ORANGE CITY, Iowa | The Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band helps lead the Volksparade twice per day during the Orange City Tulip Festival.
This year, Steve Connell directs that award-winning marching band for the last time. Connell announced his retirement from MOC-FV High School on March 2, drawing to a close a remarkable 42-year career.
And yet, he's looking forward to his "swan song" through the streets of Orange City, and not only for "his" band, but the Alumni Band that helps bring up the rear in this special parade.
"We always have the Alumni Band march, and, this year, the Alumni Band is marching for both the afternoon and evening parades," Connell said. "Normally we have 120 to 130 in the Alumni Band. I'm sure that this year it will be two to three to four to five times that size."
Connell predicts that the 2017 version of the Alumni Band will stretch past two blocks.
The popularity of this group, fed by Connell's work and his popularity, may create some logistical challenges. One reason the Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band goes first and the Alumni Band goes last involves instruments.
"We generally have people in the two bands sharing instruments for the same parade," he said.
This year, with Alumni Band numbers expected to hit an all-time high, Connell has put out a plea of sorts in local schools. "We'll borrow instruments from other schools before the parade to make sure we're covered," he said. "And we'll find every flag we can to make sure we've got the flags covered, too."
Connell, a native of Luverne, Minnesota, graduated from Luther College in Decorah, Iowa, in May 1975. He remembered watching the Tulip Festival Volksparade in 1968 and probably talked about it during his interview in Orange City, the only high school-only band position he'd found at that time.
"I don't remember the interview, but I remember asking about the condition of the marching band's uniforms," he recalled. "They opened this cabinet and showed me all the wooden shoes."
Since then, Connell has directed the Pride of the Dutchmen Marching Band members in their wooden shoes as they played twice in the Pasadena Tournament of Roses Parade as well as the Hollywood Christmas Parade, the Fiesta Bowl Parade, the Orange Bowl Parade, the Portland Rose Festival, the Waikiki New Year's Eve Parade, nationally televised NFL Monday Night Football games and more.
He and his band even marched in those Dutch wooden shoes to the White House.
"I'm sure this Tulip Festival will be emotional for me," he said.
Connell, however, isn't going to be fully retired. Northwestern College announced in April that it would launch an athletic band program to play at Red Raider events on campus. The leader of the band? Steve Connell.
"I am looking forward to having a lot of fun over there at Northwestern," he said. "I'll be working with more adult students."
Adult students, he noted, that often make up a portion of the Pride of the Dutchmen Alumni Band.
"The Alumni Band for many people is a highlight of Tulip Festival," Connell said. "Someone who is 65 years old and can play a trumpet while marching for six blocks can relive a high school experience. You can't play the state title basketball game again at age 65."
Even those beyond 65 have played in the Alumni Band. Connell recalled watching and listening to a musician in her 70s as she marched past.
"She was part of the very first MOC band that wore wooden shoes," the legendary director said. "It is special. I don't think it happens anywhere else in the world."
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