Other Names:Imperials of St. Patricks; merger of Imperials of St. Patricks and Thunderbolts (The Thing); Pioneer II

Milwaukee, WI United States
Founded: 1961

Inactive Junior
Open Class
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Results from final championship competition of the year
  • Position: 36
  • Score: 64.300
Repertoire for 2018
Celtic Dragons!
The Awakening by Rob Stein | Dave Campbell | Julia Coleman
Taking Flight (from How To Train Your Dragon) by John Powell
Dragon Fire by Rob Stein | Dave Campbell | Julia Coleman
Beneath the Earth and Sky by Rob Stein | Dave Campbell | Julia Coleman

The Pioneer Drum & Bugle Corps & Color Guard is a World Class competitive junior drum and bugle corps based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.

Although some people date the founding of the corps as that of the Thunderbolts of Cedarburg in 1953, Pioneer does not. The organization claims instead the founding of the Imperials of St. Patrick with the "Luck of the Irish!" in 1961. While the two corps did, in fact, merge in 1973, the elements of the new corps from the Thunderbolts soon returned to independence, leaving only the nucleus from the Imperials, which has continued in an unbroken line through today...

When the corps began, the instructional staff was made up entirely of young men and women from Miwaukee's South Side.who were all also marching members of the Norwood Park Imperials, a corps that had been a finalist at either American Legion or VFW Nationals for the previous five seasons. Therefore, the new corps of youngsters was dubbed the Imperials of Saint Patrick...

Walter Kendon and the Westmont V.F.W. Post were benefactors who donated uniforms for the new corps filled with mostly inexperienced sixth through eighth grade students. The corps bought drums and bugles, and the Imperials began entering Class B and C contests. Used buses were bought, allowing the corps to have its own transportation to shows around Wisconsin and in the surrounding states. In that day of multitudes of corps sponsored by veterans post and church parishes, the Imperials were just one of a dozen or more corps in the Milwaukee area.

As the sixties moved into the seventies, the Imperials' expenses were outgrowing its fundraising ability. Meanwhile, another area corps, the Thunderbolts had money but was having trouble with a shortage of staff and volunteers. In 1972, both corps attended the first Drum Corps International (DCI) World Championship in nearby Whitewater, with the Imperials of St. Patrick finishing19th and the Thunderbolts 28th in the 39 corps field.

In 1973, the Imperials of St. Patrick and the Thunderbolts merged to form a corps with more than 150 members. {A size not all unusual today, but probably only matched in earlier days by the Chicago Royal Airs during the late 1950s.) Both former corps' uniforms were used--- one by the brass, the other by the drum line. Lacking both a sponsor and agreement on a name for the "new" corps, the entity was dubbed "The Thing," and the corps placed 26th of 48 corps at the 1973 DCI World Championships in Whitewater.

An offer of sponsorship from Mr. Jack Dryer of the Pioneer Box and Container Corporation led to the adoption of the name Pioneer in 1974. While there was one, large "A" corps, there were two feeder corps , the Thunderbolt Cadets and the newly formed Pioneer II.

When in 1976, the elements from the Thunderbolts departed the merger to turn the Thunderbolt Cadets into a renewed Cedarburg Thunderbolts, Pioneer claimed the 1961 founding of the Imperials as its beginnings, rejecting the founding of the Thunderbolts twelve years earlier.

In 1978, Pioneers was one of the charter members of Drum Corps Midwest (DCM) which became the premier regional circuit in North America over the next quarter century.

In 1985, when the "A" corps went inactive, Pioneer II began a transition and became Pioneer in 1986. After 15 years as essentially a local corps, Pioneer became a finalist at Drum Corps Midwest (DCM) and the U.S. Open in 1989, and finished in the top ten of DCI's A-60 Division. New Irish military uniforms enhanced the corps’ visual appeal.

The Pioneer captured their first DCM A-60 Championship title in 1990. The next year the corps successfully defended that title, and they also took top honors at the U.S. Open. Pioneer then went on to win the 1991 DCI Class A60 World Championship.

Pioneer moved up to DCI Division II competition in 1992, transitioning smoothly by taking a fourth DCM Championship title, this time in Division II. They continued their winning ways into 1994 by taking yet another DCM Division II title and continued to be undefeated as DCI Division II World Champions.

Despite suffering a serious and expensive vehicle accident in May, 1995, Pioneer took its first full DCI tour with a corps made up of 95 members from 11 states as well as from Holland and Japan. The corps defended their DCM and DCI Division II crowns, in addition to receiving the Spirit of Disney Award that year. They also won the Canadian Open in 1996 and achieved full voting membership in DCI.

