After World War I, military training became part of the basic curriculum at many high schools across the country. Young men were required to carry a 20-pound WWI Springfield rifle on maneuvers unless they wanted to play a drum or bugle. Ken opted for the bugle and his long time love affair with the drum corps activity began.
In 1945 Ken returned to Ottawa from armed service in World War II. Shortly thereafter the American Legion Post 33 in Ottawa formed a senior Drum & Bugle Corps that eventually came to be known as the Cornets. Ken was a member of this Corps.
In 1954, Marquette High School head Fr. Edward Duke expressed to Ken an interest in the corps. Ken and Fr. Duke mutually agreed to begin forming the Marquette Crusaders drum & bugle corps. It was to be comprised of local parochial school students and alumni. In April of that year the all boy corps was quickly patched together with makeshift uniforms and equipment and made their inaugural march in Ottawa’s Decoration Day parade.
Later, uniforms and equipment were purchased second hand from the General George Bell VFW Post in Chicago, Illinois. These uniforms just happened to be the familiar satin blue and the new, blue uniformed Crusaders came to be affectionately known as the Blu Cru.
The Crusaders found a good deal of success in the early years. 1957 brought a 4th place finish at American Legion state finals, good enough for a berth at Nationals in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The Blu Cru was the only corps representing the state of Illinois and finished in 27th place in the entire United States. The following year, 1958, found the Cru in 15th place throughout the land.
In 1959, the Marquette Crusaders traveled to Minneapolis, Minnesota for American Legion Nationals. The corps was ranked 13th best in the country that year with a score of 72.91 and in hind sight it was probably the Crusader’s finest achievement. The Crusaders were ranked amongst the world’s drum corps elite with other groups such as the Garfield Cadets, Chicago Cavaliers, Racine Kilties, and the Madison Scouts.
1960 brought about a big change in the Crusaders. An “experimental” 15 girl color guard was added. The thought behind this was that the boys who used to march in the color guard could be used to bolster the music sections. The new color guard sergeants were Judy Ftacek and Nadine Ballerini. The Drum Major was Bill Walsh, assisted by Bill Stevenson.
The corps was managed in 1960 by Bill Farrar. Ken Kobold served as the advisor and booking agent. The horns section and drill was instructed by Dick Tarsitano of the Skokie Indians. Drums were instructed by former Norwood Park Imperial Tony DeMarco. The new color guard was instructed by Gunnery Sgt. Bill West, U.S.M.C. Recruiter.
The 1960’s saw the Crusaders pretty much holding their own in competition while always struggling to add new members. Other corps had more success than the Cru in adding to their ranks. In 1964 the Crusaders found themselves missing the night show at American Legion State competition. Still, their prelim score was a respectable 65.05 which placed them in 8th out of 18 Illinois corps.
In 1965 with a score of 69.05, the Crusaders placed 28th out of 51 corps at the VFW national convention in Chicago. It is sad to note that only 6 of those 51 corps still exist today.
1966 was another milestone in the Crusaders history. The corps membership was no longer restricted to parochial school students. The official name was changed from Marquette Crusaders to the Crusaders of Ottawa. The roster listed membership at 80 and the kids came from as far away as Rockford and Macomb, Illinois. Another first for ’66 was Friendship Day. It was a joint effort between the Ottawa Jaycees and the Corps. As far as civic pride goes, this event was advertised as one of the biggest events in Illinois history and included a proclamation from then Governor Otto Kerner. Sunday’s Drum Corps show featured some of the very best drum corps in the world at that time. Included were the Cavaliers, Skokie Vanguards, Royal-Aires, Norwood Park Imperials, Racine Scouts, Black Knights and McHenry Viscounts. The Cavaliers won the show with a 78.33.
1967’s Friendship Day contest saw the Cavaliers defend their crown from the year before with a score of 79.68. Ottawa also got their first glimpse of a troop of Explorer Scouts from Madison, Wisconsin. The Scouts finished last with a score of 57.62. The year’s other notable event was the retirement of “Mr. Drum Corps”, Ken Kobold.
1968 found the Crusaders sliding a little in ranking on the competitive scale. They did not earn a spot in any of the possible night shows at the state competitions. It was also a down year for the Cavaliers as they lost their Friendship Day title to the DesPlaines Vanguard.
The next couple of years were somewhat rebuilding years. The membership had dropped to less than 70 kids and the scores showed the need for improvement.
By 1971, the Cru was starting to move up the ladder again. Taking 7th at American Legion state finals was a key turning point. An invitation to visit Canada was the highlight of the season. Placing 7th in the Canadian Open was a huge bonus.
The Crusaders became the sole sponsors of the Friendship Days activities after the Jaycees had dropped out in 1972. The festivities still went off without a hitch. The Cru took 7th place against 16 other corps at VFW state competition. They found the same place at American Legion state finals 3 weeks later. 1972 was also the first year for the activity's official governing body, Drum Corps International.
The Crusaders travelled to Toledo, Ohio in 1974 to participate in one of the biggest competitions of the year. The Key to the Sea contest brought the best drum corps in North America together as a prelude to DCI championships. The BluCru scored well enough to earn a spot in the "B class" (now known as division II) night show the following day. The Corps took 8th out of 10 with a score of 50.75.
1977 found the Crusaders finishing up their season in Denver Colorado at the Drum Corps International Championships. The Corps placed 22nd in Division II competition with a final score of 33.90.
In 1980 the name was changed to the LaFlamme Brigade. The Corps placed 20th in Drum Corps Midwest competition with a score of 29.85. It was one of the last gasps for the Corps.
Managers of the Crusaders over the years included Ken Kobold, Bill Farrar, John Halterman, Dan Haley, Bob O’Conner, Roy Hollenbeck, John Verona, Mike Ohlendorf, Dale Ballerini and F. Jerry Lewis