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Saturday's Picnic In the Park Marks 50th Year of Spring Band Concert


                Saturday’s Picnic in the Park, featuring performances by Smith and Wheat Middle School and Cleburne High School musicians, will also be celebrated as the 50th anniversary of an event that has become a band tradition.  

                The first spring concert organized by band directors and parents, known then as the “Band Aides,” took place in 1971. Nita Carroll, who has seen two children and five grandchildren march in the Golden Pride, remembers it well.

                “Our daughter Linda was a sophomore when Dick Helmcamp took over as high school band director,” Carroll said. “When she joined the band, I got involved. Along with the other Band Aides, I worked in the concession stand. At that time the band only got a small portion of the proceeds from that, so we began to seek ways to raise money for the program.”

                “Dick suggested we combine all the bands--sixth grade, middle school and high school--for a spring concert,” she said. “He felt that would be one way to raise funds.”

                That first year, the concert was held at Jacket Stadium. During Band Aide meetings the following year, an idea was proposed that the concert take place at Hulen Park—and the rest is history.

                “We decided to set up booths in addition to hosting the concert in the park,” Carroll said. “Everybody enjoyed going to the park. Before long we added homemade ice cream made by parents, which was very popular, along with a cake walk and a dunking booth, which brought in quite a bit of money. It just grew with time into Picnic in the Park.”

                Helmcamp, who led the Golden Pride from 1971 until his retirement in the spring of 1994, believed that first spring concert would lead to more.

                “I felt this would become a tradition,” he said. “When we moved to the park the following year I knew we had come up with something special. I knew people would enjoy sitting in the park listening to our band students. It’s much more relaxing to watch a concert in your lawn chair rather than being in an auditorium.”

                “I’m not sure who had the idea for the booths and the homemade ice cream,” Helmcamp said. “It was a great idea and I think I will credit Nita—because she ran with it. I can’t say enough about her. She was a real joy to work with and has been a tremendous supporter of the Cleburne band program.”

                Soon to be 88, Carroll well represents the “once a band booster, always a band booster” motto. Her last shift in the band concession stand was three years ago, when her grandson, 2020 graduate Jake Carroll, was a member of the Pride. Someone snapped a photo of her hard at work, to commemorate the occasion.

                As an involved band parent, she also served as a bus and trip chaperone. Carroll was with the Golden Pride when the band traveled to Brisbane, Australia to perform at World Expo ’88.

                “Between my children, Linda and Robert, and their children, I’ve had someone in the band spread out over these 50 years,” Carroll said. “Band is a wonderful program. It makes me very proud to be associated with the band, and a part of what has become a tradition that has lasted this long. It’s a positive thing in today’s world.”

                Jason Jones, director of the Golden Pride, has numerous Picnic in the Park memories as a student—and a band parent.

                “My first experience with Picnic in the Park was as a student back in 1989,” Jones said. “Little did I know that it had been a Golden Pride tradition that had been in place since before I was born—and has now continued for a total of 50 years. It’s really special to be a part of a program that has long-standing traditions, including this event that has hit the half-century mark.”

                “I take great pride in knowing that both my wife and myself were members of the Golden Pride, and now I get to continue this tradition as a director and a band dad,” Jones said. “It’s been a big part of the community, not only providing great entertainment for the public, but also involving generations of families that have been a part of the event as a band student, parent, grandparent, and even a great- grandparent, all as members and alumni of the Golden Pride Band.”

                 Helmcamp, who estimates he was among the organizers for 23 Picnics in the Park, followed by several years sitting in the crowd as his grandchildren performed, is pleased to see the 50th anniversary receive recognition.

                “I want to thank the people for supporting the band and the kids through the years,” he said. “Jason Jones, who was one of my students, is doing a good job as director. The band continues to win UIL Sweepstakes Awards year after year. They need to keep doing what they’re doing, putting faith in kids.”

                Cleburne ISD School Board member June Bates, who served as Band Booster president during her grandsons’ years in the Pride, agrees.

                “Do yourself a favor and go to the Golden Pride’s Picnic in the Park on Saturday,” she said. “It’s a great opportunity to see the kids perform in a free concert and to spend some time with your family. I definitely think 50 years makes this a tradition worth celebrating.”

                Current Band Booster President Janice Sullivan displays that same supportive heart as Carroll’s, when it comes to band. Her involvement began in 2007 when her nephew moved to Cleburne and became a member of the Golden Pride. Both her children were band students, and now her grandson marches in the Pride. Including this current term, she has served as Band Booster President five times.

                “I am looking forward to the point when I come to Picnic in the Park as a spectator enjoying the concert from my lawn chair,” Sullivan said. “But really, this is such a wonderful event for parents and the community. Our band kids have so much fun performing at the park. It’s such a great program.”

                “We have planned so much for this year, after not being able to have Picnic in the Park last year due to COVID,” she said. “In addition to the bounce house for the younger kids, we’re going to have an inflatable obstacle course for the older kids and adults. The Cleburne Fire Department is going to bring a big fire engine and the Cleburne Animal Shelter will have pets available for adoption. We’ll have the cake walk, snow cones, cotton candy and we’ll be grilling hot dogs and hamburgers. Everyone needs to bring cash to purchase food—and their lawn chairs.”

                While Carroll may not be attending Saturday’s Picnic in the Park, the thought of its 50-year anniversary celebration will be on her mind.

                “it makes me feel humble to have been there at the start of something that has lasted this long,” she said. “I wouldn’t take a million dollars for the fun, and at times, the heartache, of being a band booster. One year we were in Austin for the State Marching Contest. During the preliminary competition our kids performed in the pouring rain. Nelda Stewart and I took all their uniforms and had them dry cleaned, and then we didn’t make it to the finals. We were all so disappointed. I have so many memories of those days, and I cherish each one.”

                Carroll believes there are more Golden Pride memories—including Picnics in the Park-- to come for her family.

                “I have an 18 month-old granddaughter,” Carroll said. “I think there’s a good chance she could be in the band when she gets older. But I’m not sure if I’ll be here to see it.”

                Saturday’s Picnic in the Park Concert schedule will open at 11 a.m. with a performance by the Smith Middle School Symphonic Band, followed at 11:30 by the Wheat Middle School Beginning Band. At noon, the Smith Beginning Band will play, followed at 12:30 by the CHS Symphonic Winds.

                The Wheat MS Wind Ensemble will perform at 1 p.m. followed by the Smith Wind Ensemble at 1:30, ending at 2 with music by the CHS Wind Symphony.