Red Christensen, 1917 - 2002By Pat SeidlingPhantom Regiment directorOn October 2, Red Christensen passed away. His 85th birthday was a few weeks away. In drum corps circles it is widely known he was a fixture in the Phantom Regiment organization, no doubt. But his contribution to this activity, though maybe not heralded nationally – he was not truly "famous" - is as big as any. Red Christensen made sure there was a Phantom Regiment.I am relatively new to this corps, and have really only known Red for two of his nearly 85 years. But from the day I formally met him, Red made me feel like he had known me forever. I was very aware of Red's involvement in the corps. He was an institution, if you will. I knew of his legacy in the organization, and I found it very humbling to be the custodian of the corps he had been key in creating. A little of that story follows here, and on behalf of the more than 5,000 people who have marched in the Phantom Regiment, and to the many more who have been touched by this corps performances and history, I hope my efforts here serve Red justice. In 1958 the corps now known as Phantom Regiment began competitions. An outgrowth of various VFW corps in town, they did weekend events in Illinois and Wisconsin and in general served their members well -- all Rockford kids, for the most part. But by 1965, morale was low, finances were tight and a fire had swept the corps hall. Not having the collective energy to keep going, the corps disbanded early that winter.After the doors closed, a few staff members would still get together and play cards, and among them was Red. The card games would turn into drum corps talk, and soon enough those card-playing drum corps nuts decided to restart the Phantom Regiment. They literally put their money on the table and made a pact to get the corps back on the field. That fact in itself is remarkable and alone deserves credit. These men - among them Dr. Dan Richardson and DCI Hall of Famer Jim Wren, both still very active in the corps - actually put personal money at risk to provide a drum corps for Rockford, Ill.And what a corps they provided! This small factory city would go on to produce a drum corps that has made an impact in marching arts as strong as any corps in history. More than 5,000 young people have marched in the corps, they created the trademark "Regiment style" helmet, they brought serious classical music to the football field, produced a WGI world championship competition guard, a national-champion cadet corps, they appear on every Legacy DVD, have been in every DCI Finals but two, ranked in the top six for 21 of those appearances, and, in a quest marked by four prior second place finishes, finally won the World championship. Red was behind it all.I don't mean to brag about my corps accomplishments, not at all. My point is that Red's money on that table made an amazing impact on countless lives. His contribution was priceless. It's that kind of dedication, risk-taking and selflessness that has kept drum and bugle corps alive for all these years. The Red Christensens of the world make wonderful things happen. We here in Phantom Regiment were blessed to have Red, and Jim and Dan, and the others that took the risk on as their duty.Red's corps went on to levels of greatness he may not have even imagined, and he was here for the whole ride. In the early years he was personnel director - he collected member dues ($1 each rehearsal!). He rode along as chaperone on every trip, from the nine-day tour to Upper Michigan to the DCI finals! You know, they tell me back then he wasn't quite the grandfatherly figure he is today, even though he was well into his 50s by then. No, in fact, he was kind of a taskmaster to some kids in the corps. But regardless, it was clear to the members that he truly cared about their well-being. They say he would always stop by the ice cream shop on the way home from practices, and any kid using a lift home from Red was treated to an ice cream cone or malt. On trips Red always rode in the front of the bus with a cooler of soda and a bag of candy to share. In the later years he served on the guard staff, keeping the flags clean, the poles and tape inventory in order and helping in anyway needed. It was just a few years ago that he stopped touring, but he still made many camps and as many shows as he could. In fact, Drum Corps Midwest honored him with a lifetime show pass! He housed out-of-state members as the corps transitioned from drawing neighborhood youth to attracting talent from around the world. He set up a scholarship fund to help offset dues for needy members. To this day, the members of Phantom Regiment know and love Red Christensen.Now, keep in mind, when Red was as old as this year's age-outs, World War II hadn't even begun! Yet he connected with today's members as he did with each generation before. Oftentimes I'd see members sit down next to Red and fill him in on their schooling or the gossip of the day in the corps. Red's presence was the moral compass of the Phantom Regiment.Red Christensen epitomizes what drum corps is about -- providing a great place for young people to grow up. He provided, and what a great place it became!Red had few in his biological family, and his funeral was quick and small. But you can bet every generation of drum corps in Rockford was represented that sunny Saturday morning! Current member DeLynn Mull appeared in full uniform, played a verse of "Amazing Grace" and Taps, and then, in a moving gesture, on behalf of all who ever marched in the Phantom Regiment - walked to the casket and saluted Red.For myself, I can't thank that card-playing team enough. Because of them I have the honor of helping continue what they began. I am thankful Dan and Jim are still here, and I am grateful that I was able to have Red around, if only for a brief time. Come this summer, when I sit and watch this generation of Phantom Regiment members walk off the practice field, feeling good about the performance they are perfecting, having fun, making friends and growing into good citizens, I will be able to look up and let Red know his efforts were not in vain. SUTA, Red. SUTA.
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