A LOT ABOUT THE SUNNYSIDE DRUM CORPS
"It's a long story and we're proud of it"
In the Spring of 1975, Woodside Herald Publisher, Joe Sabba, began formulating plans for the Annual Sunnyside Flag Day Parade. Mindful of the needs of the area's youth, he urged community leaders to lay the foundation for a community marching band. Reaction to this idea was mixed with many believing such a project, although a fantastic idea, just wouldn't be feasible. Tenacious to the end, Joe could not be swayed from his dream and he pressed it with neighborhood organizations and community groups. Finally, the idea caught fire and a "Community Marching Band Fund" was established. Seed money for the fund came from donations from the Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside and The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. The late James Cunningham, then President of Sunnyside Savings and Loan (now Dime of Williamsburg) was our first Treasurer. With assistance from Robert Robson, then 108th Precinct Community Council President, hours of fund raising began in July 1975 with an outdoor rock 'n' roll concert in "Steven's" parking lot (now P.C. Richard). Joe had his band fund and it was time to find someone to put the program together.
Late in the fall of 1976 Joe met Tony Lana, dressed in a gorilla suit playing a drum. Tony was performing with a group of neighborhood young people at the Sunnyside Halloween Parade sponsored by the 108th Precinct Community Council. Tony, then owner of a Dairy Queen Ice Cream Store on Greenpoint Avenue, was becoming very active in the community and knew many of the children. As a teenager growing up in Woodside, Tony had been a member of the Boys Brigade at St. Sebastian's, sponsored by the Catholic War Veterans Post #870. Tony admired the dedication of this organization's adult volunteers. Tony was fascinated with Joe's idea of a marching band for the youth of Sunnyside and Woodside. He volunteered to organized the band program. The dream was meant to be! Joe Sabba had found the person to be the Director of the Corps. With savings of $1,800 and eight youngsters who volunteered as members – this was our simple beginning.
What is a drum corps without drums? We shopped carefully with our seed money and managed to purchase quality drums at a discount price. Then, practice space was desperately needed! In March of 1977, Gertrude McDonald made arrangements for the fledgling corps to practice in the Anoroc Democratic Club on 47th Street in Woodside. While the drums were being mad to order in a gold sparkle, the drummers practiced on the club-house tables with old donated drum sticks. The first cadence and beats were taught to our members by Bill Gourley, a local resident with a drum corps background. Bill volunteered when he read about the band in the Woodside Herald. These original beats have become the foundation for many corps routines and are still being used today.
Storage for instruments and a permanent practice space were the next obstacles to be overcome. An answer to our prayers was Father Jay Tillet, then Rector of All Saint's Episcopal church on 46th Street in Sunnyside. Father and his parish generously offered to provide a home for the band's equipment and instruments and free practice space in the basement of the church. All Saint's had a small drum corps, The Colonial Brigade, that performed in the early 1960's. West Point cadet shirts, The Colonial Brigade Uniform, were found in the church attic and became our corps first uniform. Father Jack Reeves continued to allow our corps to stay when he was installed. His successor, Archdeacon Robert Wagenseil, had continued the tradition of support. The current Rector, The Reverend Joseph D. Jerome, is one of our biggest fans.
It's June of 1977, "The Community Marching Band" is ready to become a reality. The debut is made at the Flag Day Parade sponsored by the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club. Bearing a few flags and drums eighteen talented and enthusiastic neighborhood boys and girls proudly marched down the center of Queens Boulevard. The band was an immediate success and became a priority youth project of The Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside. With their generous financial support and donations from the community bugles were purchased and our marching band took on a true drum corps style. The band was renamed "The Sunnyside Kiwanis Drum and Bugle Corps".
The next goal... to serve more neighborhood youth. At the 1979 Sunnyside Flag Day Parade Tony met Linda Seabury, leading a group of pom-pom girls from P.S. 199. Linda volunteered to help and formed a pom-pom band front. She also took on the task of preparing newsletters, typesetting and layout for the Annual Booster Book, and formulated plans to start a baton twirling class for the younger members of the community.
