Drum Corps International
Our friend Bill

Our friend Bill

by Drum Corps International

Star of Indiana founder Bill Cook passed away on Friday, April 15 at the age of 80. Learn more: "In memory of Star of Indiana founder Bill Cook" Longtime DCI World Championship broadcast host Steve Rondinaro, broadcast producer Tom Blair, and DCI.org columnist Michael Boo share some of their personal anecdotes of time spent with Bill Cook below. By Steve Rondinaro

Bill Cook (L) and Steve Rondinaro at the re-opening of
the historic West Baden Springs Hotel in French Lick, Ind.
I'll miss Bill Cook on so many levels: friend, mentor, business partner, fellow drum corps guy … he was a larger-than-life character with no pretensions. I met Bill as Star of Indiana exploded on the drum corps scene in the mid '80s and we decided to do a feature piece for the World Championship telecast. He and I were going to shoot an interview in a park in Madison. I'd never met a billionaire before. Up walks this guy with a droopy sweater, well-worn brown pants, big glasses … and I'm still looking for the billionaire. Meet Bill Cook, who had driven a corps bus into town the night before. The interview went fine, although much of it was done while walking in the park, which also meant that we had to continue to walk and talk for the cover (editing) shots. Bill and I talked about all kinds of off the subject, not for air stuff as we went through the motions for the camera. That was my first brief peek into the man. First impression? A pretty darn cool and fascinating guy. From that encounter a friendship would grow. Bill touched countless young lives through Star of Indiana and later that theatre production "Blast." What many people don't know, especially with the passage of time, is how many other corps he helped financially when they were strapped and hurting, or what he did for Drum Corps International itself. Among other things, Bill saved our DCI telecasts on PBS when money got tight and he came on as executive producer and major sponsor. The list goes on and on. I hope other people will share some of those stories. Bill was a very giving guy. He and his wife Gayle, a very giving couple.

Interview with Cook from the 1986 DCI World Championship broadcast.

I feel badly that Bill's role in and passion for this activity we love is not more widely known, understood, and appreciated. Bill was a man of strong opinions and a world view, which he was not shy about expressing. He had to be that way to succeed in his business world. Some people in our tight drum corps community were rankled by that. So Bill and Star eventually left the activity and created a "performance cousin" in Bill Cook fashion that made it to Broadway. Even though Star and "Blast" moved on, Bill always remained a fan of drum corps. To see him beaming at last year's appearance of the Star Alumni Corps at the World Championships and banquet the next day in Indy was an honor. I will miss Bill immensely but have some great memories of our various adventures and discussions over the years. He did so much good for so many, and I'm thankful that drum corps was a part of his legacy.
By Tom Blair

Tom Blair with Bill Cook at Cook Hall, the Indiana
University basketball facility built with a donation made in
honor of more than 10,000 Cook Group employees.
I feel like there is little I can say about my friend Bill that hasn't already been said by senators, governors, university presidents and other men and women of great stature. But what I am feeling is the loss of a true friend. After a trip to Indiana that originally promised a visit with Bill and Gayle and the celebration of yet another spectacular Cook contribution to the world, I am back at my desk with work to do. And for the first time in 25 years, I know that I can't pick up the phone and call a good friend who always answered. A friend who was as likely to send an e-mail kidding me about the "Green Team's" latest exploits on the field, as one telling me about his lunch with Prince Phillip. Bill loved drum corps. All drum corps. He and his wife Gayle arrived at shows early and sat in the stands from the first corps to the last. He was the first one out of his seat after the last note and his distinctive "Yes!" always preceded the rest of the crowd's roar. The creation of Star of Indiana was simply Bill recognizing what drum corps could do for young people (and old). He saw the positive influence of the drum corps experience and tried to provide that to as many people as possible. And while most know the story behind Star of Indiana, fewer know the many other ways that Bill and Gayle supported DCI and drum corps. Introduced to DCI by watching the PBS broadcast (at his son Carl's insistence), "The Cook Group" provided major funding for the DCI telecast for about five years. And while the actual money given to DCI for the show was upward of $200,000 each year (you do the math), much more was provided in-kind. Cook personnel provided support if needed by TV or DCI. Cook aircraft flew TV crews to locations. Bill knew the importance of DCI on TV and he generously supported it.

