Grove City Highland Band is making a comeback --of sorts.

Six former members of the band are collecting historical items from the well-liked drum and bagpipe band's 48-year history to put on a permanent display at Grove City Area Historical Society on 111 College Ave.

"I think it's essential," said Rick Reynolds, chair of the committee, who is the oldest local member --from Cochranton --who had been active with the Highland band for 35 years. He played tenor drums, bass drums and pipes.

"We felt we had to do something to preserve history of that band," he said.

The other committee members include James "Patch" McClelland, Lawrence Bubeck, David Thompson, George Ketler and Ross Williams.

The band had 200 to 300 members from 1948 to 1998 from western Pennsylvania and eastern Ohio "and many area families were involved," said McClelland, who started drumming in the band at 11 years old and eventually became lead drummer.

It was formed by five World War II veterans "around a table at the old Dad's Restaurant on Broad Street in Grove City," he added. The founders included Ray Bryant, George Ketler, Jack Kennedy, Bill McKay and Frank Shaffer.

Their idea eventually took the band to festive events and tournaments to Washington, D.C., Chicago, Toronto and "hundreds of towns and cities in the east," McClelland said.

"Wearing the Stewart of Atholl tartan and modeling the regimental pipe bands of the day, this marching unit proudly carried the name of Grove City."

Ketler, the son of Grove City College's founder, was the first pipe major. He handled the teaching, organizing and direction of the band for nearly 20 years and organized another unit, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, which modeled British Regimental brass bands.

"Other Ôoffspring' of the Grove City Highland Band were the Plaidettes, the Northwest Pennsylvania Scottish Country Dance Society and a number of talented Highland Dancers who performed with the band or in individual North American competitions," McClelland noted.

"Even the annual Ligonier (Pa.) Highland Games, which today draws thousands, had its beginnings in Grove City," he added. The games were once held at GCC's stadium as the Tri-State Pipe Band Association in the early 1950s and hosted by the Grove City Highland Band.

The band was honored by the Pennsylvania legislature and won many awards.

"Its unforgettable sight and sound marching by at a parade was enjoyed by many," McClelland said. "It left a proud and indelible mark on the fabric of this community."

Ketler had once said: "The sound of pipes and drums recalls a deep sense of spirit, courage and tradition ... and the land of bens and glens and torrents it describes. To those who hear it, feel it and sense it, the sound can never die away."

The newly formed committee of former members --most of whom are in their 60s now --didn't want the band "to die an unknown death," Reynolds said. "We felt if history wasn't preserved, it'd be lost," McClelland said.

What made the band unique is "it lasted 48 years," he noted. "For three generations of people, a tradition was maintained, which is rare in this day and age."

His father played the pipes, which is something McClelland is learning now. "I have two sets here, my dad's and my uncle's," he said.

McClelland believed that the original war veterans who began the troupe, "had a sense of camaraderie that maintained it," he noted.

In 1998, the band didn't become fully disbanded but became inactive after membership dwindled, Reynolds said. Some former members regrouped once to play in a parade for Grove City's bicentennial year, calling themselves the "Old Guard."

The current committee didn't have to twist the historical society's arm about a permanent display.

"They are tickled for this," Reynolds said.

It would now like to find former band members and their families and friends who have photographs, documents, trophies, uniforms, instruments and other memorabilia of the band's "long and colorful history," McClelland said.

"These items would be cataloged and placed on permanent or temporary loan as desired ... if anyone wants to look up an old family member or members of the band."

"We're hoping to find people who can identify some people pre-1957," Reynolds added. He himself has scanned over 100 images, he said.

Some items have already come in by word of mouth.

Now that the ball is rolling, "I'm happy it's going to be a permanent part of the history of the town," McClelland said.

Call James McClelland at 724-458-4507, Lawrence Bubeck at 724-458-8429, David Thompson at 724-458-6525 and George Ketler at 724-450-0313 about donating to the preservation committee of the Grove City Highland Band. Published March 17, 2012 in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.


Recommended for you