Northview — It was less than a week before Spring Break, and you’d think Regan Johnson would be looking forward to a well-deserved rest.
Not a chance. The parent-volunteer powerhouse was prepping the high school’s uniform room for an overhaul while staff and students were out of the building. It was packed literally to the ceiling, and with barely room on the floor to take more than a few steps.
By day, Johnson is a familiar face in the high school cafeteria. She also is coordinator of the building’s after-school BASE program.
Among student musicians, she is known as the tender of tuxedos, the purveyor of plumes, the governor of gauntlets, the steward of shakos.
Johnson makes sure that there’s electrical tape on hand so any part of a marching band member’s shoes that is not black can be quickly covered before going onto the field or into competition, both at home and at away events. That the gloves intended for the drum major don’t end up with the tubist. And that in case of the dreaded — and inevitable — trouser rip while performing those choreographically demanding drills, there’s always an extra pair or two on hand, and quickly accessible.
It Started With Popcorn
The Oregon native has volunteered in schools since the oldest of her three sons entered kindergarten at a West Michigan charter school; the first time she can recall was being enlisted to fill bags for a popcorn sale.
“And then it just kind of evolved from there,” Johnson said. “The next year it was like, ‘I think I’ll try (something else),’ and by the third year I stepped into the role of, almost like a parent booster. And then president of the boosters.”
When her oldest transferred to Northview in high school and joined the marching band, “that’s just where I naturally jumped in,” she said. Both of her sons who are in band play the trumpet.
“It’s like its own little family, and it’s a good way for the kids to get to know the family before school even starts,” Johnson said of the school’s music program.
“It was a culture shock for my kids, going from charter school size to Northview size. But once my kids started band, those friendships immediately started to develop. My oldest still has contact with many of his past bandmates. He loves the staff; he still comes back and volunteers. He’s created some really great memories. Same with my youngest.”
Johnson’s current, official title is vice president of the band boosters. That means administrative stuff. Meetings. Fundraisers.
‘I seem to connect really well with (high schoolers). They need people who can smile at them, walk beside them if they seem down.’— parent volunteer Regan Johnson
She also can be found with the Cat Pack, a tight-knit group of volunteers who load, transport, account for, unload and reload marching band instruments, props and accouterments.
“It’s a lot of Tetris work,” she said. “I’m not officially on the Cat Pack but I’m with them all the time, because, like, the hat boxes and their plumes and all the accessories are on those trailers.”
And it’s probably not a stretch to say she gets as much out of her involvement in marching band booster-ing as her own children have from being part of the band.
“It’s obviously been a way for me to see my kids grow through this and to spend time supporting what they do, but it’s helped me create relationships with some of the parents, and with other kids. … I love high schoolers; I seem to connect really well with them. They need people who can smile at them, walk beside them if they seem down. Especially through marching season, you’re with them a lot: competitions, practices, concerts, band camp week.
“Creating those relationships are very important. …This is a prime time in their lives. It makes me feel good that I can make that difference. It makes me happy.”
Do What You Can
Adult helpers are essential to the band program, said high school Music Director Greg Wells. He calls Johnson the “uber volunteer.”
“She’s just helping out everywhere, in everything,” Wells said. “Every once in a while I have to check in with her, to say ‘You don’t have to add this to your plate.’”
Still, she made room on her plate this school year to lead the district’s annual LEGOmania band booster fundraiser in March, which had 75 volunteers and was attended by some 1,400 people.
“This year nobody was biting (to lead LEGOmania), so I’m like, all right, this is too good of an event to not have, and it’s really a no-brainer. It’s just (about) delegating.”
And Johnson appears to be very, very good at delegating.
One example is summer band camp, when uniforms are fitted annually for anywhere from 120 to 180 students:
“There’s just all these people who come together, who are needed to make this work. I’ve found that with my organizational skills I’ve been able to help reshape, reform the way it’s done so the kids get through it and they’re not frustrated, and we (volunteers) all get through it.”
Johnson stressed that those thinking about volunteering at a school do not need to commit to large amounts of time unless they are willing and able, whether that is with the music program, in classrooms or other extra-curriculars.
Most volunteers, she said, do what they can. Even one-time, take-home tasks they can do in front of the television — such as stuffing mail into envelopes or washing a load or three of band gloves and making sure each pair starts and ends as a twosome — are valuable (hint, hint; she will be working on patron drive mailers over the summer).
“There’s always, always something,” she said. “There’s somewhere people can fit in even if they think there might not be.”
The delegator-in-chief will find a place for you.
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• Director takes joy in teaching student musicians