KEARNEY — The Masonic All-Star Marching Band first came to Kearney because of the Shrine Bowl.

After five years of band camp at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, Michelle Fulmer and the Masonic Band Camp Committee see Kearney as the best place for the band to gather every year.

“I’m the camp coordinator for the Masonic All-Star Marching Band Camp and we’re separate from the Shrine Bowl because we are different organizations,” Fulmer said from her office in Lincoln. “But we follow the Shrine Bowl. We are privileged to be able to provide the National Anthem and the halftime performance for the game, so we work together in that way.”

The 262-member student band is organized by the Grand Lodge of Nebraska and the football game is run by the Shrine Bowl of Nebraska and the Shrine Centers in the state that provide assistance to the Shrine hospitals, but both are part of the Nebraska Masonic family.

“We follow the Shrine Bowl for the parade and the game,” Fulmer said. “That’s originally why we went to Kearney.”

In the past, the band members used the facilities at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for housing and practice.

“In going to Kearney, the band has found that we can use the entire campus,” she said. “We can have our indoor practice at Cushing and then have the outdoor practices on Foster Field. They house us in the dorms and the suites. There really is nowhere else we could go now — even if the Shrine Bowl were to move — that the band could get what we have in Kearney. The treatment and the facilities are amazing.”

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Band members, selected from high schools across the state, will gather on Tuesday in Kearney to begin a five-day band camp. The public can enjoy the band’s work starting with a concert and ice cream social at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Sonotorium in Harmon Park. At 10 a.m. June 1, the band will lead the Shrine Bowl Parade in Downtown Kearney: The Bricks. Admission to both events is free.

The band also will perform during halftime at the Shrine Bowl. The game starts at 2 p.m. at the Ron and Carol Cope Stadium at Foster Field on the UNK campus. Admission to the game is $14 for adults and $8 for students.

Fulmer notes the importance of flexibility for the band.

“We have our practices scheduled indoors and outdoors for those five days,” she said. “The students practice about seven hours a day. If it rains when we’re supposed to be outside, we can switch and go inside, or vice versa. That flexibility is nice to have at our disposal.”

The band members are directed by Brad Weber, retired band director from Wayne High School and instructor of percussion at Wayne State College; Dave Bohnert, director of bands at Wayne State College; and Dan Sodomka, band director at Aurora High School.

Band directors from throughout Nebraska recommended their students for the Masonic All-Star Band.

The students receive camp scholarships, which are sponsored by Masonic lodges, Eastern Star chapters, Shrine clubs, Scottish and York Rite bodies, individual members and businesses.

“We demand a lot of the students during the week each year,” Weber said. “They respond professionally and work very hard. There’s no doubt this band camp is always comprised of some of the best young musicians in the state.”

Band members also enjoy evening activities that include bowling, a dance and a chance just to hang out and get to know other musicians. Many are looking forward to the opportunity to use the instruction provided by the band directors when they return to their respective high school bands.

“The week will be filled with hard work, a lot of fun and great memories,” said Bob Moninger, grand master of Nebraska Masons. “Making new friends and performing with them at the halftime of the Shrine Bowl Game is a fantastic experience, but most important is the support they provide for the Shrine Hospitals for Children. We encourage the public to bring a lawn chair and come to Harmon Park on Friday evening to enjoy the statewide Masonic All-Star Marching Band, including a tribute to the military, the parade on Saturday morning and the Shrine Bowl game that afternoon.”

In a press release Moninger said the Master Masons of Nebraska individually and collectively exemplify the principles of their fraternity, which is an organization devoted to universally accepted virtues including integrity, morality and tolerance, Masons also champion patriotism, freedom of religion and freedom of political persuasion. He said the combined philanthropic efforts of Masonic-related organizations contributes in excess of $2 million a day.

For the directors, the opportunity for student musicians to work together remains important.

“These kids come here and they are with other band kids that love band,” Bohnert said in a previous Hub interview. “That’s really a very positive dynamic, too.”

Bohnert sees two key aspects to a strong marching band.

“It’s both visual and aural,” he said. “We work very hard getting the music to be expressive. In my mind, that’s No. 1. And then we use the visual element to highlight what we do musically. But it’s not like we shortcut any one thing.”

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