The Conway High School band played Sweet Caroline and Hold That Tiger while the crowd pumped their fists and chanted, “Go Tigers.”
The guests hugged, talked about the old days marching in Conway and Whittemore High School bands, ate chicken bog, linked arms, kicked their legs and danced, but most of all they talked about the man who had a strong influence on them that continues today, the man who caused at least one of them to travel from as far away as Texas to honor him Friday night.
That man is Leslie McIver, a former Conway City Council member, who may have made an even bigger impact on the Conway community as a longtime band director.
People who participated in band when McIver was the director gathered in the Conway High School Tigers Den for several hours before the Conway-South Florence football game.
Michelle Holcomb, who played trumpet in the Conway High School band, said she made arrangements to come to Conway this past year when the first band reunion was scheduled, but it was canceled due to Hurricane Florence’s destructive flooding.
The occupational therapist was determined to come this year.
“This meeting was so important to me that I got on a plane in Texas to be here,” she said.
She also remembers planning her wedding at a time that McIver could conduct it, pointing out that he’s ordained so he could conduct her service.
“He was always like a second father to us. I’ve always said that if you got into trouble we weren’t sure what was going to be worse, with our dads at home or our daddy at school,” she said.
Although some of the former band members called the Conwayite Mr. Mac, many referred to him as Daddy Mac.
Holcomb said being in the band grounded the students because they were responsible to the other 110 people that “you spent half of your life with. I’ve always said that band kept me out of trouble…You never wanted to disappoint Mr. Mac.”
During her senior year, she served McIver as an aide.
“I’d come in and say, ‘You want me to straighten up the office, and he’d say, ‘No baby, go practice your piano,’” she said.
She called him a remarkable man, saying, “We were truly his children.”
In a common thread, all of the band members said they felt like the band was their second family.
Valerie McNeill, who works now as the human resources director for Horry County Schools, once played the clarinet in one of McIver’s bands.
“I always loved it.,,We were like one big family. I was actually a section leader so I think that was how I learned to be a leader,” she said.
Not only does she think McIver had a great influence on her, but she also credits his late wife, Mary Anne, with having an impact on her.
“I felt like one of his daughters,” she said.
She credits band with helping her learn to work well with others because the band had different sections, but they all had to cooperate and get along well with each other, as well as being able to communicate with others. She says the family feeling among the band members insured that there were no disputes and no hollering at each other, and nobody better say anything bad about any of the other band members.
“We took up for each other,” she said.
One of her most memorable experiences was going to band camp in Fountain Inn. They stayed in dorm-like buildings, and she said, “It was hot, now I tell you that.”
McNeill’s brother Paul Campbell was in the band from 1988-89.
“Mr. Mac, he really taught us to be leaders so we led…,” he said, adding that the band director taught them to do the right thing and how to know what the right thing is. Along with that came teaching them how to grow up and be good people.
Campbell works now building websites and apps for Katz Broadcasting in Atlanta, the company that also has Bounce TV, GRIT, Court TV and LAFF.
Because of being in the band, he said, ”I have friends I’m going to have forever.”
He emphasized that learning to perform is important because many things in life are performances, everything from teaching Sunday school to serving on boards.
“This man’s like my second dad,” he said, adding that McIver helped him choose to study at Clemson University instead of the University of South Carolina by advising him to step away from his friends and get his degree.
Jacelyn Spearman, Conway High School’s choir director, says no doubt McIver is responsible for her career choice.
She was under his tutelage from 1977-83 having started with the band when she was in the sixth grade.
She began playing the piano, but McIver “put” her on the trumpet. She was okay with that, saying that she figured if she could play an instrument with 88 keys she certainly could play any instrument with only three.
Mr. Mac made being in the band fun and he gave his students something to be proud of, she said.
“My entire career path is the result of his influence on my life,” she said, adding that’s the kind of influence she hopes she’s had on her students during the past almost 23 years.
“The impact he had on my life is profound. He’s the reason I became a teacher,” she said.
During her time in the band, she was a band major.
“He taught me how to be a leader and he taught me that being a leader is not necessarily being in front of people, but being beside and working with them. It isn’t about being in front of them; it really is about being together,” she said.
She says he helped her develop self-confidence after seeing her potential.
She came to Friday’s event because, “I wouldn’t have missed an opportunity to honor him.”
Gerald Ballen, who works today with special education students at Conway Elementary School, blew the trumpet in one of McIver’s bands.
About his new job, he said, ”It’s going great…Life is for living.”
Ballen was in the Whittemore High School band from 1967-70.
With help from McIver, he was awarded a music scholarship to Elizabeth City State University in Elizabeth City, N.C. He continued with his music there from 1970-74.
That was the best thing that ever happened to him, he said, adding that it exposed him to a new view of life. But he says he wasn’t the only one that McIver helped get to college. He remembers others who went to Florida A&M, Virginia State and S.C. State.
“He sent a lot of kids to a lot of places…If they wanted to go, he made it happen,” Ballen said.
Because of his music, Ballen was able to travel to other schools where they were always the best band, or at least they thought they were, he laughed.
He says McIver taught him never to look at what he couldn’t do, but always focus on what he could do.
“He taught us how to be an adult. He taught us how to be mature. He taught us to set goals and go for it,” he said, remembering also that McIver hated the word can’t and encouraged them not to use it.
“I love him. We called him Daddy Mac. In a lot of situations he was our father. He’s just a great human being. I’ll never forget him,” Ballen said.
