Cletus McGovern and his St. Lawrence Band tickled many parade-goers from Minneapolis to New York, as they danced to their own tune.
McGovern, 85, who co-founded and often led the dancing band that performed from 1940 to 1978, died of heart disease on Aug. 21 in New Brighton. As they played and marched, the band would dance to the tune they were playing, whether a waltz, rhumba or Irish jig.
He received a saxophone when he was a boy and was largely self-taught.
When McGovern, who grew up in Minneapolis, was a Marshall High School student, Rev. Robert Burns, St. Lawrence Catholic Church priest and trumpet player, went to the McGovern family home to jam on the front porch in southeast Minneapolis one night.
Toward midnight, a police officer made them stop playing, McGovern recalled for his family, and that night they got the idea for the band, composed of adults and children.
He first led the band in 1946, when Burns left Minneapolis for a few years. Burns died in 1985.
McGovern, who had polio as a child, marched with a limp on their miles-long parade routes.
Adult members helped teach the youngsters.
Judy Lucking of Minneapolis started with the group at age 8, first as a majorette and later an alto saxophone player.
"He was just a wonderful band director," said Lucking. "He had a real interest in us as a band, and in showing us off."
Neighbors in Southeast Minneapolis would trail along, as the band practiced and marched on summer evenings.
They would appear in more than 40 parades a year around Minnesota, and gave concerts.
For years, the band marched in the Aquatennial Parade in Minneapolis, and placed well in national band competitions in Chicago, taking first place in the late 1940s.
"It was always a blast," said his daughter, Peggy Roethke of Forest Lake, who was a majorette with the band. "It was pure joy for him."
The band performed in St. Patrick's Day parades in St. Paul, Minneapolis and twice in New York City.
One "big thrill" for McGovern was when hundreds of priests all rose when the band passed St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York, playing the "Holy Name March," said his daughter.
David Lucking of Minneapolis, Judy's husband, led the band from 1957 to 1961. He said McGovern "wanted us to work hard," but he ruled kindly.
"He had such tremendous faith in us, and was just so darn proud of us," said David Lucking.
McGovern remained active with the band into the 1970s, and served as its director a few times.
He led dance bands from the 1940s into the 1960s in the Twin Cities. He was a former advertising director for the old Minneapolis Herald, a former business manager for Argus Publishing, and he had worked in promotions for the old Powers Department Store.
He retired in the mid-1980s. His son Patrick died in 1959.
In addition to his daughter Peggy, he is survived by his wife, Susan, of Minneapolis; his other daughters, Maria King of Lakewood, Wash., Kathy Baron of Costa Mesa, Calif., Jeanne McGovern Acuna of Robbinsdale, Leslie Crow of Princeton, Minn., and Theresa of Minneapolis; sons, Shawn of St. Paul, Tim of Cedar, Minn., Jim of Blaine, Paul of Lynnwood, Wash., Tom of Stacy, Minn.; his first wife, Patricia McGovern of Osseo; sister, Gert McGovern of Columbia Heights; 21 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.
Services have been held.