Pioneer took the next step in 1997 under the motto "Better Every Day," when they began competing solely in Division I. Just five members short of a full complement of 128 members, the corps climbed to 19th place in the DCI Quarterfinals.

The corps emphasized audience appeal, especially in 1998, by exploiting their niche, the Irish heritage. With a program entitled 'Irish in your Face,' written by a group of East Coast senior corps writers, Pioneer enthused the crowd with its loud brass and large drum line. Adding to the corps heritage, Pioneer introduced new uniforms consisting of khaki pants, a black jacket, and lots of green, orange, and white trim. The corps finished 18th at the DCI Quarterfinals in Orlando, but the crowd’s enthusiasm for the show energized the organization for the challenges that 1999 would bring.

Reminiscent of the Celtic warriors of the 9th and 10th century who roamed in small bands throughout the countryside battling larger forces, the 1999 edition of Pioneer ventured valiantly forth with its smallest corps in several years to compete in Division I for the third consecutive year. Under the direction of William Strube, the small corps of warriors took the field in competition and proved that if you believe in yourself, work hard, and strive to be "Better Every Day," you truly can make dreams come true. Their field of dreams became Madison’s Camp Randall Stadium where the corps of 81 members achieved a spot in DCI Semifinals, placing 17th.

Pioneer’s 16th place finish in 2000 was their best showing ever.

In 2002, Pioneer welcomed marchers from South Africa, sponsored by the Field Band Foundation. The corps finished 22nd in Open Class Quarterfinals. Their 2003 position was 23rd. In 2004, with a program called 'Celtic Impressions,' Pioneer finished 24th in DCI Quarterfinals.

Pioneer is one of the few corps to own and build on its own land. Officially named the Pioneer Musical Youth Center, "Pioneerland" is a 7 acre property in the Milwaukee suburb of Cudahy, Wisconsin that the corps urchased on St. Patrick's Day in 1993. It is the corps' base of operations containing a full drill field, half sized sectional field, offices and work space for corps staff, a garage for the corps' trucks and buses, and a parking lot. The corps' long-range plans calls for adding a facility with practice rooms, a gym, additional office space, and a bingo hall.

"Better Every Day" is a philosophy that has served the Pioneer well for over two decades. Through this philosophy they promote personal growth, teamwork, and acceptance of challenges in a positive manner. When a new member joins the Pioneer, he becomes a part of a team that strives to bring the most out of each member, by doing the very best they can at all times. Every year the corps returns to its roots at St. Patrick's Catholic Church for a rehearsal and concert.

When smoking in public places (Pioneer's bingo games, for example) was banned, the corps' fundraising declined, and Pioneer "tightened its belt" by eliminating many expenses to help make ends meet. Partly as a result, Pioneer fielded a smaller corps; in most years, they have been the smallest corps in World Class. The corps then witnessed diminished scores and lower finishes at the DCI Championships. Despite all that, Pioneer had kept going and striving to be "Better Every Day."

On August 21, 2018, "following several weeks of investigating questions of adherence to acceptable standards of health and safety for all participants, .",  DCI announced that the organization had placed Pioneer "...on suspension from all DCI activities effective Thursday, August 16, 2018." They stated that the action was " response to several issues of concern raised by Pioneer members and staff." and that "DCI will conduct a comprehensive evaluation of Pioneer to determine the corps’ membership and participation status going forward..." and "...will address all issues with Pioneer leadership and lay out terms for possible reinstatement."

On January 10, 2018, the DCI Board of Directors revoked Pioneer's membership. As a result, the corps will no longer be permitted to participate in DCI. It was stated however that, "Should Pioneer make operational and administrative improvements that meet DCI standards, it will be eligible to re-apply for Open Class participation for the 2020 season."

[The Pioneer Drum & Bugle Corps & Color Guard; rec.arts.marching.drumcorps, Bryan Jenner, 5/31/95; Drum Corps World (multiple issues); A History of Drum & Bugle Corps. Vol. 2., Steve Vickers, ed.; Halftime Magazine, June 2911; Drum Corps International;]

Members (94)

