When drum corps fans think of the Santa Clara Vanguard there are a multitude of iconic images that usually come to mind. The eight-pointed star with the red V in the middle. The Aussie with the delicate feather sticking up. But for many, the image of the red tunic takes center field, bold and striking.
The vision and creation of the red tunic, worn for decades by the Vanguard and originating from its early design in 1972, came from the home of Mary Shiffer.
When her son Michael walked in the door in 1971 with his green and red satin blouse uniform ready to fall apart, Mary Shiffer only saw an opportunity to envision, create and revamp. At the time, Mary had no idea that the small project of correcting her son’s uniform would create a lasting impact on the future of the Santa Clara Vanguard.
A self-taught seamstress, Mary had an eye for the condition, design and appearance of garments and immediately went to the local sewing outlet to pick up materials to update the uniform. In one hour, she swiftly disassembled the uniform blouse and created a pattern followed by two days producing a perfectly matched, brand new silk blouse.
The material she chose weighed less than half of the original material used and the finished product was breathtaking compared to the tattered uniform brought home by her son.
It was then that Gail Royer came into the picture. Mary felt she needed permission from Gail for her son to wear the new uniform and she was able to get in contact and invite him over to get a glimpse at her creation.
Gail’s response, “Well yes, Mike can wear the new blouse but can you make 114 more?”
Within months, the material was ordered and with the help of a few generous parents, every member was able to be measured for the 114 new silk blouses that were created.
Around this time, Gail shared his idea of creating a new and different look for the corps with Mary. What started as a casual conversation became a commitment to bringing a new look to fruition. Mary immediately took to the Santa Clara library and looked at several books on military uniforms.
Hours upon hours were spent discussing ideas on how a particular look would be perceived on the football field “stage” of drum corps. After a few weeks, the decision was made to design the new look for the corps using the Canadian Mountie uniform as inspiration.
Over the next several months, Mary meticulously measured every single member, and a custom uniform was constructed, sewn and tailored to fit perfectly. The design of the gauntlet at the time was such an innovation that the Madison Scouts requested to borrow the design as well.
Throughout the labor-intensive project of creating this new look, Mary, along with many other volunteers, sewed and put together every single uniform in her home.
This group of dedicated women consisted of Eadie Raynor, Gloria Siegfried, Judy Kolwyck, Helen Akiya and Rose Okasaki. Together, they worked tirelessly every single day during the few months ahead of the ’72 season essentially becoming a production assembly line, immersed in a sea of red, green and white.
For two years, beginning in Jan. 1971 through Aug. 1972, Mary selflessly devoted and dedicated herself completely to creating the now iconic look of the Santa Clara Vanguard.
As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, we recognize her story along with the many women involved in the process. Their commitment, creativity and passion continue to bring an ocean of memories to past and present drum corps fans of the Vanguard worldwide even to this day.