Former Lake Shore High School Band Director John Boren applauds members of the Lake Shore Alumni Band after a performance at his Sterling Heights home in September.

Former Lake Shore High School Band Director John Boren applauds members of the Lake Shore Alumni Band after a performance at his Sterling Heights home in September.

Photo provided by Jennifer Shepherd


Decades later, the band plays on in St. Clair Shores

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published October 16, 2020

 John Boren stands with his daughter, Kim Boren, of Shelby Township, who organized the alumni band and performance as a thank you to her father for his decades of service as a band teacher.

John Boren stands with his daughter, Kim Boren, of Shelby Township, who organized the alumni band and performance as a thank you to her father for his decades of service as a band teacher.

Photo provided by Jennifer Shepherd

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STERLING HEIGHTS/ST. CLAIR SHORES  — When John Boren was their teacher, the Lake Shore High School marching band used to routinely turn up at his house for a “lawn show,” or what today would be called a flash mob.

And on a sunny Saturday in September, 98 former members of the band did that again as a thank you to Boren, who led the band for 26 years in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s.

“My dad was always one of those teachers, he wasn’t a nine to five kind of guy, he worked from early morning to marching band at night. Even in the summer, he used to write the marching band shows,” said his daughter, Kim Boren, of Shelby Township.

“He just loved teaching music. Kids just really loved him,” she continued. “He inspired them to do more than just music — just how to live a good life and when you put your energy toward something and you work, you reap its benefits.”

Boren helped the band program grow from just 60 members to about 210 at its height, and then did the same at other schools in Armada, L’Anse Creuse and Romeo.

“He was brought in, basically, by districts to build programs,” Kim Boren said. “He would come in and get things going.”

Now 77 and officially retired, Boren is still at it.

“He works off and on. He finished a project like a year ago and he’s now working in a parochial school, Cardinal Mooney High School” in Marine City, Kim Boren explained. “I get this call all the time from him, ‘they need to build a program, they only have 13 students. I’m like, OK, so you’re going to drive an hour and a half each way? OK.’”

But Lake Shore High School holds a special place in Boren’s heart, as his time there spanned the majority of his career. That’s also where he taught his four children.

“He was our teacher, too, which — to be honest — wasn’t much fun as a kid, but as an adult, I appreciate it,” Kim Boren said.

In the fall of 2019, one of his granddaughters was the drum major during her senior year at Henry Ford High School. Kim Boren said her father became so sentimental about Lake Shore while watching her that she created a Facebook page for Lake Shore band alumni and thought she’d see if she could get a few people to join and reminisce.

“This was pre-COVID, and I got close to 400 people,” she said.

She decided they would work together to form an alumni band and would perform at the 2020 homecoming game Oct. 9. Participants, including musicians, color guard and majorettes, planned to fly in from all over the country to perform, but then homecoming festivities were canceled due to COVID-19.

“I said, OK, let’s just do a lawn show because that’s what we called them ... We never called it a flash mob, but I see them show up (and) I’m like, that’s what we used to do,” she said.

She put together a show themed, “Thank you for the music,” picking out songs and sending music to members to practice over the summer. She also developed a routine for the majorettes and the color guard — she had coached the color guard for 13 years at Lake Shore High School — and had a friend develop a routine for the pom squad.

Although instrument groups and other sections of the marching band had gathered individually over the summer for practice, it wasn’t until 10 a.m. Sept. 19 that the nearly 100 alumni came together for the first time at Farmstead Park in Sterling Heights before the main event that afternoon. After practice, the band split into four groups to march in from four different directions and converge on Boren’s lawn, where the percussion had already set up.

“The neighbors all knew — I had to warn them all these instruments are going to be marching down your street. They were all out on blankets ... excited for him,” Kim Boren said. “He’s one of those teachers you don’t ever forget. He tells really bad jokes, but he’s always there for you.”

Toni Ostrowski, of St. Clair Shores, was in the band from 1982 to 1984. Although she played the clarinet in concert band, she and a friend played cymbals for the marching band. She said she had so many fond memories of her times with the band that she was excited to join the alumni band and start practicing when she saw it on Facebook.

She and five other women made up the alumni band percussion section, practicing once per week for the past few months.

“It was great seeing everybody again,” she said, after not seeing her bandmates — or picking up an instrument — for the past 35 years. “Mr. Boren, he instilled his love of music in us. He cared about everybody, and everybody loved him. He was so amazing, so it was so wonderful that we could do this and say thank you to him.”

When Ostrowski was in the band, there were 201 members. She recalled that Boren never failed to mention the Lake Shore Marching Band had “two hundred and one members” at every competition and music festival they attended.

“It was huge. It was because of him. He was a great director,” she said. “I loved participating in this ... to say thank you. It was wonderful to see him and to perform again.”

Jennifer Shepherd, a member of the trumpet section in the class of 1992, said it was quite an event.

“Mr. Boren is our ‘Mr. Holland’s Opus.’ I have never met anyone who didn’t enjoy him as their teacher,” she said. “He was fun, exciting, personable, loveable and most of all, he was ours.”

She said another member of the alumni band, who graduated in 1972, told her that he felt Boren really “reinvigorated the band program at the school.”

Shepherd said Boren is “one in a million, and I’m proud to have been his student.”

Although the marching band reunion couldn’t happen for homecoming 2020, Kim Boren said they hope to be back in 2021.

“We are getting music together and our group has grown even more after this,” she said. “His kids loved him and they still do.”

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