Spotlights and eyes were on the Ferris Alumni Jazz Band members who were invited to share the stage with the 2023 Jazz Band during their final concert on Saturday, April 15.
It has been a tradition for Ferris alumni to play with the current jazz band since 1981. This concert was not only a celebration of the last jazz band concert of the 2022-23 school year, but it was also the first time the alumni have been invited back on stage since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The alumni band was created by Harry Dempsey. His goal was to reunite with the people he directed in years past. The alumni band isn’t just full of graduates from the ‘70s, every graduate is welcomed back to the stage, regardless of how recent their graduation year was.
This was seen in action on Saturday night when the current band members gave their stage to the alumni for the first half of their last concert. Cheers from the audience that came to see students and alumni never stopped.
During the last of their songs, claps were held out for long periods of time for the performers. When the stage was turned over to the current jazz band members, alumni were quick to show their support with comments of excitement and hoots and hollers for the current members of the same band they made so many good memories with.
Dave Lintula, an optometry graduate from 1979, has been around ever since the jazz band’s first alumni concert. Though Lintula has been a part of other bands, such as an eighteen-piece dance band in Spring Lake, he still holds a special place in his heart for the Ferris Jazz Band. As one of the few remaining members of the original alumni jazz band, he always looks forward to coming back and will continue to be a part of the Ferris Alumni Jazz Band for years to come.
“They’re my friends,” Lintula said. “We had a bond back then, and I didn’t want to give that up. It’s a rare opportunity to come back and play with your friends that you knew when you were younger.”
When he watches the current jazz band members on stage, he sees that the band is in good hands. He looks forward to seeing some of them join the alumni band after they graduate from Ferris.
“I encourage the people who are playing now in the band to continue on and look at what’s available for you and come back for it,” Lintula said.
Though not all members have been here since the beginning, some are stepping foot on the Williams Auditorium stage this year for the first time since their graduation. Kendra Wright, a 2002 dental hygiene graduate and current clinical dental hygienist at Ferris, plays the trumpet in the alumni band. She came back for the first time after finding the Facebook group years ago.
“I just always loved music, and it’s really fun to play and be with like-minded people who also love music,” Wright said.
Wright planned to attend the 2020 concert, but it was canceled. Thanks to the Rockford Michigan Community Band, Wright has been able to keep playing, which encouraged her to come back to play at Ferris. She heard the concert was happening this year and wanted to get back into playing. After getting back on stage, Wright believes that she will continue to come back for future Ferris alumni concerts. The same community that welcomed her on stage for the first time all those years ago continues to cheer her on.
Accounting and finance graduate Jay O’Dell was also a part of the band when Dempsey was directing. Even though it’s different to have a new director for the Ferris band, the new director doesn’t change his eagerness to keep coming back to be involved.
“We miss [Dempsey] obviously; he was here when we were playing back thirty years ago, but [Moresi is] a good guy, and we like him,” O’Dell said.
Though O’Dell plays in other bands back home, he found his passion for playing through the Ferris Jazz Band.
“I really fell in love with the genre, and [then] I came in here and got involved in the band and met some great people and just kept playing ever since,” O’Dell said.
With so much support from the Ferris and Big Rapids community, graduates keep coming back for more. Every time they step foot on stage, no matter how old, they are greeted with the same cheers that they received back in their college days. The jazz band has made it clear that once a member becomes a part of the band’s family, they never leave.