Nov. 13, 2006

With oompah-pah's, kazoos and baton twirlers, Big Red Band and 105-year-old alumna parade down Fifth Avenue

NEW YORK -- Only a parade down one of Manhattan's busiest thoroughfares could match the love that Seymour "Sy" Katz '31 felt for Cornell.

So on a cool Nov. 11 evening, in keeping with the tradition Katz started more than three decades ago, the Big Red Marching Band made its biennial post-Columbia University football faceoff pilgrimage down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue for Cornell's Sy Katz '31 Parade.

Flanked by cheerleaders, baton-twirlers and a sea of about 500 red-clad alumni humming through plastic kazoos, the band played its way down Fifth Avenue, from St. Patrick's Cathedral at 50th Street to the Cornell Club on 44th Street. There, the alumni enjoyed a curbside capstone concert and a rousing rendition of the Alma Mater.

"My father fell in love with the band during the 1970s," said Alice Katz Berglas '66, Katz's daughter. One day, he decided that "every respectable marching band needed its own parade," and the rest is history. Every other year since then, after Cornell's football game at Columbia, the Big Red Band has led the spirited spectacle down Fifth Avenue.

"This is a wonderful event," said University Council Chairman Jay Waks, ILR '68, J.D. '71. "It really is too bad that Cornell lost at football today, but this makes up for it."

Indeed, no one could have guessed that Cornell had fallen short 21-14 against Columbia, as the Big Red Band led several rounds of "Give My Regards to Davy" while passers-by snapped pictures or stared.

The parade's grand marshal was Faith "Happy" Reichert '25, who was celebrating her 105th birthday and her first Sy Katz parade on the same day.

Wearing a Class of '25 button, Reichert was pushed along in a wheelchair at the head of the crowd alongside Cornell President David Skorton.

Perhaps the evening's spirit was best captured by the kazoo duet between Sy Katz's son, Bob Katz '69, and Bill Vanneman '31 as they joined the Big Red Band in a medley of Cornell songs.

Beaming with pride, Vanneman said Sy Katz was his classmate and best friend, and that the parade wasn't just about Big Red -- it was about remembering Katz, too.

"Sy was the greatest guy in the world," Vanneman said.