A Lady With a Cigar? She's 'Mom' to the Band

Sometime during the third quarter of The Game tomorrow afternoon, a middle-aged woman sitting near the front of the Harvard University Band section will stand up to the cheers of the band, puff gamely on a cigar, and collapse into the arms of a bandsman.

All the band members call her "Mom." To the rest of the world, she is Mrs. Alice Tondel, a free-lance artist who lives alone near Fresh Pond.

Mrs. Tondel has mothered band members for nineteen years, and the band would like her to stay forever. "Alice really is a mother to most of us," manager Robert D. Whittemore '69 said this week. "She attends every practice, and is always there if you need her, providing little things a male usually forgets."

In the fall, when the band is very busy with marching appearances, Alice neglects her art work--except for designing posters and programs for the band. "I'd rather enjoy the band than do my work this time of year," she said. "My jobs can wait, but the band can't."

Alice said she is never upset by the band's occasionally off-color antics. "There was a time when they apologized any time somebody said 'damn,' but they ignore me now. Half the things I don't understand, and a lot of the things that I do understand I just don't hear any more. Like the show at the Princeton game this year--I didn't understand that, and anybody who did had a dirty mind."


Mom first became connected with the band in 1949. "The manager, who knew me from my art work, called at 10 the night before the game at Yale. They were repainting the big drum, and were stuck on the lettering. I was there until the wee hours of the morning," she said last week.

The band at that time was completely autonomous from the University. In 1960, the band's student managers asked Harvard for subsidies so they could afford to pay a conductor from outside the area.

Alice stayed away from the interviews. "I was dying to see the applicants, but that autonomous band structure was hard enough to understand. A band mother would have killed the enthusiasm." Alice thinks it took the new conductor, James Walker, several months to get used to her, but he liked the band and its mom enough that he has remained at Harvard for eight years.

Late in the 1950's, Alice even began shepherding the dates of band members at football games, and now retains her friendships with many former bandsmen. The marigolds pinned on band dates grew from seeds sent to Alice by the wife of a former manager. Naturally, their use as corsages was Alice's idea.

"The marigolds make the band dates easy to spot in the block before the games," she said. "I have to get it through to people at other stadiums that dates sit in the band and not in their assigned seats."

After she argued down a ticket taker at Princeton this year, a band member heard him say to another Princeton official, "That same damned woman--I have trouble with her every year."

"Once I put one past the Harvard band--only once--and that was during a Carnegie Hall performance," Alice said. "I put a sign in Walker's music saying 'Try not to make too big an ass of yourself.' Walker was convinced everybody in Carnegie Hall had seen it."

"Mom is the focal point of a lot of the band's activity," manager Whittemore said. "She could assert herself, since she's been with the band longer than anyone else, but she always asks permission to do things. She's a great help to a new manager. And she adds a very nice touch to the band--somebody not in authority, but someone you can count on.

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