by Pat Seidling, Phantom Regiment director
This past Saturday night, the Wisconsin State Marching Band Championships were held in Whitewater. Though not near as serious of an event as we see in states like Indiana, and few if any bands are as sophisticated as are in Texas, it is an enthusiastic event, with over 30 bands in four classes competing.
Chippewa Falls High School from Northwest Wisconsin has proudly sent their band to compete at this event and has done so since the early 1980s. They always do well and place near the top of the largest class. This year they took third and no doubt the kids had a ball.
After the show, the band loaded their buses and headed back up Interstate 94 West and toward home, four charter coaches in all.
With only 30 miles to go, at about 2:00 AM this Sunday, the lead bus came over the top of a hill, only to meet a jack-knifed semi head on. With no time to react, and really nowhere to go anyway since the semi blocked both lanes, the bus hit the semi.
Band director Doug Greenhalgh, his wife Therese, his granddaughter, Morgan, and student teacher Brandon Atherton, were all seated in the front row of the bus. They, along with the driver, were killed.
About 30 students were injured, as many as six med-evac helicopters flew the injured to hospitals in Eau Claire, St. Paul and other places.
This tragedy is not about me in any way, shape or form. But it hits home, in that Doug and his family were doing what we all love to do: teach kids, create music and travel. That they died is so tragic; that they died while doing what I know they loved to do is bitterly ironic.
I was born in Chippewa Falls. My Dad went to that school. I grew up in the town next door (Eau Claire). I first met Doug Greenhalgh 22 years ago when he was hired at that school. We remained friends since. He was a good man.
He was a drum corps guy, marched in the Wausau Story and taught at my hometown corps (Sundowners) off and on over the years, and for a few years Doug judged extensevley in the Drum Corps Midwest circuit.
Red-beard, leather jacket and always easy-going and friendly, maybe some of you Midwesterners reading this recall him?
The story of the Chippewa Falls (us locals call it “Chi-Hi”) band is a story in itself: 25 years ago this small town of 20,000 people had little to point to with pride. In fact, a national news story proclaimed that it had one of the highest teen-pregnancy rates. The other schools in the area had great sports, or jazz bands, or theater.
Someone in that district realized no school in the area was doing marching band seriously, so they thought they could claim that as their point of pride. They hired Doug, gave him a very nice budget to work with and off he ran. Doug has been the man at Chi-Hi ever since and there is no question he not only created a good band, but he gave an entire community a special gift.
Thank God none of the students were killed. We all know that is our deepest fear, each and every time we load those buses and hit the road. These kids don’t come here to get hurt.
That the students lost their teacher in such a tragic and instant way is profoundly sad.
The assistant band director, Brian Collicott, an alumni of the Schaumburg Guardsmen and Madison Scouts, was injured and airlifted away. As I type this, he is alive. I know Brian from my days with Madison. A wonderful man: hilarious, extremely talented and a fine teacher.
I haven’t seen Doug nor Brian for a few years. I hope that the last time I spoke to either, it was in kindness and joy, because they are truly good people.
Tonight I am reminded of how important our work as teachers is — and how all of us who teach or work to provide this experience, be it band, corps, drum line or guard, are truly blessed.
In this cold manner of electronic communication, I hope you can sense my deepest appreciation for all you do and I am so thankful to get to live this life with you.
I wish I had taken the time to say so to Doug.
Be safe, my friends.