Blue Band history is brought to life in photos in the latest work written by Thomas E. Range and Lewis Lazarow. Titled simply PENN STATE BLUE BAND, it is the newest edition in the Images of America series and likely to be the closest to the hearts of ABBA members everywhere.

In fact, as an ABBA member your picture might well be in the book (if you squint really hard, you can see me in the background of a 70s-era photo that highlights the Sousaphone rank). ABBA members who participate in Pep Bands or Homecoming have a pretty good chance of spotting themselves in a couple of photos. The great assortment of band pictures dates from the 1890s-era Cadet Band right up to recent Blue Band practices where the uniform of the day is a Covid-19 mask.

There are sections devoted to buildings that housed the Blue Band (did you know directors once had offices in Carnegie?) and to key personnel ranging from Tommy Thompson and Hum Fishburn to Edna and Edith Murray (sisters who were in the Marching Blue Band well before the 1960s and 70s).

Impetus for producing the current book traces back to a visit Tom took to a bookstore in Philly where he looked through a display of Arcadia Publishing offerings. “On the shelves I found Images of America: The University of Pennsylvania Band book,” he recalls. “I took some pictures of it and sent them to Lew. We both agreed we could easily do something like that about the Blue Band.”

Tom and Lew did a great job with their project. PENN STATE BLUE BAND is a page-turner photographic history of the Blue Band. It draws largely on the Penn State Archives and the University Photographic Collection but also has photos from individual Blue Band members and the authors’ collections.

The book did not happen overnight. They started work last in August, targeting an April publication date. The hope was to have the book available for Blue-White Game weekend. ABBA participation at Blue-White evaporated, of course. “We then decided that to stir up interest and to also give back to the Blue Band, we would have a presale of the book and offer it to current band members and Blue Band Alumni,” Tom says. Copies bought through the presale are autographed.

About 25% of book sales made through the website will be donated to the Blue Band Legacy Fund. To get your signed copy, click on Payment can be processed via the secure PayPal app. There is a 6% tax on books in Pennsylvania.



Three Penn State Blue Band members rocked THON this year. The event, like so many others in this Covid-depressed era, was virtual – but the enthusiasm was real.

As part of Band Together (which represents both the Blue Band and The Pride of the Lions Pep Band [POTL]), students raised $20,168.54 this year.

For 46 hours, participants danced (or at least stood) to raise money in the fight against cancer.

The Blue Band’s trio included:

  • Sophomore Lizzie J. Giacobe, a microbiology major who plays clarinet in the Blue Band and serves as one of two Family Relations chairs for Band Together;
  • Matt Bowers, a senior studying wildlife and fisheries science. He also plays clarinet and has been part of Band Together since his freshman year;
  • Elizabeth Bagley, a sophomore studying human development and family studies. Freshman year she was a Silk in the Blue Band. This year, she plays piccolo in the POTL pep band. She has been in Band Together since her first semester and is the other Family Relations chair for Blue Band.
Lizzie Giacobe, Elizabeth Bagley and Matt Bowers (L to R) represented Band Together in THON.

For dancers like Elizabeth the dancing is personal. “Three of my family members have fought cancer,” she says. “I’m dancing to show our three families that they’re not alone.”

Her THON was memorable. “I stood from 6 pm Friday until midnight, slept from midnight to 6 am, stood from 6 am Saturday until midnight, slept midnight to 6 am, then stood Sunday 6 am until 4 pm.” This was done according to THON recommendations because not all dancers had medical services available to them if something went wrong.

Matt and Lizzie did THON together. Matt almost completed the entire 46 hours. “I stayed awake and stood for 45.5 hours. I danced with Lizzie in the same apartment, and she decided to take advantage of the 12-6am breaks to sit and sleep a little,” he recalls. “Because of this, early Sunday morning I was alone and could not stay awake even while standing, so I gave in and took a quick 30-minute nap to get me through the rest of the final day.”

All three dancers got good ink for themselves, Blue Band and THON in THE DAILY COLLEGIAN. They had their strategies and their woes.

Matt, for example, stretched and massaged his feet with a tennis ball to keep going. Giacobe binge-watched “Will & Grace.”

