Things That Matter: La Crosse Marching Chiefs Rose Bowl booster button
La Crosse County Historical Society

Americans ring in the New Year with a variety of celebrations and traditions, including fireworks, making resolutions, hosting parties, watching the Times Square countdown and rooting on their favorite college football teams. Tuning in to the Rose Bowl Parade on New Year’s morning is another time-honored tradition.

The Rose Bowl Parade of 1970 was a special event for the La Crosse State University (now the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse) marching band. Known then as the Marching Chiefs, its members gained a national reputation for a fast-paced “swing and sway” marching style.

The Marching Chiefs played at a variety of events in the 1960s and 1970s, including halftime shows for the Green Bay Packers, Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears. The band was scheduled to play at the famed Ice Bowl NFL Championship Game of 1967, but the extreme cold made it impossible to perform.

The band of 1970 was invited to be one of 21 to march during the Rose Bowl Parade, an opportunity to perform for the 1.5 million spectators along the route and millions more on television. The band’s new director, John Alexander, took on the challenge of raising the $75,000 needed to take 225 members to Pasadena, Calif. The money was raised by conducting chickencues and car washes, selling cookbooks and collecting soda pop bottles.

Another fundraiser was selling booster buttons, such as the one shown here, for $1. The maroon-and-white button, donated by Anna Thomas, features a stylized symbol in use when the university’s sports teams were called the Indians.

In preparation for the trip and the 5½-mile parade route, Alexander required the students to participate in many hours of practice so the performance would be as perfect as possible. The band marched around the streets of the campus, and its members performed for the dedication of the newly opened Intestate 90.

Led by drum major George Moore and twirler Trish Joanis, the Marching Chiefs performed several songs for the crowds and TV cameras, including “On, Wisconsin,” “Everything Is Turning Up Roses,” and, of course, “The Beer Barrel Polka.” It was an exhausting march, especially with the Marching Chiefs’ vigorous style, nearly forcing one band member to drop out early. Yet, for all of them, it was a New Year’s experience that they would never forget.

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