Drum Corps International
Nisei Ambassadors help make a dream come true

Nisei Ambassadors help make a dream come true

by Michael Boo

In this season of giving, what better gift to give a prospective marcher than the gift of sponsorship? Mee Hee Kim has marched Colts due to the generosity of members of a corps that hasn't existed for the past three decades. The following is her story. I was sponsored this past summer and I wanted to share the impact that it had on my age-out year. My name is Mee Hee Kim and I marched three years with the Colts color guard (2000, 2003 and 2004). I am in my last year at the University of Illinois at Chicago as a biology/pre-med major. I have attached a picture of me with some of the age-outs of the Colts during the age-out ceremony in Denver.

Mee Hee Kim (center) and the Colts' age outs last summer.
I started marching in 2000 when I became aware that the Colts color guard had a spot available mid-season. I eagerly took the position and marched that year. It was an incredible experience. I took 2001 and 2002 off because my parents did not necessarily approve of my decision to march. In 2003, I decided to put my foot down and march again. This time my parents didn't object. I never thought I would be able to march again, but I wanted to prove that even after taking two years off, I still had the desire, passion, and heart to do it. After the 2003 season, I decided that I was not going to march anymore. However, one of my dreams was to age out, and knowing that 2004 would be my age-out year, I was willing to do anything to march one last time. Unfortunately, my parents were not very happy about my decision. I knew that if I wanted to march I would have to take care of all financial responsibilities on my own. Marching any drum corps can be a huge responsibility, especially when you are a full-time college student. I met my friend Ashley at the start of the 2002-2003 school year when she came into my dorm room and saw my rifle up against the wall. The first thing she asked me was, "Do you know the Cavaliers?" Her uncle had marched with the Nisei Ambassadors. The Nisei Ambassadors existed from 1959 thru 1971. They were a predominately Japanese-American drum corps, although they were very diverse. They were invited in 1970 to be one of the original "combine" corps. Ashley and I became instant friends and we still are while we both attend the University of Illinois at Chicago. When it was time to make my final decision about marching in 2004, I decided to write many e-mails to possible sponsors, including an e-mail to Ashley's uncle, Terry Nakagawa. To my surprise, the members of the Nisei ambassadors are very much active with one another and have a reunion every year at The Cavaliers' home show. Terry and the board members of Nisei awarded me with the first ever Nisei Ambassadors drum corps trust fund sponsorship for the 2004 season. I was and still am honored to have received the sponsorship. Terry is the vice-president of a marketing company in downtown Chicago and was eager to set up a meeting with former members of Nisei so they could meet me. I met with some of the members who still live in the Chicago area. It was incredible to hear their stories about when they marched and how the drum corps activity has evolved. They were such amazing people. Regardless of what years or corps you marched, there is in instant understanding of the activity. You share the experience of being a part of drum corps. Even after 40 years, these members still hang out every once in a while to play cards and talk about (what else?) drum corps. Sponsors have a huge impact on many marching members. Many members would not be able to march if it were not for their generous sponsors. I was deeply touched by my sponsorship because it was from former marching members who have been a part of the activity. Many are still active and supportive today. To know that I had their support this past summer gave me much inspiration every time I took the field. My age-out summer was incredible, thanks to the Nisei Ambassadors. I have met amazing individuals through Nisei and their continuing friendships with one another motivates me to continue all of my friendships with the people I have met during my three years of marching. In a letter I received regarding the sponsorship from the Nisei Ambassadors, Terry wrote, "We think it's fitting that it goes to an Asian participant from a drum corps trust that has an Asian legacy. For us, it will be a way to march vicariously through you." Well, I hope I allowed these former members a chance to relive their youths this past summer. I can't thank them enough for making my age-out year so unforgettable! Mee Hee Kim
Biological Sciences, University of Illinois at Chicago
