THE MONROE GIRLS CORPS
Wayne Shields was hired in 1948, by Monroe’s VFW Post 4421. He came to Monroe to organize and direct the MONROE GIRLS DRUM & BUGLE CORPS to be sponsored by the VFW. For the next 3 ½ decades, the name “Monroe, Georgia” would be nationally recognized due to the work of Wayne Shields through his beloved “Girls Corps”. Consisting of 40 musicians and 1 drum major from Monroe High and Jr. High Schools, the unit exemplified their director’s strict discipline, high expectations, dedication, commitment to excellence and demand for year-round practice: 5 days/week, 51 weeks/year. Summer practices began at 7:00 a.m. with afternoon and Saturday sessions added often. In a few short years from its formation, Wayne Shields took an untrained group of rural Walton County, GA, school girls from a red-dirt practice field to a nationally acclaimed precision drum and bugle corps.
Widely traveled, the Corps appeared 8 times over the years on NBC-TV in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City – viewed each year by around 60 million people. They were declared international champions at the 1959 Lions Club Convention in New York City, marched in Chicago, Philadelphia and Miami. They received a standing ovation following their opening performance in the 1965 Carnegie Hall “An Evening with the Corps” concert - showcasing the top drum corps from across the US. Joan Peters won the 1954 National Jr. Drumming Championship during a national VFW convention parade in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The first color sports event televised nationally was broadcast from the Georgia Tech vs. Miami football game in Atlanta where the Corps performed at half-time and was featured remotely on that morning’s NBC Today Show, 9/17/1955. In October, 1975 they welcomed Bob Hope upon his arrival for an Atlanta performance, and over the years the Corps performed in 3 Governor’s Inaugural parades, Augusta’s Masters Golf Tournament, countless parades, numerous high school and college football half-time shows throughout the Southeast, including UGA, GA Tech, Furman Univ., Presbyterian College, University of the South, Wofford and many others. Performance tapes were sent to American troops in Viet Nam and Radio Moscow in the Soviet Union. Despite their heavy traveling schedule, the Corps never failed to perform locally: Home and away Monroe High School football half-time shows, annual high school Awards Day programs, pep rallies, homecoming parades and Monroe’s annual Christmas parade. The Georgia Legislature declared the Monroe Girls Corps “Georgia’s Daughters of Good Will” in 1969. Georgia artist Steve Penley was commissioned to paint a rendering of the Macy’s Thanksgiving parades for Macy’s headquarters in NY. He chose the Monroe Girls Corps as the center foreground for his near life-size watercolor.
Over the years, the Corps’ sponsorship passed from the VFW to the City of Monroe, eventually becoming self-sponsored through patron donations, sponsors, local businesses, parents and other efforts such as an annual “CORPS DAY” fundraising event broadcast from the courthouse square via Radio Station WMRE, “The Corps Grill” and the “Nelly Nu” Thrift Shop, both located on S. Broad St. The Corps continued to perform as a marching unit, despite decreased numbers, until 1983, when it was, sadly, disbanded. In 1986, Mr. Shields regrouped the former Monroe Girls Corps alumni as Georgia’s Daughters of Good Will. They performed as a marching unit for a few years, eventually performing only sit-down concerts. This final Corps reincarnation was together until around 1998 - rounding out fifty years of performing history for the Monroe Girls Corps.
-Susan Brown, author
Monroe Girls Drum & Bugle Corps
Wayne Shields, VFW Post 4421
According to Ernest Camp, the first person to express the need for Monroe to establish a drum and bugle corps was Raymond Fambrough, Monroe businessman and politician. In Mr. Camps November 17, 1938 Walton Tribune column, he says “Raymond Fambrough thinks Monroe should have a girls’ drum and bugle corps or some kind of musical organization…So do I.”
It would be eleven years before the thought became reality.
Following WWII, the membership of Walton County’s VFW Post 4421 exploded with returning veterans, eager for camaraderie. By the late 1940’s, the Walton County Post was Georgia’s largest, known throughout the state and nation for its endless list of charitable works.
When state Quartermaster and local Post Commander, Kelso Hearn attended the 1948 state VFW convention in Atlanta, one of the events was the “Pageant of Drums,” a parade in which VFW-sponsored Corps from all over the country came to compete. One of the more outstanding groups participating was an all girl’s corps from New Jersey. Kelso was so inspired, he returned home and convinced the Post members that they should organize and sponsor such a group. At that time, there was no similar music program offered to school students. There were also more extracurricular opportunities for boys than girls. These two facts boosted the Post’s desire to make it happen.
Fortuitously, when Kelso was viewing the convention parade, he was standing in front of the Cable Piano Company on Peachtree Street. He took his idea inside and asked if they knew of a musician who might be able to lead an all-girls drum and bugle corps.
