CORPS – HISTORY
September 1956 saw the first meeting of the Village Fire Fifers held in the Delmar Fire Hall. The corps was founded by Robert C. McLean, a commercial artist and his wife Theresa. McLean, came to Albany earlier in ’56 from N.Y.C. He and his wife enjoyed many years of fifing and drumming in the “big city,” especially in the Passet corps. They spent most of the summer of ’56 trying to locate a corps with which they could play with, however were unable to find a suitable one within 80 miles. Late in the summer, they learned that the Delmar Firemen were interested in starting a band, and thus Bob McLean attended one of their meetings and was able to sell them on the idea of a fife and drum band, even though many of the firemen had never seen a fife before. Mr. McLean was able to appropriate $1000 to cover the cost of uniforms, instruments, music books etc. He also asked for volunteers among the firemen, however, the only one to respond was William Webb, a mechanic for the Bethlehem Central School System. He and Mr. McLean were to become the corps’ snare drummers. The only fifer was Mrs. McLean. An advertisement was placed in the local newspaper, Spotlight, requesting all able men between “16 and 60″ to be at the Delmar Fire Hall Thursday night at 7:00 p.m. on the third week in September. The ad got two recruits to join. They were Ray Hauley and Bob Mulligan. Both became fifers. The first meeting was spent downstairs by the trucks getting acquainted with the instruments. Before we were dismissed, Mr. McLean stated that as soon as the new instruments arrived at his Fuera Bush home, he would deliver them to us so we could start practicing immediately. This first meeting was very new to the recruits, in that they had come down to get a lesson, not join an organization. Ray Hauley thought that Mr. McLean was just traveling through town giving spot lessons on a very rare and unusual oriental instrument similar to a zither. Mr. McLean explained the simplicity of the fife, and insured Ray and Bob that they would both be playing by May in a parade ( he was absolutely right!). Mr. McLean stressed the fact that musical experience was of little importance, and that friends should be urged to join. Within three weeks, the corps had grown considerably. Ray Hauley brought down Bob Barned, while Bob Mulligan talked his buddy Carl VanHoesan into joining. These boys also became fifers. Bob McLean also had luck in recruiting. Through business connections, he persuaded Mr. Alfred Olsen and Mr. John Campbell to learn the fife. These men also brought their sons (Buz Olsen and Colin Campbell) to learn rudimental drumming. Other fifers joining in the fall of ’56 were Norm Eckel and Peter Bromley. Rick Ploetz and Jack Noll were learning the snare and bass drum respectively. The corps progressed rapidly through the winter months, with practicing being confined to individual lessons given by Mr. and Mrs. McLean. Later we were able to play simple tunes together and Mr. McLean was beginning to drill us in preparation of marching on the street. A relative of the Olsens also led us at one of our Sunday meetings in the spring, and there was talk that he might become our drum-major, however, for some reason he wasn’t able to do this. By the time May rolled around, the corps had memorized several tunes and was almost ready to make its first public performance.
1957 saw only one new member, who was able to work his way into the ranks as a fifer. His name was Bill Kemp, and he joined the corps in July of ‘57. Bill, then a high school student at Bethlehem Central High School in Delmar, was able to join the parade ranks by May of ‘58 in the annual Tulip Festival. Another new fifer was Dave Weinstock, who joined the corps in early ‘58. He advanced the fastest of anyone yet, and was playing on the street before the end of May in the Memorial Day Parade in Delmar. Dave was brought in by bass drummer Jack Noll, and proved to be not only a valuable fifer in parades and in competition, but also a good recruiter. Between the time of his entry to 1959, such people as Frank Oswein, Jay Frank, Jay Solomon, Alden Fowler, and a fellow living above his apartment on South Main St. in Albany, all gave their services to the corps at one time or another. Although none
of these boys are still with the corps, they will always be remembered as they helped keep things going in the early years.
Another man to join toward the end of ’58 was Dave’s cousin, Robert Gandler, a truck driver, and a steady color guard man for more than a year. The Weinstocks did much to make trips more enjoyable during the summer of ‘58 and ‘59. Besides supplying transportation, Mrs. Weinstock usually packed lunches for the boys, and even supplied food for various picnics and parties. Other people who were constant drivers were Bill and Bob Webb. The latter joined in ‘57 and acted as our drum major for 3 years. He is best remembered for his always good appearance on the street and on the competition floor. At Waterbury, Conn., he won a ribbon for his appearance. Jack Noll was another dependable driver and bass drummer. Jack is best remembered for his appearance at Bennington, where his athletic ability was tested when he had to run the streets of the town in order to catch up with the corps. Another family which drove a lot, especially in ‘57, was the Barned family. They seemed to enjoy such trips as the ones made to Lake George and to Fort Klock. A final tribute must go of course to Bob McLean and his family. Not only did Mr. McLean drive to every event possible, but he also supplied the corps with a fifer and a majorette. His wife, Theresa, was the old reliable first fifer for over 2 years. She never missed a parade during this period. After this she gave birth to a son, Shawn in May’ of ‘58. However, it wasn’t long before she was back in uniform and playing again. Our majorette was the daughter of the McLeans. Robin, was only four years old when she marched down the streets of Delmar in ‘57. She too ran up a long string of consecutive parades. By the time she was seven, she had won several medals and trophies, and also appeared on television, was at the Governor’s Ball in ‘59 for Nelson Rockefeller, at the Sheraton Ten Eyck Hotel with Mayor Corning, and saw Bruce Catton and politicians at Chancellor’s Hall in Albany; an accomplishment which most people are lucky to do in a lifetime.
