The Wadena-Deer Creek Marching Band has a new spring in its step after Wadena State Farm agents Bill Stearns and Jolene Johannes and company officials gave the band a check for $20,000 to replace instruments and items lost in the June 17 tornado.
State Farm also sprung for a barbecued pork dinner before a volleyball game last week when students and fans were surprised with the surprisingly large donation.
Band Director Lisa Weniger said the money meant a lot to her students.
"This is just amazing," she said. "The kids appreciate new equipment. They know stuff is expensive, and they know the school doesn't have the budget to replace all this equipment. Some of this equipment was already 40 years old."
Weniger and students were surprised and overwhelmed by the
generous donation, which will help pay for the marching percussion line; color guard equipment which includes flags, rifles and banner carrier; marching baritones and mellophones; and some of the uniforms.
Weniger said the students who participated in marching band this summer despite the losses have kept the program going.
"If it wasn't for these kids that marched this summer and were dedicated, this grant wouldn't have happened," she said.
It's a program that was just getting off the ground after being revived, and now there are plenty of other challenges for band students. For one, Weniger said, there's no band room, so students use the stage at Memorial Auditorium for a classroom. That means tearing down and carrying away all that equipment whenever the multi-use building is needed for something else.
"I don't really have a home here," Weniger explained. "There's no place to put the stuff on the stage."
She said after the tornado hit, some of the damage was immediately apparent. Other damage wasn't so obvious on its face.
"There'd be instrument cases we'd open up that would be just covered in mold," she recalled. "We'd open some cases and they'd set us back six feet because of the smell."
In others, the mold took a while to set in. Weniger said she'd open a case and it would look fine, but a week or two later, the same instrument would be covered in mold.
Clearly, that equipment needed to be professionally cleaned and repaired. The bills for that damage had already eclipsed $30,000, Weniger said. Some will be covered by insurance or FEMA reimbursement, while other losses won't.
For instance, Weniger said about $10-$11,000 is needed now to replace the marching band trailer that was destroyed in the tornado. That has been on the back burner as equipment needs are tended to.
The trailer had compartments for uniforms, instrument cases and color guard poles.
"We'll need one come this summer," Weniger said of the trailer. "Bertha-Hewitt was very nice to let us borrow theirs when we had to go to Deer Creek in July."
In addition to cooperation from other programs, Weniger said her partner in the marching band, Ken Nelson, has been a great addition to WDC's staff.
"He's really helped us out getting this started," she said. "He's helped and guided us."
Weniger said she learns a lot just by watching Nelson work.
Anyone wishing to make a donation to the program to help with equipment or the trailer, send it to WDC marching band, care of the school, 215 Colfax Avenue, Wadena, MN, 56482.
Weniger said while support is still needed, State Farm's $20,000 has made a huge difference.
WDC's Dana Pavek contributed to this story.