The Purple Knights Drum and Bugle Corp, from Rockford,IL, grew out of the St.Thomas High School Crusaders in the 1950's. The Corp enjoyed the height of it's success in the early 1960's. During the early 60's both Rockford Corp's, the Purple Knights and the Phantom Regiment, placed in the top 15 in the nation and enjoyed a spirited competition. In 1964 the corps disbanded for a short time. At that time several members joined the Phantom Regiment in order to be able to keep marching. In 1965 the corp was reborn as a parade corpsand many of the "one year" Phantom Regiment members returned to the Purple Knights and the corps progressed rapidly winning the A division championship at the South Milwaukee show in 1966. In 1966 the Knights competed throughout the year including the VFW Championships in Jersey City, New Jersey. Music that year included "Night Flight From Madrid", "Porgy & Bess", "Give Me Your Tired and Poor" and the finale "That's All".
During the period between 1966 and 1968 the corp featured an excellent guard and several group and individual winners, including it's brass quartet, snare drummer Dan Drolsum and Bass/Baritone Dave Lindberg. The drum line included among others Dan Drolsum, Mike Brady, Bob Nolan, Glenn Sturgiss, Benny Horton, Jeff Smith and Rich Muno. The horn line included, among others, Mike Elliot, Warren Pearson, Stan Thompson, Steve Kennedy, Cathy Verstynen, Matt Bullard, Mark Bullard, Spencer Davis, Kathy Spickler, Tim Brady, Bill Calvin, Jim Bowers, Debbie Arndt and Dave Lindberg. The Drum Major was Jon Adams and the Color Guard was lead by Kathy Burtch. The corp directors were Bob Johnson and Harry Pozzi.
The Purple Knights uniform varied somewhat through the years but was essentially a white blouse with diagonal purple stripe, wide chrome belt buckle, purple pants and purple shako with a white "pickle plum". The corps headquarters, Knight Hall, was located on the corner of East State and Second Streets in downtown Rockford across from Rockford City Hall.
In the early 1960's the organization included a feeder corps known as the "Squires" and also included a developmental group for very young members called the "Pages".
The Purple Knights finally disbanded for good in the early 1970's.
Until 1960, when the Boylan Central Catholic High School was created, the Rockford Diocese had operated two high schools in the city - Muldoon High School for girls and St. Thomas High School for boys, located along W. State St in close proximity to each other just west of the downtown business district. Both were closed when Boylan was opened. St Thomas, in lieu of a traditional band as its musical representative in local parades and at sports actiities, had formed a drum and bugle corps called the "Saint Thomas Crusaders". I don't know if it had a color guard, but it could have had a boy's, or a girl's guard made up of students at Muldoon (maybe someone familiar with those days can track this down). (I marched with the Crusaders during their final year. As I recall, the color guard was all-female and consisted of Muldoon students only. According to the 1958 St. Thomas Yearbook, the last Color Guard Sergeant was Patricia Pyzynski. Robin Ford was listed as the Drum Major, his dad Carroll was the Business Manager, Father Joseph McCarthy was the moderator and Wendell Porter was the Corps Director. I also marched with the Purple Knights; Sandy Dever - Dan's daughter - was the Knights Color Guard Captain but she was never with the Crusaders.) At or about the time St. Thomas closed, Crusader drum major was Robin Ford, the son of a local insurance man, Carol Ford. Ford was a leading booster of the school's drum corps. The senior Ford, hating to see the corps dissolve, led a successful drive to preserve the musical group. Donations were sought to finance purchase of the Crusader instruments, uniforms and equipment to create what would be called the Rockford Purple Knights drum and bugle corps. An all-girl color guard was also formed, with Dan Dever as instructor and corps director. His daughter Sandy was color guard captain (a position she might have held in the school's corps - again, if anyone knows for sure please feel free to edit). Rockford had an active youth drum and bugle corps, sponsored by VFW Post 342, in the 1930's and 40's (perhaps called the Blackhawks), and perhaps some of its former members likley were involved in early formation of both the Phantom Regiment and the Purple Knights corps. The Regiment was founded in 1956 according to its web site. That would indicate that both groups were active at about the same time - the future Knights as members of the St. Thomas