Thursday, July 15th, the oldest town band in the state of Kansas, the Arkansas City Community Band, will celebrate their 150th Anniversary.
In November of 1870, frontiersman and circus musician, Edward Jonathan Hoyt, better known as ‘Buckskin Joe’, arrived at the small town of Creswell in southern Cowley County. By May of 1871 the town’s name was changed to Arkansas City and Buckskin Joe had organized the “Buckskin Border Brass Band”, complete with ‘coon skin caps.
Since then, there has always been a town band of some form in Arkansas City. Despite World Wars, the Great Depression and Dust Bowl, global pandemics and several fights with the City government over funding, there have been public performances every year for 150 years.
Throughout its history, the band has gone by several different names under 17 different directors. At times there was even more than one band active at a time, including separate male and female groups. It wasn’t until 1953 that women were officially allowed to participate. In the early years, the band performed at a wide variety of venues all over the region, but in 1913, the rotunda was built at Wilson Park, giving the band a permanent home that is still in use today.
Festivities will begin at 7:00pm on the 15th at Wilson Park. Very special guests for the occasion include members of the 312th Army Band. The ‘’Churchill Winds”, including Ark City native, clarinetist Sergeant Tim Hewitt will perform separately, before joining the Arkansas City Community Band for the rest of the concert. Hewitt says “I remember playing in the Ark City Community Band starting in 8th grade. The fact that I get to come back all these years later with the Army Band and play for my friends and family again is really exciting for me.”
The Commander of the 312th Army Band Chief Warrant Officer 3 Sharon Toulouse commented: “After a tough 18 months of COVID-19 mitigations and safety measures, we are
just thrilled to be out in the public telling the Army Story, engaging the
public and representing our military in our musical fashion. It’s a real joy
and honor to be a part of this event and we look forward to doing more for
our communities as we begin to heal after such challenging times.”
The Community Band will focus on music with a Kansas theme for this concert. Musical selection to include: Sousa Marches “Salute to Kansas” and “Kansas Wildcats March”; “Home on the Range” as arranged by KU professor James Barnes; “Salute to the Queen” written by a former longtime director of the band W.D. MacAllister, a medley of selections from the “Wizard of Oz” and several other pieces. A very special finale will be the premier performance of “Americana!” written for the occasion by former director of the band and world renowned composer Gary Gacksatter.
Gacksatter will be present to conduct his piece and share in the festivities. Gackstatter commented on this piece saying: I was “trying to capture all the feelings about making music for 150 years- all the people who have played (thousands!), picnics, 4th of July, summer concerts- man, that’s what it’s all about!” It is “quite an honor, really, to be a part of the history of this band!”
Joining current director Chris VanGilder and Gackstatter conducting the band will be other special guest conductors including Staff Sergeant Becky Jones, Sergeant First Class Brad Harzman and Alicia Kerwood, director of bands at Douglas High School.
Melodie Parman, long time member of the band and the current secretary/treasurer, said “I began playing in the Ark City Community band right after marrying and moving to Ark City in the summer of 1978, under the direction of August Trollman. Except for a few years when my children were very young, I continued playing under the direction of Gackstatter and VanGilder. I have watched the band grow and improve with every year that has gone by and it has been a wonderful ride. As the oldest adult currently involved, I can honestly say that I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything. The last time I attended Alumni Band Day at the University of Kansas, I received a t-shirt that read: ‘You don’t stop playing because you grow old—you grow old because you stop playing.’ Until I’m too old and blind to read the music, I will continue to play.”
VISIT Ark City will be providing free hot dogs at the concert, a fireworks display will follow the concert and the band will also introduce new ‘uniforms’ for the occasion, courtesy of the VJ Wilkins Foundation. According to VanGilder “the Wilkins foundation has been a Godsend for the Arts in this community. They have helped so many organizations in the town and we are very pleased that they have helped our community band in a variety of ways. This year, they have again helped us provide new shirts for the band to wear at performances, bring Gary in, and have a fireworks display after our anniversary concert.”