Colts Drum and Bugle Corps 2000, 2003, 2004 Terry Nakagawa was asked to share information about the process of awarding the sponsorship to Mee Hee. First of all, we (alumni of the Nisei Ambassadors) were very proud to sponsor Mee Hee, especially in her age-out season. To have her be of Asian decent -- as our corps was primarily -- was a nice coincidence. A number of us first met Mee Hee at the Cavaliers' show in July, 2003. She attends the University of Illinois at Chicago with my niece and that was how the initial connection was made. In early January, 2004, Mee Hee wrote an impassioned e-mail to me requesting sponsorship for her age-out year. She wasn't asking for money from anyone in particular, but she knew we had all marched. She didn't know about our trust; she only knew that we could probably relate to her and what she was hoping for -- marching one more season. On top of that, her letter wasn't your normal, "please give me money so I can march" tome; it was a treatise on how drum corps affects everyone it touches and is an experience that spans generations. Needless to say, it truly touched a soft spot in many of us. Because we are lucky enough to have money from the liquidation of the corps' assets, we have been funding scholarships and providing donations to a number of Japanese-American organizations in Chicago. Mee Hee would become our first drum corps sponsorship. In addition, we decided not just to fund her fees but to also provide her with a small stipend each month for spending money. In other words, we wanted to allow her to enjoy her last season without the pressure of worrying about finances. Since DCI corps tour all summer, it's virtually impossible for these kids to have a means of income. We worked with corps director Greg Orwell and the Colts' management to arrange for them to provide her this stipend each month during the season. Whatever money was left over from the season, we wanted her to put towards school in the fall. Our only caveat was that she would try to get her parents' blessings to march this last season. To make a long story short, Mee Hee required sponsorship because her parents were against her marching. Many of us faced similar situations in our late teen/college years when our parents felt that college should be the focus of everything. But now that many of us are parents, there was some discussion amongst us if we were butting in to a family situation. We netted out that Mee Hee is an "adult" by all standards, (over 18, an upper classman in college, and for all intents and purposes, able to make adult decisions). However, we wanted her to at least explain to her parents why we were willing to fund her and hopefully that would ease any strains that might occur. Here's Mee Hee's e-mail to us after she found out we were going to sponsor her: "I apologize that I haven't written sooner. I needed a few days to let this all sink in. I was absolutely shocked and floored to know that I am the inaugural recipient of this sponsorship. I was overwhelmed with tears that it took me a little while to actually finish the entire e-mail. I cannot express into words the gratitude that I have for everyone involved to help me march this summer. "THANK YOU! from the bottom of my heart! I am speechless by the generosity of so many people and their families. I am deeply touched that so many of you are concerned about my family. This sponsorship is an honor and privilege to receive. In regards to the reservations of my parents, I am going home in three weeks to try and make this situation better. I hope that this sponsorship will allow my parents to understand better what drum corps has done for so many people. "Because I have all of your support and concerns with me, I can do everything in my power to make my relationship with my parents stronger. They say drum corps brings people together. Well, it has usually brought my parents and I further apart. But now with the enormous amounts of thoughts and support, I know that drum corps will bring us together -- I am sure going to try my hardest. "I have contacted my director Greg Orwell -- he is very busy in the office and I'm sure it will take a few days for him to respond, but I plan on calling him later tonight, also. I have also contacted my caption head, Carla Burgess-Tomsa, to let her know everything that has happened. As soon as I hear from both people, I will make sure everything is clear with paperwork and I will let all of you know ASAP. I told one of my best friends in the color guard about this wonderful sponsorship and I believe she was in tears for me. "The Colts' family is very close, as I am sure that your family was -- and still is. This sponsorship directly affects me, but it also affects the other members of my corps. They are all so happy for me and this opportunity I have. "I want everyone to know that being the recipient this year means so much to me. I want to make every effort to know more of you personally and hear your own experiences and stories of drum corps. I would love to meet as many of you as possible! That would be the least I could do to show you all how much I deeply appreciate this sponsorship. I would also like to make an effort for you all to get to know me better and I would like to send everyone some pictures of previous years on tour and some of my own stories and memorable moments on tour. "Thank you all for believing in drum corps and taking your experiences of marching and