Is THON tougher than Blue Band rehearsals? “THON is all about endurance while band focuses on higher intensity, shorter sprints of energy — like an eight-minute pregame,” Matt notes. He found THON was definitely more of a mental struggle. “Surprisingly,” he continues, “My legs and feet did not hurt too much during the weekend…possibly due to the training provided by countless band rehearsals!”

Matt Bowers, Elizabeth Bagley and Lizzie Giacobe (L to R) show their Blue Band and THON spirit.

Elizabeth, too, struggled with the mental aspects more than the physicality of THON. “After four years of high school marching band and a year of Blue Band, being on my feet for so long wasn’t the issue for me…it was more of the boredom,” she says. Some of the live stream acts were entertaining, but there were many hours to fill. “Don’t get me wrong, my feet did hurt towards the end. But five years of marching band made me used to being on my feet for long periods of time,” she says.

Matt says that ABBA members should know that, while Band Together is a fairly small organization, “We are a family much like Blue Band is a family. We love that we are able to represent Blue Band and the athletic bands in THON every year!”

Book Purchases to Benefit the Legacy Fund

With the launch of the latest book authored by Tom Range and Lew Lazarow, Maureen Range, and Sean Smith are offering autographed copies of several books and donating a portion of the sales to the Legacy Fund.

Orders can be placed using this form:


Donations to the legacy fund will be as follows:

Images of America Blue Band Book – $6 per book

Into the Game – $6 per book

Century of Pride and Precision – $10 per book

Penn State Postcard book – $6 per book

Birthday book – $2



Most ABBA members have checked the “donor” box on their driver’s license. It allows physicians to harvest vital organs when a person dies. But you can donate when you are alive, too.

Blue Band Alum Ashley Waters (Majorette, 2010) emphasizes that you don’t have to be dead to be a donor. Living people can donate, too. “The biggest thing is you are helping someone. It is worth at least going through the process,” Ashley states.

Ashley at Beaver Stadium on the sidelines before a halftime show.

“Donating an organ is not as daunting as it seems,” she continues. “If you are one of the healthy ones, it’s worth considering.”

At first, when she scheduled herself for testing, the process involved a 20-question form. She passed that screening. The next step was virtual meetings with a surgeon and social worker…for three hours on Zoom. Again, she passed.

With things looking good, Ashley was submitted to a barrage of blood tests, an MRI, and other qualifications. Again, she passed everything. The rest was history.

Ashley recommends that anyone approached for donor screening should go through the process. 

What about her missing kidney? “I have no feeling of loss – I haven’t missed it yet,” she laughs.



All ABBA members know we are more than a group of musicians – we are family. Just how deep that love goes was demonstrated last month when, on Tuesday, January 19, Alyssa Rohrbach Ford (Sousaphone 2011) received a lifesaving kidney donation from fellow Blue Band Alum Ashley Waters (Majorette 2010). 

It was, Alyssa says, “an act of true selflessness.”

Editor’s caution: Grab the tissues before you continue reading.

How does a mother in her 30s face 50 more years of life knowing she can never be far from advanced medical care? That she will be absent from her young children three times a week to get dialysis?

Then, a savior. Ashley is pretty matter of fact why she donated her healthy kidney: “We’re a match. Alyssa needed a good kidney. I had one. It was an easy choice.”

Alyssa (left) and Ashley in pre-op, getting ready for surgery.

Alyssa is the wife of Jon Ford, another ABBA alum. He knew Ashley from Blue Band days. All three stayed in touch through Facebook.

Just about a year ago, Alyssa Ford felt run down, anemic. She attributed her fatigue to being the mother of an active two-year-old. Her physician sent her for blood work and discovered her creatinine levels were way above normal. Healthy kidneys filter creatinine and other waste from the blood and pass it as urine.  Alyssa’s kidneys did not work.

“It hit me out of left field,” she says. She has no family history of kidney problems. She went to the emergency room and was admitted. By the time she left the hospital a week later, her situation was critical. The ER cleared up the acute infection which brought on the crisis but her chronic kidney condition would persist. By August 2020, she was at dialysis three days a week, four hours at a shot, to have waste filtered from her blood.

“It stunned me that, without a donation, Alyssa would miss so much of her daughter’s young life,” Ashley says, noting the time Alyssa would have to spend at a medical facility several days a week. “She might not see all of her daughter’s milestones.” 

