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Rangerettes reunite Baton teacher and her students will reminisce at Lititz Springs Park
ROCHELLE A. SHENK Record Express Correspondent
, Staff Writer
Marching bands and parades are part of the fabric of towns and communities, including Lititz, where a parade is part of the Fourth of July tradition that includes the Queen of Candles and a fireworks spectacular.
Vivian Landis Aichele has been part of that tradition – she not only was the 1956 Queen of Candles and a high school majorette, but she organized and coached the Lititz Rangerettes, who marched in numerous parades.
She started giving baton lessons in her front yard in Lititz, and from 1956 through 1978, taught generations of local girls how to twirl. Now the 75-year-old Aichele and several of her former students are looking to reconnect with one another and organize a reunion.
"It was my life for 22 years," she said.
This summer, Donna Weaver Galebach, Linda Hoffman Eckert and Fern Bucher contacted her about holding a reunion.
"I have good memories of the Rangerettes from my childhood. We worked hard at practices and marching in parades, but we had fun. It was the start of long-term friendships for some of us. That friendship grew a bit stronger as we went on to become majorettes in the high school band front. We thought it would be neat to have a reunion and revisit those times," Galebach explained. She added that her mom and Aichele’s mom were friends.
Aichele said that her older sister, Nancy Landis Eckert, was the one that inspired her to start twirling the baton. At the time, Nancy was a majorette in the Lititz High School band and Vivian herself may have been in seventh or eighth grade.
"She looked so pretty in her uniform, and I liked to watch her march in parades," she said. "I had a baton and I would toss it around and try to twirl it. At that time nobody taught baton, so I watched the majorettes practicing and tried to do what they did. They saw me and said they would teach me."
Thanks to their efforts, Aichele became a majorette with the high school band when she was in ninth grade. She continued to practice and hone her skills at baton twirling camps, and her dedication was rewarded when she became head majorette in her junior and senior years of high school.
She explained that at that time the band had a concert as part of the Fourth of July celebration. In 1956, the year that she was crowned Queen of Candles, Aichele recalls that she was walking home after performing with the band and a little girl approached her.
"She walked with me and said that she had watched me perform with the band and asked if I could teach her how to twirl the baton. I thought for a moment and agreed. She came over to my parent’s home, and we spent two hours twirling in the front yard. The next day she brought a friend and I taught both of them. By the end of the month I had taught 100 girls," she said with a smile.
At first she didn’t charge for the lessons, but the parents of her pupils convinced her that she should be paid something. So she charged 25 cents per lesson, and raised it to 50 cents a few years later, and finally settled on 75 cents.
"I really loved teaching other girls and remembered how the majorettes had taken the time to teach me," Aichele explained. "In all the years that I taught, I didn’t have to discipline one girl."
As the number of girls seriously interested in baton lessons grew, Aichele began to think about forming a baton twirling group to march in parades and perform at local events. That idea came to fruition and the Lititz Rangerettes were formed. The group marched in a number of parades throughout the county – Ephrata, Manheim, New Holland and Lititz (of course).
They also marched for three years in the Thanksgiving Day Parade in Philadelphia, starting in 1966. Aichele said that she learned of the Thanksgiving Day Parade when she was coaching Manheim Central’s band front.
"That parade was fun, but it was tough. It was nine miles long," she said. "We stopped performing in it because the girls didn’t have a chance to enjoy Thanksgiving with their families; we left early in the morning and didn’t get home until late."
Other highlights include being the honor guard for Santa Claus and performing on "American Bandstand."
"Performing on ‘Bandstand’ was really exciting. We performed with Fabian (Fabiano Anthony Forte), who was a teen idol at that time. The girls were thrilled to be on TV!" Aichele recalled.
Over the years, the Lititz Rangerettes were attired in about 10 different uniforms, and twirled traditional batons as well a flag batons, fire batons and lighted batons. Aichele recalls all of them fondly, but said that the lighted batons, which were quite showy, were quite heavy since they were powered by batteries.
"At first I made all of the uniforms, but then it got to be too much and I had some help. Boots were purchased from a local store, hats from F & M Hat Co. (in Denver), and batons from Don Randall’s Music Store. The mothers of the Rangerettes were phenomenal; they had matching uniforms and would march along with the girls," she said.
Aichele has three sons, who helped with the programs in their own way.
"But I got to teach everyone’s girls. In some cases, I taught three generations of a family," she said.
She also mentioned that her dad attended every performance he possibly could.
"He would march and take care of the fire batons for the girls. He treated all of my girls as if they were his own," she said.
All these years later, Aichele is now looking forward to hearing from and seeing some of her former students at the reunion, which has been set for Oct. 5 at noon in the pavilion near the bandshell in Lititz Springs Park. Former Lititz Rangerettes or baton students are asked to contact Aichele at 627-3732, Galebach at 626-4127 or Eckert at 626-4089.
More TWIRLERS, page A18