Our First Head Colonel and How It All Began
A Tweet of a Find!
I was unable to addend our 25th Reunion held in 1989 (class of’64), so D’Ann Study Runkle was kind enough to send a recap and a few pictures to me. We were living in Columbia, South Carolina at the time. Of course, my response was to call her and talk a little more about the event. Before we hung up, she said, “By the way, I talked to Robin Leen…”
Robin, DeeDee, and I attended E. J. Brown School together from the 5th through 8th grades. (In fact, I had a mad crush on Robin in 5th grade, but my competition, Annabelle Talso, was in the lead!) During Robin and DeeDee’s conversation, he mentioned that, as a fan of flea markets and pawn shops, he “found Jackie Winkler’s Little Colonel whistle!” I was stunned, but I did nothing to follow-up on the information Dee relayed.
Last year, 20 years after DeeDee told me about her discussion with Robin (2009), I began working on our Class Reunion Committee. Seeing Robin’s contact information on our class roster prompted me to drop a note to him, hoping against hope if perhaps he still had my whistle. I thought, “What could it hurt?” I held my hopes in check. Within two weeks, an envelope arrived in the mail with Robin’s return address! My jaw dropped as I slowly pulled my Little Colonel whistle out of the envelope…there it was, my name and graduation year engraved on it, still attached to the lanyard! I was speechless for several moments as I mentally rehearsed how much it signified in my life. Robin had included a note that asked me if I could let him know how I knew he had it. I gladly responded and thanked him for keeping it all these years. Now tell me how remarkable that is! Never stop being surprised at what life might bring…
THE TEN COMMANDMENTS OF A GOOD GIRL’S DRILL TEAM
1. Thou shalt attend all regular and specially called practices, and on time, unless thou has a durn good excuse. Thy sister drillers will get mad as heck at too many holes in the lines and they may call down fire and brimstone upon thy head to say nothing of the wrath of thy instructors.
Class of '64
Our First Little Colonel Mascot
Miriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, defines mascot this way: of “French origin (1881); a person, animal, or object adopted by a group as a symbolic figure esp. to bring them good luck.”
Well, I thought we were a pretty good marching team, but I guess Mr. D thought the Little Colonel unit might profit from a little reinforcement; and I do mean little. While we were practicing one day at band camp (Earlham College), he revealed a well kept secret by introducing us to our new mascot, Jodi DeVelbiss, his daughter. Mrs. D told me that “timing was everything” and that Mr. D chose band camp as the right time to incorporate our mascot into the unit.
I began to wonder how it all began, so I asked Jodi (now in her 50s) if she would allow me to interview her. She readily agreed but added that she would likely have to include her mom since she was not sure she could remember all I might ask. We set the time and place, and I carried questions and pen to her home, along with camera and tape recorder. (We ignored the tape recorder since we spent the greater part of a day reminiscing and sharing what “it” was all about.) To-the-rear: March! We have to go to the beginning.
Jodi was born Jolene Ann DeVelbiss on September 12, 1954, in Troy, Ohio, to her parents, Jack A. and Phyllis J. DeVelbiss. She was a whopping 6 lbs-7 oz. Her daddy was already engrossed in the music world, especially band, so Jodi was also surrounded by music and music students from her beginning. She absorbed her surroundings as she and her mom (and later her little brother, Bruce) accompanied Mr. D to marching venues for Colonel White band practices and to the school to rehearse for annual operettas (she could sing all the songs from Brigadoon and most from The King and I, and Carousel), for choir, and for orchestra performances at Colonel White. She watched the formation of the Little Colonels as an organization as a three-year-old. Then she began to demonstrate the influence of her father’s career on her own life.
“Jodi began marching all around the house,” her mother says. She sang. She danced. She marched and sang and danced! Her babysitters were Little Colonels (Sally Rozsa, the second head Colonel, for one) and band members.
One day in a private conversation between Mr. and Mrs. D, Mrs. D suggested, “Wouldn’t it be cute to have a mascot for the Little Colonels, dressed in a miniature uniform?” At first Mr. D was hesitant, but he noticed Jodi’s interest in marching—all around the house—and asked her if she would like to be the mascot for the drill team. She was ecstatic! After attending all the practices and games, she had learned the commands by sheer exposure. She knew all the Little Colonels, the band members, and the parents…it felt natural. Early in the week of band camp in preparation for our senior year, Mr. D introduced Jodi as our mascot; she began working with us on an abbreviated schedule in August, 1963, as a petite nine-year-old.
