Minnesota's Biggest Summer Marching Band Competition


His dream became the band festival

It was a good idea, and the timing was right. Jim Clayton wanted to put a parade together for the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, and it would focus exclusively on high school marching bands.
At the same time, a high school student named Ken Martinson was working for him.
"Ken was quite involved with the Jefferson band," reminisced Jim, "and when I explained what was being planned to Ken and band director John Anderson, the three of us put our heads together. As they say, the rest is history."
Clayton grew up in Meriden, Minn., a small town near Owatonna. He graduated from Owatonna High School, which is where he met his wife, Lorraine. Jim attended St. Cloud State University and started his career in 1969 as executive director of the Windom Chamber of Commerce and the Industrial Development Corporation.
In 1973 Clayton moved to Alexandria and began a 15-year stay as director of the Alexandria Area Chamber of Commerce, Alexandria-Douglas County Developers, Runestone Museum, and Resort Association. He is currently director of the Chamber of Commerce in Glenwood, Minn., and he enjoys gardening, camping, and his annual hunting trips to Wyoming with his family.
Jim's first exposure to the Alexandria music department was when the high school principal, John Knowles, introduced him to the "two new kids on the block", band directors John Anderson and Joel Wood.
"With my two children going through the band program," Jim says, "my interest in the band and its activities steadily increased."
A few years later, Jim worked with John to form a band booster club, and Jim's involvement with the Boosters is in itself enough to make him a candidate for Grand Marshal.
"In working with John, we discussed the idea of forming the booster group. It was to be made up of parents of band students, with the goal of promoting the activities of the band," Jim says. "I felt that even though the band was expected to perform at various events, they did not get the recognition they deserved."
A Band Boosters board was formed, and the group's first goal was to raise funds for a trip to the Cotton Bowl Parade. This ambitious project challenged the board to raise $55,000 to send the 200-member band to Dallas.
"We wanted the band members to have a great experience and still keep the trip affordable."
The board decided the most economical way to travel was by bus.
"We loaded the buses in Alexandria, made an overnight stop, and the next day drove to Dallas. After the activities in Dallas, we got back on the buses and drove straight back to Alexandria." Jim adds with a laugh, "Chaperoning a bus trip of that type is an experience everyone should have just once!"
Six months after the Cotton Bowl trip, the Boosters decided to start planning for another trip, this time to the 1990 Tournament of Roses Parade. John Anderson submitted an application, and the band was accepted in December 1988. Tournament President Don Fedde came to the 1989 Vikingland Band Festival in Alexandria to officially welcome the band to the Rose Parade lineup.
"After the previous experience with buses, we decided to fly!"
Under Jim's leadership, the Boosters commenced their fundraising activities once again. More than $150,000 was raised to fly the band members and chaperones to Pasadena.
"There are always some interesting sidelights to the planning of these trips," Jim recalls. "Because we could not get a commitment from one airline, we had to split up the band and fly in three different planes that landed in two different airports."
Of course, the thorough planning worked out, and on January 1, 1990, millions of people across the world were able to see the Jefferson High School Marching Band on television.
Jim also led the effort for the band's third major trip, this time to Washington, D.C., for the 1992 National Independence Day Parade.
After ten years in the Band Boosters, nine as president, Jim felt it was time to step down and let someone else take over. He had helped raise more than $300,000 for the band.
"I have been asked many times why I continuously put myself through the pressures from those challenges," said Jim.
Jim will admit his persistence wasn't due to musical talent. In fact, John Anderson told a story of the time he was sitting next to Jim at the Crystal Cathedral during the Rose Parade trip.
"We were singing a hymn," John says, "and I couldn't tell if Jim was on the top or bottom row of notes, or even on the same page!"
Jim explained that his commitment to the band lies in the students.
"When you see the excitement of a student who has never been out of the state, or on a plane, it makes it all worthwhile. My scrapbook is filled with notes from students and parents saying how the child would never have had this opportunity if not for being a band member."
Jim is quick to thank the many organizations and people that supported him as president of the Band Boosters.
"The support from the Eagles, Elks, American Legion, Lions, VFW and Sertoma, who all gave so graciously, was overwhelming. People like Mike Donnay, who came up with the car wash idea, and Henry's Foods, who proposed the food sale, must be thanked.
"Plus there are the Band Boosters board members, and the band parents who gave so much of themselves. And thanks especially to the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce board members who let me have the time and opportunity to have all these great memories."
Jim also gives credit to Jan Esala, business manager for School District 206, for easing his way through red tape and regulations in dealing with the School Board.
"The School Boards over the years allowed great opportunities for the band members," he praised.
"Most of all, I have to thank my family. My wife, Lorraine, who stayed up many nights counting money and taking care of the books for the band. And my two children, Michael and Mary Beth, who were sometimes left 'out in the cold' because of my interest in the band."
Jim is also quick to point out that without all these people and organizations, "I would not have had the honor of being Grand Marshal along with my two friends, John Anderson and Ken Martinson. In a lifetime of dreams, I never thought this would take place."
Photo courtesy of Vernon Studio

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