Way-back Wednesday: Creating a Legacy: The first women of the SMB

featured image

Creating a Legacy: The first women of the SMB
by: Ilene Gould

On June 23rd, 1972, a federal civil rights law, called “Title IX”, was passed. It stated that “no person in the United State shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded form participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.”

Beth Mlynarek, 1972

Meanwhile, nineteen-year-old Beth Mlynarek was about to embark on her sophomore year at Western Michigan University, until one day she saw an article posted in her hometown’s newspaper that discussed the passing of Title IX and how it was about to create more opportunities for women in the workforce, in schools, and in athletics. It also happened to mention that the Spartan Marching Band would now be accepting women in the ensemble after nearly 102 years of being entirely male.

At this time, Beth was a feature twirler at Western Michigan, and had been twirling since she was seven, almost twelve years. For the fall of ‘72, Western decided to eliminate the Twirlers and move towards having a rifle line, leaving Beth without an opportunity to pursue her love for twirling, even if it was for just a few more years.

So, on a whim without even being accepted in Michigan State, without even really knowing where MSU was, and without having any clue what kind of statement she would be making, Beth Mlynarek called the band secretary and set up an audition, all in the name of her love for twirling.

The next day she drove up to East Lansing to audition. Today, her audition would’ve taken place, right on the sidewalk that cuts through Adams Field. She performed for Marching Band Director Dave Catron and the current Twirler Dan Williams, who would eventually go on to be a Drum Major of the SMB. In record time, Beth was accepted, enrolled, and moved over to East Lansing before she really had any clue as to what kind of journey lay before her.

Lynne Charboneau, 1972

Beth wasn’t the only woman admitted into the band in the fall of 1972, a junior Alto Saxophone named Lynne Charboneau was her counterpart. A Music Education major, Lynne had an easier time adjusting to the ensemble since she already knew many of the members; but Beth was moving in from Western and didn’t know a single soul.

To them, it didn’t seem like a big deal at the time, yet, at the beginning, both women were constantly asked by reporters and journalists to talk about what it was like to be one of the first two women in the Spartan Marching Band. Beth recalls feeling embarrassed because they didn’t want to draw attention to them while upsetting the men of the ensemble. The amount of publicity was unsettling, especially when their original intent was never to make a statement, but more about pursuing a love for twirling, a love for music, and a love for performing.

It was a rocky start at first, but Beth’s goal was to perform to the best of her ability, keep her head down, and prove to everyone that she deserved to be there. Within a few weeks a lot of the struggle and negativity lessened, and eventually she found a very supportive group of guys that helped her settle into MSU, and even helped her sign up for classes. Beth says that despite the challenging start, being in the Spartan Marching Band was the greatest decision of her life, and wouldn’t trade any moment of it for anything.

The next year, in the Fall of 1973, a few more women joined the band totaling up to five, and after that, the number of women increased significantly year after year

Beth marched with the SMB from 1972-1976 with three years in the band as an undergrad studying Special Education, and two years as a graduate student getting a Masters in Reading Instruction. Lynne marched from 1972-1973 and went on to teach high school band down in Texas. In 1987, Lynne was in a car accident, and passed away. On October 13th, 2012 at the MSU-Iowa homecoming game, the band celebrated “Title IX at 40 – Saluting the Women of the Spartan Marching Band,” where Beth, and Lynne’s husband Tony Grigsby, as well as their daughter Megan Grisgby were honored during halftime for their historic representation in the SMB.

Kick-stepping into Spartan Stadium

Beth says that over the last 47 years, a lot has changed and evolved, yet some of the things she created, choreographed, and started, are still present today with our Feature Twirlers. The routine done to Falcone Fight is nearly identical, as well as the pregame entrance and routine. Beth says she smiles every time she sees the Twirlers march down the street doing her routine. There was never an intent for the routine to stay the same forever, yet somehow, it keeps getting passed down year to year, becoming another deeply rooted tradition in the SMB.

Today, Beth is retired after 35 years of teaching and working in administration at Mason Public Schools. She lives in Traverse City with her husband and former SMB French Horn player, Mike Kaufman, (At the time, they used Peck Horns, and Mellophones were not introduced until 1981). They love traveling, working on their house, and for over thirty years, they had season tickets to every Spartan Football Game.

1976 Glen Brough, Mark McKeon, Kathy Skelton, Beth Mlynarek

These two women started a long tradition of creating strong women within the SMB. In 1992 the first female band president, Janet Murray was elected. In 1995, Mary Hulliberger became the first female drum major (F1), followed by Rachel Linsmeier (F2 – 2008), Shannon Black (F3 – 2014) Nikki Sanford (F4 – 2017), and Lisa Lachowski (F5 – 2019). In 2018, Dr. Arris Golden became the first female Associate Director of the Spartan Marching Band.

The Spartan Marching Band has certainly come a long way in its historic 150 years, making it one of the oldest bands in the Big Ten.

In 1870, the SMB was started by a group of ten students, all male.

In 1972, Beth and Lynne became the first two women in the SMB. At the time, there were 180 members in the SMB, making them only 1% of the band.

In 2012, 120 out of the 300 members were female, around 40% of the band.

In 2019, 132 out of the 300 members are female, making them 44% of the ensemble. Nearly half, almost fifty years later.

This article is written today in honor of this week’s halftime show entitled Ladies of the 80’s featuring “I’m So Excited” by The Pointer Sisters, “What a Feeling” by Irene Cara, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” by Whitney Houston, “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” by Cyndi Lauper, a medley of Madonna songs including “Material Girl,” “Express Yourself,” and “Open Your Heart,” and the show closes with “If I Could Turn Back Time” by Cher and “We Belong,” by Pat Benatar.

Beth says that both she and Mike will be at Alumni Band on September 28th for our homecoming game against Indiana; and as we finished our conversation she said, “I could talk forever about the SMB.” If you asked her about the SMB during Alumni Band, she would tell you the same incredible stories, making you feel even closer to the historic 150 years of SMB history.

2012 – Beth Mlynarek Kaufman, Megan Grigsby, Tony Grigsby, and Alumni Band President (at the time) Jim Barry