Ruth Sowers ’79 may have officially ended her formal education at Illinois State in 1982, but she has visited campus annually to play in the Homecoming Alumni Band. Indeed, she is the only Marching Band Alumni Club member who has performed in every Homecoming for 10 years, and calls herself a “true band geek” who loves music.
The alumni band started in 1995 to play in the Homecoming parade and in 1997 became chartered through the Alumni Association as the Marching Band Alumni Club. The band averages between 50 and 85 alumni, with one year seeing 104 alumni march. The alumni also play with the Alumni Pep Band, most often performing at men’s basketball games in January. The Pep Band recently played at the Alumni Slam Dunk Special at Redbird Arena. The group also tries to participate in a spring event in the Chicago area and attends the Drum Corps International competition at the Bands of America week at Illinois State each summer.
Like many college students, Sowers started at Illinois State with a different college major, instrumental education, than she finished with, geography education. And like most college students, she was able to use both fields of study in her career.
Sowers worked as a theatre technician at Walt Disney World for 22 years, doing lighting, audio, video, staging, props and pyrotechnics. She remembers working in many different shows in the Magic Kingdom and Disney/MGM Studios as well as hundreds of special events and conventions. Sowers’ favorite assignments included the Diamond Horseshoe Review, Diamond Horseshoe Jamboree, SuperStar TV, Streetmosphere and Fantasmic. Her favorite jobs were working with props and lighting, and she was one of the few head prop masters for the parks. Today, Sowers has turned her attention to restoring an 80-year old house and building a log cabin on her 11 acres of woods in Etowah, Tenn.
Sowers left behind two marching bands, a brass ensemble, Merry Tuba Christmas gig, and a choir in Florida when she moved to Tennessee last month. However, she plans to organize an Etowah town band for the July 4 centennial celebration. “Etowah had a town band in the 1930s and 1940s and, well, I’m a band geek,” Sowers said. “I have a church choir and concert band in the planning stages and some leads for a church brass ensemble and two Merry Tuba Christmas gigs within a couple of hours of my home.”
Not limited by geography, Sowers participates in a Fort Wayne, Ind., marching band twice a year and the Illinois State band as well as serves as tech director, tenor, trumpet and euphonium player for a church music camp in Indiana. “I usually play trumpet and euphonium,” Sowers said. “At Illinois State, I minored on tenor sax and flute, and in a pinch I can play guitar, dulcimer and recorders.”
While at Illinois State, Sowers was in the original flag corps and played trumpet in the marching band. Band still remains at the top of her fondest memories of her 10 years at Illinois State. Sowers also worked as a tech for the Madrigal Dinners as well as for the University Union and Auditorium (now called Bone Student Center/Braden Auditorium). “All my experiences were wonderful, and those experiences along with wonderful guidance from music professors Paul Rosene and John Ferrell, geography professors Mike Sublett, Jim Patterson and Norm Bettis, and Union technical director Scott Wilson gave me my career.”
Sowers is now turning her professional attention toward a new career, hoping to work at a state park in Tennessee where she can use her geography degree. Whatever professional path she follows, Sowers said she will approach it with enthusiasm and a sense of adventure and, of course, she will always have her music.