The story gets worse. Alyssa’s blood type is B-negative. Fewer than two percent of the population is B-neg. When she registered to find a donor match for a possible transplant she was told it could be eight to 10 years before a deceased person with a matching profile turned up in the system.

Desperate at this point, the Fords realized their best hope was to find a living donor. To add a degree of difficulty to the search, Covid-19 was keeping most people at home, away from events where she could talk about her situation and where a match might be found. 

The Fords posted about the quest for a kidney on Facebook. Ashley Waters happened to read the post and agreed to be tested (read more about kidney donations here). She was a direct match, meaning her kidney could go straight to Alyssa. Sometimes, a donor’s kidney goes to someone else and their friend’s kidney is sourced from a third person.

Ashley did not hesitate for a moment. By December the initial screening, in-depth blood work and other tests were complete. The transplant was to be done at Medstar Georgetown in Washington, D.C. Fortunately, Ashley lives nearby in Frederick, MD. What a commitment!

“As a mother, I couldn’t imagine being away from my son for that long, week after week,” Ashley says. The operation went well. Ashley’s kidney was removed arthroscopically. Her remaining kidney will grow a bit to adjust for its solo act. Otherwise, there should be no lasting effects. She was in the hospital overnight and off pain medications in five days. Ashley’s employer was flexible about giving time off. 

For her part, Alyssa now has a sizable scar as a souvenir of the operation. And a working kidney. No more dialysis. More hugs and games on the carpet. 

“Ashley deserves the world for saving my life and I am hoping the organization we were both a part of can recognize that,” Alyssa says. The ABBA Board will discuss Alyssa’s suggestion at the next board meeting.

Jon and Ashley are the same Penn State graduating class, Alyssa a year later. They knew one another in the Blue Band. It was typical for Sousaphones and majorettes to travel to away games on the same bus. While they remained friends after their Blue Band trips, they had separate lives until, with a cymbal crash, their lives collided again.

Ashley (34 jersey), Jon (fuzzy hat guy), and friends at one of the many away game trips they made when they weren’t performing at Beaver Stadium (friends also Band alum: one Sousaphone, two trumpets, one majorette, one piccolo, and one mellophone).

Today, Alyssa is doing well. “Every day gets a little better,” she says. While she will be on immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of her life and will have to be careful around crowds, she hopes to find a light-weight plastic Sousaphone and get back with her ABBA friends at Homecoming or an annual Knoebels Amusement Park gig. It will be a while before she can lift a Sousaphone again…but she still can buzz her mouthpiece and prepare for a good future.

All because Ashley went way beyond music.

“Ashley is my hero,” Alyssa concludes.


THON Weekend 2021

Dear ABBA,

     We are so excited to have our alumni be more included and active in THON this year. With it’s the virtual format, that means you can watch the livestream throughout the weekend and attend the events seen in the spectator guide. THON weekend starts Friday, February 19th at 6 PM and ends on Sunday, February 21st at 4 PM, with the livestream going off from midnight until 6 AM each night to encourage dancers to rest. Furthermore, we are so excited to invite you to Band Together’s personal zoom room to engage with current members of Band Together, and this year’s dancers. If you would like to talk to us and reminisce on your THON memories, you can follow this link on Friday the 19th from 8 to 10 PM.

Also, keep a lookout for social media posts from the Penn State Blue Band Official pages throughout THON weekend! These posts will be featuring students who are currently involved in THON organizations, committees, and those who are dancing this year from any org. We are so grateful for your continued support of Band Together thus far and would love if you could share any posts that you may be comfortable with. If you are still looking to donate to THON, our DonorDrive link is below. We know this has been a tough year for everyone and your dedication to THON means the world to us and the kids that your donations, posts, or time, have been helping. Also, please have a happy and healthy THON experience and remember to follow COVID restrictions in your area. We THON today!


Blue Band | THON



Band Together


THON Alumni Matching Day

Dear ABBA members,

As you may have read in our last letter to you all, there is a THON alumni matching day on February 11th, which is today. According to THON every 4th donation up to $50 starting at 8 AM will be matched 1:1 until $10,000 in crediting funds are exhausted. So, if you are planning to donate to THON this year, we would be very appreciative if you donate today! Also, Make sure to also tune in to the Alumni Reunion Series Presented by the Penn State Alumni Association at 7 PM on THON’s Facebook page! This is a great way to keep involved with THON and keep up to date on information. They will also be recording how many donations are made by each era of THON alumni for a fun competition. If you would like to donate to our THON organization today, here is the direct link to our Donordrive. Any and all contributions are greatly appreciated.