Jodi distinctly remembers getting fitted for her uniform. She stayed home from school to make the trip to Fechheimer Bros. Co. Uniforms in Cincinnati, where our outfits were made-to-order. It was a rainy day, but she was on top of the world. Filled with great confidence about her position behind the head Colonel, Marilyn Hamlin, she stood on the table where they measured her and jotted down notes about her height, arm length, shoulder width, and neck size. The entire length of her uniform was 20.5 inches; her sleeve length was 16 inches; her waist was 9.5 inches; the collar opening was 3.5 inches! Her boots were 8 inches long. Jodi still has her uniform, and when we looked at the bottom of her boots, she whispered in a melancholy tone, “Look, that’s real dirt from Welcome Stadium,” as she scraped her fingernail on a speck of it.
When practices began at DeWeese Park for the upcoming football season, Miss Armstrong would pick Jodi up from E. J. Brown School and take her to the practices. She “felt so big and so special.” She marched directly behind Marilyn, basically as a mirror image, and followed her lead. When Jodi’s technique needed polished, Marilyn was her teacher. Protocol between Jodi and her dad when they were working on the field together was strict. “Jodi, you are not to cry or whine or ask your father for favors,” cautioned her mother. “You are just like the other girls.” At that, Jodi almost avoided her dad on the field, and I remember only one time when Mr. D corrected Jodi and asked Marilyn to “work with her.” Jodi recalls that Marilyn was so patient and gentle with her. On the field, she called her dad “Mr. D.”
“Jodi, how well do you think you understood the scope and responsibility of your participation in the Little Colonels,” I asked. She answered, “I think I understood pretty well for my age. Dad would go over the shows with me at the beginning of each week, and I would watch the [Little Colonel] movies with him. It brought out great confidence in me during a shy time in my life.”
Jackie: “Did you ever worry you would forget the routine?”
What a disappointment she had to bear; however, she is happy and thankful she was able to be our mascot during the years when the Little Colonels flourished under the direction of her father. She was Mascot for two years before outgrowing her mini uniform! She transitioned from E. J. Brown School to Colonel White High School and graduated in 1972.
Following high school, Jodi attended the University of Dayton as an honors student with a Bachelor of Science in Education. Presently, she spends time working with her husband, Steve, in their family business; and she volunteers as a trained pet therapist with Delta Society. She reads to the blind on the radio program, “Words Reading Radio Service.” On this special station her show, Animal Magnetism, she entertains her listeners with articles and news about animals and the environment. Jodi is also a published writer and focuses primarily on food and health topics. She and Steve have one son, a daughter-in-law and a grand-dog! Her father passed away at 61 years old of brain cancer, and her mother lives close-by.
Certainly, we did not consider our mascot as a mere good-luck charm. She was a gifted little person who, indeed, was a marvel in her mini uniform as she marched around the football field under the direction of her beloved dad.
Class of '64
The Marching Little Colonels
Colonel White (CW) Junior High School transitioned to Colonel White High School, commencing the 1957/58 school-year, but do you know when the Little Colonels originated? Do you know who our founding father was? The Little Colonels organization was founded in 1956 by Jack A. DeVelbiss. The first head Colonel was Harriett Smalley, and the Little Colonels marched their first performance in the fall of 1957. The rest of what I have to say will entwine facts with my own memories. How I loved being a Little Colonel!
During our 8th grade year at E. J. Brown, I remember discussing with Sandy Garwood, Kristi Duckwall, DeeDee Study, Vickie Brown, Sharon Price, Gwen Slutzky, Sherry Stabler, Barb Banta, and others who would try-out for Little Colonels, and who would try-out for cheerleading. That was our big decision of the day!
The first “Colonel” I knew who wore the white uniform was Karen Annis; she was Colonel during our freshman year (1960/61) at CW. Our director was the late Jack DeVelbiss, and his intimidating manner was his means of pushing us to our fullest potential. In addition to his stern professional side was his personable, soft side. But it was his perfectionistic approach to the organization’s performance that inspired me. Mr. “D” commanded respect from both the band members and the drill team, and he communicated clearly that the Little Colonels complemented the band.
The Little Colonels unit was comprised of four officers, including the Colonel, seven rows of six, and two alternates (who, by the way, were required to know every command, routine, and have the flexibility to take any unit position at a moment’s notice—a big responsibility!). The front row, right guards, and left guards squared the block. When Mr. D diagramed our routines, he designated our positions on the field as rows and numbers: for example, R-1 and T-3 and Y-6. Every position mattered. Every position was an honor. Our style was “precision military drill.”
I wish I could remember when preparations for try-outs began—it must have been during the middle part of the second semester of our freshman year. Those of us who aspired to join the ranks of the Little Colonels signed-up and were then assigned to a senior Little Colonel who would begin our training for the actual try-outs. If I remember correctly, our freshman try-outs numbered approximately 200 freshman and sophomore girls competing for 10 positions being vacated by graduating seniors. The large group of hopefuls were divided into mini-groups of 10-12 and stationed in designated sections of the school halls. Each outgoing senior Colonel led a group. Every weekday, we gathered in our respective places in the halls of CW to learn and practice the commands. Oh, wait. I forgot an important set of requirements! A Little Colonel must be between 5’2” and 5’7” tall, weigh between 105 and 137 pounds, and be proportioned accordingly! She must maintain above a “C” grade average. Before we could try-out, we were weighed and measured. Scary!
