BOX ELDER | Tears rolled as the familiar first musical notes reached his failing 95-year-old ears.
Hands which once had coaxed tempos from countless student bands brushed at the flood.
Leonard “Len” Borlaug first combined this pattern of notes 55 years ago when he created “Douglas Rouser,” the Douglas High School fight song. The Brainerd, Minn., man hadn’t delighted in hearing it since he dropped his baton at a final Douglas basketball game three years later.
Solvejg Seamon, Borlaug’s daughter watching from the side, hadn’t seen her father cry since 2005, when her mother, Verlyce, died.
It had required a family conspiracy to surprise the old band master with Wednesday’s ultimate encore at Douglas High. Borlaug had walked into the school not knowing what awaited him. Black Hills relatives, including niece Beth Massa of Sturgis and sister Connie Cleveland of Rapid City, had slyly suggested driving past Douglas that morning to view recent construction.
Inside was a cake, the bulk of the school’s 87-piece band and two standing ovations for the fight song creator, the Douglas band’s first director and a World War II Army veteran. Cleveland had kept the honor a secret through daily telephone conversations with her brother.
Borlaug conveyed appreciation for the tune, and then members of the Douglas band readied their instruments again. This time, Borlaug raised his hands to bring forth his song. When silence returned, he shook his head in a kind of how about that. Then, he beamed.
Borlaug wrote the song in an afternoon two weeks after the new school opened, he said. Things were chaotic for teachers and students, and the district superintendent thought a fight song would raise morale.
“I loved it,” Borlaug said of his creation. The superintendent thought it needed a bigger band. It had that big band sound on Wednesday.
“I wish I would have had even half of you,” Borlaug told the students. Only the University of Indiana has anything better, he added.
His lyrics, he said, were another matter. They wouldn’t pass muster in a high school poetry class, Borlaug said.
Flutist Dakota Small, a senior, called Borlaug’s visit “a huge honor for everyone here.” Playing his song for him made her nervous.
She likes his song.
“It brings me pride every time I hear it,” Small said.
Borlaug quit college to join the Army soon after the 1941 attack at Pearl Harbor. As a soldier in Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, he was among the first Americans to enter Dachau Concentration Camp, a horror he never speaks about.
After returning home to complete degrees in music and history, he also led school bands in his native North Dakota and in Minnesota.
Current Douglas Band Director Jennifer Larson first heard about Borlaug’s pending visit last week. She was amazed to learn Borlaug had taken only an afternoon to write the song she has led at countless pep rallies and school games during her 22 years with the district.
“The students who were here today,” she said, “will never play the school song the same way again.”