For a number of years, St. Mary's R.C, Church in the Winfield section of Woodside, had an award winning drum corps program. The Corps directors, Mr. and Mrs. Walter Strucek, provided us with much needed technical advice. Glockenspiels were donated by Kiwanian Hank Oswald and the glockenspiel section of our corps made its debut in 1979. Neighborhood resident Rodney Arbona and Mary Cullen from St. Joseph's Brigade in Astoria, also provided some basic training to our group. Joe Sabba's marching band was now growing in leaps and bounds.
During the summer of 1980 the Sunnyside Kiwanis Club purchased a van which the corps was permitted to use. The van enabled us to travel to functions outside the community and to take members on trips to the beach, band concerts, picnics, etc. 1980 also saw the beginning of the baton twirling section of the corps and a fife section taught by Anthony Masiello, founder of The Rosewood Chamber Ensemble. The fife section students learned quickly and played quite well. As the percussion section grew, though the big drum sound overwhelmed the small fife section and it was drummed out of existence after two parade seasons.
During the 1980's the late Monsignor John T. Egan, the pastor of Saint Sebastian's R.C. Church in Woodside, was always around to lend the volunteer staff encouragement in their youth ministry. Having himself directed a drum corps at a parish in Corona, our "Special Monsignor" often provided practice space, use of his office and computer time until the wee hours of the morning... nothing was ever too much. In the '80's the ranks of our corps grew and transportation for members and equipment became a big problem. The corps made a major investment, we purchased a used school bus. Help with this large acquisition was provided by community activity Bill Levis, members of the community and various community organizations. In March of 1982 the bus purchase and necessary insurance was finalized and the corps was able to travel as one unit, equipment included. From 1983 to 1987 The Sunnyside Drum Corps traveled far and wide. The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce nicknamed us "The Ambassadors of Good Will" for Sunnyside.
During the '80's in addition to fixing equipment and coordinating practices and parades, neighborhood volunteer Ray DeVenuto also lovingly maintained our bus. Numerous volunteers came forward to drive for us and parking was provided by Fasolino Monuments & Bellucci Real Estate. The John V. Daniels Post, Veterans of Foreign Wars generously provided financial assistance for repairs when our bus was vandalized. In the later part of the 1980's bus insurance rates tripled and the board of directors decided it was not viable to town a bus and vote to rent buses instead.
More members, more space, more equipment, bus rentals; whew! Now fund raising alone wasn't simply enough to keep the volunteer drum corps going. In the spring of 1984, community activist and attorney, Joseph Suraci, volunteered his service and signed on as a member of the new board of directors. He immediately began the process for our incorporation as a non-profit organization with tax-exempt status. The Internal Revenue Service granted the corps 501 (c) 3 status in April of 1985. Our incorporation made us eligible to apply for grants. At the time of incorporation we formally changed our name to "The Sunnyside Drum Corps, Inc."
With grant funding now available, a decision was made to make the baton section competitive. In April of 1989 Monsignor D. Joseph Finnerty, then pastor of St. Teresa's R.C. Church on 44th Street in Woodside, became the latest in a long list of sponsors that have jumped on our bandwagon. St Teresa's became the spring and summer home of the twirling, pom-pom, and flag sections of the corps. Councilman Walter McCaffrey, through Gateway Community Restoration, provided gymnasium space at Intermediate School 125 for the fall and winter months. Monsignor Lawrence Hinch, then pastor at St. Teresa's, had been a wonderful patron of the corps. For a few years, while Intermediate School 125 was under reconstruction, he provided us with additional practice space. In 1989, Kathy Beatty (Godmother of our twirling program), a registered National Baton Twirling Association judge and teacher, was hired to train our senior and junior baton twirling teams. The Sunnyside Drum Corps Twirlers began a whirlwind tour of baton competitions and over a seven year period they won nearly two thousand trophies and medals in individual and team events. The teams won at the New York State National Baton Twirling Association contest in 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1993. "The Sunnyside Star" became 1995 Grand Champions, at the Metropolitan and Eastern Seaboard Twirling Association championship contests.
