Youthful dreams of being a stewardess and learning how to play the piano find fulfillment in 27 years of service to the Michigan Marching Band
Rarely does someone come into Revelli Hall—home of the Michigan Marching Band—wanting to do a story about Maggie St. Clair. “That’s what makes it so difficult,” she says, laughing. Like a mom, she’s geared up to talk glowingly about everyone else in the building, except herself.
This is Maggie’s 27th season with the Michigan Marching Band. She started as an administrative assistant in 1987, though she has worked for the university since 1974. In her 27 years with the band, she has seen several band leaders come and go. Except for Carl Grapentine, the band’s announcer, and Dick Gaskill, the band’s photographer, she is the Band’s longest serving staff member. And “they have been here since Dr. Revelli!”
“I really wanted to be an airline stewardess,” Maggie says, sitting in the Revelli lobby, surrounded by photographs from the band’s long, impressive history. “But my dad said, ‘That’s not gonna happen.’ He didn’t want his first born daughter to go away to school, either.”
Her father encouraged her to go to college, but wanted her to choose a good school close to home.
She never played an instrument, either. “I always wanted to play piano,” she says, “but we didn’t have a piano growing up.”
Before coming to Revelli Hall, Maggie worked in Executive Education at the U-M Business School, but the hours were long and she wanted to spend more time with her young son, so she applied for a part-time administrative position with the band.
“I was lucky”
“This job was a half-time appointment when I started,” says Maggie. “That lasted a year. It went from half time to full-time-plus. I’m really fortunate because both my husband and my son were supportive of my being here, because I liked it so much. I was lucky.”
Maggie is lucky. She’s been happily married for 38 years to her husband, Jerry, whom she met working at a department store before coming to work at the university. She was a cashier and Jerry worked in the hardware department. She has been a U-M staff member for 39 years. She describes her job as “incredible,” saying, “Working with the students is really just the most fun, ever.”
But it’s not all trumpets and drum lines. It’s planning the trips, doing budget reports, making sure all the band activities and performances go well. Maggie’s job is stressful. She is the woman behind the curtain, the one who makes everything go.
“I like stress,” she says. “It’s really odd. I don’t like projects that require you to do it and review it and do it again. I’ll do it once and that will be that. But I do put a lot of time and thought into things, like when planning trips. I’m always going over that schedule to make sure there isn’t some tweak that might make it better.”
No money for uniforms
In the earlier days, there was no money set aside for uniforms. “When I first came here, we were literally dealing with rotting uniforms, students would come to the sideline after pregame with the seams ripped as the material thread dissolved, says Maggie. “We didn’t have enough uniforms for the students in the band, so if you were in the reserve section one week, you lost your uniform. Now we have an endowment, so every twelve years we can buy brand new uniforms for the whole group.”
“Today, everything is wonderful,” she says. Donations from Don Shepherd and the Elbel Club have resulted in multiple endowments that help support the Band today.
“It’s funny,” she says, “because a lot of times I will know a student is in the band, and I might know their instrument over their name. In the early days, when we had to do a lot more typing of lists, I knew the names better, because I was working with them all the time. But as we got more technical with all the computers and people entering their own information, I don’t really get a sense of names as I once did.”
Regardless of whether she knows them by their instruments or by their names, Maggie loves working with the band members. She says, “They are so helpful, kind and considerate.”
A tragedy remembered
In late September 2011, the Band was rocked by a tragedy.
UM-Flint sophomore and second-year trumpeter Patrick Fleming was killed in a car accident.
“It was totally devastating,” recalls Maggie, teary-eyed.
“I remember my first meeting with [Patrick]. He came in the office and said, ‘I want to be part of the band.’” When Maggie assured him that UM-Flint students could try out for the band, she says “his face lit up like there was no tomorrow.”
“The week he had the accident, one of our graduate students instructors tried to call [Patrick] because he seemed to be late for rehearsal a lot. We had no idea that he was working a midnight job while he was going to school here all day long. We were practicing until nine or ten at night and he would leave here and go to work. On his lunch hour he would sleep in his car. I remember her calling in and saying ‘Patrick you need to be better at being on time for rehearsal. This is not the way that we do things here.’ And then two days later, he was gone.
“Different things kind of help you through that,” says Maggie. “One of the things that really helped was his funeral. Because the church he belonged to was very welcoming. There were tons of Band members there. They had stories. He had a twin brother in the service…the whole time I was thinking, ‘he looks so much like Patrick.’
“The saddest part of all, was the week after he passed away, we invited his parents to come to the football game because we were having a moment of silence in his honor. Athletics went above and beyond to help us. Coach Hoke attended his viewing.
“One of the most amazing things was having Michigan State, Ohio State and Eastern Michigan send representatives from their bands to offer their condolences in person. It was a rainy rehearsal and all of our visitors presented a bouquet of flowers and sang “The Victors” with the Band in the rain following rehearsal. This made you stop and think that Marching Band is a family even across the rivals of football. We received so many well wishes from so many bands across the country.
A fitting footnote
Recently Patrick’s mother, Linda Fleming, who has worked as a U-M custodian since 1987, began working at Revelli Hall.
“I knew that Mrs. Fleming had worked in the custodial area at the university,” says Maggie.
“When I first saw her working in the building, “I asked her, ‘are you okay?’
“She said she was really happy to be here.”
— Jan Schlain
For more about Linda Fleming, see: Transforming Loss: Linda Fleming’s Quiet Triumph