A History of Grandview's Oldest Continuous Fundraising Event
book detailing 70-year history of the cake walk AUTHORED BY Grandview Heights BAND ALUM
Grandview Height High School alum Meghan Watters (Class of 2020) took on a special project during her junior year at GHHS. As part of her Girl Scout Gold Award project (the highest award a Girl Scout can achieve), Meghan researched the history of the Grandview Heights Cake Walk event, and wrote and published a book on the subject, titled "Keeping the Tradition Alive in Grandview Heights: A 70-Year History of the Cake Walk." To complete this project, Watters interviewed dozens of people and spent countless hours in the library and at the Grandview Heights/Marble Cliff Historical Society, reviewing old newspapers on microfiche. Watters selected this project because of her interest in history as well as her own history with the Cake Walk, from her memories of attending as a child straight through her years of playing saxophone with the middle and high school bands.
Above, Watters is being recognized for a decade of community service that included this project, by the Grandview Heights City Council and Mayor during the May 6, 2019 council meeting.
Watters donated several copies of the paperback book to the GHBPA, and also provided the below excerpts, which she has authorized the GHBPA to share on our web site. Congratulations, Meghan, and thanks for your amazing work on this project! (The full book is available for purchase on Amazon.)
Keeping Tradition Alive in Grandview Heights: A 70 Year Celebration of the Cake Walk
By: Meghan Watters, GHHS Class of 2020 Alto Saxophone, GHHS Marching Band & Jazz Ensemble Excerpts from her book on the 70-year history of the Cake Walk, a Girl Scout Gold Award Project
In July of 1940, Grandview Heights School District Superintendent W.C. Rohleder announced that he had hired Paul Holcomb to be an instructor of instrumental music who would “devote much of his time to the development of a school band.” A couple of months later, on September 30, 1940, thirty-five interested band parents held their first meeting to create an organization “designed to booster the formation of a band in the high school” and find ways of raising funds to purchase the large instruments necessary for a marching band. From the beginning, the Band Boosters was a co-ed group with leadership roles held by both men and women. Often husbands and wives worked together to support the band, such as in the case of Mr. and Mrs. George McDaniel, who jointly chaired three annual Cake Walks in the 1950s. On September 13, 1948, the Band Boosters officially became the Grandview Heights Band Parents Association (“GBPA”) and held its first meeting. The GBPA, which is now the largest booster organization in Grandview, works all year to raise money to support Grandview band students in grades 5-12. The funds raised are used to subsidize the cost of high school band camp, purchase uniforms and instruments, fund scholarships and cover other costs of the music programs.
On October 18, 1940, the GBPA held their first fundraiser on behalf of the proposed band. It was a tag sale. Tags that said, “Boost the Band” were sold at the Grandview football game against Columbus Academy. 27 male students played as a “band” at the school assembly and football game that day. Individuals who bought the $1.00 tags wore them looped with string around a shirt or jacket button. The GBPA’s tag sale has been held every year since in the late summer or early fall. The tag sale is still one of the three major fundraisers of the GBPA today in the form of the decal sale (the name changed from tag sale to decal sale in 2005). The last Sunday in July, marching band members go door to door selling decals of the band’s logo to place on your door, car or a window to show your support for Grandview’s bands. Other early fundraisers for the band included an annual spring card party and a Band Festival, complete with a circus, held in July.
The Beginning – “Did You Ever See A Cake Walk?” On November 11, 1948, the front page of the TriVillage News contained a small article on the lower left side of the paper entitled, “Did You Ever See A Cake Walk?” The article told TriVillage residents – citizens of Grandview Heights, Marble Cliff and Upper Arlington because it was the local paper for all three communities at that time – that they “were invited to share in the fun at the Cake Walk in the Grandview High School Auditorium, Monday evening, November 22, 1948, at 8:00 p.m.” It was suggested that the “entire family will enjoy the fun and the delicious home-made cakes you may win.” Residents were told that music and entertainment would be provided by the Grandview High School Band under the direction of J. Wendell Byrnes in his third year as Director, and the Cake Walk was sponsored by the Grandview Band Parents Association, under the chairmanship of Mr. James Wallace, assisted by Mrs. Wallace. Other parents reported in the paper as leaders of the first Cake Walk were Mr. Ed Bogen, Mr. and Mrs. D.R. Shick, Mr. and Mrs. R.R. Rogers, Mr. and Mrs. Ed Bechtol, Mr. and Mrs. Iver Islasrud, Mr. and Mrs. A.D. Pierce, and Mr. and Mrs. R.D. Fethinger. Even then, as is true today, the contributions and efforts of the leaders of the Cake Walk were recognized by the Grandview community.
