Pickerington's high school bands were recognized in January by a national music education organization for using their talents to spread joy to others and raise funds for people in need.
On Jan. 14, Music for All, a national music-education organization founded in 1975, announced that the Pickerington High School Central and Pickerington High School North marching bands were this year's recipient of the Advocacy in Action Community Engagement Gold Community Service Project Award.
The award recognized the bands for their joint performance at a Pasadena Ronald McDonald House during their trip to the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade.
"For me, it really speaks to the mantra or motto of the band, which is 'Service Through Musicianship,'" said Nathan Stowe, the band director at central.
"We really want to promote to our students that it's about more than just playing and instrument.
"It's also about using your talents and abilities to serve others."
"Service Through Musicianship" was a standard established by former Pickerington High School and Central band director Mike Sewell, who died in April 2017 at the age of 59.
Sewell was retired at the time of his death, but he worked nearly 40 years as a music educator, including starting as an assistant band director at Pickerington High School in 1981.
He went on to spend 30 years as director of the PHS and Central bands before retiring at the end of the 2014-15 school year.
His bands were known for excellence and performing in the four Macy's Thanksgiving Day parades, three Fiesta Bowl parades and two Orange Bowl parades.
They also marched in four Tournament of Roses Parades, in 1993, 1997, 2006 and 2010.
The Central and North bands performed at the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House, in part, to honor Sewell's legacy.
Under his direction, the PHS and Central bands annually performed for the Nationwide Children's Hospital Ronald McDonald House, a tradition started in the early 2000s.
His band members also raised funds for the organization, which provides lodging, money and other essential services to families with children facing medical issues, during annual performances at McDonald's restaurants in the Pickerington area.
Both of those traditions carry on, and Sewell's widow, Karen Sewell, nominated the Central and North bands for the Advocacy in Action Award.
"A director in the area made me aware of this program and had been so impressed with the Pickerington combined bands' trip, performances and overall efforts for their appearance in the 2019 Rose Parade that he thought our volunteer work should be noted," Sewell said.
Sewell said the personal link to her husband, his legacy and the continued service work of the local bands compelled her to make the nomination.
"Since the early 2000s, the Marching Tigers have sponsored many events and drives to earn money to benefit our local Ronald McDonald House associated with Nationwide Children's Hospital," she said.
"The bands collect supplies for the location, volunteer at the house for events and, most importantly, each year dedicate a Saturday during the fall to perform at the local McDonald's in Pickerington to collect money and supplies for the Ronald McDonald House.
"It is a project that was near and dear to Mike's service heart, and I am very pleased that Nate Stowe and his staff feel this effort is a very important aspect of their program.
"They get the phrase 'Service Through Musicianship,' which was on the bottom of Mike's school stationery."
Stowe, who also credited students and former North band director and currently Pickerington Schools music coordinator Marc Parulekar for the bands earning the award, said he tries to emphasize to students the Ronald McDonald House's mission and how it helps families and children.
During the Central and North bands' trip to the 2019 Tournament of Roses Parade, they marched jointly as Pickerington High School.
The combined band performed a 40-minute concert for patients at the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House.
"We were in a neighborhood, and we pulled up along the street with eight charter buses," Stowe said. "We had 375 kids playing on the lawn."
Stowe estimated Central's students raise upwards of $1,500 each year for the Columbus Ronald McDonald House.
"That project was in place before I came," Stowe said. "It was one of the last things (Mike Sewell) set up.
"We're super excited we can help bring even more attention to Ronald McDonald House and give our students the opportunity to serve others through music."
Stowe said the Dec. 31, 2018, performance at the Pasadena Ronald McDonald House was set up by Karen Sewell, and he and North band director Greg Benson thought it was a great idea.
Sewell said she thought the concert was particularly fitting because the Tournament of Roses Parade in 2017 created a service award in his honor.
She said that through the Mike D. Sewell Memorial Foundation, she and her daughter, Alyson, were able to provide Pasadena Ronald McDonald House patients and families with $300 in gift cards and another $300 worth of supplies.
"For me, (the Ronald McDonald House concert) was my favorite performance of the trip for the 2019 parade," Sewell said.
"The kids were in their red and black jackets sponsored by the city of Pickerington and Violet Township, and you didn't know who was from North or who was from Central.
"It was just a massive group of over 350-plus kids and staff who took time out from their trip and fun and reached out to provide music and cheer for families who couldn't go home for the holidays.
"I know the students were very touched by the families and RMDH staff that they met."