Nancy Richmond (DeLaPorte) and Rita Green (Cornelius) marched together in Hannibal's first Mark Twain Marching Band Festival, staged 67 years ago, which was organized by Hannibal music legend J.M. Dillinger.

Nancy Richmond (DeLaPorte) and Rita Green (Cornelius) marched together in Hannibal’s first Mark Twain Marching Band Festival, staged 67 years ago, which was organized by Hannibal music legend J.M. Dillinger. His goal was to create a non-competitive venue for area marching bands to showcase their talent.

 Nancy was the youngest in her family, and Rita was the oldest in her large family. In 1948, Nancy played the French horn in the Eugene Field Junior High School band, and Rita played percussion drums.

 On Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015, Nancy and Rita – still friends after all these years – sat on the lawn in front of the Marion County Courthouse at Hannibal and watched the annual parade together.

 “It was fun, interesting,” Nancy said. “You think back to when you were standing on that blacktop and marching up and down the street. You miss it, you miss it a lot,” she said, before her tears began to flow.

 On Tuesday, “we watched everything go by. We were really excited; it’s neat to remember the things that used to be,” Nancy said.

Music memories

“My family was involved in all kinds of music,” Nancy said, so participating in the school band program came naturally. “My grandparents lived on the corner of Broadway and Richmond; my grandmother’s maiden name was Love. She was Scotch Irish. My mother sang very well, that’s where we got our vocal chords. One of my sisters could just sit at the piano and play anything she wanted to.”

 Nancy remembers a time when she was 3 or 5 – preschool – that she sang in some sort of program at the Orpheum Theatre. “I remember standing there keeping time to the music, and somebody said: ‘Look at the rhythm she’s got.’ I like to sing. The song may have been ‘Over the Rainbow.”

Eugene Field School

Nancy transferred from Mark Twain to Eugene Field elementary school in sixth grade, and then continued on at the school through junior high.

 Her sixth-grade class was on the third floor; and when she advanced to seventh grade, students changed classrooms on the second and third floors. The school office was on the second floor, west side of the building. The auditorium was right across the hall. Next door to the office was a room where the instruments were stored.  “We’d get our instruments and go to the auditorium to practice,” she said.

 Mr. Dillinger was the music instructor for the entire school district, and his wife was his assistant. “He was a big guy, tall, and she was real tiny,” Rita said.

 “They lived on St. Mary’s Avenue,” Nancy said, next door to what is now the Smith Funeral Home & Chapel parking lot. Nancy remembers taking baton-twirling lessons from Mrs. Dillinger in their basement. Rita took piano lessons from Mrs. Dillinger for awhile.

 When Rita and Nancy were pre teens, there were three junior high schools in Hannibal: one at Eugene Field, a second at Stowell, and the third at Central. In addition, there was the Hannibal High School band, all under the direction of Mr. Dillinger.

Other classmates

“Jack Kretzer played the trumpet” in the band, Nancy remembers. “He sat right behind me. Bev Darr’s brother, Don Barnett, played the French horn. He was really good,” Nancy said. “He should have been first chair instead of me. When I left, Mr. Dillinger moved him up. And Rita Green, of course. She played drums. I can remember she was a snare drummer. When we would march, that drum would hit her leg every step she took. She would have great big bruises on her thigh.”

The first festival

“I remember we had the band parade at 10, and all the buses came back to the high school,” Rita said, where the students had been dismissed for the day. “Each (participating) school was assigned a classroom, and you could put all your stuff in there. We all had lunch in the school cafeteria (located in the high school basement) and in the afternoon we rehearsed for the mass band show that evening,” Rita said.

 When Rita and Nancy got to high school, they stayed with the music program. Nancy became a baton twirler for the marching band, and Rita continued playing the drums. 

“The uniform we had was not very flattering,” Rita said, “gray pants and a red Ike (as in Dwight D. Eisenhower) jacket that just came to the waist. After that they got a longer jacket that sort of covered your behind. 

“I don’t think there was anyone who was in band who hated it,” Rita said. “We were sort of a little club. We went to Kirksville and Columbia for contests; and went to Mizzou for a mass band performance. All of the football stadium was covered with high school bands, and we played ‘Stars and Stripes Forever.’”

Mary Lou Montgomery is a writer, speaker and researcher with a specialty in history. She is the former editor of the Hannibal Courier-Post.