Otterbein Alumni Marched Into History at the Rose Bowl Parade

Posted Dec 17, 2021

By: Catie Duzzny ’21, MBA ’23 

In this year’s 2022 Rose Bowl Tournament of Roses Parade, a float featuring marching band directors had a special connection to Otterbein. The float is dedicated to alumnus Mike Sewell ’79, and his widow, Karen Freeman Sewell ’79, and three other Otterbein alumni participated in the parade. 

Mike Sewell, a long-time band director, dedicated his life to the school and community music programs in Pickerington, Ohio, and the central Ohio area for more than 38 years. After Mike passed in 2017, his widow, Karen, started the Mike D. Sewell Foundation to enhance, support, and assist the arts around Pickerington and central Ohio. 

Mike took his bands multiple times to the Rose Parade and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Parade. A year after his death, Karen began to raise funds to enter a float in the Rose Parade in honor of her husband. 

The float is named in honor of Mike and the foundation. It is a salute to America’s band directors and will follow the theme “America’s Band Directors: We teach music. We teach life.” 

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“All of these directors will have their communities behind them which was is so important. Mike, being a small-town guy, had so many people love and support him and now they can share the love they have with others in their community and in service,” said Karen.  

The parade float project has been in the works since 2019; due to COVID-19, the 2021 Tournament of Roses Parade was cancelled. Luckily, they were given the opportunity to be in the 2022 parade.  

This entry is the first of its kind — it not only includes a float, but a marching band of band directors that will accompany the float.  

“What we’re trying to emphasize is certainly most important and relevant to how this all got started in terms of recognizing Mike Sewell’s legacy in Pickerington and Central Ohio. Then the importance of saluting America’s band directors and recognizing them for all the work that they have done and the impact they have had on communities,” said Sandy Meisel director of marketing for this project.  

“The Band Directors Marching Band” will be led by Jon Waters, a veteran band director and former director of the Ohio State Marching Band director. Marching with him will be 275 band directors who work and teach music in the scholastic levels in all 50 states and Mexico.  

During the 5.5-mile-long parade the marching band will play several songs including “Stars and Stripes Forever” by John Philip Sousa, “Strike Up the Band” by George Gershwin, and “Sing, Sing, Sing” by Louis Prima.  

Otterbein alumni Tim Carlson ’89 and Jennifer Howenstein Mollenkopf ’94 were part of the marching band. Alumna Janelle Guirreri ’08 rode on the float with Karen. 

Carlson is a band director for Grand Valley Local School District. He serves as a trumpet coach for the Cleveland Youth Symphony and a conductor for the Ashtabula Orchestra. In the parade Carlson will be playing the trumpet.  

“I never thought I’d see or let alone be in the Rose Parade. It’s exciting to be there with approximately 300 other band directors — being around so much talent is amazing,” said Carlson. “To be a part of this and honor Mike’s memory and memorialize him, I think is so incredible.” 

Mollenkopf is a band director and an assistant drama director in the East Palestine City School District. She usually plays the French horn but for the parade she will be playing the flugelhorn.  

Guirreri is a music teacher at Fairfield and Violet elementary schools and a longtime family friend of the Sewell family. She graduated from Pickerington High School in 2004, where she learned from Mike Sewell. 

“I can’t put into words what this means to me, it is such an honor to be recognized and to be a part of something that honors Mike. I feel thrilled, blessed, and excited,” said Guirreri.  

The band directors arrived a few days before Jan. 1 to prepare and coordinate their performance all together in Pasadena, California.  

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The Saluting America’s Band Directors custom-designed float is being constructed by the Artistic Entertainment Services. Many of the art pieces will be designed by Tom Batiuk, the creator of the “Funky Winkerbean” comic strip. The design for the float includes a drum major, flutist, a trombonist, and is led by a band director marching on a football field. 

The float itself will consist of eight roses of different colors and dried natural materials such as coffee and coconut that make up the marching band figures seen on the float.  

Along with this special project, the Foundation is the sponsor of The Tournament of Roses Michael D. Sewell Service Through Music Award. This award was organized to honor Mike’s dedication to using music with his students and groups to encourage service in their schools and communities.  

The award is presented each year at the Band Director’s Recognition Breakfast to honor a participating Rose Parade band each year that best exemplifies service to their community. Mike always told his students, “The greatest gift you can give someone is your time.”  

The Rose Parade was held on Jan. 1, 2022.