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Apple pie sales a real band booster

Director’s orchard helps grow young musicians

Like most marching band students, freshman trumpet player Karyna Espinoza played her part in the annual apple pie fundraiser for the Legends Middle and High band program.

“I cut up the apples and helped peel them,” said Karyna, who also wrestles and runs cross-country and track.

The 13th annual operation in late fall brought together hundreds of band students, parents and other volunteers in the school gym to transform 6,000 pounds of apples into 2,000 apple pies to raise $13,400 for the band program.

The apples came from Band Director Kevin Gabrielse’ 10-acre orchard in Leighton Township.

“This really envelops the entire community, both in the sale and the assembly process,” said Gabrielse, in his 20th year as band director.

He said fundraisers such as the apple pie sale help cut the cost of activities such as band camp, which would set each student back around $450… and also goes to some uniform parts such as shoes and gloves. As a result, students are charged $160 of the band camp’s total cost, and sales of 12 apple pies slices another $50 off per student.

Lee Band Director Kevin Gabrielse plays along with the trombones during concert band rehearsal

Grandma G and Her Son’s Orchard

“This is how we work to make a difference for families,” said Gabrielse, who praised his mom Judy — “Grandma G” — for her significant role in the fundraiser. “She does a lot of the work out in the orchard, and it’s her secret apple pie recipe.”

He said his mother “works all fall in the orchard picking and sorting apples so we can have enough to give to the band, our kids’ local Christian school and several food pantries in the Greater Grand Rapids area. We also sell fruit at a roadside stand next to our house.”

The orchard leans on retired volunteers from Judy Gabrielse’s church, band students and his two high school-age children to pick apples. Students and parents are invited to help in pie-making and sales, he said.

Gabrielse said the land he and his wife, Karen, bought in 2006 to build their house was “on a nice hill with great sunsets” and also had an active apple orchard. The farmer who took care of the orchard died in a car accident about a year later, so the Gabrielses decided to keep it going themselves.

“Thanks to the MSU Extension and YouTube, we learned how to farm the trees and over the years have been ripping out the old trees and replacing them with the newest varieties,” said Gabrielse, who grows a variety of apples including Honeycrisp, Jonagold, Fuji and Gala, plus sweet cherries and pears.

Band members, parents and other volunteers gathered this past fall in the Lee Middle and High School gym to help make apple pies for their annual fundraiser

Apples to Amazing

Band booster Deanna Mockerman said the apple pie fundraiser is how most students cover their portion of band camp.

“We never not allow students to be in band because they cannot afford to pay for band camp,” Mockerman said. “We also have several sibling groups in our band; so asking parents to come up with that money for not only one student, but two… they wouldn’t be able to do it. To be honest, as a band parent myself, that is how we were able to afford camp for our daughters.

“Without this fundraiser, I truly don’t believe band camp would happen — or at least it wouldn’t be an overnight camp.”

Mockerman said the fundraiser accounts for 80% or more of the total amount of band funds raised each year, making it what she called the largest “by far” student-involved fundraiser in the district.

“The band program would not be what it is without this event,” she continued. “I also believe our marching band program wouldn’t be where it is now if we weren’t able to have band camp the way we have.

“Band camp is more than just practicing music, learning to march, learning drills, etc. It’s also the opportunity for students to build relationships with the other band students; they become like a family. The juniors and seniors help the incoming freshman learn the routine of the week and the ins and outs of marching.”

And at Godfrey-Lee, family means apple pie time.

“I was more into the manual labor of loading the pies onto the truck,” said Jose Briones-Maya, who also runs cross-country and track and wrestles. “It’s a really great fundraiser to help the band out.”

Gabrielse was named the MSBOA District 10 Band Teacher of the Year in 2019 and earned 19 years of Division 1 superior band ratings, but said it’s about more than the awards.

“When they graduate, it’s more important to me that they’re ready for what’s next,” he explained. “Developing amazing students who are ready to go out into the world, that’s really my passion.”

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Cris Greer
Cris Greer
For more than three decades, Cris Greer has been a wordsmith, working in the fields of journalism, advertising and marketing. Much of the past decade, he helped grow the MLive Statewide High School Sports desk as a supervisor, editor and reporter, which included eight newspapers in Michigan and mlive.com. Cris also was a freelancer for The Grand Rapids Press, The Advance and On the Town magazine for many years. A good portion of his early career was spent building and managing the copywriting team in the advertising department at Meijer, Inc., where he oversaw copywriting for print ads, mailers, brochures, signage, several dozen in-house magazines per year and much more.


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