Fox Valley Raiders

Aurora, IL United States
Founded: 1970

Inactive Junior

CORPS Photos

The Fox Valley Raiders was a junior marching and maneuvering corps based in Aurora, Illinois.

The beginnings of the Raiders are somewhat vague. In 1970, just after the official folding of the Royal Airs Drum Corps of Chicago, Lenny Gilchrist seems to have thought it a shame that there wasn't a drum corps in Aurora. He discussed his concerns with family and friends, they gathered together an organizational meeting on October 8, 1970, and the ball started to roll.

The task seemed almost impossible. There wasn't any money, and there were no sponsors. The only positive aspect of this daunting situation was the drive and determination of the founders to be part of a drum corps again.

The naming of a new corps is always interesting. Should this one be called "Farmers of Fox Valley" with the corps dressed in bib overalls? Or the corps could be called "Time Machine" and each year use music from a different period in history, dressed in red, white and blue. Many names were considered at the second meeting, held in November, but the name that was picked and that Louise Gilchrist obtained the charter for from the State of Illinois was the "Fox Valley Raiders Drum & Bugle Corps," with home base in Aurora. Bob Goodrich was the first corps director and Leon Gengler the business manager, with Len Gilchrist serving as the corps commander.

The staff acquired a temporary practice site at the YMCA Annex, where ten students met for the first rehearsal on a cold Sunday afternoon in November. With no instruments or equipment, the staff could only offer marching and maneuvering practice, over and over again. What kept the students coming back is still a mystery. Perhaps the staff's enthusiasm was that contagious.

The first money for equipment was $10 from each of the staff, $100 from the Spanish-American Club, and $100 from the Seventh Ward Club. These dollars made it possible to purchase a few old horns and drums from Mooseheart. Then the Veterans of Foreign Wars Memorial Post 7452 of Montgomery, Illinois, presented the Raiders with a check for $500 and became their very first sponsor. This money purchased a set of used equipment (horns and drums) from the Purple Knights. The color guard had to make do with old wooden rifles and seven-foot lengths of steel pipe for pikes. But with a membership up to 40, the Raiders now had something to work with.

In the spring, Gary Solfisburg took over as corps director, and the Raiders picked up their second sponsor, the Fox River Valley Park District of Aurora, which gave them a permanent place to practice.

That summer of 1971 with Kirn Currier as drum major, the Raiders marched in their first parade, July 4th at Downers Grove, dressed in black pants and white T-shirts. March was about all they could do; the kids carried their instruments but they really couldn't play them yet. By the end of the summer the corps was a veteran of 18 parades and had mastered one song, "Jesus Christ Superstar," arranged by Gary Solfisburg. They even brought home their first first place trophy that summer.

In the fall of 1971, the Park District of Aurora presented the corps with funds to purchase a brand new set of drums. The membership had grown to a total of 55 by now. During the winter, the color guard got its first set of new rifles and pikes. They also formed a competitive unit and took part in winter guard season.

The Raiders' first drill, a mighty five minutes long, was developed at their first camp at Camp Rotary McQueen, north of DeKalb. That five minutes was crammed with four musical selections, "Ben Hur," "Johnny Goes To Battle," "Hang 'Em High," and "Country Road." The uniforms consisted of black pants and shorts, long sleeve red turtle neck shirts topped with white scarves, white webbed army belts with silver buckles, black shoes, and white boots.

The Raiders, with new drum major Rhonda Oleson, marched in many parades and brought home several first-place trophies in 1972. They also hit the field five times, in three Prelim contests and two shows. The first real win was the Fourth of July contest in Hoffman Estates, but the biggest of all was the Class III Championship of Mid-America Drum and Bugle Corps Circuit in Kankakee that year.

The American Legion Post 300 of West Chicago became the Raiders' third sponsor when they purchased two new contra bass horns and presented them to the corps.

The corps had grown to almost ninety members by 1973 and indeed was ready for the year's competition. Two used school buses cost a total of $225, an amount that also purchased a lot of pride. The City of Aurora became the fourth sponsor, presenting the corps with a check for $1,000.

The uniforms were changed to a red short-sleeve top with a V neck and a white dickey, a white satin sash and a new western type hat. The guard changed to black panels worn over their skirts and black boots.

The guard entered their second year of competition and presented their first color guard show in February. At McHenry, Illinois on April 7, the guard took their first first place, and the next day the corps also took a first place, in a standstill contest at Mt. Prospect, Illinois. The finishing touches on the 1973 season came when the corps took the Class II Championship at the Mid-America Drum and Bugle Corps Circuit at Quincy, Illinois. This was no longer a new young corps, but a fine corps to be watched and reckoned with.

Nineteen seventy-four proved to be a very challenging year for the corps. Now competing in Class A, they really had to prove themselves to the judges. The Raiders took some hard knocks, but that adversity helped to harden them and give them greater determination.

The Aurora Foundation made the down payment on a complete two-year-old set of Olds horns. The uniform was changed back to white web belts and buckles but now with added gauntlets, gloves, and uniform black pants. The organization had grown enough to be able to purchase a used coach and an equipment truck, named, respectively, the "Roach" and the "Blue Goose." The Blue Goose never got painted, it was in such constant use. Later in the year, they had to pick up another school bus, nicknamed "Eddie's Coach."

The first long trip was to South Gate, Kentucky, and Evansville, Indiana. The Southern Rebels beat the Raiders out of first, and the Raiders accepted a proud second. But the next night in Evansville, the Aurora corps surprised everyone by taking first place, and the Rebels had to accept the second. The 1974 repertoire included “Mutiny On The Bounty” and “He Ain’t Heavy.”