Colonels! Fall in! Core! Attention! were the first commands we learned. The particulars included correct posture, feet position, hands position, eyes straight ahead, NO smiling, no locked knees, distance between each Colonel forward and to the right, straight lines, straight columns, and minds alert for the next command. Following those were the stationary commands: at ease, parade rest, new parade rest, dress right: dress; left face, right face, about face, core: salute; mark time: march; forward: march; and finally, fall out.
The commands when standing still were verbal. The commands when we were ready to move forward or were already moving were verbal or by whistle. So the next set of commands our leaders taught us were the steps for navigating the marching field. Corralling the unit always began with, “Colonels, fall in!” When marching with the band, “TWEEEEEEeeEET from the drum major’s whistle grabbed our attention! Boom! resonated the base drum. Ching! clashed the symbols. Da-da-da-da tapped the snares” to indicate the tempo. Boom! Ching! Da-da-da-da! When our Colonel or other officer began whistle commands, “TWEEEEEEeeEET, tweet, tweet, tweet, tweet” started us marching, always left foot first. We understood the language and obeyed. Whistle tweets told us which direction to turn. Mark time: march! left flank: march! right flank-march! to the rear: march! new to the rear: march! were all driven by each command’s own whistle sequence.
While practicing for try-outs, the shrill of the whistles rang throughout the Colonel White halls. No horseplay during practices…we practiced until we were tired, sweaty, and ready to go home for dinner!
Nerve-wracking Two Days
Again, I don’t remember how those of us who wanted to be part of the Little Colonels got through the school days, anticipating the intense scrutiny and competition we would face for two days during the preliminary try-out the first day and the finals try-out the second day. Try-outs were conducted in the gym. Mr. D and Ms. Armstrong (the late Kathleen) were the head judges; the reigning Colonel also participated, and all the current Little Colonels were expected to attend. I remember Mr. D saying that it was not only how good a candidate performed during the days of try-outs, but how much potential each one exhibited.
That has stuck with me throughout my life, and I’ve applied it in a variety of situations…it has served me well to consider how much potential another person has.
We were drilled and examined in groups of six, a larger group, and individually. No music, no drums, no lines on the gym floor meant we had to be able to do the job free from props.
Band Camp and 8-to-5
No, those are not the hours we marched. The band and Little Colonels stayed in the college dorms, each in their own sections; the cheerleaders joined the Colonels in our section of the dorm. Two girls shared each room, and the community bathroom and showers were down the hall. Johnnie Mathis albums filled the airwaves on our end of the dorm, and he sang from the moment we hit the floor until the phonograph was turned off as we left…you know—the melancholy love songs that helped us grieve for the boyfriends we missed! Ben Gay® wafted through the air. Every calf (leg part!) ached more than we could have imagined.
Up at 6:30 a.m. Breakfast at 7:00. Group meeting. On the field by 8:00. One 30-minute break mid-morning. Lunch. One-hour (or was it less?) rest after lunch. Back to the field. Thirty-minute break. Dinner. Group meeting. Back to the field until 8:00 or 8:30 p.m. Lights out at 10:00.
The days were hot; the fields were dusty; the drilling was merciless—or so it seemed. To build stamina, we marched laps around the running track. To look like a single moving part we learned to span exactly eight steps to every five yards. Up and down the field, back and forth for two full days—without the band. Tuesday afternoon, the drummers came to our practice field for the next stage. Recently, I could not resist proving that I can still do “8-to-5” when I participated in the annual Corporate 5-K a few years ago…we met on the field at the O’Rena (now called the Amway Arena) in Orlando, Florida! Sure, I felt a little ridiculous, but yes, I can still march 8-to-5!
The drilling paid-off! The band practices paid-off! When the Colonel White band joined the marching Little Colonels on the football field at Earlham College, both organizations were prepared to work as one for the remainder of band camp. It was exciting, and those college fight songs we had heard so many times rang out. Wow! The band gave our marching the spirit we needed and the ability to lift those knees higher! Our grueling drills realized their purpose. The Little Colonels bonded as a unit. Friendships and allegiances solidified. Band Camp ended, but the results lingered.
Showtime at the Football Games
Every game half-time show seemed like the first. Every whistle tweet from the drum major signaling the start of a show was as exhilarating as the first! Mr. D taught us well—we were terrified to make a single mistake, and we were personally dedicated not to disappoint him, the crowd in the stands, or ourselves.
