by Mike Ferlazzo, DCW staff
They’re simply known as “mom and pop.” And they look as comfortable in the close confines of Capital Regiment’s souvenir trailer as other silver-haired grandparents might look in rocking chairs on the front porch.
But don’t tell them to rock the time away. They’ve got far too much to do.
That’s because Sandy and Bob “Old Man” Neer of McMenville, TN — husband and wife, ages 71 and 73, respectively at the start of last summer’s drum corps season — are literally the mother and father of drum corps souvenir invention.
Remember the t-shirt that gave us the top 10 reasons to be in drum corps? They came up with that.
They also created the famed t-shirt with “Dick does drum corps.”
And they established the drum corps dog tag craze, too.
In fact, they’re always coming up with something new. When you’ve been selling corps souvies as long as they have — 24 years now – they have enough experience to know what might work and what may not.
That’s why Capital Regiment Director Rick Bays called them to run the corps’ souvenirs when the decision was made to return the corps to the field this past summer for the first time in three years.
“We knew this [Capital Regiment was coming back out on tour] for about nine months,” said Sandy. “We’ve been in contact with Rick [Bays] off and on over the years. So he said, ‘You will be with us, won’t you?’”
“We said, ‘Maybe’,” said Bob through a laugh.
That truly was a joke because mom and pop have never passed an opportunity to help kids in the marching musical arts. They believe they log about 23,000 miles pedaling souvenirs each year and not just for corps. They do marching band shows in the fall and they did the winter guard Music City Mystique for years.
“We like to travel. That’s why we have the RV over there,” said Sandy. “We just got that two years ago. Before that we were traveling in an old van. By the end, it went so slow that you could count the stones you passed along the side of the road.”
They’ve never missed a drum corps summer since first getting into the business — err, make that a non-profit retirement activity.
“We’re not a business. We’re a non-profit,” Sandy insisted. “All the profit goes back to the groups. But we buy all the merchandise ourselves.”
“We purchase things, do the work and they get the money.”
Something’s wrong with that,” said Bob, who was busy getting Capital Regiment’s souvenirs in order on this day back in May, just six weeks after undergoing spinal surgery.
“We have fun working with the kids,” he said in all seriousness. “They’re fantastic.”
And it was the love of one particular child that first got them into the drum corps business in the first place.
“We had a daughter who marched drum corps,” Sandy groaned.
Their daughter, Sue O’Brien, marched with the now defunct Guardsmen of Schaumburg, IL for seven years.
“She aged out and then she volunteered us,” said Sandy. “She said, ‘Mom and dad, you need something to keep you busy’.”
“We retired and she said, ‘Mom and dad, why don’t you come and help out with the new corps in Tennessee [the Volunteers]? We volunteered you’,” said Bob, who also reports he previously drove a bus for the Bluecoats and the couple assisted with corps’ bingo games.
The rest, as they say, is history. Mom and pop have now pedaled their wares for such corps as Carolina Crown and Southwind, in addition to Capital Regiment. They’ve done dog tags for the Bluecoats and Phantom Regiment, too. And they previously did work for Lone Star, Memphis Sound, in addition to their first corps, the Volunteers.
They report that they make between $40,000 and $50,000 in profit for marching organizations during the band season each fall. And they bring in roughly $12,000 for each corps over the summer tour.
And once they’re called in to do the job, the Neers try and stay out with the corps most of the summer — when they’re not called back home now by doctor’s appointments.
“Because we’re old,” said Bob through another laugh.
They’re there to run the souvie stand, of course. But just like any mom and pop, they’re there to support their summer kids, too — even if they don’t get much, or any, chance to see them perform.
“You never get to see the corps march if you do this,” said Sandy. “Kids stop by after the show and ask, ‘How was our show?’ And we say ‘Oh, it was wonderful’.”
“You tell them what they want to hear,” Bob said. “They don’t care if you saw it. If they think you saw it, that’s all they care.”
What corps management cares about, of course, is the “bottom line” on souvenir sales. And that’s why mom and pop decided to get creative.
“We have quite a following [for their line of merchandise],” Bob said. “But we do generic stuff. And we customize all of our shirts. Everything’s made on site. We carry no pre-made inventory.
“Mostly kids want things customized,” he said. “They like putting their names on things.”
And this elderly couple has been putting their established name on the art of corps souvenir sales now for nearly 25 years.