Former U marching band drum major dies at 59

Jim Mitchell, a former University marching band drum major who performed the national anthem before each Gophers football home game, died March 16. He was 59.

Mitchell, of Minneapolis, died of an apparent heart attack, said Kirk Juergens, a drum major from 1987-91.

In 1963, Mitchell started as a drummer, playing tenor and bass in the marching band. In 1966, he became the University’s first black drum major – a position he held for five years.

Mitchell began volunteering with the marching band in 1971 and had done so every year since. Current drum major Jon Tepe said Mitchell will have a lasting effect on band members.

“He touched more people in the band than he will ever know,” Tepe said. “He made an impact by just being there and kind of being the spirit behind it all, reminding us that band is supposed to be fun and it’s something you’ll carry with you your whole life.

“He made such an impact on the program,” Tepe said.

Mitchell suffered from diabetes, lost both legs to amputation and required dialysis several times a week. But he still made it to every game to encourage the band.

After singing the national anthem at a football game, Mitchell would sit on the field in front of the band, congratulating members as they returned to their seats, Tepe said.

“He was kind of the moral support behind us,” Tepe said. “No matter what happened, he was at every game cheering us on.”

Mitchell also worked closely with drum majors. During Tepe’s first season as drum major, Mitchell would have him over to his apartment before games to work on his showmanship.

Tepe now plans to follow in Mitchell’s footsteps, helping train future drum majors after he graduates this spring.

Mitchell provided students with a sense of the marching band’s history, Juergens said.

“It definitely leaves a void,” he said. “The nice thing about having a guy like Mitch around is it gives you a sense of place and a sense of foundation in the University’s past.”

The marching band will not be the same without Mitchell, Juergens said.

“We can’t replace him,” he said. “He had a way with words and a way of inspiring people that was a rare gift, and that’s going to be real hard to replace.”

A memorial on the marching band’s Web site reads, “No one has ever, or will ever be, more proud than Mitch was to be a part of the University of Minnesota marching band Ö He was a fine man. Game day will never be the same.”

Funeral services are at 1 p.m. today at Estes Funeral Chapel, 2210 Plymouth Ave. N., Minneapolis, with a visitation proceeding from 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The public is invited to attend.

The marching band will also hold a service remembering Mitchell in the next few weeks, but they have set no date.