If you would like to join a Facebook group dedicated to alumni of Band Together to keep everyone more engaged, you can join here. We hope to post regular updates about fundraisers we are doing with our members, activities with our families, and anything else we might be able to think of.

We have also received more information about how THON weekend will be working including a schedule. All you need to know about THON weekend will be included in this Spectator Guide. The THON live stream will be available on the THON website starting at 5:15 PM on Friday, February 19th. We hope to see you then!


For The Kids & For The Glory,

Band Together


Important THON info from Band Together

Dear ABBA,

As you may know, THON 2021 is quickly approaching and we are extremely excited despite it looking a little different this year. We have a lot of information to share with you all and lots of ways to keep everyone involved and engaged despite THON being completely virtual this year. This letter will include information on the THON Alumni Reunion Series, how to send Dancer Mail to our dancers for THON weekend to keep them motivated, how to attend THON virtually and some of the activities you can do, Alumni Fundraising Day, and information about Band Together’s three dancers for THON 2021.

THON Alumni Reunion Series:

There are four live streams for THON member alumni happening on the THON Facebook page linked here. Some of them have passed already but we wanted to let you know about these because they’re a good way to reminisce on your time and effort spent on THON and your support For The Kids. The dates and times are listed below and each date correlates to a certain THON era:

  • January 21st @7 PM: 2015-2021
  • January 28th @7 PM: 2005-2014
  • February 4th @7 PM: 1990-2004
  • February 11th @7 PM: 1973-1989

Dance Mail Instructions:

Have you ever wanted to send a letter to Band Together’s THON dancers? Here’s your chance. Since this year’s dancers will be dancing from home, there is no limit for dancer mail. That being said, here are the instructions to send our dancers letters (if you would like to send a package, please email Thank you in advance for any mail you send them, it’s always very motivational to see people supporting you in any way available.

Dancer mail call: The THON office will be accepting dancer mail February 1st-16th. The last day to postmark letters is February 12th. If you want to send our dancers (Lizzie Giacobe #161A, Elizabeth Bagley #161B, and Matt Bowers #161C) letters, you can do so by sending it to this address:

Penn State Dance Marathon (mail call)

Attn: Dancer Name and number (161 A, B, or C)

227D Hetzel Union Building

University Park, PA 16802


Attending THON 2021 Virtually:

As you may expect, THON 2021 is being held virtually this year with a mixture of livestreams from different viewpoints in the BJC. It hasn’t been posted yet, but sometime right before THON, a Viewer Guide will be posted on the THON website to encourage attendees to interact with the livestream. All the information you need to know about watching THON 2021 should be included there, be sure to check it out before THON kicks off on February 19th.

Throughout THON weekend there will be multiple performances consisting of singers, bands, and entertainment performances. Each year THON tends to get a bigger name to attend THON and perform so keep an eye out for them! As always, THON will be having regular family-related content including the kid’s talent show and family hour, where families share their story with pediatric cancer.

Alumni Fundraising Day:

On February 11th, THON is hosting an Alumni Fundraising Day where $20,000 worth of matching funds will be available to match donations. There isn’t too much information out about this yet but THON will be recording the graduation years of each donation from alumni and reporting which group of alumni was most engaged as a little competition. 

Here is the link to our Donor Drive to make electronic contributions. Any contribution is greatly appreciated and even if you can’t donate because of this year’s circumstances,we still value the time you took to read this letter and your effort in staying engaged with us this year. We understand it’s been a hard year for many and we are so grateful for everything ABBA does to support us. 

And now onto some information from our three dancers chosen this year:

Hi everyone! My name is Lizzie Giacobe and I am a sophomore studying Microbiology. I play clarinet in the Blue Band and serve as one of two Family Relations chairs for Band Together. I have been involved with Band Together since my first semester at Penn State. I am very excited to dance this year. I know that it is not the same, but I think it is important to keep dancing because there are kids with cancer that still have to keep fighting even though we are in the middle of a global pandemic. I am dancing for a cure and for our organization’s THON families, the Nakonechnis, Schmehls, and the Stonesifers. They are strong, positive, and brave and I hope to reflect that when dancing in THON this year.

