Joliet was named the best high school band at Eisenhower’s inaugural parade in 1953
By Tony Graf email@example.com January 22, 2013 5:58PM
The Joliet Township High School band marches in Washington, D.C., in the 1953 inaugural parade of President Eisenhower. | COURTESY OF JOLIET AREA HISTORICAL MUSEUM
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:13AM
President Dwight D. Eisenhower returned a salute from Bruce Houseknecht as the young director led the Joliet Township High School Band in the 1953 inaugural parade in Washington 60 years ago this week.
Houseknecht, a state champion director, led the band past Dwight and Mamie Eisenhower just after 4:30 p.m. during the Jan. 21 parade, reporter Lea Borkon wrote in the Joliet Herald-News.
“Mamie stood beside the president in the parade reviewing stand, smiling and applauding as the Joliet detachment marched briskly by, its ranks trigger sharp,” Borkon wrote. “Eisenhower returned the snappy salute from Director Bruce Houseknecht and the band color guard as the thousands in the review area near the White House cheered vigorously.”
Today, The Herald-News continues its series on school band history, “The Best Band in the Land.” We observe the 60th anniversary of this memorable inaugural parade, one of the highlights of Houseknecht’s 24-year career in Joliet.
Joliet was judged the best high school band in the 10-mile parade and won a gold trophy.
Houseknecht and the band did not even know they was competing.
“We didn’t know anything about the judging until we were about three blocks from the reviewing stand. Then we saw a big sign that said ‘Band Judging,’ ” Houseknecht said in the next day’s Herald-News.
“We were quite surprised. The only orders we had received before the parade were to keep up a 120-step-a-minute cadence,” Houseknecht said.
When the Joliet band passed the judging stand, the musicians were playing a march, Houseknecht said. “I think it was the ‘Thunderer’s March,’ ” he added.
“We certainly weren’t prepared for it, but there was nothing we could do about it anyway,” Houseknecht said. “We weren’t going to break our musical sequence just to give the judges one of our special numbers because we had it planned to break into the ‘Stars and Stripes Forever’ as soon as we stepped in front of the president.
“And after all, that’s what we were in Washington for — to play for the president, not to play in a contest.”
Band members credited drum major Archie Coote and the drum section for keeping up the rhythm that won the first-place award, Borkon wrote.
“They were perfect,” Houseknecht said.
Decades later, Coote donated his drum major baton, which he used in the award-winning performance, to the Joliet Area Historical Museum. The baton is on display in the museum’s exhibit “Strike Up the Band,” reviewing a century of band history at the high school.
On that day in 1953, the band was judged “superlative” in dynamics, intonation, cadence, general appearance, marching ability, musical excellence and neatness of uniforms.
Houseknecht, in his mid-30s, was in his eighth year of a long career at Joliet that lasted from 1945 to 1969.
Praise for band
The Copley Press, then owner of The Herald-News, quoted Illinois leaders on the band’s performance.
“That Joliet band is a splendid representative of Illinois,” U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen said. “I’m very proud of the fact that I come from the same state they do.”
“They certainly gave the nation a wonderful example of our state,” Gov. William Stratton said.
These are familiar names in the Joliet area: Dirksen, who later would be featured on two covers of Time magazine, is the namesake of Dirksen Junior High School in Joliet, home of the Dirksen Senators. Stratton is the namesake of Stratton State Park in Morris.
Next installment: The World’s Fair in 1964.
The preceding story
draws heavily on the work
of the late Lea Borkon Kerr, who was a Herald-News reporter for 50 years.