Van Kempens to serve as grand marshals at 2010 band festivalJerry and Margaret Van Kempen of Alexandria discovered it pays to stalk the Jefferson High School (JHS) Marching Band. It got them an invitation to be grand marshals at the 2010 Vikingland Band Festival.
By: Jo Colvin, Alexandria Echo Press
Jerry and Margaret Van Kempen of Alexandria discovered it pays to stalk the Jefferson High School (JHS) Marching Band. It got them an invitation to be grand marshals at the 2010 Vikingland Band Festival.
“The [assistant director] came to the door and said, ‘We would like you folks to be grand marshals,’ ” Jerry said.
“The surprise was huge,” said a delighted Margaret. “I was really thrilled! I think you could hear me clear downtown.”
The Van Kempens, residents of Alexandria since 1949, are no strangers to fame and notoriety. Jerry has been called “the voice of Alexandria” for his 20 years of announcing at the speedway; co-hosting Jingle Bells; and for being half of the Harlan and Jerry Mess show on KXRA Radio (see sidebar).
In 1985 he and Margaret formed Country Air Show Productions, in which he was the announcer at air shows and she was behind the scenes running sound and doing public relations work.
In 1987, they went to work for Schwann’s, which owned the Red Baron Pizza Company, and Jerry became “The voice of the Red Baron Squadron.” The couple traveled all over the U.S. announcing at air shows. They retired four years ago, at age 80.
Throughout their years in Alexandria, the couple’s involvement in the community has been constant, their humor unending, and Jerry’s careers numerous.
“I can give you a definition of an entrepreneur,” Margaret said with a grin as she pointed to her partner in crime. “It’s a short attention span.”
“Part of the time I was right and part of the time I was wrong,” Jerry agreed. “But when I was right, I was really right.”
About 10 years ago, the couple took on a new venture –this time for fun – following the JHS Marching Band. Because their residence is just a couple blocks from Jefferson High School, they were always treated to the wonderful sounds of the band practicing. But hearing it wasn’t enough, so they started tagging along with them at each practice.
“We walk on the sidewalk with some other parents and band people,” Jerry said. “We hang out with them until it gets near dark, or dark.”
“As soon as we hear them playing we drop what we are doing and go over there,” Margaret added.
Margaret knows how difficult marching and playing an instrument at the same time can be. “Back in the stone age,” she played clarinet in her high school marching band, and the director would whack members’ ankles if they didn’t march properly. She appreciates the progress the band makes throughout the season.
Jerry appreciates the band’s many talents as well, even though the extent of his musical background includes “winning a guitar selling Hondas.”
It wasn’t long until the kids expected, and appreciated, the Van Kempens’ presence at their practices. So did the directors. Every year, Jerry, who is rarely at a loss for words, is now asked to say a few words to kick off the marching band season.
The Van Kempens never thought much about the effect of their presence on the students. They just tagged along because they enjoyed the music and watching the band progress. But when the kids definitely noticed, it made watching the band even better.
“They all wave and are glad that we are there, you can tell,” Margaret said.
“They enjoy the fact that this old couple walks with them,” Jerry added.
Neither Van Kempen realized how much their support was appreciated until that fateful knock on the door a couple months ago. And neither hesitated for a moment in their decision to agree to be grand marshals.
“We were delighted. It was a very nice thing to be asked,” Jerry said of what they consider an honor.
“We enjoy the music and we love watching them progress,” Margaret concluded. “They are quite a bunch when you think of what they have to do to participate in that band. It’s just beautiful.”
The Vikingland Band Festival will be held Sunday, June 27 at 1:30 p.m.
The Van Kempens’
• Jerry Van Kempen – is a veteran of WWII. He served in the field artillery division in the Pacific Theater. He has been a member of the American Legion for 60 years;
• operated a concrete burial vault business, a Honda dealership and worked as a sales representative for the Park Region Echo;
• belonged to the Jaycees and co-hosted the Jingle Bells Telethon for 42 years;
• was a charter member of the Evening Lions Club;
• announced the stock car races at five different tracks;
• has been a member of the Police Commission since 1976;
• was an aerobatic pilot and got his pilot’s license in 1946.
• co-hosted a radio show with Harlan Angen – The Harlan and Jerry Mess – for 30 years
• Margaret Van Kempen worked for the State of Minnesota Employment office, area schools, and at the welfare office;
• The couple has three daughters, nine grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.
• The couple operated Country Air Show Productions. Jerry was the announcer for the Red Baron Squadron with Margaret working behind the scenes.