Tickets for each walk around the ring at the first Cake Walk were 10 cents each and could be purchased in advance from band members or at the auditorium the night of the party. There was no cost for admission. Residents were reminded in the article that “[t]he public is invited,” showing an intent from the very beginning that the Cake Walk would be an event for the entire community, and not something limited to the high school or families with children in the Grandview schools.
Additionally, the first Cake Walk appears to have been a last-minute addition to the GBPA’s schedule for the 1948-49 school year. In September of 1948, the GBPA announced its meetings dates, committee chairs, and activities for the year in the TriVillage News, including the Tag Day (October 1, 1948), the Card Party (February 17, 1949) and Band Banquet (April 2, 1949). There was no mention of a Cake Walk. But, as the 1949 Highlander H.S. yearbook indicates, “the Band sponsored a successful Cake Walk” where it “mixed business with pleasure” when it played.
A Sweet Success The first GBPA Cake Walk proved to be so successful that in 1952 the Cake Walk was held instead of the Card Party as the main spring fundraiser for the band. The 1952 Cake Walk was held in the gymnasium/auditorium on Friday, March 21st, and it was the concert band, not the marching band, that performed. In 1958, the Cake Walk was moved to the new gymnasium. Additionally, it remained an annual event held in March from 1952 until 1979, when the date of the Cake Walk was moved to the first Friday in April (unless it conflicted with St. Patrick’s Day).
The 1952 Cake Walk was also a combined cake walk and square dance. The band would play for a “walk” around the cake ring and then a square dance reel would be played for dancing. In 1953, admission to the Cake Walk was charged for the first time – 25 cents. The 1953 Cake Walk was a combination of a cake walk, formal dance and a 30 minute concert by the high school concert band. The 25 cent admission price remained the same for the next 46 years, until the 50thAnniversary of the Cake Walk on Friday, April 9, 1999, when the cost of admission was increased to 50 cents.
Throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, the Cake Walk was a formal affair with volunteers and attendees dressed in formal dresses, suits and ties. Card tables with formal white linens showed off the beautiful homemade cakes made by band families that could be won during each walk. Card tables and chairs were also set up for those who liked to play cards or wanted to be served coffee and cake. Dancing and a sock hop usually followed the walks, replacing the 30 minute band concert. Because membership in the band was limited at that time, families often made and donated multiple cakes. Members of the community were encouraged to donate cakes as well. Cakes that did not make the “cut” in appearance, were sliced up and sold with coffee.
During this time, the Cake Walk also expanded from one to three walk rings, and an RCA personal table model radio and a $25 savings bond were the first raffle prizes given away. High school art classes made posters to advertise the Cake Walk, which were displayed in the windows of local merchants. In March of 1955, the TriVillage News reported that the GBPA’s Cake Walk was “one of the most popular events of the season.” In 1956, the TriVillage news announced that the annual Cake Walk “has come to be a traditional community event.” Due to its popularity and the dances held after the walks, the annual Cake Walk became the traditional first “date” for students in 6thgrade, with the boy’s father driving the kids to and from the Cake Walk.
“Peace, Love And Cake” In the 1970s, doll cakes with the doll’s dress made of cake, became the rage along with spice cakes, carrot cakes and other non-traditional cakes. Store-bought cakes slowly replaced many of the homemade cakes. Dress at the Cake Walks became casual for the students, but was still formal for the parents. The Cake Walk expanded to four rings of 30 chairs and the starting time was moved up to 7:30 pm due to the increase in the number of band members and donated cakes. The Cake Walk was so popular that during the 1972-73 school year, two Cake Walks were held – one on October 31, 1972 and one on March 20, 1973. The Junior High School band also began playing at the Cake Walk in 1972. The addition of the Junior High/Middle School band to the Cake Walk continues to this day. Now that music program has been expanded to separate bands for the 5th, 6th, 7thand 8thgrades, the 7thand 8thgrade bands play together at the Cake Walk instead of a single junior high or middle school band.