Cedric Blain Spain started his band days in 1987 while he was a student at West Conway Middle School.
“It was some great years in the band…It was an extension of home,” he said.
Because McIver knew their parents, getting into any kind of trouble with him meant also facing their parents when they got home, Spain said.
He, too, has fond memories of Mrs. McIver.
“His wife would say, ‘Mac, don’t say that to the children.’ She was like the mother of the band. She was like his number one supporter,” Spain said.
In addition to playing in the band, Spain played the piano at Bethel AME Church where McIver played the organ.
“So it was a double honor for me to be in the band and play the piano while McIver played the organ,” he said.
Deloris Rosier and others said there was no paper music when McIver’s bands marched, because they were all required to memorize the music.
“If you didn’t memorize the music, he wouldn’t let you play,” she said.
She was in the band from 1962-66 when the group had nearly 100 pieces.
Rosier said most of the kids had their own instruments, thanks to McIver’s fundraisers. He wanted them to have their own instruments so they could practice at home, Rosier said.
She played the clarinet first in the marching band and later in the concert band.
She was recruited into the band when she was in the sixth grade, but she was more than willing to join up.
Being in the band meant being part of a team.
“We had a lot of fun together,” she said. “We traveled. We competed in state competitions…We went across the state in our competitions, so we met a lot of people. We understood team building.”
She said they also understood being prepared and planning.
“Because Mr. McIver was an excellent director he expected excellence, so we were told that we had to be outstanding.”
She said later during her career she was comfortable with different people because of her activities and travel with the band.
“I really learned how to work with people and how to appreciate other people’s gifts because we really did have some excellent musicians. So when I left Conway, I had that under my belt. I didn’t have to learn those skills; I had them,” she said.
She worked as the director of the National Education Association’s executive staff, but has been back in Conway since 2004.
Rosier, who calls herself a community activist in her heart, says playing the clarinet was part of her foundation.
Including her younger days in Conway and her time at Claflin College in Orangeburg and Coppin State University in Baltimore, Md., she ranks McIver as one of the top five educators who influenced her life.
She attended Friday gathering because, “I think when someone has given you so much that the least you can do is come out, appreciate them and say thank you,” she said.
Delores Donald said she could play the clarinet, but left that job to her sister and joined the color guard.
“I just enjoy music,” she said. “I love music and I love dancing.”
Being a flag girl was fun, she said.
“Everybody enjoyed it, learning the routines and everything,” she said, adding that they met after school to practice a couple of times a week.
“I guess you learn unity,” she said, “because everybody had to work together as a unit.”
Donald works now in obstetrics and delivery at Conway Medical Center.
“I love Mr. Mac. He always kept my spirits up.”
She said he kept her looking at the positive and striving to do everything better.
Melissa Johnson, a member of the color guard from 1977-81, joined the group simply because she thought it would be fun.
But that wasn’t exactly the way band camp turned out, even though she went expecting a nice vacation.
Instead, she said, they practiced very early in the morning and it was hot, “but it was okay.”
Being in the color guard also wasn’t quite as easy as some people might think, she said. They worked long hours learning their routines.
“It wasn’t as easy as just walking on the field…I just thought it was a good experience for me,” Johnson said.
Being in the band meant showing respect, being on time, building responsibility and learning to consider others.
“I appreciate what he has done. Mr. Mac has been an inspiration to all. He wasn’t just a band leader…Everyone was treated the same. Everyone was special,” she said.
And as for being in the color guard, “I enjoyed it. I did. I did,” she said.
Conway City Councilman Larry White got his introduction to music in the tonette band when he was a sixth grader at Whittemore school. That’s where he was first introduced to music theory, history and more.
When White was in seventh grade, McIver tapped him for the Whittemore High School band where his uniform was so big his grandmother had to remake it in a smaller size. His hat was so big he stuffed it with paper to make it fit.
“We had one of the best marching bands in the area,” he said.
When they went to other places to march in parades, McIver always wanted them to be the final unit.
White said because of that everybody thought they were the home band.
He was especially impressed with the band’s drum line that sounded like thunder when they got off of their bus.
Their band rehearsals seemed like they ran from sunup to sundown, he said.
“We didn’t go home until we got it right,” White said.
They could stay late because everybody knew they were with McIver.
He said McIver had a strap and anyone who messed up or didn’t learn their music when they were supposed to might get a visit from the strap across their backsides.
White admits to getting a few reminders from the strap.
“After you got a few of them, you knew to do the right thing,” he chuckled.
In 1969, White was one of the first black students to integrate Conway High School. He continued with his music there and marched in the band directed by Bill Miller.
Miller recorded White playing his trumpet and sent it to auditions for the American Youth Symphony. White was the first black student in that group.
With it, he traveled to 10 foreign countries including Switzerland, Russia, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, France and Italy. It was the first time he had ever been outside of the United States.
“I was very impressed with that because I had never been any place. It was a good experience,” he said.
Holcomb, the Texan, agreed that McIver’s standards were high.
“He was serious, but you know he had high expectations. He just loved us all,” she said.
After the CHS band played its tunes, current director Brian Lodge said everywhere he goes people mention McIver to him as he dubbed McIver a legend in this community.
He and others called for the band reunion to become an annual event.
McIver actively greeted all of his former students, but stood silent while others talked about him.
As for his reaction to the event and all the kind words, he waved his arms like wings and said he planned to fly all the way home.