AUGUST 20, 2013 — EVANSTON, ILL. — For more than six decades, Glenn Opie (WCAS50) entertained Northwestern University homecoming crowds as he spun and tossed his drum major's mace. Over the years, he lead hundreds of NUMBALUMS as they growled and high-stepped onto Ryan Field.
"It was huge fun, mega-exciting — the crowd was so generous and responsive. It was a very humbling experience," he said after the 2009 halftime show. [Video of Opie's 2009 appearance.]
After the games, fans would swarm him, asking for autographs and a photo with him.
Before becoming a Wildcat celebrity — and before becoming a successful lawer in Great Bend, Kans. — he led the Northwestern University "Wildcat" Marching Band in the 1949 Rose Bowl parade.
"The constant roar of the crowd again brought back the Rose Bowl memory — giddiness and euphoria," Opie said of his NUMBALUMS performances.
Opie's contributions on the gridiron were not limited to Northwestern's football stadium. He went on to become director of the Argonne Rebels Drum and Bugle Corps, sharing leadership with his wife, Sandra. Under their guidance, the corps won the American Legion national championships in 1971, 1972, and 1973. The Rebels were one of the thirteen founding corps of Drum Corps International, which now includes 42 corps providing an educational and competitive performance experience to thousands of high schoolers each year.
The husband and wife team were inducted into the Drum Corps International hall of fame.
"If you live long enough, and this is just by happenstance, you have a lot of adventures," he told Northwestern magazine's Elizabeth Weingarten (J09) in 2009.
Asked when he would retire from his law practice, Opie said, "Not until the good Lord retires me."
Glenn Opie died on August 11. He was 87.
In 2009, Northwestern magazine interviewed Glenn Opie, who was also a World War II-era veteran of the U.S. Navy, where he served as a radio operator aboard a destroyer in the Pacific theater. Here are some highlights from that conversation:
When did you join the Northwestern band?
Glenn Opie: In 1947, as a sophomore. The late Glen Cliffe Bainum appointed me drum major for three years. He auditioned me for clarinet but said he thought I would do the band less damage as its drum major.
What are some of your favorite band memories?
GO: In the 1949 Homecoming parade, I wanted to use a fire baton, but I didn't have the money to buy one. A Phi Delta Theta fraternity brother of mine, a chemistry major, got the idea of taking my Rose Bowl baton, putting a tennis ball on one end, wrapping the ball on the other end with cotton, then soaking each end in some kind of acid solution, which burned a bright green when lit. Midway in the parade down Sheridan Road, he ignited the baton and tossed it to me from the side of the parade route. The surprise fire "got my attention," as did the stinging acid drops flying from the flaming baton. I could think of nothing to do but to frantically grab the blazing baton and twirl it as fast as I could. Centrifugal force worked — and the crowd went nuts. Only problem was a few acid and burn holes in my pants.
Tell us about your journey home from the Rose Bowl in January 1949.
GO: We were marooned for four days in Cheyenne, Wyo., during what we were told was the "blizzard of the century." The railroads had half a dozen trains going back to the East Coast, a lot of them were spectators from the Rose Bowl. We pulled into the railroad yard — there must've been three or four other trains there. The snow subsided only enough for people to get out and do a little something. In the beginning people were out foraging for food.
We had food on our train. We were sitting in the train diner side by side, and we could look over and see the other trains. Some people had their noses pressed against the windows watching us eat. Everyone else was starving.
Some kids would leave the trains and go over in some of the theaters there in Cheyenne. They would play their instruments and put on amateur shows, ad-lib skits and all that stuff. That went on for two or three days. There were a lot of skits and fun and probably a little romance, too.
What happened when you got back to Northwestern?
GO: When we got back, we'd been out of school for four days. I had to go in and see a crusty old guy by the name of Professor James William Buchanan. He was an icon in the zoology area of the school curriculum; he was an old man about ready for retirement [Opie was a zoology and chemistry double major]. I had to go into Professor Buchanan's office. I didn't think he was paying any attention when I said, ‘Professor Buchanan, I'm asking for permission to be readmitted back into class.' I told him all about the blizzard and the Rose Bowl and so forth.
All of a sudden, he whirls around in his swivel chair and bangs his first on the desk and just glares at me. I thought he was going to execute me in my tracks. He said, ‘Opie, will you tell me the truth if I ask you a question?' He said, ‘Is it true that you ran out of whiskey in Cheyenne?' I didn't know what to say, so I said, ‘Yes, sir.' He said, ‘Good god man, you've suffered enough. You go back to class.'
—Daniel M. Reck (GSESP08)
2009 homecoming photo by Stephen J. Carrera. 1947 Rose Bowl photo from the Northwestern University Archives.