Throughout the late 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, the Cake Walk was often promoted in the TriVillage News with a picture of the high school band’s officers, in uniform, holding a large cake that said, “Cake Walk.” It is believed that this tradition became the senior cake that graduating senior band members enjoy today at either the Cake Walk or final band concert. On April 1, 2019, the senior members of the high school band and director Chris Hermann posed for a picture with a large 70thAnniversary Cake Walk cake in a nod to past tradition. It was promptly eaten by the entire band.
Icing on the Cake Walk In 1980, the tradition of donating $1 in exchange for the opportunity to direct the band for one walk began. Every year, 20-25 want to be band directors step up and lead the band for one walk. At the 70thCake Walk, 24 individuals put a dollar in the “Direct the Band” jar, including marching band senior Quinn Tillett, and directed the band for a walk.
In 1985, the start time for the Cake Walk was moved to its current start time of 6:30 pm, ensuring that kids of all ages could attend. In 1990, there was a petting zoo of Columbus zoo animals at the Cake Walk. In 2001, cake decorating contests were introduced with categories for professional cakes, adults and students. Raffle prizes in recent times have included a vacation weekend in Hocking Hills, autographed Ohio State footballs and a basketball hoop. Through it all, the cost to take a walk in one of the cake rings and to try to win a cake remained 10 cents a walk. It was not until 2003, 55 years after the Cake Walk began, that the price to participate in a walk increased to 20 cents. Even today, the cost to participate is only 3 walks for a $1.00. Plus, it was not until 2013 that the price of admission to the Cake Walk was increased to $1.00.
Other notable changes to the Cake Walk have been the addition of cake bingo for a couple of years, a coloring contest in the schools for t-shirt designs, games and face painting for kids, the movement of the bands and cakes to the bleachers (60thAnniversary in 2009), the “Mother’s Special” of a cupcake and milk for $1 at the concession stand (2010), special pie rings, the creation of kids’ circles with chairs borrowed from Stevenson Elementary, the expansion to 5 cake rings on the main floor with two of the five rings devoted to younger kids, and Calk Walk themes and publicity using humorous takes on the Beatles’ Abbey Road cover and Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving painting. Recent events have included a flash mob performance by band parents, faculty and school administrators in the middle of the Cake Walk in 2011 (the video of this event can be viewed at https://youtu.be/GeH3eWJib4U), a special uniform ring in 2016 that raised $1278.00 earmarked just for new uniforms, and the introduction of a sixth ring in 2018 – a cupcake ring just for preschoolers with two circles of 15 numbers on the floor and no chairs (1-15 inner circle and 16-30 outer circle) where the preschoolers stand on two numbers and double their chances to win. In the new cupcake circle a winner of a specially-boxed cupcake is declared for every walk even if the circle is not full.
Life is a Cake Walk For the past seventy years, GHHS alumni, local businesses, community leaders, families and members of the Grandview and Marble Cliff communities – young and old – have supported the Cake Walk and Grandview’s music programs. Every year, nearly 300 parents and band members volunteer their time to put on this event, including donating their time as well as cakes. More than 1,000 members of the community pay the $1.00 admission price and show their support for the bands.
When you ask someone about the Cake Walk, the first thing they will tell you is if they have won a cake. Some kids leave empty handed, often in tears or maybe with a cake or cupcake that their parent bought to stop the tears, while others walk away with smiles on their faces and the joy of winning a cake (or 2 or even 5). Bob and Pat Peters attended over 50 cake walks before experiencing the thrill of winning their first cake in 2016. The second thing that people will tell you about the Cake Walk is that it is something for the entire family. They are very proud if they did walks when they were a student, then as a parent, and then as a grandparent, passing along their love for this Grandview event. The third thing people will tell you is that the Cake Walk is the first sign of spring in Grandview, a chance to catch up with neighbors and friends and enjoy some wholesome fun at very little cost. I think that is the reason that the Cake Walk has lasted for 70 years. It reflects the values and priorities of the Grandview Heights and Marble Cliff communities. Their focus on the quality of the schools. Just as the Ox Roast is a fundraiser for the Bobcat Boosters that support Grandview’s schools, but is seen as a community-wide event, the Cake Walk is an important fundraiser for the Grandview Band Parents Association that has become a fixed tradition in the community. The Cake Walk “is” Grandview Heights. The Cake Walk is 7 years older than the Ox Roast, which was first put on by the Bobcat Boosters on October 25-27, 1956 in connection with the city’s celebration of Grandview Heights 50th Anniversary.