Bison band members are a special ‘fraternity,’ many with Pelican lake country connections

By Gary Barta

NDSU band alumni, 

A reunion of North Dakota State University Band Alumni, spouses and friends will be hosted in the Pelican Rapids area. 

Guests will be among those that travelled to Europe with the NDSU Wind Symphony in 2019. 

Band alumni Gary Barta and his wife Diana will be hosting the group this week, in the Franklin Lake area.

Dr. Warren Olfert, director of NDSU Wind Symphony, extended an invitation in 2018 to NDSU Band Alumni to join the college band’s tour of Budapest, Bratislava, Vienna and Prague.

Gary Barta was a member of the NDSU Marching band and Concert Band, who earned has a music education degree. Gary and Diana committed to the trip almost immediately.

The entourage included fifty Wind Symphony band members and about twenty alumni, spouses, parents and friends. Among the group was Laurel Hoglund Reynolds (Gary’s college classmate) and her husband, Paul. Laurel is a sister to Pelican Rapids Press managing, Louis Hoglund (tuba player).

On May 17, the group boarded a seven-hour flight to Paris, and after three-hour layover, on to Budapest, Hungary. 

Wind Symphony performed a concert in the Budai Vigadó building in NDSUBudapest and the beautiful, acoustically perfect Slovakia Radio building in Bratislava. 

The final concert on May 26, was noteworthy. It was held at the Spanish Hall in the Royal Castle in Prague. This highly ornate and stately hall is not open to tourists and they were told by the Czech contacts that it is a rare occurrence for anyone to perform in the Spanish Hall.

Good, old U.S. 

Sousa marches

a hit in Czeckoslavakia 

 To add to the atmosphere, the NDSU Wind Symphony performance was followed by one of the best bands in the world, the Czech Symphonic Police Band. The highly renowned band, conducted by Dr. Václav Blahunek featured Russian pianist Olga Vinokur. The NDSU Wind Symphony joined the Czech Symphonic Police Band for “The Gladiators,” a typical uplifting Sousa march, and finally, the Kingpin of all Sousa marches, “Stars and Stripes Forever.” 

The NDSU band members are highly talented musicians, most of them music majors. When combined with the outstanding musicians of the Czech Band, the effect was astounding, said Barta. “We almost jumped out of our seats at the rousing conclusion to Stars and Stripes Forever.”

Although the group spent much of their time in the old city centers, they were able to see the countryside on bus rides between each city. The landscape was primarily farmland, with fields of wheat, barley, corn and canola. The grain crops were well developed. The canola fields were in full bloom and were a brilliant addition to the lush green. The land was mostly moderate rolling hills and looked much like North Dakota-Minnesota farmland in the spring. 

Budapest is comprised of two cities, Buda and Pest, separated by the Danube River and merged into the city of Budapest in 1873. Pest was devastated by flooding in 1838 and as a result, many of the buildings were constructed after the flood, therefore not as many extremely old buildings. They explored through the maize a tall buildings, narrow passageways, and meandering streets. Gary and Diana found St. Stephen’s Basilica, a Roman Catholic church, in the old city area. 

After the first evening meal at Budapest, the group was entertained by four genuine Hungarian dancers along with a four-piece band, enhanced by audience participation.

Friendly connections with the Czechs

“There was a huge international hockey tournament at Bratislava, Slovakia, and as we were roaming the streets of the “Old Town” among shops, restaurants on cobblestone streets, I noticed two Czech guys with Czech hats, jerseys and scarfs sitting by a shop drinking beer. I stopped to ask them if the Czech team had won the night before. Language was a barrier but I learned that the Czechs had won 5-4. So, they were happy! When I informed them that I was a Czech from the USA, they got real happy and one gave me his Czech cap, the other gave me his Czech scarf, two really great souvenirs—just like that!”

It was not always easy to find restrooms. Public restrooms were limited, and most commercial businesses required nominal charge for the use of their facilities. “When we were in Vienna, Austria, we ended up eating rolls at Dunkin’ Donuts because they had a bathroom!”

