LOOKING BACK: Formative years of the Crestview High School band

Crestview High band 1938

The first band in Okaloosa County, shown in 1938, its first year, is today known as the Crestview High School Big Red Machine.

BAKER BLOCK MUSEUM / Special to the News Bulletin
Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 12:00 PM.

Editor's note: The late J.C. Connor wrote this story about the formative years of what is now the Crestview High School band. It first appeared in the News Bulletin's 2008 observance of the band's 70th anniversary. Connor served for many years in the Okaloosa County School District, volunteered at the Baker Block Museum and, until he died last fall, was the Big Red Machine's historian.

CRESTVIEW — In 1938, several key residents of the sleepy little town of Crestview decided that it was “time for some culture,” so they set about getting a band.

A committee comprising school board member H. Claude Garrett, Dr. E. A. Fleming, W.E. Duggan, Tom Fountain, Cortez Campbell, Mallory Barrow and George W. Barrow enticed Romulus Hunter Thompson, the assistant band director at DeFuniak Springs, to accept the directorship of a band that existed only in a small group of civic visionaries’ pipe dreams.

Thompson, a Water Valley, Ky., native dropped out of high school to play his saxophone and violin in bands that played dance halls and hotels in the 1920s the Tampa and Miami area.

After a short stint with the Tampa Symphony Orchestra, Thompson returned to high school when his family moved to DeFuniak Springs.

At Walton High School, he was an athlete playing football and baseball while finding time to organize and perform in a dance band. He later became the band director’s assistant at Walton. During the Depression, he was hired to teach music at other schools in Walton County.

The Okaloosa County school district was perpetually short of funding; often, teachers were paid in script or promissory notes to be redeemed when the school board had funds. Thompson and committee members made the rounds to all of the local stores asking that the promissory notes be signed over to the band. In a show of civic support, they all donated the notes, assuring that if Thompson could teach, Crestview would have a band.

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