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A 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 city.

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 Parkway.

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

Today, thousands 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.