Remembering the Corps
By Olivia De Valk
STEVENS POINT – For Wisconsin Rapids natives, Francis Spaulding and Jim Wesley, the late 50s to early 60s are filled with memories of their time playing in the Wisconsin Rapids Scouts Drum and Bugle Corps.
Wesley unofficially joined the Corps at 13 where he spent one year in the color guard before he was allowed to fully join. He played a number of instruments before finally working his way up to the drums.
Wesley proudly reports that Spaulding was the real talent behind the Drum and Bugle Corps, and calls his friend quite the bugle player.
At that time, Drum and Bugle Corps were known for the precision marching and maneuvering that University bands are known for today.
The Rapids Scouts started out very small, playing with used instruments. But Spaulding and Wesley report that thanks to their ambitious director, Robert Suerth, they were able to improve quickly and in two years they had raised enough funds to purchase all new instruments.
Whatsmore, they were rising in the ranks. Drum Corps were broken up into A, B, and C groups.
“We were at the top of B corps and we really didn’t want to go into A corps, because we were at the top,” Wesley said.
But they did move up into the A group and while they didn’t win as many competitions it is still a point of pride for both Wesley and Spaulding that a little Drum and Bugle Corps from Wisconsin Rapids made it as far as they did.
The precision taught both men attention to detail.
“To me, what I took out of the Corps was discipline,” Wesley said. “I learned respect in there, it was almost like being in the military.”
They reported that one time in a competition, the Rapids Scouts came in fractions of a point behind the Madison Scouts because one boy in their troop had left a piece of lint on his shirt.
But for all the care and attention to detail Spaulding and Wesley put into the Bugle Corps, they still managed to have a good time.
“It was fun because you did it yourself. Nobody could help you – because nobody could. You either did it or you didn’t do it. You had to have the ambition,” Spaulding said.
In the summer of 1960, sixty members of the Corps headed out west for seventeen days, where they visited fifteen cities, seven states and covered over 2,500 miles.
Included in the seven states were Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Colorado.
“It was the highlight of our career,” Wesley said.
In addition to touring as the Drum and Bugle Corps, the members also got to spend a few nights camping under the stars and visit places like Pikes Peak and the Black Hills of South Dakota.
Some Bugle Corps that the Rapids Scouts competed against back when Wesley and Spaulding were members are still around today, but most of them, including the Rapids Scouts, have disbanded.
Some Wisconsin-based scouts that are still playing include the Madison Scouts, who are a world-class competitive drum and bugle corps and the Racine Scouts are the oldest continuously active drum and bugle corps in North America.
Wesley still plays the drums today with his grandson, Wesley.