Drum Corps International

Len Piekarski - DCI Hall of Fame

Len Piekarski

Inducted in 2003

Len Piekarski first marched with the Palmer Sons of the American Legion drum corps of Chicago back in 1933 at the tender age of 7.

Seventy short years later, most of which saw him involved in the activity as a member, judge or instructor (he served as an instructor of the Chicago Royal-Airs alumni corps last year, even traveling with the corps by bus to a DCA show in Scranton, Pa., in the late summer), he'll be inducted into the Drum Corps International Hall of Fame.

"Next to my family, drum corps comes next -- that's how important it is to me," Piekarski said of his lifelong association with drum and bugle corps.

Piekarski, a retired mailman from Mundelein, Ill., was a marching instructor for the Cavaliers from 1957 to 1968. Corps that he was affiliated with won 11 junior and senior national championships.

"I can truly say, without Len on our team, we would not have had all the championships we were honored with. It was due to Lenny's drills that fans gave the Cavaliers the nickname 'the Green Machine'," DCI Hall of Fame member Don Warren wrote in Piekarski's hall of fame nomination letter.

"He made them the Green Machine," concurred Joan Piekarski, Len's wife of nearly 50 years.

One of Piekarski's favorite drum corps memories was the undefeated 1961 season of the Cavaliers. He also fondly recalls the Skokie Indians' "three-peat" of American Legion National Championships in 1955, 1956 and 1957, when the corps was rewarded by being invited to perform at halftime of a Washington Redskins football game. The corps traveled by train to Washington D.C. and were put up in a hotel for the game. "It was a fun trip! We just had a good time. We got the royal treatment," Piekarski said.

As an instructor, Piekarski is remembered reverentially. "His consistency of excellence in designing drill, teaching precision execution, and motivating others is a foundation for today's competitive drum corps. Len's story should be heard by all," according to Les Dlabay, who also nominated Piekarski to the Hall of Fame.

"I did the best I could for them," Piekarski said of the corps he instructed. He often devised drill designs while walking his mail route, and also brought a sketch pad to drum corps contests to map out future shows. "I always thought I could do better," Piekarski said.

Piekarski, also a U.S. Navy veteran, became a drum corps judge. Off the field, Piekarski was a mailman, and he also coached youth baseball, football, softball and basketball.

Piekarski cites percussion instructor Frank Arsenault, Cavaliers' arranger and program director Sal Ferrera, commanding officer and director of the United States Marine drum and bugle corps Col. Truman Crawford, Cavaliers' founder Don Warren, DCI judge Dick Brown, Skokie Indians' bugle instructor Eddie Riemer, fellow 2003 DCI Hall of Fame inductee Glenn Opie, percussion instructor and DCI Hall of Fame member Larry McCormick and Chicago Royal-Airs' founder Sie Lurye (also a DCI Hall of Fame member) as the people he has most respected in the drum corps universe.

"Those guys helped me. It was a combined effort. There are so many people," Piekarski said.

Piekarski still attends DCI shows, and says he appreciates the recent work of the Cavaliers and the Cadets. "DCI corps are fantastic! I couldn't even approach the level they work at. Their marching is fantastic," Piekarski said.

Piekarski passed away Aug. 3, 2014, at the age of 88.

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