In their combined history of 317 years of performing with the Kiel Municipal Band, five core members have set the bar high for what it means to preserve tradition.
This year, the KMB observes its 90th year of its musical tradition as “The Pride of the Town.”
The internationally known community band was just 20 years old when clarinet player John Schmitz joined. He was just 17 back then, and Harry Truman was occupying the Oval Office. The US flag only carried 48 stars back then.
Schmitz recalls KMB member Stan Welker telling him during a parade in Milwaukee, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you a uniform.” Schmitz has proudly worn the KMB uniform ever since.
Three years after Schmitz joined the KMB, Prudence Thiessen Casper became a member of the flute section.
It was a natural fit. Her dad, the late Edgar Thiessen, a KMB conductor for 50+ years, dragged her along to be part of the band at the age of 13, still the youngest ever to play for the KMB.
“Is your homework finished?” her dad would ask. “Well, you need to finish up. We have to get to band rehearsal.
The Kiel Municipal was celebrating its Silver Anniversary when Donna Wirth got the bug to join. She got the nudge from Don Griebenow, a band member helping Kiel music instructor with summer music lessons. Wirth has never looked back on her 65 years in the front row of the clarinet section. She still practices faithfully every day, and takes part in two other bands as well—the Dorf Kapelle and the Fond du Lac Symphonic Band.
Barb Pahr, another clarinetist for the KMB recalls a nudge from Edgar Thiessen as well. This time, Thiessen was in the role of band contest judge. As a freshman in high school, Pahr moved to the Kiel area when her father took a pastoral role at Bethlehem UCC. At a music contest that year, Thiessen suggested Pahr might come to a KMB practice, a little early to work on her solo. “I came and that was the beginning of my involvement,” she said, reflecting on 60 years in the clarinet section.
For Kathy Hanke, the connection to the KMB was her grandfather, Pat Cain, who played trombone. She was also connected through her aunt Lois, who was one of the first female members of the KMB. A friend of Dorothy Hansen Herwig’s in those days, was another connection, and she remembers sitting down in the French horn section next to her father, Eddie Hansen. Hanke was only 14, and Hansen was 80! Music knew no age limitations for the KMB then, nor does it today.
“He had a little trouble seeing and hearing, but we both played the same music,” she said.

Long term commitment
Together, this quintet of band members who have long since bypassed their own golden KMB anniversaries, contributes a grand total of 317 years of playing time to the history of the band.
When you begin to consider that the band rehearses twice a week, plays an average of eight concerts a year and marches in eight parades, that’s quite a commitment.
While some of the most senior members no longer march the parade routes, they all still play concerts and faithfully participate in rehearsals.
Who can even begin to count the millions of musical notes that must be part of this dedicated core group?

Friendships kindled
For each of these members, however, their time with the band isn’t measured in notes or years. It’s portioned by the lasting lifetime friendships that have formed over the years.
As they march parade routes together, made pizzas together, toiled at rehearsals together, they became more than friends. They formed extended family relationships with their fellow KMB bandmates.
Casper said, “The band was always like a second family to me. We just spent so much time with the band. As younger members, we spent time sorting music and packing things away. It was fun, and it was a great way to build friendships.
Schmitz recalls the friendships developed with people like Dwayne Henschel, Wilmer Wolf and Butch Reineck. “Our families were always close, and we enjoyed the chance to party together.” Schmitz also recalled his years with those gents as part of a KMB sub-group known as The Little German Band.

They’ve seen it all
Very little of the history has bypassed this group of five musicians. They have just about seen it all.
—From having their Fourth of July to themselves to having to play up to three events on the holiday;
—Raising funds by making pizzas at the former Kiel High School/VFW Hall building where Bank First National now stands;
—Playing a tune named “Old Vienna” as the band’s signature march before “Invincible Fidelity became the KMB standard;
—The old ugly brown uniforms with straps over the shoulders that could have easily confused the KMB with police officers;
—A bus accident in Rhinelander, where the band bus hit a car and groceries flew everywhere;
—Marching in the soaking rain in Peshtigo during the centennial anniversary of the great fire, some members in water up over their shoes;
—Playing in the muddy stockyards of Prairie du Chien;
—Sharing their music at the fish markets of German on Sunday morning with crowds in the thousands;
—Most of the band getting diverted on the wrong train;
—Staying in youth hostels with no hot water;
—Playing a concert in a factory at noon, where even the workers stopped to have a beer;
—The parade where some of the guys had to change under a tree because they had no time to find a dressing room;
—Playing for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game in Minneapolis, and getting ushered out the stadium as soon as they finished the National Anthem. They weren’t even granted seats for the game;
—so many trips to fun places like Washington, D. C. and Philadelphia during the bi-centennial;
—playing for the circus parade in Milwaukee;
—getting stiffed by the Henry Meier Festival parade, where none of the bands got paid as promised.

Commitment a key
Anyway you cut the pie, 317 years spells commitment on the part of these band members, the kind of commitment that keeps an organization like the KMB vibrant.
From Hanke’s perspective, such commitment is a characteristic of her generation.
“We grew up understanding that when you join something, you stick with it. You stay. Today people come and go, and they have so many opportunities to do other things.”
And, generations of new band members are always needed. As the organization nears its own centennial observance new generations are always welcome and encouraged, just like the days when Hanke and Hansen played next to each other, nearly 70 years different in age.
Casper, some of whose own children were third generation KMB players, holds out hope that perhaps one of her grandkids might one day be a fourth-generation family member in the KMB.
While 70 years has breezed by for Schmitz, he has a keen perspective on commitment. “We have thousands of different people who have played in the band over the years. Some of them are only here for a summer.”
In his wisdom, Schmitz shared clearly the philosophy of this 90-year-old community band.
No matter whether one comes for one summer, or hangs on for 70 of them, all are welcome. All become part of the KMB family and tradition.