The summer sees many parades making their way through the Mille Lacs Community. When those parades tread across the cities of Isle and Wahkon, they included a group of musical marchers, bedecked in costumes clearly from an earlier century. This group is the Milaca Alumni Band, whose long history is carried on by its numerous participants and the sponsors who fund them.
Jeanne Hogan is Milaca alumna, class of 1969, who continues to participate with the Milaca Alumni Band. She recalled the band first forming. “There were the core members. They called a few people who called a few people, and we dusted off our horns. Some said, ‘Oh, we’re too old,’ but we started marching and said, ‘No, we’re not!’”
The alumni band got its start 33 years ago, Hogan explained, “And we’ve been marching ever since.” The group was established in 1986 for the Milaca’s centennial celebration. The band was brought together by Tuovi Salo, formerly band director at Milaca High School. Recalling Salo’s tenure as director, Hogan said the band had taken first place in state marching competitions many times.
The native American-inspired uniforms the band wears while they march, Hogan said, were first made by the Red Lake Ojibwe Indians in 1960. “They’re a little frail,” added Hogan. “They need some patching, but we’ve let out the seams and are still wearing them.” Through the process of refurbishing, the band has continued to wear the same uniforms they wore in high school.
“And we bring honor every time we put them on,” Hogan claimed, “not only to our school and the band, but also to the Indians.” She added the uniforms required maintenance all the time. She stores many of the uniforms, and people bring them to her when they need repair. Sometimes this process required patching or repairing. Several new uniforms have needed to be made, but Hogan said they were still created following the original designs. When possible, materials were also recycled from old uniforms.
Since their inception, the alumni band has participated in the parades held at local city celebrations, including Milaca, Wahkon and Isle. “We used to do more,” Hogan noted, “but we are obviously getting older.” To prepare for these events, the band practices the first two Thursdays in June, leading up to the parade in Milaca on the third Thursday. Outside their marching performances, the band also has social get togethers throughout the year, which include hayrides and a winter gathering at Daddy O’s Cafe in Elk River.
The Milaca Alumni Band is looking for new members. As for the criteria, Hogan said the group was open to “anyone who wants to have fun. Nobody is too old. We have grandchildren of some of our members marching with us. We have people who have false teeth, new knees, new hips … Everyone is welcome.” Beyond the local area, Hogan added that members also came from Duluth, Minneapolis, St. Cloud, and Mora and had graduated anywhere between 1952 and 2010. Hogan noted that band has a long history of bringing on new members, and it has grown through word of mouth. “We’re a nice group of people,” she said with a laugh, “even if I do say so myself.”
Those interested in joining the band can reach out to Hogan at (612) 788-5007 or Judy Crace at (320) 493-4512. Both are able to supply the new band members with music and uniforms. Hogan added that participants would not have to memorize the music.
Hogan also extended a thank you to community organizations who have contributed to and helped the band continue its operation, including yearly donations from the Isle Lions Club. “We love coming to the three towns and marching,” Hogan added.
Hogan said that it was a team effort coordinating the band’s activities. “We all become a big family. If anyone needs help with whatever, we put out the word and get it done.” The Milaca Alumni Band is the continuation of a long legacy, as alumni gatherings often are. Though they got their start 33 years ago, the Milaca Alumni Band continues a performance decades older, back when they were students led by a director Tuovi Salo.