Band, ’56 bridge generations

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Tom Meeker ’56 leads a locomotive cheer in 2006, with student conductor Charles Pence ’07 and drum major Charlie Bergen ’07 looking on. (Courtesy Tom Meeker ’56)

Careful readers of PAW’s Nov. 4 cover story might notice that one Princeton University Band percussionist plays a pair of plastic pumpkins that bear the number “56.” Those homemade bongos are part of a unique link between the band and the Class of 1956.

For more than two decades, Tom Meeker ’56 and his wife, Joanne, have hosted a Class of ’56 tailgate before home football games, and for most of that time, the band has stopped by to play a few songs before entering the stadium.

The tradition began innocently, Meeker says. Joanne was looking for a way to liven up the tailgate, and when she saw the band marching down Roper Lane, she ushered them into the party.

The following week, the band returned, and soon after, it became part of the group’s game-day routine. Dozens of band alumni come to the tailgate each year, and current band members enjoy chatting (and snacking) with the ’56ers. Former band president Alex Barnard ’09 saluted the Class of ’56 at Alumni Day last year when he accepted the Pyne Honor Prize.

“We love [the Meekers],” says Hannah Valdez ’11, this year’s band president. “They’re such big fans.”

The friendship is built on a common bond, according to Tom Meeker. Among band members, he says, “There is a tremendous amount of love for Princeton.”