From the November 2010 issue of Our Moment, the UConn Foundation's e-newsletter.
Students are proud of their UConn Marching Band connection---they list it on Facebook, they join in large numbers (more than 300 this year), they perform whenever the opportunity arises. UConn Marching Band Director David Mills has made being a part of the band cool. “There’s always that stigma of the band geek,” says tuba player Kaitlyn Profeta, “but at the same time I think people really appreciate it when we do show up to things. It feels good to be part of something bigger than myself.”
Mills has fostered that feeling, of inclusion, and of relevance, since his arrival at UConn in 1990. Twenty years and countless marching band performances later, former and current students united to show their appreciation of his passion and dedication on Homecoming Weekend in October. And being that they are the UConn Marching Band, what a show it was.
Members of the Alumni Marching Band, 170 strong, gathered at Rentschler Field for the Homecoming game against Vanderbilt University. They joined the more than 300 members of the current Marching Band on the field to pay musical homage to Mills. Later that evening at an Alumni Association awards dinner, the alumni announced that they had established the Dr. David L. Mills Marching & Pep Band Fund, an endowed account at the UConn Foundation in honor of Mills’ 20-year anniversary. He was also presented with the Alumni Association’s Faculty Excellence in Teaching Award, for which he was nominated by the Alumni Marching Band.
But the night wasn’t over. After the awards were announced, strands of the UConn fight song were heard from afar. The song grew louder, and moments later, a large portion of the UConn Marching Band, in full regalia, paraded into the ballroom to honor him.
“The look of pride on his face was something I will never forget,” says Kim Lachut, the manager of alumni programs at the Alumni Association.
The band marched through the ballroom, out the doors and onto the campus’s South Green. As Mills watched silently through the ballroom window, the band continued to serenade him.
“He is so very passionate about what he does,” says Samantha Bowley ‘00, a member of the Marching Band from 1995 to 2000. “And one of the most striking things to me is his ability to remember names and faces, which is especially extraordinary when you are looking at an organization of 300-plus people. The whole time I was in the band he would call me by name, whether he was standing on top of the box or in a crowd on campus. There’s a connection there that’s very meaningful.”
But present and past students aren’t Mills's only fans. Parents also energetically applaud his efforts, and several contributed to the endowed fund in Mills’s name. “He’s a great guy,” says David A. Carlson ’75, a donor whose daughter, Heather Carlson '10, was a member of the Marching Band. “As with any kid, the first year of school was hard for her, but the one bright spot was the band, and it was Dr. Mills who made it a fun thing for her. The guy is just great with the kids. So when it came time to give back to the school, he was clearly a large part of my giving back.”
Characteristically, Mills was taken aback by all the fanfare. “I had to actually make a list to keep of all the wonderful things that happened for me, many completely unexpected,” he says. Here’s his list, significantly shortened:
• “When the members of the band showed up in uniform for the end of the awards dinner, then formed a big ‘20’ outside the ballroom windows;”
• “All the wonderful notes from alumni;”
• “The huge turnout for the Alumni Marching Band at the Homecoming Game and the warmth and support they showed;”
• “Finally, my 94-year-old mom seemed to not be all that impressed with the awards and such, but a football helmet signed by Coach Randy Edsall presented at halftime? That got her attention.
And just as characteristically, he was humble about his accomplishments. “Now I have to work hard to actually deserve the wonderful things people said to and about me,” he says.
To support the UConn Marching Band, please contact the annual giving department at the UConn Foundation.