Prague was the highlight of the trip and is a very impressive city. The Prague Castle originated around 880 by the Prince Borivoj of the Přemyslid dynasty and was the seat of power for Kings of Bohemia, Holy Roman Emperor and presidents of Czechoslovakia. The Charles Bridge, built in 1357, is close to both the Prague Castle and the Old Town Square. 

Gary & Diana walked to Wenceslas Square, only a few blocks from Old Town Square. It is named after Saint Wenceslas, the patron saint of Bohemia with a large statue of Saint Wenceslas at one end of the Wenceslas Square. It consists of a large open area with numerous shops, restaurants, hotels and retail stores, and has been the center of many political events and demonstrations. 

Wenceslas Square is where Soviet tanks arrived in 1968 to quell the Czech uprising.

While in Prague the group spent one evening on a relaxed Vltava River cruise boat. The highlight was a panoramic view of the Royal Castle.

The group diverted for a day trip from Prague south to Český Krumlov, a small town (population 14,000) in the southern Bohemia region, very close to the Austrian border. Český Krumlov is derived from German, meaning “crooked meadow” because of the crooked meander of the Vltava River as it flows through the town. The Český Krumlov Castle was part of the original town and founded approximately in 1240 AD. They spent all their time in the Castle area consisting of brick walkways circling the area and many small shops, restaurants and beer parlors. 

Tracing roots in 


The trip from Prague to Český Krumlov took us right through central Bohemia which is where Gary’s ancestors are from. Gary is 100% Czech and his DNA ancestry test shows five concentric circles all with common ground directly in Bohemia. Although he did not have time to find any relatives, it was a unique experience for them to travel in the entire area around Prague and Bohemia.

One of Diana’s favorite dinners was in the “Old Town Square” in Prague at a Czech food court where they served “Halušky,” made from small potato dumplings, cabbage sauerkraut and chunks of bacon. “Halušky” is a variation of a common Slovakian and Czech dish. Gary had Wild Boar stew in a Budapest restaurant, and they ate chicken Schnitzel (a German dish) in Vienna.

On their final evening in Prague, our group had dinner at a former monastery that crafted beer. There was a Czech accordion player, so Gary & Diana and got on the floor and danced a long polka after which they received a rousing applause.

Dr. Olfert, Director, along with our Czech tour guide, did an excellent job of managing the logistics of the trip. “We had one missing passport and one missing French Horn, both resolved, with the French Horn being delivered in time for the first concert at Budapest.

NDSU band studens from area small towns—and both coasts

Many of the current NDSU students at the time shared their background and it was very interesting to learn more about them. Most are from small towns like Hanover, ND and Perley, MN, with a few as far away as Connecticut and California. 

“It was a pleasure to watch the band members perform and receive well deserved recognition. It all created a special sense of togetherness that we will remember for a lifetime,” said Gary. 

The NDSU Wind Symphony was scheduled to perform a concert at Pelican Rapids High School in February 2020, but unfortunately was cancelled because of the pandemic. Gary hopes this can be rescheduled on a future tour.

Editor’s note: North Dakota State  University Gold Star band members are a distinct “fraternity,” including an active alumni orgnization. There are many former NDSU band members living or connected to the lakes area—spanning several generations. 

Gary Barta is one of those bandsmen, and an officer with the band alumni.

Barta recounts the alumni band tour of eastern Europe in this article. The group was assembled prior to the pandemic, and the Europe tour was one of a number of activities organized by band alumni. 

Barta, retired from banking in North Dakota, lives in the Franklin Lake area with his wife Diana, who is with KLJ Engineering in Fargo. The couple have Pelican connections, including Nadine  Brown—who is Diana’s aunt.

Nadine and husband are longtime educators in Pelican, who also returned to the Pelican area to retire after teaching overseas. 

Pelican Rapids Press managing editor, Louis Hoglund, is also an alumni of the NDSU bands.