group. If I recall correctly, most St. Thomas members became members of the Knights. The Purple Knights Squires were formed in the early 1960's, possibly 1961, first directed by Phil Alongi and later by Chuck Johnson. They rehearsed and stored equipment in the Memorial Hall building in downtown Rockford. At that time, the "big" corps and the color guard were competetive, placing 12th or 13th in national competition. Sandy Stone, a girl tenor drummer, won either the VFW or American Legion national individuals competition in 1962. Snare Drummer Bob Churchill placed very high in individuals competition as well. Not long after this successful season, the big corps collapsed when severl key members aged-out, giving support to the belief that many of the Crusader boys had remained on to become Knights. By then, the Squires members were moved up to the big corps level and off-season recruiting was carried out. At that time the entire operation was revamped. A new active parent's booster club organized, and a series of fund-raiser events were held. Harry Pozzi, a Loves Park business owner and corp parent, was chosen as corps manager. He not only devoted much time to this task, but was personally generous with funding. Bob Johnson, another corps parent who had trained the color guard, was named corps director. Plans were made to create a Purple Knights parade-only corps for the following year and build towards return to a competitive level. By spring of the next year, the corps had gained members in spite of resistance by public school band instructors to our recruiting effort. They told the kids that drum corps was "not real music" and that "bugle blowing will ruin their lips for other horn playing". The first event of the year was Rockford's Memorial Day parade, the only local event in which public school bands all participated. Corps members in school bands were required to march with their own units. What could be done about this? We wanted to show off our revamped corps to parade-goers. We asked the parade organizers to make us the last musical unit in the parade. We then formed a vehicle shuttle plan in order to meet our school band players with their corps instruments as they ended the parade and drive band members back to the staging area and/or along the parade route so they could be fed into the corps ranks in their band uniforms. This made for a weird look, but the corps sounded impressive by the time it reached downtown where the largest crowds were gathered. During that parade-only summer, plans were made to return to competition the next season with "new" drums and bugles. We were able to secure Chicagoans Tom Kasten as music arranger and bugle instructor, and Larry McCormick (then also drum instructor for the Cavaliers) as our drum instructor. So far as I know, they developed the field show as well.
During the rebirth of the Corps in 1965, the old uniforms were not available and the corps simply wore white shirts and purple trousers for the early part of the year. After a fund drive new uniforms made up of white blouses with a purple stripe running from the right shoulder down to the left hip, purple pants with a white stripe, white belt with large chrome buckle emblazened with an eagle, purple shakos trimmed in white and the trademark white pickle plume. The uniforms prior to 1965 also included a white blouse and purple pants, however the blouses featured a purple V on the front of the blouse and a white sash rather than the white belt and chrome buckle. The Squires uniforms featured a white blouse with red diaganol stripe, grey pants with white stripe and red sash.
During the 1960's, the Purple Knights were the only non- Chicago based Drum Corps that was allowed to carry the City of Chicago flag in their guard due to the corps support of many parades and functions in the City of Chicago. The Corps also carried a purple and white checker board flag Each box in the checkerboard represented a student who had perished in the Our Lady of Angels School fire in Chicago.
The Purple Knights Color Guard during the 1960's also competed in the winter guard circuit placing in the top 5 positions numerous times. The Corps also sponsored a major winter color guard competition each year that was held at the National Guard Armory on South Main Street in Rockford. During the 1966 season, the Purple Knights also had a male color guard that performed in exhibition at the show they sponsored.
Others in the corps. Mark Bullard, Rick and Starling Viecht, Sandy Romanno, Karen Pozzi. In 2010 a Face book page has been created for all former members of the corp and features many rare photos of the corp in action.