Founder of Rosemont Cavaliers, trendsetter for drum and bugle corps dies

  • Don Warren, in his Wood Dale home, displays memorabilia from his 60-year association with the Rosemont Cavaliers in 2008 as he steps back to take a less active role in the drum and bugle corps that he founded.

    Don Warren, in his Wood Dale home, displays memorabilia from his 60-year association with the Rosemont Cavaliers in 2008 as he steps back to take a less active role in the drum and bugle corps that he founded. Daily Herald file photo June 2008

  • The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps perform an exhibition at North Central College in Naperville in 2010. The group's founder, Don Warren, died earlier this month in Arizona.

      The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps perform an exhibition at North Central College in Naperville in 2010. The group's founder, Don Warren, died earlier this month in Arizona. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2010

  • Rosemont Cavaliers founder and president Don Warren addresses the Cavaliers faithful during the 1965 banquet.

    Rosemont Cavaliers founder and president Don Warren addresses the Cavaliers faithful during the 1965 banquet. Courtesy of Building the Green Machine

  • Don Warren, 13, shows off his Logan Square Boy Scout Troop 111 uniform around 1942.

    Don Warren, 13, shows off his Logan Square Boy Scout Troop 111 uniform around 1942. Courtesy of Building the Green Machine

  • The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps perform an exhibition at North Central College in Naperville in 2010. The group's founder, Don Warren, died earlier this month in Arizona.

      The Cavaliers Drum & Bugle Corps perform an exhibition at North Central College in Naperville in 2010. The group's founder, Don Warren, died earlier this month in Arizona. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer, 2010

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 5/26/2019 12:36 PM

Don Warren founded the Rosemont Cavaliers and helped guide the drum and bugle corps to more than 20 national titles and seven world championships with Drum Corps International.

Warren, 90, a former resident of Wood Dale, died May 19 in Arizona.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Warren conceived the corps in 1948 as an activity for Boy Scout Troop 111 in Chicago's Logan Square neighborhood. He remained actively involved in its direction and decisions as a board member until two years ago.

"It was basically a way to keep the boys off the street," says former member Dan Currier. "They wore their Scout uniforms and played bugles."

As a reflection of its Boy Scout roots, the Cavaliers were started as an all-male corps and they have remained true to that identity ever since. They remain one of only two all-male corps competing at the national level.

"It's a fraternity," Currier says, "a brotherhood."

Warren was not a musician and he would go on to build a successful career with Kemper Insurance. Consequently, he began building up the corps by hiring professional instructors to work with the horn section and drum line, and to design the drill.

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By 1957, the Cavaliers won their first championship, at the time hosted by the Veterans of Foreign Wars. Officials say he started to put together a powerhouse beginning in 1961, when the corps pulled off an undefeated season. They remained the drum corps to beat throughout the 1960s.

"Don was a very competitive person and he always wanted to win, but the Cavaliers was always a vehicle to create good men and develop leadership," says Chris Hartowicz, board president.

In 1971, Warren worked with other drum and bugle corps leaders around the country to form what would become Drum Corps International. Its goal was to develop a structure for the corps and provide sanctioned competitions.

DCI will begin its 2019 summer season in June, when more than 70 drum corps and the exhibition-based SoundSport teams compete in 108 competitive events in 35 states.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"(The founding of DCI) changed the face of the marching arts," Hartowicz says, "and established the foundation for the activity as we know it today."

As the quality of drum and bugle corps grew to an elite level, so did expenses, from commissioning composers and arrangers, to paying coaches and instructors, to the rising costs of travel throughout the summer.

Faced with growing financial insecurity, Warren met with a potential sponsor in 1980 at the suggestion of a former member.

"It was supposed to be a 20-minute meet and greet," Hartowicz says of that meeting with Rosemont Mayor Donald E. Stephens, "and three hours later they struck a deal that Rosemont would be the sole and single sponsor. The Cavaliers have been from Rosemont, Illinois, ever since."

The Cavaliers have opened their season every year since then by playing their competition show for Rosemont families at a summer picnic before going on tour. This year, they will unveil their show at 7 p.m. Friday, June 14, at the Rosemont Theatre.

It's designed as a celebration of Warren's life and will undoubtedly end with a medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "Semper Paratus," the Coast Guard hymn, affectionately known as the "Corps song" by the Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers also are dedicating this summer's tour to Warren's memory. The 30-show competition season opens on June 21 in Clovis, California, beginning a cross-country tour that builds toward the DCI world championships Aug. 8 in Indianapolis.

Funeral services are pending. For admittance to Warren's celebration of life, email info@cavaliers.org.

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