A small community band that has kept time to literally hundreds of area events over three generations celebrates its 75th anniversary this year.
The Cazenovia German Band, known for its nearly all-brass military marches, waltzes and, of course, polka music, marks this year as what would have been founder Herb Rockweiler’s 96th birthday.
Rockweiler, second oldest of 11 kids, was a fairly accomplished horn player by age 21. He began to assemble his brothers, cousins and friends to join him in playing different types of horns in their home in Cazenovia where he lived for the rest of his life.
Now 75 years later, the band has maintained 18 to 20 musicians ranging in age from 12 years old to their mid-80s.
They are a mainstay of just about every local parade and festival, and easily recognizable in their signature bandwagon with the bright red, white and blue canopy top.
Ask any band member, and they’ll likely tell you that Patti Rockweiler Farber, Herb’s daughter, is the driving force of the band and its longevity over the recent decades.
She’s been on the traps and timpani drums for more than 40 years, since she was a teenager.
It’s important to her to keep the music alive.
“We try to keep the authenticity of the band,” Farber said. “It’s important to keep that heritage alive. We’re continuing the family heritage.”
As the 10-year anniversary of her dad’s death passed June 7, she couldn’t help but think of him as she banged on her drums under the canopy of the Caz Band wagon in the Butter Fest parade.
“My dad played a trombone with such enthusiasm, expression and joy,” Farber said. It was motivating to all who listened and played along with him. I think about my dad, and it was pretty hard the first couple years after he was gone, especially in the Cazenovia parade.”
All those years of playing music hasn’t made any of the musicians become complacent. They still practice every week at Helen Bauer’s house.
The other reason they seem to keep the band strong is simply for the fun of it.
Jake Rockweiler, who will be 74 next month, plays alto saxophone. He started off playing with the band in 1957. He took 20 years off to play with the Jolly Polkateers, then came back to the Caz Band.
“We sure have a lot of fun,” Jake said. “Uncle Herb always said we got to make music and have fun. We enjoy, otherwise we wouldn’t stay with it this long.”
Jake laughs when he starts thinking back to some of the old days.
“Uncle Herb used to make that home brew and he’d take that to the practices,” Jake said. “Those practices were a lot of fun. That’s about 50 years ago.”
Jake remembers playing in Herb’s garage back then. That was when his former band teacher, the late Winston Halverstad, joined the band.
“He played with us until he died,” Jake said. “It was pretty nice to have my high school band teacher playing with us. He was quite a guy.”
As the years marched by, many of the bands’ members and family loved ones passed on. Trombone player Ernie Rockweiler died suddenly at age 31 in 1985. Jake’s dad, Bun Rockweiler, died the next year. Connie Rockweiler, who also played trombone, died suddenly at age 39.
Trumpet player Jim Rockweiler, Farber and Jake’s cousin, died last year at age 70. He had played in the band for 40 years, almost up until he passed away.
Jake and Farber’s uncle Bob Rockweiler, 85, and now living in Florida, was Herb’s little brother. There was 11 years’ difference between them, but Herb brought a teenage Bob into the Caz Band as soon as he learned to play the trumpet.
“I suppose every night when we finished milking the cows, we would go to grandpa’s house and that was the core of the band,” Bob said. “Music was always a vital part of life. Everyone played an instrument. We all played something. It was a very musical family. My brother Frederick played the guitar. He should have been in the Grand Ole Opry.”
Bob fondly remembered his late brother Carl on the baritone horn.
“Many in the area thought he was the best baritone player in the area,” Bob said.
But Bob spent a few years playing in the Caz band, left to go to college, then joined the military, and spent his life traveling the world working for the U.S. State Department.
While Bob’s time with the Caz Band may have been brief compared with some of this other relatives, he said it was among the best times of his life.
“It was such a close family,” Bob said. “I can’t tell you how much we loved each other. That was the highlight of my life.”
Some of the younger, newer band members include flute player Kaity Bauer, who is still in college, and 29-year old Jamie Benesh, who plays tenor sax.
It was Farber’s son Heath who turned Jamie on to the Caz Band. Heath went on to college and only plays with the band occasionally. But Benesh, who started playing with them while still in high school, has never left the group.
“It’s fun,” Benesh said. “It gives me something to do on my day off. It’s the most laidback band I’ve ever been in.”
Benesh, a 2002 Reedsburg Area High School graduate, said there were parades in which he’d play in the high school marching band, then run back to the end of the parade line to jump on the Caz Band wagon.
He remembers Herb Rockweiler with the same fondness as Herb’s family members remember him.
“Herb was really cool,” Benesh said. “He was always in a good mood and always had a story to tell. He had a mouth harp he liked to play and a harmonica. He’d always call me the sight reader because I could play just about any piece of music without having seen it before. Everybody called him Uncle Herb.”
Farber said that’s likely because the Caz Band is more like one big family.
“They just love the music,” Farber said. “They would play every weekend if I would schedule it. They like the camaraderie. We’re like a family even though we’re not all related.”
The band’s upcoming area appearances are at the Reedsburg Fourth of July in City Park, the Cazenovia parade on July 21, the LaValle parade on Aug. 11, the LaValle St. Boniface Catholic Church dinner on Aug. 14 and the Loganville parade on Aug. 24.