A contingent of men and women in blue uniforms set up their music stands and tuned their instruments Tuesday, keeping to a St. Paul police tradition 90 years in the making.
After almost a century, the St. Paul Police Band remains in full swing with about 65 members — one of which is an active, sworn officer. Despite the threat of menacing weather Tuesday, the band jammed at their concert at the Como Park Pavilion.
“It’s a very enjoyable feeling with a lot of pride,” said Judy Leverty, 61, who has played on the drum line for more than 20 years. “It just makes you feel good.”
Over the years, some of the band’s biggest highlights were performing for the arrival of renowned composer John Philip Sousa at the St. Paul Union Depot in 1924, playing at the Police Officers Ball in 1926, which was broadcast over the newly formed radio station WCCO, and being inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame in 2008.
Officer Tony Nikula, the band president and the only active sworn officer in the band, has played the drums with the group for five years.
“I like playing music and it’s fun, and it’s a positive thing to do for the Police Department. … It’s a nice change of pace from what we normally do,” said Nikula, who works patrol in the city’s Eastern District.
The band was first formed in 1923 by three St. Paul police officers, Ben Munkholm, Bob Hubenette and Frank Mondike, who felt that it was time the department had a band.
In the first few months, the music association’s structure and bylaws were organized as well as musicians and equipment were gathered. A fundraiser was held so the band could purchase music and equipment.
Originally, the band consisted of only male officers. After 50 years, women were finally allowed to join the band.
Nowadays, those who are interested in joining the band just need to be able to read music, competently play an instrument — and not have any prior felony convictions.
“You’re representing your police department and it’s a positive representation,” said retired Sgt. Gary Salkowicz, 61, who left the force in May.
Each year, the band performs at several department ceremonial events and marches in regional community festivals throughout the area.
“So many people leave high school or college and never pick up an instrument again,” Salkowicz said. “I’m just going to continue on as long as I’m healthy.”