1959 was a year in which many things happened. The corps gained and lost members, and appeared in a record number of parades, historic events, and Competitions. Bill Kemp was about the only regular member who had left the corps. He left in September of ’58. Other recruits to leave included most of the Albany group that Dave Weinstock recruited. New members included Bob Tinney and Dave Gregory in the spring or ’59, and Bill Moore later in the year. Art Allen and Don Decker were active during this year, and marched in the color guard in several parades. Buz Olsen was back in the corps after a year of absence in ’58. His father, the Campbells, Rick Ploetz, and Norm Eckel had all since left for one reason or another. Other people to see limited service with the corps included: Chris Ploetz, Ronald Steeves, and Will Thare. At the end of 1959 John Fitzgerald joined the corps, and in a sense started a new era. From 1960 on, the corps continued to lose old members and gain new ones. Those gained included Rick Stewart, and Brit Brown early in 1960. Other members to join later in 1960 included Bill Frueh (June), Dick MacDowell, Jim Colfer, Chuck Roberts, Baron Fitzgerald, and Bob Morse. Unfortunately, this new blood seemed to effect the presence of older members. At any rate by the end of 1960 the only older members ( over 2 years service to the corps) were the McLeans, Ray Hauley and Bob Barned. The latter two were away at college, so really the McLeans were forced to cope with the new members alone. The situation was not as dark as it looked, however, since much help was gained from Bob Tinney and Bill Frueh. Both of these boys were college students. Dave Gregory, then a senior in high school was also a leading fifer and helped Mrs. McLean when possible. By 1961, the corps acquired more fifers, all mentioned in the minutes of meetings which were kept from 1960-63 by Dave Gregory, Bill Frueh and Ray Hauley.
Present members as of January 1963 include: Bob Barned, a junior at Worcester Technical Institute in Worcester Mass., Brit Brown, a three year fifer and a high school student at C.B.A. in Albany, Jim Colfer, a high school student in Albany and a bass drummer, Baron Fitzgerald, a fifer and a student at Bethlehem Central, John Fitzgerald, a 3 year fifer and a junior at C.B.A., Bill Frueh, bass drummer and dependable scribe,` (Bill has been attending Siena College, where he has been on the Dean’s list consistently), Dave Gregory needs no introduction, as he can always be heard playing his fife. Dave enjoys playing fast quicksteps, Scottish and Irish pieces. He is presently majoring in Horticulture at Cobleskill, N.Y. Ray Hauley is another collegian who occasionally hitches home, to relax with the corps. He is a physical Education major at Ithaca College and has written most of the above. Tracy Kunz is a newer member and is making rapid progress on the snare, according to Buz. He is a Delmar boy and attends Bethlehem Central. Dick MacDowell is a newer member also, but is a good fifer and has served the corps well as the collector of the dues. Dick also is a Delmar boy and he too attends Bethlehem Central. Greg McGrath is an Albany boy and sees few practices, due to a job. When available, he serves in the color guard. Dave and Bob Morse are from Altamont; both are fifers. They are both high school students, (as is Greg), at Guilderland. Bob Mulliigan is one of the only people to rejoin the corps after a leave of absence. When Mr. McLean was transferred to Syracuse, it was Bob who came to the rescue and took over the corps (see corps minutes). He is a jack of all trades in that he not only plays fife, but also is drum major and corps instructor and director. He is able to mix humor with discipline and fortunately is well liked and respected by all. Buz Olsen is another old pro. He plays both the snare and bass. He is the drum instructor and a student at Albany High School. Scott Radley is the biggest question mark in the corps, and his future as a fifer is dim unless he decides which is more important – basketball games or meetings. Chuck Roberts is a snare drummer and hopes to see action this summer. He is presently on suspension; but should be back in the spring. He is a student at Bethlehem, as are Peter Schaap and Rick Stewart. Pete is learning snare, while Rick has been playing the fife for 3 years, and enjoys playing Liverpool Hornpipe the most. A final fifer in the corps is Bob Tinney, who has served as corps director briefly in the summer 0f ’61. He is now attending State College in Albany, which takes up most of his time.