A quarter-century ago, a group of performers decided to strike up a band to celebrate the city of Jeannette's 100th anniversary.
The Jeannette Centennial Band, made up of former members of the city's high school band, majorettes and color guard joined to show off their Jayhawk pride. Most thought it was a short-lived venture.
Originally led by the late John Lodzun, the former Jeannette High School band director, the band participated in parades, numerous concerts and programs during the yearlong celebration in 1988-89. The band proved to be a hit not only with residents but with music lovers from surrounding communities.
At the end of the year, as residents and officials were ready to put the centennial behind them, many of the band's members found they were reluctant to put away their music.
"We decided the band was going to stay together," said Ron Stemple, 65, a Jeannette native and original band member who now is one of three conductors. Mr. Stemple, who plays saxophone, was band director in Yough School District before he retired.
Band members continued to meet, first rehearsing on the top floor of Jeannette City Hall, then practicing at the Jeannette Eagles before moving to their current home, the Jeannette American Legion.
In 1990, the band changed its name to The Jeannette Community Band, although by then it had opened membership to musicians from outside the city.
"We all have a common bond -- love of music," Mr. Stemple said.
There are no longer majorettes or color guard, but the band's 65 members, who range in age from 16 to 93, continue to entertain.
"Our members consist of high school and college students, professionals, ex-professionals, band directors, and others who enjoy playing a musical instrument and like to socialize with those who share a common interest," said Sherry Wood, who plays oboe and piccolo and also is band secretary. Mrs. Wood, born in Jeannette, is an original member.
The band draws hundreds of people to its free Memorial Day, Veterans Day and Christmas concerts in the city. In between, the band averages seven other appearances a year. It has played more than 215 programs, including those at Twin Lakes Arts and Heritage Festival and the Westmoreland County Fair, Mrs. Wood said.
Clarinet player Dan Orange, an original band member, said there's something special about the band and, at age 75, he's thrilled to be playing with such talented colleagues. Mr. Orange, who was born in Jeannette, graduated from Jeannette High School in 1956 and is retired from Westinghouse.
Jeff Wright, 63, of North Huntingdon joined in 2005.
"I'm home," said Mr. Wright, a retired Norwin School District teacher who said he hadn't performed for more than 25 years before joining. "This band is ...like a family."
Mr. Wright said he feels comfortable in Jeannette despite the long-time rivalry between the city school -- the Jeannette Jayhawks -- and the neighboring Norwin Knights football teams and bands.
"I still breathe (Norwin) blue and gold but my heart beats red and blue (of Jeannette)," he said.
Joan Kotjarapoglus, 71, of Murrysville, a retired elementary teacher in Franklin Regional School District, plays flute and piccolo. She calls the band "a blessing."
"It's a wonderful opportunity for amateur musicians to get together and make music at all levels," said Mrs. Kotjarapoglus, whose husband, George, grew up in Jeannette. "There's an infectious nature of playing in a community band."
While many of the band's members, including Mr. Wright and Mrs. Kotjarapoglus, also play in other music ensembles, they say their true love is with the Jeannette Community Band.
"Jeannette is truly a town of musicians," Mrs. Kotjarapoglus said. "It's amazing that over 25 years, [the band] has remained consistently good."
The Community Band will kick off its 25th anniversary season with a Memorial Day concert at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Jeannette American Legion.
Correction, posted May 23, 2013: The time of the Memorial Day celebration concert on Sunday has been corrected.
Linda Metz, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org. First Published May 23, 2013 9:00 AM