Founded in 1903, the Marine Band of Allentown is part of Allentown's rich musical heritage of civilian concert bands, which also includes the Allentown Band, the Municipal Band of Allentown, and the Pioneer Band of Allentown.
A Brief History
The band was first organized on Jan. 19, 1903, when a group of musicians, headed by William Wereley, met at the Friendly Inn on North 7th Street in Allentown. Wereley, a fine cornetist, was selected as the first conductor, a position he previously held with the Liberty Band until it disbanded. The 23 charter members selected the following officers: William Hoover, president; Charles Long, vice president; William Gruver, secretary; William P. Long, treasurer; Peter DeLong, manager; Monroe Harring, assistant Manager; and Solon Boyer, George Hoover and Charles Ruhle as trustees.
The band was in popular demand almost immediately, playing 131 engagements in its first year. In 1907 the band became affiliated with the Sons of Veterans Reserve. Led by William Werkheiser, it was known as the 2nd Regiment Band, S.V.R. Through World War I, the band was a popular attraction at all veteran and military functions. Members of the Marine Band performed faithfully with the United States military bands, serving this country in both World Wars and the Korean conflict. One member, Henry Herlicker, was killed while sounding the charge at Sedan, France only one day before the First World War ended.
In May of 1928, the Marine Band purchased the Morris Hoats homestead at 27-29 South 7th
Street. The building was remodeled as a rehearsal hall and storage area by Butz and Clader Co.
at a cost of over $100,000. More than $20,000 was spent on the purchase of new uniforms and
instruments. The band was under the direction of Joseph Ricapito. In October of 1928, the
Marine Band became nationally known when it performed for the National Convention of the
American Legion in San Antonio, Texas. During this trip, the band played in Buffalo, New York;
Chicago and Springfield, Illinois; St. Louis, Missouri; Houston, Galveston, Dallas, and Ft. Worth,
Texas; and Little Rock, Arkansas.
In 1929, the Marine Band Auxiliary was formed, and for a number of years this group supported
the band with many fund raising projects. Tragedy struck in April, 1931, when fire swept
through the three-story Band Hall. The loss of instruments, music and damage to the building
was $33,000. Fire insurance and the help of the good people of Allentown soon had the band
back on the bandstand.
August 1965 saw the Marine Band sell its rehearsal hall to H. Leh and Co. because of rising operating costs. The band found a comfortable home in the East Allentown Fire Company building on Walnut Street.
In 1994, through the efforts of band president Martin Karess, the band relocated to "The Band Barn" on Academy Road in Lehigh Parkway. In the fall of 2019, the band moved its rehearsal location to the present site at the Active Life Center on Elm Street in Allentown.
Over the years, several members of the band were credited with more than 60 years of service, including Garner Ellis and Frank Mesaros, Sr.
The band has had 13 conductors over the course of its history. The early group (1903-1935) included William Wereley, John Meyers, William H. Werkheiser, Edwin Gangawer, Alvin C. Hoover, Charles Kehm, Vermond Knauss, Theodore Otto and Joseph Ricapito.
In 1935, Albert Marchetto, arguably the most famous of Marine Band leaders, took over the podium and held the baton until 1960. Valgene Routch followed and conducted the band for a short time until 1962
On January 1,1962, the Marine Band began direction under its longest tenured conductor, Raymond S. Becker. During his leadership the band gained recognition for its musical growth, quality of performance, and diversity of programming. Mr. Becker led the band for more than 44 years until passing the torch to Thomas K. Heinick on April 30, 2006.
Tom Heinick held the baton for 15 years. He concurrently retired as director with both the Marine Band and the
Palmerton Area School District in 2021, and he continues to perform with the band as its principal trombonist.
In November 2021, the Marine Band of Allentown welcomed its current conductor, Matthew Becker. People
throughout the Lehigh Valley and beyond have the opportunity to hear the band at several venues each year,
which including annual Spring and Christmas concerts at Christ Lutheran Church in Allentown, as well as
regular concerts at West Park in Allentown and other parks throughout the area. The band also participates in
the annual Festival of Bands with the other historic concert bands from Allentown. The Marine Band of
Allentown prides itself on its ability to perform a wide range of musical genres, such as marches, classical,
swing, traditional, pop, and broadway, to name a few. It has provided opportunities for musicians of all ages
to share in the joy of performing live concert band music, and it continues to entertain audiences young and old.