DCI Hall of Fame member Ken Norman tells a story he heard about a particularly unfortunate member of the Argonne Rebels.
“There was a kid from the Argonne Rebels practicing his bugle while he was driving a tractor,” Norman said. “He hit a bump, the bugle fell out and he ran over it with the tractor.”
Regardless of whether that story is true or just an urban legend, it captures the roots from which the Argonne Rebels came.
Based out of Great Bend, Kansas, a town of about 16,000 people, the Argonne Rebels constantly exceeded expectations and became a founding member of Drum Corps International in the 1970s, competing on the national stage until their disbandment in 1984.
Today, the Rebels are the subject of an exhibit held throughout the summer at the Great Bend Public Library. The showcase will take visitors back to the founding of the Rebels in 1947 and provide a look at the corps’ heritage and the legacy the organization left behind.
The exhibit, which opened to the public on June 1 and will remain open until September 5, is part of the Smithsonian Institution’s “Museum on Main Street” program, sponsored by the Kansas Humanities Council.
“I’ve always maintained that our corps has two legacies,” said Jeff Yeager, an Argonne alumnus and chairman of the non-profit created by corps alumni, Pageantry, Inc. “One is to Main Street in Great Bend, the other is to [the drum corps] activity.”
Even before the founding of Drum Corps International in 1972, the Rebels were beginning to turn heads.
“The horn line set standards,” said Norman, who served as the arranger for several of the Rebels’ productions. “By the time it got to the early ‘70s, they were starting to gain respect.”
The Rebels only made the World Championship Finals in the first two years of DCI’s existence, but Norman says that wasn’t for lack of talent or ability.
“They didn’t score well because people didn’t believe it,” Norman said. “People didn’t believe this sort of thing could come from a small town.”
But the Smithsonian believed it, and the idea of a successful group coming from such a small town is what brought them to Great Bend.
“I believe the appeal to the Smithsonian was the relatively small community (less that 20,000 people) from which we came, competing nationally with corps from large metropolitan areas,” Yeager said.
The process of bringing the exhibit to the Great Bend Public Library began nearly two years ago.
Shortly after the death of longtime corps director and DCI Hall of Fame member Glenn Opie, the library approached Pageantry, Inc. about the opportunity to be a partner site with the Smithsonian’s initiative.
“When a grant opportunity from the KHC was announced, [the Great Bend Visitors’ Bureau] contacted me to inquire if it was something we would want to be a part of, and we jumped at the chance,” said Jennifer King, marketing librarian at the Great Bend Public Library. “The history of the Argonne Rebels Drum & Bugle Corps is quite extensive in Barton County and it was very obvious to us that it would be the focus of our local exhibit.”
Thanks to the efforts of corps alumni, 40 years of drum corps history are on display at the library.
“I reached out to a group of former Rebels to help plan, and they went above and beyond my expectations,” King said. “The exhibit went from being a small collection of memorabilia and photos to what it is today.”
1971 Argonne Rebels
The exhibit was created and designed by Scott Ward, the principal and creative director of By Design Partners, who marched as a member of the Rebels in the early 1970s.
In addition to the summer-long exhibit, the Rebels are the subject of several events happening July 11 through July 14.
There will be a reunion of former Argonne Rebels members taking place the evening of July 11.
The exhibit at the Great Bend Public Library will be dedicated at 3 p.m. the same day, in conjunction with KHC and the Smithsonian.
The March of Champions is typically held in Wichita under the title of Drums Across Kansas. For this year only, the event was moved to Great Bend and renamed as part of the festivities.
And after that?
“We’ll again focus on the archives.” Yeager said. “We promised Glenn Opie we’d find a permanent place in Great Bend for all the DCI documents and memorabilia. That’s our next challenge.”