Miss Pat passes the bugle

After 27 years with the Cranbrook Bugle Band, Pat Ronalds has retired as director

Pat Ronalds (left) is passing the bugle to Crystal Stevely Muir

Pat Ronalds (left) is passing the bugle to Crystal Stevely Muir

After spending half of her life involved with the Cranbrook Bugle Band, Miss Pat has stepped down.

August 31 was the last day Pat Ronalds will serve as the director of the band.

She was first a member of the band for seven years, starting when she was in Grade 7.

“At that time they weren’t bringing in girls in junior high. I was an exception,” said Pat.

Following that, she had a three-year stint as assistant director, before she become director of the band in 1996.

In all, Miss Pat has spent 27 years serving the Bugle Band, but no more. She and her husband both have surgery scheduled, and Pat juggles her own business, the Sugar Shack, as well as a full time job as an accountant for Community Connections. The workload became too much some time ago, but she held on for the sake of the band.

“I resigned five years ago but there was no one to take my place,” said Pat.

At last year’s 70-year reunion, Miss Pat told the board that if a replacement couldn’t be found within a year, she would have to call an end to the band.

Enter Crystal Stevely Muir, self-confessed “band geek” and mother of three boys aged 9, 6 and 4.

Crystal was a member of the band under Miss Pat from 1996 to 2000.

“I’ve had a passion for the band ever since I was a member. Watching it die after 71 years wasn’t sitting well with me. The kids enjoy it and I don’t want them to lose the band. I couldn’t let them down,” she said.

Crystal first came on board as assistant director last June for the reunion, and since then Pat has been grooming her for the top job.

“I’m not going far away, I just don’t want to do the directorship,” said Pat. “I’m not throwing in her in the deep end and saying ‘swim’. I’ll let her walk out and then push.”

Pat will continue to help out with the band, sewing uniforms and other small jobs in the background, and she will remain on the board of directors.

And she will always be Miss Pat to the dozens of girls she has directed over the past 17 years. They have scattered all over the world – New York, Japan, Korea – but former band members still search out Pat whenever they visit Cranbrook. She attributes their success in life somewhat to the skills they learned in the bugle band: leadership skills, a strong sense of independence, and the ability to work as a team despite differences of opinion.

“You might not like her but you still have to work with her,” Pat often tells the members.

The Cranbrook Girls Bugle Band was formed in 1941 by local legend Pop Price. Since then, the band has performed across North America and is recognised as one of Cranbrook’s identifying features. Before Miss Pat became director, Joyce Metcalfe held the position for 41 years.

Last November, the bugle band became coed, welcoming boys for the first time in 70 years. It was necessary to keep the band alive: numbers had dwindled close to the point of extinction. The band needs at least 12 members for every performance.

In Miss Pat’s time as director, she has many highlights to hold dear. In 2000, the band won bronze at the World Championships of the World Association of Marching Show Bands at the Calgary Stampede. Last year the band was invited back as an exhibition band for the championships, again held at the Stampede.

In 2005, the band toured Canada, getting as far as Quebec. In 2008, the band camped along the Alaska highway on the way to a parade in Whitehorse. Last year, they toured for 11 days as far as Seattle.

“The goal of the travel besides entertainment and performing is to educate the kids. Lots of these kids wouldn’t have the opportunity to travel with their families,” said Pat.

Now, with Crystal in charge, the band will remain mostly the same, although new uniforms are planned, with the members getting a vote. Crystal also hopes to share leadership of the band with its older members.

One thing’s for sure: whenever the bugle band perform in Cranbrook, Miss Pat will be somewhere in the parade route, tapping her foot, cheering the band on. It’s in her blood.