Member Name Section Years Involved
Ainsworth, Shane Soprano 1998
Ainsworth, Shane Visual Staff 2000 to 2001
Ainsworth, Shane Soprano/Staff 1998 to 2001
Amigoni, Devin Euphonium 2002 to 2003
Bailey, George Trumpet 2014
Beadles, Damon Contra 1996 to 1997
Benline, Tyler Contra 1998
Billock, Matt Soprano 1994 to 1995
Black, Gary Baritone 1995 to 1997
Bretl, Mark Brass - Soprano 1999
Briddell, Matthew Bari/Euph 2001
Brosky, Elizabeth pit 2002
Burton, Benjie Drumline 1996
Burton, Benjie Cymbal Tech/Ast Director 1998 to 2001
Burton, Terry visual staff 2002
Dahlkamp, Brian cymbals 2005
Diessner, Lisa guard 1994
Diessner, lisa guard,/bells 1995
Diver, John Soprano & Mellophone 2000 to 2001
Duzan, Seth Baritone 1998
Elliott, Brandon Soprano 2002
Eshbach, Stephanie mellophone 2001
Gerber, Greg euph 1998 to 2002
Glasscock, Andrew Mellophone 2004
Gonzalez, David Contra 1999
Gonzalez, David Contra 1999
Grimm, Jessica Baritone 2003
Gruszczynski, Paula soprano 77 mellophone 78-81 1977 to 1981
Hassell, Autumn Mellophone 2002
Herod, Scott Soprano 1996 to 1997
Herron (Big Mack), Jason Euphonium 2001
Hofmann, Patrick Soprano 1993 to 1994
Hyatt, Anna pit percussion 1995 to 1998
Kelley, Justin baritone 2005
Kelly, John Mellophone 1999 to 2000
Klawitter, Mike Percussion Instructor 1990 to 1992
Knize, Nick Bass 1 Section Leader 1998 to 2000
Koceja, Bruce Soprano 1972 to 1974
Koegler, Scott Baritone 1988 to 1990
Kogan, Lea Pit 1994 to 1996
Kopplin, Lanah Baritone 2001
Leary, Daniel Brass (bari) 1998
Lindsey, Bobby Soprano "82"-"85" * Staff "89"-"93" 1982 to 1985; 1989 to 1993; 2003
McDaniel, Heather Colorguard 1998 to 2001
McMillan, Aaron Soprano 1997
Nelson, Bethany mellophone1998, soporano1999 1998 to 1999
Nicholson, Kevin Tuba 2016
Normandin (T.K.), Keith Horn Line 1980
O'Connor, Molly Colorguard 1997; 1999 to 2002
Osterhout, Austin Snare 2001 to 2002
Osterhout, Kendra Colorguard 2001 to 2002
Padawan, Joe Soprano 1995 to 1997
Padilla, Israel Sopranos 2001
Pagliaro, Todd contra 1983 to 1984
Peterson, Garth Baritone 2001
Peterson, Garth Euphonium 2002
Rafalowski, Stephen Baritone 2008
Rafalowski, Stephen Baritone/Tuba 2008 to 2013
Rasgaitis, Kelley color guard sabre line 1998 to 1999
Reed, Kevin Soprano 1998
Reilly, Tony Drill Instructor, Program Mgr. 1984 to 1985
Richards, Will Drum Major 2001
Ritacco, Dan soprano 1982 to 1984
Saul, Jade Brass-Baritone 2016; 2018
Saunders, Von Baritone 2000
Seidling, patrick tympani 1982
Seidling, patrick percussion caption head 1991 to 1995
Sevcik, Mike Euphonium 2001 to 2003
Shannon, Derrick Drumline (Bass) 2005
Shannon, Derrick Bass 2005 to 2006
Snow III, Bal Soprano 1997 to 2001
Sperling, Geoffrey Soprano 2004
Stone, Brandis Color Guard 2004
Street, Adam N. Baritone 2001
Strieff, Walter Visual Staff 1995 to 1996
Torres, Josh soprano 2006
Torres, Josh sop 2006
Torres, Josh Sop 2006
Turner, Byron Contra 2005
VanCaster, Scott Soprano 1983
Walton, Lee Lead Soprano/Trumpet 2007 to 2009
Wesson, Dan Cymbals 2008
White, Conrad soprano 2000 to 2001
Wick, Kevin Soprano 2000
Williams, Stann Drumset 2014
Wilson, Brian Mellophone 2005 to 2007
Wilson, Brian Drum Major 2008 to 2009
Wilson, Melanie front ensemble 2001
Zerhusen, Mike Baritone/Euphonium 1994 to 1998
de Werk, Peter Jan Mellophone 1995 to 1997
de Werk, Peter Jan Visual Tech 1998
sapp, daunte Baritone 2002
stawick, andrew tenors 2003 to 2004
von Behren, David Mellophone 2002- Soprano 2003- Mellophone 200 2002 to 2004

CORPS 6 items


Pioneer Hat from the Bill Ives Collection

Pioneer from the Bill Ives Collection

Pioneer Milwaukee WI-2 from the Bill Ives Collection

2015 Pioneer Exodus from the Chris Maher Collection

2015 Pioneer Exodus - Back from the Chris Maher Collection

2015 Pioneer Exodus - Inside from the Chris Maher Collection