Strike up the alumni band

Marching brings back college memories for members of YSU's alumni band.
YOUNGSTOWN -- At 78 and white-haired, Ted O'Connor is easy to spot as the most-senior member of Youngstown State University's Alumni Band.
But hand him a horn and the years drop away. The Cornersburg man can play YSU's fight song, the Star Spangled Banner and other band favorites with a vigor to match even the youngest alumni musician.
O'Connor was one of about 40 YSU alumni band members cheering on the football team and its fans Saturday as part of the school's annual Homecoming festivities.
A 1948 graduate of what was then known as Youngstown College, O'Connor said he started marching in the alumni band about 21 years ago while he was still working as a math and physics teacher at Chaney High School. Since then he has missed only one performance.
More time for music
When he retired in the late '80s after 36 years in the Youngstown City Schools, he had more time for music. Now he's also a member of the Youngstown Community Band and the Canfield Community Band.
O'Connor isn't impressed with being the most-veteran member of the alumni band.
"If you live long enough and you keep coming, you'll be the oldest one here," he said with a self-deprecating grin.
The band member gives himself just one age-related break: He plays the baritone horn now instead of its larger brother, the tuba.
For him, the greatest thrill came when his sons started playing in the alumni band. Calvin O'Connor, a music teacher at Nathan Hale Middle School in Cleveland, and Wes O'Connor, assistant band director at Boardman High School, both earned bachelor's degrees in music from YSU.
"It's one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me, being able to play in a band with my two sons," Ted O'Connor said proudly.
A big boost
Wendy Crist, a 1987 YSU grad and wife of Mike Crist, director of YSU's Dana School of Music, said alumni interest in the band was starting to wane about 12 years ago, when she decided to beef up the membership.
"It's just so much fun to march in the band, and that's what the alumni band is all about," she said. "It's fun."
Working with the YSU Alumni Association, she mailed out hundreds of letters to former YSU band members that first year. The number grew to about 35 or 40 members then and has remained at that level, she said.
Letters go out every year to remind regular participants and to encourage new people to join. Organizers usually see a few new faces, sometimes from outside the state, but most are from the Youngstown-Warren area.
Recent grad
Christine Boncela of Euclid, a May 2004 graduate with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering, was one of the younger members of this year's alumni band. She knows her job search may require her to move out of Northeast Ohio, Boncela said, so she wanted to join while she's still in the area.
A clarinetist, she played in YSU's marching band her first two years in school, then switched to the concert band, but Boncela said she had no trouble remembering the school fight song and other traditional marching numbers.
Boncela said she still has some friends in the YSU student band, so she hoped to make contact with them as well while she was back on campus.

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