Father marches in GVSU Marching Band alongside two sons
Courtesy / Shealyn McGee
Imagine what it’s like marching in the Grand Valley State University Laker Marching Band. Putting in hours of practice during the season on top of classes and possibly a job. Then think what it is like to be a parent marching in the band, alongside two sons, on top of taking classes, working and taking care of a family.
Brian Olmstead, father of A.J. and Doug Olmstead, did just that this year. He played the sousaphone in the Laker Marching Band for the first time while working as an insurance claims adjuster and taking classes at Muskegon Community College.
While still a busy father, Brian was able to be a full participant in the marching band.
“I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be down on the field after watching the kids for like the past 10 years, you know from the stands, and up in the towers with all of their marching band stuff,” Brian said. “And just ironically, I started taking some classes again at MCC, so I was a college student again, and Doug thought it would be neat if I could do it.
So he talked to the band directors and talked them into it.”
Because Brian had to put aside time for band practice, playing at football games and participating in band-related activities, he wasn’t able to be home much.
“I wouldn’t have been able to do it, first of all, without the support and help from my wife, Carol,” Brian said. “It would have not been possible at all.”
He squeezed in time between work and classes and being home.
“But one of the things that also made it work for me was because I set my own schedule,” he said. “Being an insurance adjuster is not a nine to five thing, you know, so a lot of times I would have to go do work afterwards, after band practices and stuff on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.”
He tried to blend in at practices, even though he was older.
“I tried to just fit in and not be a dad,” he said. “It was just like middle school and high school band all over again with everyone hanging out with them, you know.”
Everyone seemed to enjoy his presence, and liked that he was different.
“Everybody thought it was cool, like especially in band camp the first week there, you know, and different guys and ladies would come up to me,” Brian said. “Like I remember one guard lady saying, ‘Man this is so cool that you are here, you know, I wish my folks could do that.’”
Brian’s youngest son A.J., a music education student at GVSU, appreciates his father’s work ethic and said the director recognized it at the band banquet.
“He works really hard,” A.J. said. “Because of that, like making the sacrifice of work and, you know, just putting work aside, driving all the way out to Grand Valley and being in school and all of that at the same time, they gave him the most valuable player award. And I’m pretty sure that means he’s going to have his name on a plaque in the room. But I mean, the plaque isn’t the most important thing, it’s that they recognized that he worked really hard, so I think that’s pretty cool that they did that for him.”
Doug is also a music education student at GVSU and said Brian has always been a supporter for him and his brother.
“My dad has always liked being around doing band stuff,” Doug said. “So when I was in high school he was doing, like the band parents and driving the equipment trailer and doing all kinds of stuff like that.”
Brian had previous Marching band experience, so relearning how to march and read music wasn’t as tough for him, Doug said.
“So when he started taking classes at Muskegon Community and the marching band needed a tuba spot, I was like well my dad’s been around band all of his life, like since I started getting into it and he plays guitar so he can read music OK, why not try to get him into playing tuba?” Doug said. “He’s been a Marine, so he knew the marching already.”
There’s a possibility that Brian will march again next year, but he hasn’t decided if he wants to make it a four-year gig. As for Doug, he said he would love to have his dad do it again.
“He’s my hero,” Doug said. “He’s always been the most supportive person in my music career. He’s been my number one fan and it just fills me with so much pride to be able to say that.”