Preparation for each game began with Mr. D. He expertly hand-crafted each show on paper and then mimeographed copies for every member. Each would find her position on her copy—marked by her row letter and column number (S-2, etc.) or a little x—and quickly review her movements. We memorized the routines according to the progressions from one segment of the show to another as well as counting our own steps. Each Little Colonel was accountable for making a perfect show. Three after-school practices per week were not optional during football season, including any additional practices called by Mr. D. The dismissal bell would ring to end the school day, and we would race to change into marching clothes. Parents would be waiting outside the school to shuttle us to DeWeese Park’s practice field. We worked! No breaks. We worked until we got it right. Parents car-pooled us to our various homes following each practice; we finished at 5:00 or 5:30 (which was it, gals?) and after dinner, it was homework time…we had to keep those grade averages up!
Game day came, and excitement rippled throughout the school. The White House was our meeting place prior to leaving school for the game field, and uniform inspections preceded getting into the buses: clean uniforms, polished boots, spotless gloves, hat perfectly situated over the left eyebrow with chin strap at the edge of the chin. Mr. D delegated the inspections to the Colonel or one of the other officers. When dismissed to the bus, we ran to take our seats! Miss Armstrong usually accompanied us, but she did not run! The band members crowded onto their buses with their instruments. The cheerleaders either accompanied the football team on their buses or rode with the Little Colonels. Heading to Welcome Stadium or to another school for an away-game, the parade of buses transported at least 200 kids overflowing with energy, anticipation, and Colonel White spirit.
To and from each game we sang and cheered; the songs we always sang last were You’ll Never Walk Alone, If I Loved You, The Lord’s Prayer, the Colonel White Alma mater, and our Fight Song. Then we were ready! We remained in full uniform at all times. If we had one piece on, we must don the entire uniform; one exception allowed us to remove a glove if we bought food or a drink at the stadium concession stand. Upon arrival at the field, we marched to the platform located at the foot of the bleachers on the 50-yard line and took our seats. Performing the pre-game show was a privilege for certain home games, but when we were not marching, we were cheering with the cheerleaders.
Minutes before the whistle begin our half-time show, we marched to our starting point(s). Sometimes we formed one line across the field on the goal line; sometimes we were in block formation; sometimes, we were intermingled with the band; some shows started the Little Colonels at one end of the field and the band at the opposite end; at other times we exploded onto the field from the sidelines. Mr. D’s creativity and expertise “did us proud!” Our shows included intertwining argyles, turning wheels with spokes, script and block letters, figures morphing from one to another, bursting from one configuration to another.
We considered Meadowdale’s drill team as our top competitors. But, of course, we were better!
The bus ride back to the White House was either rowdy or reserved, depending on whether our football Cougars won or lost. A quick change of clothes in the girls’ locker room and a little primping readied us for whatever fifth quarter activity we had planned. When Monday came, we would meet in the band room for review and debrief; periodically the scale would greet us at the door! Practices for the next game picked up where last week left off.
Nearing the End
Apart from performing at all football games, we performed at an occasional pep rally, a couple of home basketball games, the annual Montgomery County Fair, the Columbus Day Parade, and the annual University of Dayton (UD) Parade that started in downtown Dayton and ended five miles down the road. Our last five minutes of marching in the UD Parade were uphill. We pulled out all the stops: we entertained with our capes, whistle driven demonstrations at various intervals, fast marching, slow marching, and a marching kick-step. In front of the Dayton Court House at Third and Main Streets, the judges’ stand marked where we showcased a routine especially prepared for the occasion.
Our senior year, Marilyn Hamlin led us in the white Little Colonel uniform. Sandy Carter was our Lieutenant Colonel; Dagmar Taudien was Drill Captain; and Suzy Donenfeld was Lieutenant. That year Mr. D introduced us to our first mascot, Jodi DeVelbiss! She was so tiny! And when she showed up in her miniature Little Colonel uniform, I was afraid she would be swallowed up by all of us big kids around her! I still do not know how she marched 8-to-5 (behind Marilyn) with her nine-year-old sized legs. In addition to Jodi, Dave Harrison joined us and the band as Mr. D’s assistant.
What a great year as seniors! What a super experience…I am almost embarrassed to publicize that I still dream about a reunion that calls us all to “Fall in!”
We were not the last of the Little Colonels, but years later the size of the unit dwindled until the Little Colonels Marching Drill Team no longer existed. The leadership changed. The rules changed. The marching style changed. The uniforms changed. The demands on students changed. As we remember the Little Colonels, we can only see ourselves as we were in the early 60s. That image will never change.
Personally, being a Little Colonel saved me from the turmoil of a dysfunctional family, from a life of belonging nowhere. I had a place in a family of 48 girls. Having a purpose and knowing I could fulfill it well puts being a Little Colonel at the top of my list of significant emotional experiences!
©2008 Colonel White H.S. Class of 1964