Campus & Community / Magazine Feature

Alumni celebrate the Fourth with music

photo portrait

Alumnus Bill Smyth plays clarinet in the Colorado State VFW band, which performed in University Park on July 4. PHOTO BY: Craig Korn.

Three DU alumni play in the 20-member Colorado State Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) band. Bill Smyth (BFA ’49) plays first and second clarinet; Ray Hodson (BME ’50, MME ’51) plays French horn; and Jim Hurlbut (MA ’49) plays bass clarinet.

The three were on hand for the band’s annual performance at the University Park 4th of July Parade held in Observatory Park near the DU campus. The event is a neighborhood favorite known for bringing out the patriotism in attendees. Children, cyclists and even dogs come outfitted in red, white and blue to ride or walk in parade formation up and down Warren Avenue.

“The fun comes in watching the children and their mothers and fathers, the painted faces, decorated dogs and circus-like atmosphere,” Smyth says.

He says the VFW band evolved from the state’s oldest band — Cook’s Drum and Bugle —established in Leadville in 1886. He’s been a band member for three years, and Hodson and Hurlbut have played with the band for 15 years. 

Hodson says he enjoys seeing the community get together at a time when often people don’t even know their neighbors. Playing in the band, he says, reminds him of his days in the military.

The play list included “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “The Star-Spangled Banner.” 

Firefighters from Denver Fire Truck No. 24 stationed at Colorado Boulevard and Yale Avenue came to the event, left briefly to handle an emergency, and then returned to spray participants with water to cool everyone off.

Hannah Duggan first attended the event in 1978 when her family moved to the neighborhood. This year, she attended with her family, who still live in the neighborhood.

“I remember liking it a lot when I was a kid,” Duggan says. “It’s very old fashioned with the band and firemen.”

Brian Colonna attended for the first time at Duggan’s invitation. 

“I was filled with a general sense of nostalgia,” Colonna says.

Smyth hopes attendees were inspired to consider joining the band. He says prospective members should play a wind instrument, but they don’t have to be veterans.

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