Niles High Band alumni show they’ve still got it

Published 6:22 pm Monday, October 13, 2003

By By BEN RAYMOND LODE / Niles Daily Star
NILES -- A couple of weeks ago Mel Machemer, a 1951 Niles High School graduate, had open heart surgery.
So, for obvious reasons, the Benton Harbor resident wasn't sure whether he would make it to the 80th anniversary celebration of Niles High School's Marching Band.
But, the former snare drummer did.
He joined 23 other band alumni, who during halftime in Friday's game between Niles High and Marshall High School, marched across the football field to honor the high school's first marching band.
That band made its debut on Oct. 6, 1923, in a game between Niles High and Benton Harbor High School.
Like the other band alumni, Machemer carried a sign that showed the year he graduated in as he marched across the football field.
The alumni carried the signs to show spectators the cross-representation of the alumni; the most recent graduate was from 1983 and the oldest band alumni present on Friday evening graduated in 1949.
Friday's celebration was a good chance for Machemer to see the current high school band perform.
But, it was also a chance for him to compare the current band with the band he played in.
Machemer said there were 126 people in the marching band when he played, which is more than in the current band.
He also said the marching band he played in marched differently, and they played different songs.
He also remembers the one-mile walk from the old high school to Plym Park, where the games used to be played back then.
Machemer, however, wasn't the only one to whom Friday's celebration was special.
Donna Turtle Ochenryder, also a 1951 graduate, played tuba in the marching band when she was a high school student.
Ochenryder and other band alumni worked hard to get everything organized before Friday's event, including obtaining the banner the band alumni marched behind.
Obviously delighted to have been able to do what she loved doing as a high school student, Ochenryder said: "It's a kick (to march at games)."
Margaret Drolet-Hansen graduated from Niles High in 1972.
A marching band baton twirler, who played flute in the concert band, Drolet-Hansen seemed to share Ochenryder's excitement.
If there is enough interest, Ochenryder said the goal is to establish an alumni marching band that will be able to perform at community events, festivals and at the Riverfront Park.
She encourages all former seniors and juniors who at one time were students in the school district to join the band alumni.
For more information about the band alumni, call Donna Ochenryder at 269-684-2796.