Byron D. Jolivet

By Jerry D. Haight

It was a hot steamy July morning in Denver’s City Park. The sixty piece band made up of boys, ages nine to sixteen impeccably dressed in crisp, blinding white sailor uniforms, their black shoes sparkling from the reflected sun , was on the third round of John Phillips Sousa’s “The Thunderer”  The trombones took over the melody from the trumpets and were leading to the final crescendo as the snare drummers picked up the tempo. The cymbals crashed with their thunder-like reverberation and the boys uttered a knowing sigh of relief. They knew they sounded very good. It was then a small round figure dressed in khaki,  his chief’s hat with its black bill falling off his head revealing a mostly bald head except for a bit of gray hair at the temples, he came out of nowhere rolling at high speed through the phalanx on an urgent mission.

In spite of his admonition to the contrary, a small boy carrying a huge bass horn had locked his knees and began to collapse. Long before the boy and horn hit the ground,  Byron D Jolivet, in a blur of motion, grabbed the horn from around the boy’s neck placed it on the ground then gently lowered the semi conscious boy next to it. He then untied the tie and loosened the boy’s collar, and the lad revived. Such intensity was typical of the band’s director. In fact, it was the same intensity that caused him to mockingly gag at the band’s performance at the first playing of the piece. He instructed the percussions to watch 14 year old band leader Mike McKesson carefully, told the clarinet section to feel the cadence of the percussions, explained symbols like forte and mezzo forte to the baritone and French horn players, telling them these portrayed the personality of the piece. He talked about John Phillip Sousa, and how the composer introduced the concept of countermelody in this piece exemplified by a softening of the volume leading to a repeat of the final theme, seguing to the piece’s conclusion.

Each member hung on every word of their band director out of infinite respect and awe mixed in with just a little fear as inattention could be rewarded with a well placed piece of chalk or erasure thrown at unbelievable distances and which inevitably found it’s mark square in the middle of the forehead of the offender.  The second performance, a little better but still not the quality he knew the band could produce, but nevertheless he praised the second performance but urged perfection on the third.  The man never settled for less than the best from each boy in the band. But then this was just part of the mission of the Highlander Boys of Denver.  

The author’s first recollection was an introduction meeting in the “Old Mill” at the intersection of Grant and Cherry Creek Blvd. in Denver. The organization was non-sectarian having  the purpose of developing boys into loyal citizens through a four point program dealing with the mental, spiritual, social and physical aspects of a boy’s life. Today, the concept would be labeled as mentoring.

Like most new members, the author became a member at the age of nine and was required to attend Sunday school at the church of his or his parent’s choice on a regular basis. There were many activities offered within the Highlander Organization such as band, chorus, hobby club, tumbling and athletics, each under expert supervision. At the entrance to the “Old Mill” was a picture of the founder, and his favorite quote “Boys will be boys”, it said, and continued “aged old and true”. “Boys will be men, what kind depends on you”.

Each boy was obliged to memorize the Highlander precepts, the aims and the Highlander Prayer, not only memorize but try to live up to those precepts, He had at least one year in “speak well” classes and if he wished, he could round out his training by joining one of the other activities. The author, having no musical background, nevertheless joined the band and following an extended interview with Mr. Jolivet, ended up with a baritone horn. During the next five years, he participated in band practice twice a week and individual weekly horn lessons. once per week under the tutelage of thy maestro. The Highlanders marched in almost all parades in and around Denver and the band and drill team were well known exhibitors at high schools, sports events and usually part of welcoming committees officiating at the arrivals of dignitaries.

The annual stock show and rodeo each February was always a special event for the Highlander Boys as their fame spread far and wide. The boys put on their own exhibition at the Denver Auditorium each year. This was a four or five day event featuring entertainment entirely staffed by the boys. The tumblers and gymnasts performed along with the drill teams and the first and second bands. Of particular note was the “Scottish Drill Team”, clad in their kilts with their brilliant white rifles and stainless steel bayonets. The crowd always gasped as they twirled their rifles into the air, caught them and with a deft movement knelt on one knee with their rifle in the attention position.  There were clowns and elephants (manned by boys, of course). Each lad was assigned to sell tickets known as “Boy Bonds”. Both the exhibition and the selling of tickets were all part of the training given to the young boys. The exhibitions went a long way to fund the organization’s activities but also funded the two week summer camp at Estes Park in the Rocky Mountains nearby.  

It was at camp where the nearly six hundred members came together in army tents to form a common bond and learn the principles that would forge their mettle. Public speaking, lectures, band and drill practice, swimming, archery, horseback riding, night games like capture the flag along with ample free time to interact with each other made the camp an unforgettable experience.

 “DON’T WAIT TO BE A GREAT MAN, BE A GREAT BOY.” were the words that George Olinger, the Highlander founder, imprinted within each boy during the time at camp.