The second color guard show was held in March, 1975, although the corps did not put out a competitive guard that year. Total concentration was focused on building a complete corps. Two new drum majors were named, Brian Shaw and Eddie Zamora. Discipline had to be enforced. Many new instructors were added to the staff in order to build the corps that everyone wanted. Management had grown, working together with a well-organized booster club, to build the corps.

This was a season of great anticipation in many ways. The organization knew that they had to make a name for ourselves that would stick. They had to progress. With a loan from Mr. Arenkill, three more used coach buses could be purchased. With the same help, the corps was able to move into its own hall in downtown Aurora, on the third floor of the Arenkill building. No one had been in there for 45 years, so lots of work was needed to get the place in shape. The school bus, "Eddie's Coach", was painted white and nicknamed "The Ghost."

The Aurora Township Revenue Sharing granted $11,000 for new uniforms that year. That uniform was black pants with white stripes, black skirts with white pleats, white dickeys, white gauntlets and gloves. Also, all new bush hats with white plumes and white cotton belts with large chrome buckles were added. The corps changed to white shoes, with the guard keeping their black boots. The Raiders looked sharp and marched like it. They proved that sharpness by bringing home nine first-place trophies that year, the last one a triumph over the Vagabonds of Butler, Pennsylvania.

The finale of the season was being crowned the Class I Champs of the Mid-America Drum and Bugle Corps Circuit. This gave the Raiders the distinction of being the only corps in this circuit's existence to win all three titles. To accomplish this feat in only four years is especially noteworthy. The Raiders had proved exactly what they had started out to do. Now, with one hundred fifty members, they were growing by leaps and bounds. Members were migrating from other corps to join this corps on the move. There were hopes of even starting a feeder corps in the near future. The corps motto is "March with Pride." The kids no longer have to be told this; it came automatically. They are members of the Fox Valley Raiders and are proud of it.

What a memorable season 1976 was, with the Raiders marching in more parades and entering more contests than ever before. The Aurora Township Revenue Sharing donated $2,000, and Ann Roehlk made beautiful new flags for the color guard. Perhaps the season's greatest achievement was the respect earned from other corps, not just from the marching members but their management as well. Other corps now looked up to the Raiders for what they had done in their short existence. The corps had become well known, and although they had always marched with pride, knowing that people outside of their own organization also felt "The Pride Of The Fox" gave an added boost.

The group's first long tour that year was to Butler, Pennsylvania, and Marion, Ohio. For the second year in a row the Raiders captured the Mid-American Championship, and they now had five championship flags hanging in their hall. The corps performed at DCI Midwest in Whitewater, Wisconsin, for the first time, placed third in both VFW and American Legion state competition, and defeated the Kilts in Wheeling, Illinois. They played "Emporada Overture," "One Fine Morning," and "Boat," among other tunes that year.

An especially memorable achievement in 1976 was beating the Bellville Black Knights at the Illinois State Fair, with a score of 72. The corps brought a total of six first-place trophies home to Aurora, along with the Governor Dan Walker trophy. They needed more space for their awards.

The 1977 season saw many exciting changes. VFW Post 7452 in Montgomery now called themselves "Sponsors of a Future Champion." The Raiders had titles to defend and finally got their feet wet among the DCI corps in the national competition, led by drum majors Jimmy Trautz and Mike Svoboda and guard sergeant Robin Roehlk. Fielding 128 marching members, they had their own fleet of busses and a semitrailer for equipment.

The Raiders were now competing against corps of their caliber as well as DCI corps. They came out with new uniforms, hand-made by the mothers, involving a switch from short to long sleeves and from skirts to gauchos and overlays. Their first major title at American Legion state competition came in July. For the second year in a row they won the Illinois State Fair and again collected six first-place trophies. The state fair was also the beginning of the season's second tour, this one to Denver, then on to Minnesota for VFW Nationals. Major accomplishments for the summer include third place at VFW state competition, 11th place at DCI Midwest, 28th place at DCI Prelims, eighth place at American Legion Nationals, and fifth place at VFW Nationals.

An addition to the Fox Valley Raiders was a new cadet corps, formed in early 1977. The Fox Valley Raider Cadets had approximately 45 members over the 1977 season, and they represented the Fox Valley area in four parades that season.

In the spring of 1978, the Fox Valley Raiders put out a competitive color guard, led by Tim and Gina Guare; the group took 14th place in WCI finals.

The Raiders drum corps struggled to field a competitive unit in the summer of 1978, but were unable to do so. Although they did host their annual show Drums Along The Fox, the corps watched it from the stands.

[Shari Kadlec]

Members (19)

Member Name Section Years Involved
Brown, Shari Cymbals / Rifle 1975 to 1977
Christiansen, Craig Horn Line 1971 to 1974
Davidson, Jerry Brass Instructor/Arranger 1978
Donka, Kevin Snare Drum 1973 to 1978
Edwards, Shari color gauard (Flags) 1972 to 1975
Foster, Jim Baritone 1977
funkhouser, rick horns 1971 to 1976
Gass, Karen Color Guard 1970 to 1976
Gilchrist , Bonnie staff 1970 to 1974
Held, Jim Horns - 2nd soprano 1975 to 1977
Howes, Red Mellophone 1975 to 1978
Keeney, Karen Mellophone/Flugel/Soprano 1970 to 1976
lange, kevin mellophone 1972 to 1977
Pierce, Mark tenor drums 1977
Solfisburg, Steven French Horn, Mellophone 1970 to 1978
Trautz, Jim Baritone/Drum Major 1975 to 1977
Witt, Rob Drum Line 1977
Wold, Mark French Horn 1975 to 1977
Wood, Nancy Flag/Rifle 1973 to 1978
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