Cook poses with Star members as Caesar. From King
Belshazaar to Uncle Sam, Cook attended events each
summer costumed in the theme of the corps' production.
My favorite story that defines Bill's style is from 1993. We were enduring the Championships in Jackson, Miss. and there were two corps who had simply run out of money. Bus trouble and expenses had conspired against them and neither had enough to get home. I'm pretty sure it was the morning of the Finals when I heard about a gathering near the concession stand outside the south end of the field. Seems there was an unscheduled award ceremony about to take place. I left the TV truck and walked over in time to see two corps being given special "entertainment awards." These two prizes came in the form of checks from a mysterious drum corps foundation, and they happened to be just enough to cover what those two corps needed to get home. Bill wasn't even there. There are a thousand Bill Cook stories. Everyone has them. Because, when you were with Bill, you lived life to the fullest. There was nothing you couldn't do. He helped you live your dreams and no one ever forgets moments like those. He lived an extraordinary life, building a global business worth billions out of a spare bedroom in his apartment. Along the way he touched the lives of millions with loyalty, humility and generosity. Bill became less involved with DCI but he never lost his love of drum corps. He gave up on the baggage that sometimes clutters our view of the real values at the heart of the experience. After Star left DCI in 1994, he still came to see shows. He has every DVD. He was at the World Championship Semifinals last year to see the Star Alumni Corps perform. He had made the trip to Lucas Oil Stadium after having a surgical procedure that morning. So while he may not have been the first person out of their seats that night and while the shout was subdued, he was still there, loving every minute.
By Michael Boo

Cook poses in his 'joker's hat,' a favorite of his to wear
during Star of Indiana's circus-themed show in 1987.
I owe a lot to Star of Indiana director Jim Mason for introducing me to Bill Cook back in 1987. Bill was wearing a joker's hat with a giant card in the hat brim, playing up on the corps' circus show theme. He was not what I expected from this person whom I knew was responsible for founding companies around the world that were saving lives with cutting edge medical devices. In Oswego, Ill., I saw him not think twice about crawling under a corps bus to see if he could figure out a mechanical problem that no one else could solve. It didn't matter that he was attired in clean street clothes at the time. Once, when I pulled up in the parking lot at Illinois State University, he spotted me and insisted I jumped into his car, which ferried me to a picnic with childhood friends of his who lived nearby. I had no business being there, but to Bill, it was one of the spontaneous things he did every day of his life that give others memorable experiences. And for those who knew Bill and were his friends, (such as Tom Blair and Steve Rondinaro), there is a litany of memorable experiences that seem to have no end. Once in awhile, I would receive an e-mail that contained the corniest joke I'd ever heard…nothing else. He could have just as easily wrote that he had been invited to meet Prince Philip (which he did) or that he had received another honor from another organization (which happened on a fairly regular basis). The only honor I remember him really being proud of was the Horatio Alger Award, presented to him in recognition of being a self-made success story, just as Horatio Alger was. That self-made man did not hold his status over anyone: Every other time we went out to dinner, it was the unspoken rule that I was to buy. That kept us "even." However, ice cream was always my responsibility. When I was working in-house on a massive book writing project on the history of coronary angioplasty, it was not unusual to get a phone call from Bill's secretary that Bill wanted me to report to his office. I'd walk in and he would say something like, "You need a drum corps break. Let's watch some drum corps." Then we'd sit down and he would play a DCI video loud enough to rattle the walls of his office. (This is not one bit of an exaggeration.) Afterward, I returned to work on the book, my eardrums still vibrating, along with my brain cells.

Michael Boo with Cook in 1987.
Later, he would claim he didn't follow drum corps anymore, but I knew that wasn't the case when my cell phone would ring at the start of the finale of the DCI World Championships. Bill was on the other end, wanting to hear the scores announced live. This past Saturday, I attended the dedication of the Indiana Landmarks Center; a magnificent new performing arts complex in Indianapolis restored by Bill, his wife Gayle and his son Carl as a gift to the people of Indiana. The event was long scheduled by the recipients of the massive restored church as a tribute to Bill and his family for once again stepping up and saving another magnificent structure from the scrapheap of decay. (They had already restored the West Baden Springs Resort—featuring the largest dome in the world until the Astrodome was built—and the French Lick Resort, two grand, massive southern Indiana structures that were about to fall in on themselves, plus many other restorations that demonstrated their love of the historical fabric of Indiana.) Naturally, the dedication wasn't going to be what everyone had hoped and expected. Bill passed away quietly the day before. Marsh Davis, President of Indiana Landmarks, (an organization founded to preserve Indiana's architectural heritage), addressed the 600-pound gorilla in the room when he took the stage, ahead of Bill's good friend John Mellencamp (who was immediately flying out to Canada for a concert just hours later), and Senator Richard Lugar, who came in to deliver the tribute to the Cook family). Davis told the audience members seated in Cook Hall, many of whom were understandably teary-eyed, that the event was not what anyone expected, but that Bill liked loud things and wouldn't it be appropriate if we all demonstrated our appreciation for what he had pulled off with the magnificent restoration of the grand building. And so, as if pulled out of their pews by a single tug from above, more than 600 people at the dedication stood up, clapped wildly and yelled "Bravo!" and other salutes of thanks for at least two minutes. The walls must have been rattling like Bill's office when he played drum corps recordings. He surely was smiling.

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