Over the past 55 years, the Santa Clara Vanguard has strived to create an environment where young people have the opportunity to learn, grow, and succeed as performers to develop into mature adults.
A drum corps needs the foundation and financial literacy to ensure the longevity of its mission and for the past 28 years, Vanguard has had the pleasure of utilizing the business prowess of Michael Kovalich.
A resident of Redwood City for the past 35 years, Kovalich has established himself as a successful financial mentor and business developer, though he is no stranger to the world of drum corps.
His drum corps experience began as a trumpet player in 1963 with the Livingston Hilltoppers from Livingston, NJ. Sponsored by the VFW post that his father commanded, Kovalich was propelled into the activity at a young age.
“I got into it you know, and my old man was right and seven years later I became what we called solo soprano back then for the Imperial Guardsman which was a spinoff corps from the Hilltoppers,” Kovalich said.
Years went by and drum corps took a back seat while he attended Louisiana State University and upon graduating, he made the journey to California where he would be reintroduced. On a trip to visit his cousin in Boulder, CO, he attended the annual drum corps show Drums Along the Rockies where he got his first glimpse of the Santa Clara Vanguard.
“I was amazed how right in the Bay Area there was a drum corps I didn’t even know about,” he said. “I went back to San Francisco and I wrote a check as a donation to the Santa Clara Vanguard”
But the check was never cashed by Vanguard and in 1991 Kovalich began a new job at a law firm in Downtown San Jose where he was introduced by a colleague to Sudie Johnson who coincidentally was the Secretary of the Vanguard Booster Club at the time.
It was then that he was invited to attend a board meeting the following year in 1992 and would later become Chairman of the Vision 2000 Committee and serve on the Board of Directors. In his time on the board, he became acquainted with Stephenie Hebert who introduced him to key people.
The board underwent a significant transformation, bringing in business executives to manage Vanguard and bring the focus to the financial foundation for the organization.
“Mike Kovalich has given to the organization tremendous loyalty and was instrumental in helping Vanguard through one of its most difficult times. He has kept us in great standing financially and we are so fortunate to have him,” added SCV alumna, donor, and longtime volunteer Stephenie Hebert
The once parent organization, where conversations about the price of hamburgers took place at the corps hall evolved into a more business-oriented organization with the addition of names like American entrepreneur and technology innovator, Kevin Surace in 2008.
As a result, the Vanguard Board of Directors established a strong and secure financial future due to their wise decisions.
Flash forward to 2020, Kovalich tucked away his plans of retirement and was once again propelled into his current position as Co-Interim Executive Director alongside SCV alumna Jeremy Van Wert and Director of Program Operations Michael Gaines.
“It’s the love of the activity and right now my philosophy on life is you learn, you build, and you give and right now I’m trying to give back to an activity that’s enriched my life since I was 10 years old,” Kovalich said.
The ‘leadership trinity’, as he stated, consists of himself, Van Wert, and Gaines working as a single-force management team contributing their strengths and organizational skills. Going into 2021 the time period is ‘relevance’ as the three work towards prepping for 2022 all the while maintaining the Santa Clara Vanguard brand and living up to it.
“If we were a corporation, you have the CEO Jeremy, Michael’s the Chief Operating Officer because he’s in charge of all programs and then I’m the Chief Financial Officer,” Kovalich stated.
Focusing on the financial status of the organization throughout the years, Kovalich is no stranger to making sure that cost-efficient strategies are implemented that don’t impede the creativity or level of excellence that Vanguard has established. That can be attributed to his relentless level of commitment and work he has shown towards the entire organization in his many roles he has held.
“Mike Kovalich is an unsung hero not only in Vanguard history but right now as we are coming out one of the most difficult times in the history of the organization,” Gaines said. “He is at work every single day ensuring that we will be around to provide young people educational programs, performance opportunities, and life-changing experiences.”
One of the main factors that has kept Kovalich around Vanguard for so long has been the emotionally captivating performances year after year by the drum corps as well as the level of class that exudes from the members both on and off the field. His focus has been aimed at ensuring the members continue to feel supported and provide a meaningful experience to lay the foundation for the success of their future.
“Mentorship is something that I’m used to, but I would do it in a heartbeat for a Vanguard member,” Kovalich said. “You want to be a chief financial officer? I’ll tell you what it takes to be one or any kind of career ideas that our members have.”
Learn. Build. Teach. That has been the mantra that he has dedicated his life to from the moment he was propelled into the drum corps activity at a young age, to his current position. His passion continues in his work and is displayed by the members of the Santa Clara Vanguard in the emotional performances that captivate the drum corps fans and continues to captivate him.
Kovalich said, “I’m proud to be part of the organization and proud to be part of the whole concept of creating a platform for our members to perform at a high level.”
“I feel incredibly fortunate that my father made me discover this thing at 10 years old”