Way-back Wednesday: What is a Legacy?

featured image

by Ilene Gould

A year ago, I asked past and present members of the SMB who have had kids, parents, or siblings in the band, to talk about what legacy means to them. In this historic anniversary celebrating 150 years of Michigan State Bands, we hear the words “what is a legacy” echoing through our minds, and many former and current members are constantly thinking about how this band came to fruition and how it continues to stand to this day.

What started as a 10 member ensemble in 1870 has evolved into today’s 300 member Spartan Marching Band. The SMB is a family of 300, but it also has created actual couples, relationships, and band families that span over generations throughout history.

Former Alto Saxophone Holly Bronson (2016-2017) calls herself a “legacy marcher” having had her grandfather, her father, and her brother all march with the SMB. She says “something that my grandpa did in college was passed on to his son, and it was important enough to him that it made its way, without ever being explicitly stated, to both of his children as well…That passion for the Spartan Marching Band that has been passed through our family for over seventy years is a legacy – and to me, is certainly our greatest one.”

Jim Bronson, Burton Bronson, Holly Bronson, Jake Bronson – Alumni Band, 2016

Her brother Jake Bronson, a current fifth year in the SMB and Trumpet section leader says, “For a while I had wanted to march in the SMB to be like my Dad, but the closer I got to it, the more it became an important part of my own identity as well.”

Phil Bertolini, a Spartan Tuba (1981-1984), who now has his son Steve in the trumpet section, says that “when you see different generations representing the same family, you really understand the impact the SMB legacy has.”

(left) Steve Bertolini, age 8. (right) Phil Bertolini, Steve Bertolini – Alumni Band, 2018

Many other families spurred from the SMB as well, including former trombone Tom Hedlund (1985-1989) and his wife Denise Hedlund who marched Alto Saxophone (1987-1990). Their son, Ben Hedlund (Junior), is currently a member of the trombone and bass bone section. When asked “how has being in the SMB impacted your family?” Denise said, “the question should be, what hasn’t it impacted? We are band for life.” She follows up with “Legacy means everything.”

Denise Hedlund, Ben Hedlund, Tom Hedlund – 2019

Many current members of the band have all had parents who marched together, and it’s incredible to see today’s members bond over having had parents in the band. Holly Wilhelm (Alto Saxophone, 1983-1986), whose daughter Annaliese Patenge (sophomore), now marches in the Big Ten section, says that “having a child in the band fills me with nostalgia and pride! I see her and it takes me right back to those fall days on campus when I was her age. It gives me great pride knowing that she aspires to present her best for our beloved university as I did.”

(left) Annaliese Patenge, Holly Wilhelm, 2018. (right) Annaliese Patenge, Holly Wilhelm, 2018

Former Alto Saxophone Susan Gould (1987-1991), and former Trumpet Bob Gould (1988-1990) now have a daughter Ilene Gould in the Mellophone section. Susan says that “there is so much pride in that band, and I’m thrilled that she gets to experience being a part of it – part of something bigger than herself. Part of a legacy, part of a stable, constant success story.”

(left) Susan Gould, Denise Hedlund – 1990. (center) Susan Gould, Ilene Gould, Bob Gould – Alumni Band, 2016. (right) Bob Gould, Rose Bowl, 1988

Another former Alto, Ann Simmons Holt (1993-1996), met her husband Blake Holt (Alto, 1992-1996) and now have a daughter Erin in the Big Ten section. She recalls the time she saw Erin in her uniform for the first time. “I’m not a terribly emotional person, but I got tears in my eyes and was speechless.” Like so many other parents, they dreamt of seeing their child wear an SMB uniform and come through the tunnel for the very first time. Ann says “her first March to the Stadium, and seeing her kickstep onto the field were moments that will be etched in my memory, much like her first words and first steps.”

Phil Bertolini says that “watching your children fulfill their dreams and engage their passion is an amazing feeling.” The SMB has shaped generations of families, and continues to do that each and every day.

Ann Holt adds that “the great thing about the SMB is that it really HASN’T changed that much since we were in band. It is still an organization that prides itself on excellence – on and off the field. The hard work and pride that goes into preseason, rehearsals and performances is still evident. Most importantly, the fact that the SMB is truly a ‘family’ is what makes it truly special.”

There is something special about the East Lansing “bubble.” The minute you enter the city limits, a feeling of ease descends upon Spartan Nation. Gameday’s are a particularly unique holiday across campus. Shouts of “WAKE UP IT’S GAMEDAY” echo loudly, but are eventually trumped by the sounds of the early morning fight song to start morning rehearsal. It feels as though for just a few hours, the rest of the world stops, and East Lansing celebrates all the Green and White. This Saturday is going to be just like any other Saturday for a lot of people, but for the past and present members of 150 years of Spartan Marching Band history, they are going to remember this Gameday forever as they celebrate with nearly eleven-hundred bandos from all generations. A day like this Saturday wouldn’t be possible without the legacy of the 149 ensembles that came before the 2019 Spartan Marching Band.

“To me, legacy means that you’ve loved something so much that you wanted to share that love with those who came after you and want them to experience those same things,” – Holly Wilhelm.