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A Feather in Their Cap

New band uniforms honor memory of former director, excite students; donors step up to make it happen

Band members pose with David Woods and Ted Yungclas

From Bell Tower - Fall 2019

This fall, the Washburn University Marching Blues are turning heads. When the band took the field during the football home opener in early September, they got to show off their striking new uniforms for the first time in front of a large crowd. Despite the unseasonably warm weather, the students were excited – especially many of the upperclassmen, who had only performed in the blue-and-white tracksuits that the band had worn in lieu of uniforms for several years.

“It’s a sense of pride – you can see it in the students when they put the uniforms on,” said Tom Seddon, Washburn University director of bands. “They’re proud of being at Washburn and being an Ichabod. They’re proud to be part of the band program.”

The uniforms were purchased this summer following one of the largest crowdfunding campaigns in University history, which aimed to raise $100,000 for 200 new uniforms. The campaign was kick-started by a $50,000 matching donation from David Woods, b music ’65, and his husband, Ted Yungclas, who utilized the opportunity to honor the memory of former Washburn marching band director James Van Slyke.

“We challenged everyone at Washburn and in the Topeka area to match our donation so we could have new uniforms for Washburn University,” Woods said. “We did it because of the need but also because we wanted to honor Professor Van Slyke. The uniforms are dedicated to Professor Van Slyke’s honor and his legacy.”

Woods’ personal connection to Washburn and Van Slyke goes back more than half a century. When Woods was a child in 1955, he started taking saxophone lessons from Van Slyke – and shortly after that, Woods’ father passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. During this time, Van Slyke played a pivotal role in Woods’ life, stepping in to offer the guidance and mentorship Woods needed after such a significant loss.

“Professor Van Slyke really helped me and was a father figure for me for many, many years until his death in 1984,” Woods said. “I decided to pursue my career path because of Professor Van Slyke. He was very inspiring.”

After graduating from high school, Woods continued to study saxophone performance under Van Slyke at Washburn. He also studied abroad and participated in national competitions while a student at the University. Woods went on to earn master of music and doctor of philosophy degrees from Northwestern University and had a distinguished career in higher education administration before retiring after a 12-year appointment as dean of the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts in 2012.

Five years ago, Woods and Yungclas moved to Topeka, which is Woods’ hometown. Yungclas previously served as assistant dean at the University of Connecticut School of Fine Arts and also has an extensive background in music and education, so when he and Woods learned that the Marching Ichabods were in desperate need of new uniforms, they were eager to get involved with Woods’ alma mater.

“I think the old uniforms sort of rag-tagged out over time,” Yungclas said. “I know the university wanted to have this initiative for some time, so it seemed like a very timely opportunity for us.”

The fundraiser struck a chord with the University and the community because within six months the campaign had generated hundreds of donations, enough to purchase a set of new uniforms that boldly display Washburn’s school colors of navy blue and white. In addition to honoring Van Slyke, Woods said the uniforms promote unity and encourage school spirit, which Woods and Yungclas both feel are essential to the success of any marching band.

“I went to a small high school in Iowa, and our marching band was able to convey school spirit throughout that whole school,” said Yungclas, a former sousaphone player. “It was a great experience for leadership and team building.”

“Band members at Washburn are so proud to represent their university and stand out on the field,” Woods added. “Music is absolutely essential to humanity, and that’s the reason we both have dedicated our lives to it. I believe music has to be a part of everything we all do.”

Seddon and Washburn music department chair Craig Treinen also devoted a lot of time and energy to securing funding for the uniforms, not only for the benefit of current band members but also because looking good at regional and statewide festivals and competitions helps with recruitment.

“When we host the state marching band championships we have over 3,300 high school students come here, and the new uniforms help us recruit. It shows that the University supports the band and the arts,” Seddon said. “We hope to inspire students to want to come to Washburn. We’re thrilled that we can get out and represent the University at more statewide events where more citizens can see us. It will open up new opportunities for the students and  Washburn.”

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