Phil Patenaude figures the Americanos Drum and Bugle Corps kept him out of reform school.
"It gave me an opportunity to have somewhere I had to be every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday night from 6 to 9 when we rehearsed," said Patenaude, 53 of Weyauwega who was a member of the group from 1971 to 1974. "Friday night you got on a bus and toured and came back at midnight or 1 o'clock Sunday night. And you were back in rehearsal Tuesday night."
Sean Pecora, 21 of Appleton, was 12 when he met up with his first drum corps in Iowa. Coming from a broken home and temporarily placed in foster care, his mother was told to keep him busy for the summer or they again would remove him from his home. Lucky for Pecora, his mom was an avid bingo player at the Colts Drum and Bugle Corps' home base in Dubuque. He joined that corps, and later tried out for the Americanos and was a part of its last performance season in 2004.
Being a member of the Americanos gave kids more than an opportunity to play Spanish-flavored music while marching in cool costumes and touring the country. It gave them a sense of responsibility and a family of forever friends.
That's the driving force behind the Americanos Alumni Association. At least 60 former members (if not more) will perform "Cherry Pink (and Apple Blossom White)" marching together for the first time since 2005 on Saturday in the Appleton Flag Day Parade. The Americanos also performed in the first parade in 1950.
Following in the footsteps of his older brother, John Quigley, 44, of De Pere, performed in the corps from 1978 to 1981 and returned in 1989 as an instructor. Initially he thought it was all about the performing, but it was the stuff off the field he remembers most.
"That's what brought us back together with this alumni group, wanting to reach out to those people you spent so much time with when you were younger," said Quigley, who is now the band director at Suring High School.
"It meant something in all our lives or we wouldn't be here today," agreed Dave Tappa, 48 of Green Bay, a member of Americanos in 1980.
The Americanos Drum and Bugle Corps can be traced back to post World War I veteran's organizations like the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars. The local American Legion, Johnston Blessman Post No. 38 of Appleton, sponsored the first the all-male group that in 1936 performed as the Sons of the American Legion. They began presenting the Spanish theme that continues today. By 1957, the corps adopted the Americanos Drum and Bugle Corps name.
Scott Dorschner, 52 of Suamico, wanted to be in the Americanos since he first saw them in the Flag Day Parade in the early 1960s.
"I joined the Americanos organization in 1970 in their feeder corps, the Toros, and were with them until I moved up to the Americanos in 1971 as a baritone player," said Dorschner, who stayed with the corps until it disbanded in early 1977, returned in 1979 to help with organization efforts and left after the 1980 season.
In 2005, the Americanos board of directors halted operations due to financial reasons. Most of the members of the corps were exported from other states with no local base. Shortly after Americanos called it quits, seven other organizations around the country followed suit.
"Today," Pecora said, "to run a drum and bugle corps, you're looking at 56 buses, two semi-trailers, a fleet of vans, not to mention you have to feed over 200 people daily every day for three months. You're looking at an operating budget of over $2 million."
Plus, a drum corps cannot operate without the backing of the local community, he said.
In fall 2007, the Americanos board of directors decided to hire a program director and start a competitive indoor drum line called Americanos Indoor.
About 15 months ago, Pecora, with the help of Bill Schultz, who marched in the 1950s and has stayed involved since, started forming the Alumni Association.
The first rehearsal in early May surprised those who attended, some of whom hadn't picked up a horn or drum for years and others who've never played together.
"When you have a passion for something, you don't really lose it," said Mark "Tooz" Matuszak, 47, of Green Bay who marched from 1979 to 1982. "Yes, traveling on a bus was kind of fun. Sleeping on a gymnasium floor wasn't everybody's cup of tea, but it was a good time. Everybody had the same idea in terms of what we were there to do. We enjoyed playing music, we enjoying being together. And it was a unique way of doing it."
"It's an extended family," added Paula Staedt, 53 of Appleton, who marched from 1969 to the mid-70s, and was an instructor.
Hopes are high the Alumni Association will continue performing for years to come.
"I saw other attempts at alumni trying to get everyone together over the last few years, but it always seemed to fizzle out," Dorschner said. "It took a few people from different eras to finally get it together. I think it's great to see the work that everyone is doing to make the alumni association even stronger today. Plus with the Web site and with this year's parade corps I have been able to see or write to other members that I haven't heard from since at least 1980."