providing someone like me the opportunity to really fulfill my role in the corps. I will be forever grateful." Now a little about the Nisei Ambassadors. Our corps was in existence from 1959 through 1971 as an "A" corps. We reorganized as a "B" corps and competed through 1975. The assets of the corps were liquidated by our American Legion sponsors about 1983, and netted around $18,000. We were sponsored by Chicago Nisei American Legion Post #1183 and Forest Park VFW Post #7181. By 1967, we had made our first finals in a major show, the World Open, and the corps really took off from there. Our best seasons were 1967 through 1970. We had steadily rose through the ranks of corps so that we were second only to the Cavaliers in Illinois. In the Midwest, we consistently beat such storied corps as the Norwood Park Imperials, the Des Plaines Vanguard, the Belleville Black Knights and the Blue Stars. Only the Kilties and the Argonne Rebels were corps we never surpassed in competition. Believe it or not, we even beat the Santa Clara Vanguard in 1970, but that was a judging prejudice more than anything else, since the California emergence was just beginning. Even so, we competed against the best corps in the country and more than held our own. Boston Crusaders, St. Joe's, 27th Lancers, Blessed Sac and Anaheim Kingsmen -- just to name a few -- were all in the same shows. Drum corps in the late 1960s and early 1970s was truly -- in my mind at least -- a golden age. Avoiding the comparisons of today's corps-versus-yesterday's, what made this period a golden age was the sheer number of corps, and the vast number of truly great corps. There would be prelims and finals for state competitions. And there were Legion and VFW Nationals, as well as the World Open, the US Open, the Danny Thomas Invitational and the CYO Nationals. We first made finals at a Nationals level show in 1967, placing ninth at the World Open. We made the finals at the US Open in 1969 and 1971, and we missed the 1969 VFW finals due to a change in the scoring when the inspection was tossed out, dropping us from 12th to 19th. At least we were able to vicariously share the excitement of winning VFW Nationals, since we were housed with the Kilts. In 1970 we again made the finals at the World Open, which was arguably our best show. Like many of the corps of the period, the demographic bulge of baby boomers was both a blessing and brought an inevitable end to the activity. Because of a combination of social issues, college and the Vietnam War draft, we lost the nucleus of our corps from 1970 to 1971. But as a testimony to the talent nurtured by the Nisei Ambassadors, many of our alums went on to have starring roles with the Madison Scouts and the Kilties. You could spend a lot of time arguing about what might have been, but in the end, we were a pretty good corps that left a nice legacy. One of the more startling aspects about all corps nowadays is the diversity that can be seen in them. There are kids of all races and preferences. In the 1960s and 1970s, we were probably the most integrated corps in the country, and certainly the only one with a high number of Asians. Today, it's great to see so many Asians in so many corps, in addition to blacks and Hispanics. Unlike a lot of other corps, we were a marching billboard for the times -- we were truly like a United Nations. In fact, we were one of the very few corps that even had African-American drum majors (1969 and 1970). So, we not only talked the talk of diversity, we really personified it -- which kind of brings us full-circle to Mee Hee. Sponsoring her was a great way for us to pay tribute to the drum corps experience, helping us promote the legacy of our corps and ensuring that Mee Hee's dream of an age-out season could be realized. This summer we had our first reunion in 15 years and the only thing missing from it was the Colts (they usually are at the Cavaliers' show, but they missed it this year). It would've been incredible to have all of us see her march in person. I know that there would have been a loud and boisterous standing ovation from all of us, and I'm sure she would have been extremely nervous. Even though only a few of us got to see her march a show (Michigan City, in the rain, no less), we all believe it was money well invested. Terry Nakagawa Colts director Greg Orwoll has a few final thoughts to share. Seeing how much Mee Hee got out of her final year with us, and knowing her situation well enough to know that she would not have had this experience were it not for this sponsorship, it makes me wonder how many other deserving kids like her are missing the opportunity for lack of funding or lack of support throughout the activity. There are a bunch of old drum corps alums who are now in a position in life to financially be able to provide this type of support to young people who want to march but can't. Please consider getting together with your corps buddies and creating a scholarship program in your corps. It would make such a difference to great kids like this. Greg Orwoll

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