My name is Matt Bowers and I am a senior studying Wildlife and Fisheries Science. I play clarinet in the Blue Band and have been a part of Band Together since freshman year. I am beyond excited to dance for THON this year! I’m dancing because I want to help show people that a global pandemic can’t stop us from fighting to end pediatric cancer. Even though THON is virtual this year, it is a symbol of hope during a very dark time around the world. I am honored to represent our three THON families while being a part of an entirely different THON experience!


Hi everyone! My name is Elizabeth Bagley, and I’m a sophomore studying Human Development and Family Studies. I play piccolo in the Pride of the Lions pep band, and have been a member of Band Together since my first semester at PSU. I currently serve as one of the two Family Relations chairs for our organization. I’m so excited to dance this year! Three of my family members have fought cancer and I’m looking forward to dancing to show our three families that they’re not alone. THON is such a wonderful experience and I’m so excited to be involved despite it looking different this year!


As always, we would love to thank you for continuing to support Band Together and our efforts to fight against childhood cancer. Without ABBA, we would not be able to make nearly the impact that we do and it’s all thanks to you. We hope to keep you all updated in whatever ways we can as we approach THON 2021.

Go State, Beat Cancer,

Band Together



Everyone knows the Blue Band excels in music and marching. Now, the University has certified the Blue Band’s academic excellence. For Fall term 2020, the 300 members of the Blue Band achieved a collective 3.59 GPA.

The figure includes all of the grades earned across a wide variety of majors by the Band’s musicians, silks, and student staff.

“Over 50 percent of the kids made the dean’s list,” says an amazed and gratified Dr. Gregory A. Drane, director of athletic bands. 

Back in 2016, he set a long-term goal of a 3.5 GPA for the Blue Band. At that time, the Band’s GPA was a respectable 3.27. Little by little, grades improved.

“When I set that 3.5-GPA goal, people told me I was crazy,” Greg says. 

“I really got on the students this year,” he continues. “I told them there were no football games or other performances. There were no excuses.”

The students came through with a triple-forte academic performance and a flip to top it off.

One of the long-term campus rumors about the Blue Band is that the time demanded of Band members wreaks havoc on academics. Joining the Blue Band, the rumor mill claimed, was a sure way to kiss your grades good-bye. 

In addition to being another amazing Blue Band accomplishment, earning its collective 3.59 average should put that canard to rest.



     Nearly $25,000 was raised for the Blue Band on Giving Tuesday this year. The $17,000 pledged online was short of the anticipated goal; however, another $8000 was raised beyond the on-line portal so the final total was slightly lower than last year’s…not bad in a Covid year.

Still, it remains a puzzle to many ABBA members as to why the Blue Band must solicit funds for instruments or teaching materials when, for example, the chemistry department does not have its professors asking for money each time they need new beakers or test tubes.

Much of any Blue Band director’s time is devoted to fundraising. Those who see the Band as a music organization might be surprised that most of the Blue Band’s revenue comes from the Athletics Department. The College of Arts & Architecture gives the Blue Band less than 0.03% of the Blue Band’s annual operating expenses. That is not a typo. The college’s allotment barely pays for photocopying for a month. It is less than half of what alums contributed in a single day.

Along with football and basketball, the Blue Band is arguably amongst the highest-profile student organizations at Penn State. Everyone loves Blue Band performances – whether at halftime, in a parade or as a pep band.

While the Giving Tuesday donations were somewhat short of the Blue Band’s goal, the total number of contributors nearly matched hoped-for participation. Because of the way the University’s matching-fund system is set up, participation – even a donation of only $5 or $10 – counts heavily on getting matching money. Last year, the Blue Band qualified for matching funds. Since the final accounting is not complete, it is uncertain how much, if any, matching money the Blue Band will get for 2020.

Acknowledging that many people face tight budgets as a result of Covid-19, there was no major push to solicit donations. Still, ABBA members responded as they always do. Money raised on Giving Tuesday went to the LEGACY Fund Endowment, which is a major pillar (along with named scholarships and the Diversity fund recently established by Harry Burns) supporting Blue Band diversity recruitment activities and students.