Brief History of the Marine Band of Allentown
One of the
outstanding qualities of Allentown, Pa., is its bands and love of band
music. The Marine Band of Allentown is an important part of that
tradition and our history is a reflection of the musical growth of the
The band was first
organized on Jan. 19, 1903, when a group of musicians headed by William
Wereley met at the Friendly Inn on North 7th Street. Wereley, a fine
cornetist, was selected as the first conductor, a position he held with
the Liberty Band until it disbanded. The 23 charter members selected
the following officers: William Hoover, president; Charles Long, vice
president; William Gruver, secretary; William P. Long, treasurer; Peter
DeLong, manager; Monroe Harring, assistant Manager; and Solon Boyer,
George Hoover and Charles Ruhle as trustees.
The band was in
popular demand almost immediately, playing 131 engagements in its first
year. In 1907 the band became affiliated with the Sons of Veterans
Reserve. Led by William Werkheiser, it was known as the 2nd Regiment
Band, S.V.R. Through World War I, the band was a popular attraction at
all veteran and military functions. Members of the Marine Band
performed faithfully with the United States military bands, serving
this country in both World Wars and the Korean conflict. One member,
Henry Herlicker, was killed while sounding the charge at Sedan, France
only one day before the First World War ended.
In May of 1928,
the Marine Band purchased the Morris Hoats homestead at 27-29 South 7th
Street. The building was remodeled as a rehearsal hall and storage area
by Butz and Clader Co. at a cost of over $100,000. More than $20,000
was spent on the purchase of new uniforms and instruments. The band was
under the direction of Joseph Ricapito.
In October of
1928, the Marine Band became nationally known when it performed for the
National Convention of the American Legion in San Antonio, Texas.
During this trip, the band played in Buffalo, New York, Chicago,
Springfield, Illinois, St. Louis, Missouri, Houston, Galveston, Dallas
and Ft. Worth, Texas and Little Rock, Arkansas.
In 1929, the
Marine Band Auxiliary was formed, and for a number of years this group
supported the band with many fund raising projects.
Tragedy struck in
April, 1931, when fire swept through the three-story Band Hall. The
loss of instruments, music and damage to the building was $33,000. Fire
insurance and the help of the good people of Allentown soon had the
band back on the bandstand.
August 1965 saw
the band sell its rehearsal hall to H. Leh and Co. because of rising
operating costs. The band found a comfortable home in the East
Allentown Fire Company building on Walnut Street. In 1994, through the
efforts of band president Martin Karess, the band relocated to its
present headquarters, "The Band Barn", on Academy Road in Lehigh
The band has had 12 conductors since 1903. The early group (1903-1935) included William Wereley, John Meyers, William H. Werkheiser, Edwin Gangawer, Alvin C. Hoover, Charles Kehm, Vermond Knauss, Theodore Otto and Joseph Ricapito.
In 1935, Albert Marchetto took over the podium. Arguably the most famous of Marine Band leaders, this well known composer and conductor held the baton until 1960. Valgene Routch followed and conducted the band until 1962.
Since 1962, the band has been under the direction of Raymond S. Becker, Jr. A composer in his own right, Mr. Becker is in his 41st year as director, the longest tenure of any Marine Band conductor. During his leadership the band has gained recognition for its musical growth, quality of performance and diversity of programming. Mr. Becker credits the efforts of our talented membership as the most important factor in the organization's artistic growth.
Over the years,
several members of the band are credited with more than 60 years of
service. The longest-serving active member is Garner Ellis, who joined
the band in January 1943. Next on the list is Frank Mesaros, Sr., who
joined the band in March of the same year. Current members who have
been active for 25 years or more include: Raymond S. Becker, Jr. Robert
Billig, Jr., Russell Braun, Robert Danner II, Thomas Heinick, Louis
Laubach, Kent Ruch and Burton W. Swayze
of people hear the band in its many venues, which include annual spring
and Christmas concerts, West Park, the Festival of Bands, Mayfair and
other locations throughout the Lehigh Valley.