Marching forward: Band members thrive thanks to donor support

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Each fall more than 200 students take the field as part of the Colorado State University Marching Band. Their performances are always a crowd-pleaser, but there is one woman cheering them on with more enthusiasm than the rest — Dame Jackie Erickson, the marching band’s number one fan and most generous supporter.

Long before she established one of the most substantial marching band scholarships in the country — the Dame Jackie Marching Band Scholarship — Erickson enjoyed her own turn in the spotlight. She played the glockenspiel in her high school marching band and, at 16 years old, performed at the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, Japan. Given her own history, Erickson and husband Ed Warner were excited to see the CSU Marching Band perform for the first time.

The band performing the No. 5 at Kilkenny Castle in Ireland“The Warner College of Natural Resources invited Ed and me to the football games, and after the second time, I was on the field at halftime listening to this marvelous band play outstanding music,” she said. “And then, when the trombone section performed Cadence No. 5, I was hooked!”

The heart of CSU traditions

According to Ann Gill, dean of the College of Liberal Arts, the band is at the heart of CSU traditions.

“Fans near and far love the marching band,” Gill said. “They appeal to, and honor, generations of Rams and Aggies.”

The CSU Marching Band was established in 1901 with just 13 students. It has grown substantially since then, with 240 members this past fall. They were the first collegiate band to be asked to participate in Denver’s annual Parade of Lights, they regularly perform at Denver Broncos games, and appeared during consecutive collegiate bowl game telecasts from 2013 to 2015.

In the last decade the CSU Marching Band has received national and international recognition for its innovative performances. In 2009 they collaborated with the Dirty Dozen Brass Band in a halftime show to raise awareness for the St. Bernard Project, an organization committed to rebuilding homes in the New Orleans area after Hurricane Katrina. The following year they collaborated with Grammy-nominated swing band Big Bad Voodoo Daddy for the CSU homecoming half-time show. And the Rams marched in the 2013 St. Patrick’s Day parade in Dublin, Ireland.

The trombone section performs No. 5 at the Homecoming and Family Weekend pep rallyThe marching band is open to all students, and 75 percent of members are non-music majors, representing all eight colleges. Erickson sees great value in bringing together diverse students across majors.

“Marching band provides students with a sense of community on campus and a better understanding of fellow students from other disciplines that they might not have otherwise befriended,” she said. “It’s a positive outlet from the pressures of their studies.”

Helping the band thrive

Erickson was so impressed with the CSU Marching Band that she was inspired to support them, establishing the Dame Jackie Marching Band Scholarship in 2010. The Office of the President partially matches the scholarship, which is awarded to all returning members with at least a 2.8 GPA and increases based on years of service. Second-year members receive $800, third-year members receive $1,000, and fourth-year members receive $1,200. Erickson’s generous funding and partnership with the Office of the President supported an incredible 82 students this past year.

In the years since the scholarship has been established, the program has seen a measurable impact on retention and academics, which was one of Erickson’s goals.

The marching band performs in the St. Pakrick's Parade in Dublin“It was important to connect a minimum GPA to the receipt of my scholarships, and as a result I have watched the students’ academic achievements improve,” Erickson said.

Before the creation of the Dame Jackie Marching Band Scholarship, the band was composed mostly of first-year students. As their studies grew more challenging and time was taken up by part-time jobs, many students dropped out of band.

“Since the Dame Jackie Scholarship was established, the marching band has retained older students who can mentor the younger incoming students,” Erickson said.

Dame Jackie March to Dublin Challenge

Erickson’s support of the marching band has extended beyond scholarships. When the band was invited to Dublin for the opportunity to perform for more than 750,000 fans at the St. Patrick’s Festival and Parade, funding the trip proved challenging — until Erickson stepped in.

Citing the value of her own experience performing in the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, she helped the marching band raise funds through the Dame Jackie March to Dublin Challenge, which matched $50,000 in donations.

“I was thrilled when CSU was invited to perform in Ireland, because the Japanese cultural exchange was an invaluable experience for me,” she said.

Erickson, center, with members of the band
Erickson, center, with members of the band

A deep impact

According to Richard Frey, associate director of bands, Jackie’s impact on the students goes beyond the financial.

“Every time Jackie is around the band, the students want to say hi, take a picture, or give her a hug,” he said. “Jackie’s love for the students in our band is obvious. What’s better is seeing the love the students have for Jackie in return. Her gift has made it possible for them to share the great band experiences that she had as a student, and it has had a meaningful effect on their lives.”

For Erickson, it’s all about the band.

“Everybody loves the marching band — just watch the reaction of the students when they perform,” she said. “The CSU Marching Band is a power house, and I believe their future looks bright.”


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