Love of marching in the Purdue Band spans
Parents return to march with their kids at Homecoming
been years, decades actually, since John Eagin had put a trumpet to
his lips. But when he got the letter inviting him to join the Purdue
“All-American” Alumni Marching Band for a halftime show
at Homecoming 2003 he knew he had to do it.
Nostalgia washed over Eagin. It was, after all, the final year his daughter
Suzanne, scheduled to graduate in December, would play piccolo with
the band. So he got out his trumpet, which had been silent for 30 years,
and immediately started practicing.
Eagin isn’t alone. He’s just one of several alumni band
participants this year who have sons and daughters carrying on a family
tradition of playing in the Purdue band.
For all alums, Homecoming generates a flood of memories. Being able
to march onto Ross-Ade’s turf to present a Homecoming show with
your son or daughter, however, puts emotions way over the top.
“Every time I try to put my emotions into words, I get all choked
up. I have so much emotion, I have had to promise my son that I won’t
be a crying, slobbering idiot at homecoming,” says Nancy King
Theis, a former twirler whose son Andrew is a sophomore tuba in the
“The first time I saw him in uniform I cried, and I cried when
I saw him do the band cheer. Being a part of the “All-American”
Marching Band was one of the best experiences of my life and to be able
to share it with my son is a great joy. It is one of the golden moments
Theis never thought her son would come to Purdue because he grew up
in the green and white Michigan State world of East Lansing, MI, listened
to his dad cheer for the Spartans, and often watched the MSU band practice.
Eagin, an Austin, TX, resident, always thought there was a good chance
his daughter would go to Purdue because her parents and grandparents
are Purdue alums. “Suzanne always loved band and had been very
active through high school. She first visited Purdue when an older brother
was looking and she took a liking to the campus. Band was just the clincher
for her,” Eagin says.
Marching as part of the same halftime show on Saturday “will be
one of the truly unique, one-on-one moments, that my daughter and I
will share. It will be very special for me to relive those feelings
of excitement and pride that I have watched Suzanne experience in recent
years. I am really thankful for the opportunity to do it,” says
It’s been a common joke, from Eagin’s and Theis’ time
in the band to their children’s, that nothing ever changes in
this tradition-rich band. But that’s not really true and Eagin’s
glad one thing has disappeared – the military edict that only
men could play instruments.
“If things hadn't changed then my daughter would have never experienced
the thrill of marching in the band. The only women in our band were
the featured twirlers and the military-style majorette corps.”
Theis experienced life from the twirler’s side and is also glad
some things have changed. “We had to weight in every Monday. It
was very stressful,” she recalls.
Ask her about the things that haven’t changed and Theis really
“Lots of things have not changed. For one thing, the location
of the Clothing Office is still up many, many flights of stairs. Band
camp is still grueling. My favorite tuba cadence still is played after
the game. Drummers and tubas have not lost their zest for life. Band
people are still loads of fun and demonstrate great enthusiasm,”
she says. And those are just the things at the top of her list.
Passing on the band legacy from one generation to the next starts with
the telling of stories. Kids hear them told, and retold, from the time
“There were a couple of stories,” admits Eagin, “like
the thrill of going to South Bend when Purdue and ND were ranked #1-2
and we whipped them on their own field. Or the one about the trip to
Columbus in 1969 when we were on national TV and I had left my suspenders
in Lafayette. I marched all day with one hand up under my jacket holding
up those baggy pants.”
Theis, who married a Michigan State fan, says: “I was determined
to share the wonderful traditions of the ‘All-American’
Marching Band. They heard stories about daily drill, fantastic friendships
as well as about my travels with the band. Many stories were told about
hurrying to wait on trips, scum pond adventures after drill, hearing
my number (M24 where are you!!) announced over the speaker at drill
and so much more.”
She traveled to Venezuela and Canada with the band as well as trips
to various Big 10 football games, and those experiences resulted in
more than memories and scrapbooks full of photos.
“It sounds funny and insignificant, but from the traveling with
the band, I learned how to hurry up then wait with patience and grace.
Patience is a great lesson and has been valuable in my professional
and personal life,” Theis adds.
As they get ready to return to Purdue for Homecoming and play “Hail
Purdue” one more time in Ross-Ade Stadium, Theis and Eagin are
both keenly aware of the special bond band has created between them
and their children.
“Suzanne and I both enjoy music and appreciate great performances.
The common values we share do help to form a special bond as we experience
the joy from both participating in and attending musical events,”
The band connection “has drawn us closer,” adds Theis. “Andrew
is an adult and there are times when I see him now that I realize he
is becoming a friend and not just my child.”
It’s not just the parents that are looking forward to Homecoming.
“I’m very excited to have my dad marching with the alumni
band this year. He was a member of the band 30 years ago and I always
heard stories that he told me about his days in the band. I can’t
wait to watch him out on the field,” says Suzanne Eagin, a senior
majoring in communications.
“ I tried to get him to march for alumni band my sophomore year,
but I just couldn’t convince him. I told him though, to be prepared
to march my senior year, never really meaning he had to, but I was hoping
he would. He knows that it means a lot to me to see him out there on
the field reliving his days with the band.”