On December 20, 1994 the Corps was presented with the prestigious "Eleanor Roosevelt Community Service Award". This Certificate of Merit honors civic and voluntary groups that have made outstanding contribution in their field through the use of volunteers. We were the only Queens based volunteer group to be so honored. "Each of the recipients has demonstrated a strong devotion to improving the quality of life for all New Yorkers," former First Lady Matilda Cuomo said. "Their guiding principles and the significant results they produce, make the recipients role models for all of us." Former Governor Mario Cuomo added. "The shining example of these New Yorkers who have made a firm commitment to help those in need, should motivate everyone of us to serve our communities." This was a glowing tribute to our benefactors and volunteers!!
1995, after eighteen years of use – our drums were worn out! We simply couldn't allow our program to be drummed out of existence! Drums are expensive but our cornerstone fund-raisers: V.F.W Daniels Post, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside were there once again to help us start a new fund to purchase new drums. Our drummers now carry the latest in modern percussion equipment, in a gleaming white finish. Additional funding was made available by an Office of the Mayor "Stop The Violence" Grant. Special thanks to Financial Federal Savings Bank or having provided a 31" Color Television as the grand prize for the big raffle drawing organized by the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and to Andrew Breslin who held a fund-raiser at Sidetracks Restaurant. In the past, Council Member Walter L. McCaffrey and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan have worked diligently to help the Corps receive funding.
In 2004, one of the original founding members came back to us after 20 years. Peter Ross, who played the snare drum, and was the leader of the percussion section, felt it was time to return and share all his knowledge. He had extensive experience with our group, as an Eagle Scout, as a Leader of Boy Scout Troop 172 and past member of the NYPD Marching Band. In 2005, he was selected to be Assistant Director.
Once again this year, the Corps will benefit from the Citibank Amenities Program and support from Community Board #2. Our newest supporter for the past few years is the young and dynamic New York City Council Member Eric Gioia. The Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside continues financial support for the Corps, as well as The V.F.W. Daniels Post and our beloved New York State Assembly Member Catherine Nolan. Last year, the parents of Queen of Angels School students made the Sunnyside Drum Corps the beneficiary of a surprise gift of $1,000. This was money they raised vigorously in an attempt to keep their beloved school open. When that unfortunately failed, they thought of us. God Bless them for sharing with us.
June 2007, as we begin our 30th year, we look forward to continued service to the community, always remembering that we are proud of the history of The Sunnyside Drum Corps. Our beat goes on because of the dedication and support from interested community activists, elected officials, various neighborhood churches, generous community residents and our staff of volunteers. Each year, more and more organizations, and businesses come forward to invest in the youth of our community. A history that stands proud of the accomplishments of our neighborhood young people and the steadfastness of wonderful volunteers dedicated to the youth of this community.
In 2011, the Kiwanis Club of Sunnyside honored our Linda Seabury and Anne Wiegmann for their many years of service to the Drum Corps.
In 2017, Director Anthony Lana is named Sunnysider of the Year as the Corps celebrates forty years of service to the youth of our community.
Since its debut in June 1977, the Sunnyside Drum Corps has provided children from all over Queens an opportunity for creative expression, interest in music and socialization. The Sunnyside Drum Corps performs in many parades and on occasion has had the honor of welcoming Governor, Mayor, and Queens Borough President to our community. The Sunnyside Drum Corps provides children with a unique opportunity to enrich and enhance their lives through music and performance. The volunteers help the youth develop self-respect and responsibility and a true sense of their own worth in the community. Membership in the Corps has successfully offered a positive alternative to "hanging out in the streets" by providing young people with an opportunity to work as a team at rehearsals, striving all year to excel at parades and performances. This puts a wonderful program in the hands of children who would not otherwise be able to participate in a similar program. Our dedicated corps of parents and Board of Directors handle everything from grant writing to equipment maintenance and their hours of fundraising have enabled us to make the Corps an exciting place for over thirteen hundred boys and girls.
Joe Sabba's idea became a reality and his dream still marches on.