered to headline the fundraising event. In 2000, the first annual Rockin’ For A Cure ALS fundraiser kicked off with the help of the Muscular Dystrophy Association and alumni of the Madison Scouts Drum & Bugle Corps.
The Madison Scouts Corps quickly became a passionate bedrock of support. In addition to providing musical performances for the fundraiser, Madison Scouts alumni gather at each annual event to sing the signature rallying song for the Corps, “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Adding to the losses from the disease, ALS struck again in 2010, with Madison Scouts alum Charles Eikel passing away from the disease. Eikel was a marching member in the 1950s Madison Scouts and later became a member of the Board of Directors.
The ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter
In 2010, Rockin’ For A Cure partnered with the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter, the premiere flagship of ALS support for research and patient services in Wisconsin. The partnership elevated our fundraiser and strengthened our commitment. At Rockin’ For A Cure 2013 and 2015, ALS Association Patient Advocate Jim Eutizzi gave a tearful, yet hopeful and inspiring speech. Jim was close to our hearts and in 2016 we were crushed when ALS took his life. We continue the battle for Jim, Steve, Mike Chuck, and the thousands of patients currently fighting this disease. “It’s why we do what we do,” says Kelley McKenna. Now in its 18th year, Rockin’ For A Cure has raised more than $110,000. Funding provides necessary patient services and research funds for Wisconsin patients.
Don’t miss this year’s event at the Radisson Hotel Madison on April 22nd. Musical entertainment includes The Big Payback, Jim White, and The Jim Ott Brass Ensemble 3rd Coast. You can bid on more than 100 silent auction items and enjoy appetizers and a cash bar. This year’s guest speakers from the ALS Association Wisconsin Chapter include Executive Director Melanie Roach-Bekos and Patient Advocate John Jaeckel. Tickets are $30 at the door, or $20 in advance at www.rockinforacure.org.
Article submitted by Mike Anello, Director of Rockin’ For A Cure.