Times Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — They're going to New York. To the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, that is. Next year. In 2019.
The Awesome Original Second Time Arounders Marching Band got the news Saturday from Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade creative producer Wesley Whatley, who flew to St. Petersburg to make the surprise announcement during a community band concert in Williams Park.
As Whatley led up to the news, the band's dancers, majorettes, flag twirlers and color guard began leaping into the air in front of the Williams Park band shell, where the musicians had been playing.
"I'm here because I have a very special surprise," Whatley said. "It is my job to look across the United States and recognize the finest, most entertaining marching bands in the country, and that search has brought me right here to St. Pete."
The band — which traditionally has included grandmothers, grandfathers and octogenarians — and their fans roared.
This is the second time in the band's 36-year history it has won an invitation to the annual parade watched by more than 3.5 million spectators and a television audience said to rise above 50 million.
"We look for unique groups," Whatley said during an interview. "They are incredibly unique. I'm not sure I have heard of any other group like them. They are so relatable to our audience."
Bill Findeison, 76, co-founder and director of the band, which at times has soared to more than 400 members, heard the news from Whatley a couple of weeks earlier. But he was sworn to secrecy.
"I was driving in the car, and the phone rang. I didn't recognize the number, but I went ahead and answered it," he said. "It was very, very exciting to talk to him."
The band last marched in the Macy's parade in 2008.
Cathy Scavelli, 57, is with the band's auxiliary, made up of dancers, majorettes and two flag groups. She was there the last time.
"When I knew they were going to Macy's (in 2008), I said, 'I'm going to join that band,'" said the Palm Harbor resident. Her husband, Andy, plays the trombone in the group.
"Just to march in that parade, it was an experience I never really thought I would have. It was an unbelievable experience," Scavelli said. "You don't sleep the night before. We had a practice at 3 a.m. in Herald Square. It was a lot of fun and something I will never forget, and it was totally worth it."
Cindy Paauw joined the Second Time Arounders when it was formed in 1983, but has missed some years.
"Life got in the way ... school, kids," said the 59-year-old software engineer, who plays the alto sax. "The year they were in the Macy's parade, I watched the show with tears in my eyes."
She now has a second chance.
The band has about 300 members, but Findeison hopes Saturday's news will draw more. "We're looking to certainly swell those ranks with the Macy's parade," he said.
The band has played in other venues. They include Epcot and Dublin, Ireland, for that city's St. Patrick's Day Parade. This year, they will play again at the Conch Republic Independence Celebration in Key West.
Meanwhile, the band will spend 18 months raising money for the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Members will pay their own way to New York, Findeison said, but fundraisers will help pay for such expenses as transporting instruments and flags. The group typically rents a U-Haul truck, he said.
Findeison was Lakewood High School's first band director in 1966 and taught there for 15 years. He used to own the Bringe Music Center and hatched the idea of an adult marching band over a few drinks at the St. Petersburg Yacht Club with his friend Herb Melleney. At the time, Melleney was director of the Festival of States, an annual extravaganza of parades and special events. They advertised for adult musicians to form a band for the festival, and 75 people responded.
"After the parade, everybody was real excited and said, 'Let's do this again,'" Findeison said, adding that he didn't want "to be part of something that wasn't any good."
"He's a perfectionist and that shines through in the end product, " said Paauw, adding that Findeison taught her at Lakewood.
The Second Time Arounders won a place in next year's parade from a field of more than 100 applicants. It will be one of only nine bands and will represent the state of Florida.
Over the years, the group has drawn members from as near as St. Petersburg and as far away as Miami.
Mark Deen, who plays the trombone and is director of worship and arts at Palm Harbor United Methodist Church, lives in Trinity. His wife, Jill, who plays the flute, drives to the St. Petersburg rehearsals from her job as director of a call center in Tampa. The couple joined the band this year.
"It took getting our children grown up and out of the house," said Deen, who also is the band director at Westlake Christian School in Palm Harbor.
Their sons are 30 and 28.
"It was when the boys were maybe 7 and 5 years old that we saw the band," he said. "So 23 years later, we finally got in. We're loving it. It's really just been a blast."
Dr. Michael Shear, 62, practices internal medicine at Bay Pines VA Healthcare System. He has played with the Second Time Arounders for 30 years. He would have joined earlier, he said, but his son, now 31, was a toddler.
"I've gone on all the trips," he said, including the last one to New York.
"It was very exciting. I grew up in New York, and we used to go to the parade," said Shear, who has played the saxophone since third grade. "My first marching band was when I was in high school. Now I am in the marching band again. It's really fun."
James "Jim" Cleveland, 67, agrees. He played in the Florida A&M University Band.
"Being with the Florida A&M band was one of the things a lot of young black musicians aspired to. I enjoyed playing, and I never really stopped playing," said Cleveland, who retired as a manager for Allstate. He plays the baritone horn.
"I am glad that somebody came up with the Second Time Arounders. It gives musicians who are not playing professionally a chance to still play. It's a lot of fun."
Band members say they are a family. Its where many couples have met and married. Findeison met his wife, Polly, a clarinetist, in the Second Time Arounders.
"It's not all music," he quipped.
Contact Waveney Ann Moore at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2283. Follow @wmooretimes.