• Drum Major at OSU recalls hard lessons of glory, humility

    • By Barbara Carmen, The Columbus Dispatch
    • 1999

    Oliver McGee’s upstairs neighbors heard a strange bumping and thumping one recent Saturday.

    McGee – a former White House policy wonk and current U.S. deputy secretary for transportation technology – was engaged in a serious enterprise.

    “I was watching TV and twirling my baton during the Ohio State – Michigan game,” said McGee, 42, a Cincinnati native.

    Once a Buckeye drum major, always a Buckeye drum major.

    “Ask former drum majors to tell you their story, and they will all say one thing: It changed their lives,” said McGee, drum major 1980.

    “College is when you learn to win and lose and to dream. It’s pretty intoxicating for the rest of your life.

    “You learn a lot about humility. And you learn about being the cherry on top.”

    This lesson has produced an unusual crop of alumni, said Dee Felz, private coach to many drum majors.

    “They had a lot of glory, and some had a tough time working through it. But they all turned out great,” she said.

    She sometimes sees a former drum major in a local grocery store. “We do the ramp – heads back, toes pointing – down the aisle. People look at us like we’re crazy.”

    Some had trouble readjusting.

    Dwight Hudson, 42, a showman who inspired many successors, dropped out of college and sought anonymity in California.

    He later finished his degree and got a job in accounting, harkening advice from McGee: “If this is the biggest thing you do in your life, what a waste- what an absolute waste.”

    >McGee went on to earn a doctorate in engineering mechanics, and later taught at OSU.

    Brian Berendts, drum major in 1992 and 1993, said the experience opened doors.

    Now director of research at a sleep clinic in Dublin, Ohio, he enjoys acting in local community theater.

    “You have to have a little bit of hey-look-at-me personality to be a drum major,” said Berendts, 27.

    “There is, for most drum majors, a period of adjustment.”

    Shelley Graf, 39, a native of Sugar Grove, Ohio, also stayed in the Columbus area and performs with the alumni band.

    The only female drum major is a physical therapist at Ohio State University Medical Center.

    “Its still a high,” Graf said. “A lot of my patients will say, ‘Weren’t you the drum major?’ “
    Paul Droste, former OSU band director, said he looked for leadership in drum majors. If not, Script Ohio was apt to be “Script Ohoi.”

    But the job also requires strength. The baton weighs about 3 pounds and must be tossed two or three stories into the air.

    Bruce Hart, who served in 1982 and 1983, notes hat the drum major must be “an outstanding marcher.”

    “Or else, the tubas and trombones will crash into each other.”

    Hart, 39, lives in Orlando, Fla., but still sees the Buckeyes. His company produces entertainment shows for sporting events, including bowl games.

    Greg Eyer, 1985-86 drum major, also stays close to the band.

    “I do the recruiting and coach drum majors. During high school football season, you’ll find me at some game around the state every weekend,” Eyer, 35, a self-employed home-remodeling contractor in Columbus.

    He gives new drum majors one piece of advice:

    “Do what I didn’t do. Have fun. Stop to take a look at the crowd. Enjoy it.”

    But Hudson recalls intense pressure.

    "I was out performing everywhere,” he said. “Sometimes, I would e driving back to OSU and drinking coffee, falling asleep on the road.”

    Other drum majors picture Hudson tossing his baton to the heavens. He had a reason.

    His mother died of breast cancer when he was 12.

    “That morning, she called me to her bed and said, ‘Dwight, I had a dream last night that you were drum major at Ohio State.’

    “Later that day, my brother came to get me at school. My mom had passed on. From then on, I would spend hours and hours and hours in the garage practicing.”

    Before each home game, Felz drove Hudson to the cemetery.

    “He would place flowers on his mother’s grave,” Felz said. "After Woody died, he'd bring him flowers, too."