It’s been four decades since Randy Good has spoken to Frank Bienas. But the Anderson owner of Good’s Candy Shop as well as dozens of his former bandmates from Shenandoah High School have had the former band director on their minds and give him credit for much of their life’s success and drive.
Bienas, now residing in Carmel, was the marching band director at Shenandoah for five years, from 1968 to 1973. When he took over the band he wasn’t sure if he’d stay much more than the first year as he was replacing a beloved director and things didn’t go too hot that first year.
The students placed 21st in the State Fair Band Day competition; the contest then had more than 100 bands competing from across the state.
But Bienas joked that he told his wife he’d give it another shot. They placed 13th the next year, fourth, third and then, in 1972, first. The band’s stellar performance not only gave them the number one title in the state, it also earned the group of less than 60 students the right to march at President Richard Nixon’s inaugural parade in Washington D.C.
The Shenandoah High School band will hold a reunion today at the Cadiz Community Building. Students who were a part of the 1972 State Fair Championship band and others are gathering for a visitation from 2 to 6 p.m., with a meal at 6 p.m. followed by a program honoring the band members and Bienas.
“He demanded perfection,” Good said fondly of Bienas. “I’ll never forget that very first practice as an eighth-grader. All we did was learn how to stand at attention, not move. It seemed like hours. And all we did was stand there. It was about learning that type of discipline. He was a force. He was the kind of individual that was going to have the best.”
Fellow band member Charlie McCoy, who has remained friends with Bienas over the years as McCoy became a band teacher and director himself, credits Bienas with the successes that he and his bandmates have found in their adult lives.
“As a group we’ve been very successful,” he said. “And many of us have said that much of that comes from what we learned in band. That experience prepared us for life. It let us know, ‘Sometimes it is harder than you think it should be.‘ and ‘You have to do the work.‘”
While McCoy has kept in close contact with Bienas many of his band members haven’t seen him since he left the school a year after leading them to the band equivalent of the state championship title. Bienas said there was a lot of shakeup at the school with a new administration and leadership and he “saw the writing on the wall.” He branched out into fundraising and eventually opened his own business which he retired from after 25 years.
Bienas welcomes reunion
Good said that Bienas, his drive and his methods “captured the imagination of the entire community.” The band was the smallest to have ever won the competition, back when the competition really meant something, he joked.
And while the reunion is going to be a great way for classmates to catch up after decades, Good said it really is a tribute to Bienas and all of his hard work. The idea of the gathering started small as a handful of people and a picnic. But more than 100 are planning to come with people coming from as far away as California and North Carolina.
While the students give the majority of the credit to Bienas he’s much more modest about the efforts.
“The last year I was there it was just magic,” he said. “By that time everyone in the band was my kids — there were no hold-overs from the last director. They all believed how I believed. They were hard working. It was hard to beat them, with the kind of attitudes they had — they were going to win.”
The night of the performance at the state fair was “magical,” he said.
“I’m sure if I had a band today and worked them as hard as I worked that band I’d probably be fired,” Bienas joked. “Kids today don’t seem to want to work like they did. They wanted it.”
He’s excited to see the former students, hear stories of what they’ve been up to since they parted ways 40 years ago and to reminiscence about the glory days.
One way they will recall those performances is by watching the shows on film during the reunion. Both Good and McCoy said even today they would hold up, Good even saying the band from that year would win any year.
The time was certainly a fond one for the band members.
“What I remember is learning how much you benefit from hard work,” McCoy said. “Our experience was one that was of the family of people that in the end came together for a common cause. It really was a special time.“