A letter dated December 29, 1948 arrived at the VFW Post Clubhouse addressed to Kelso from Wayne Shields in Atlanta. Wayne introduced himself as a drum instructor who had been teaching private lessons at the Cable Piano Company for several years. His stationery letter-head read WAYNE SHIELDS’ ORCHESTRA. He further explained that his orchestra had played, “all the spots here including Biltmore Hotel for three years.” He also played private clubs and conventions. Shields had been on the road with bands and shows for about nine years, and was ready for a change of occupation and location. For those reasons, he expressed a great interest in the “undertaking” proposed by the VFW.
As he only taught percussion, he believed, “your corps would be whipped into shape far better with a fine individual wind instrument teacher to handle the bugles and the drums left up to a good teacher (meaning himself).” He suggested a line Sargent to teach formations (drill maneuvers).
Wayne Shields began his job as the new Corps Director on Thursday, January 6, 1949, when he came to Monroe and interviewed over 100 junior high school girls. The girls who “made the cut” met as a group for the first time Monday, January 10, 1949 – the official birthday of the Monroe Girls Drum and Bugle Corps.
Flonny Pollock was suggested as drum major. She was a very popular high school student, who, Shields and Hearn thought, would be a good role-model for the younger Corps members. Wayne and Kelso auditioned her in her driveway, having her repeat a drum cadence on the hood of Wayne’s car. She was ‘hired’ on the spot.
Watt McDonald, a Monroe trumpet player and student at UGA agreed to teach the buglers, while fellow VFW members Dupree Hendrix and Luke Kirkley volunteered to teach marching formations.
Just a few months after the January birth of the Corps, the group appeared in Augusta for their first parade. By the time football season arrived that year, they were ready to take the field for their soon-to-be-famous half time shows. Within a few years, Shields scrapped the pre-ordered field maneuvers and was plotting and graphing them himself, walking out the drills at home. (Wife Myrtle was concerned about him wearing out their living room rug!)
When invitations for out-of-town performances began to accumulate, the VFW purchased and maintained two 35-passenger buses for the Corps’ use. The Post also shared the buses with the Boy and Girl Scouts, the American Legion, baseball teams, 4-H clubs and various other school, church and agriculture groups. VFW Post 4421 spent $24,000 in 1949 getting the new Girls Corps established and equipped.
Reasons for the Girls Corps' Success
Shields would often repeat, “You got to have discipline, or you just don’t have a drum and bugle corps.” The success and fame of the Monroe Girls Corps was due in GREAT part to Shields’ never wavering discipline. He explained, “You just say what you mean and mean what you say. That’s an old rule, but it works. I don’t have to browbeat these kids. We run on a merit and demerit system. Get ten demerits and you’re out.” That tough discipline was applied not only “on the field” but everywhere the Corps went.
Another major factor in the Corps’ success was Shield’s demand for year-round practice. The group was granted ONE week off for family vacations during the summer break, the remaining three months consisting of early morning practice five days per week, along with many Saturday morning and individual section practices. Shields would brag on the girls, “We really do work hard. We don’t use la-de-da drum beats. It’s all trick rhythm. And man, that horn is hard to blow. You got to lip the thing to get it in tune. But those kids can play concert-length programs – everything from light operatic stuff to swing. They feel a syncopated beat real good. They have to memorize all the drills, too, of course.”
Wayne himself credited many others with the success of the Corps, “To say that the sponsors (VFW) of the Monroe Girls Corps are quite benevolent, is like saying the Atlantic Ocean is a pool of water. They pay it and consider they’ve made a good investment. These 40 girls are putting Monroe on the map. In return for all that’s done for them, all the girls have to do is their best.”
“Much money, time and effort has been invested in maintaining the Monroe Girls Corps, every citizen truly feels that the warm regard brought back home by these “Daughters of Good Will,” plus the training and experience the girls receive musically and otherwise make it all worthwhile, to say the least.”
Shields himself best summed things up with this under-statement, “The VFW always passes it to me and the Corps when it comes to praise etc. I throw it back to them, because I figure I’M THE HIRED MAN, IT’S MY JOB TO TURN THE THING OUT.”
And what a job he did!! Had any other man been hired, there would never have been the Monroe Girls Corps as we knew it. Wayne Shields was not just the HIRED MAN – he was the Heart and Soul of the Monroe Girls Corps. And my oh my, did he ever “TURN THE THING OUT!!!”
-Susan Brown, author
PLEASE SEE THE MONROE GIRLS CORPS PERMANENT EXHIBIT IN THE MAIN GALLERY FOR MORE FACTS, PHOTOS, FILMS AND ARTIFACTS.