BATESVILLE — When he started playing the trumpet in fifth grade, Don Bill never imagined it would lead to what he does today, playing for military, church and other events.
The Dover resident joined the Navy and started playing in its band program in 1969. “We were stationed out of the Virginia Beach area .... Our Navy show band toured Europe, mainly in the Mediterranean. We did cruises and were always entertaining the troops.”
After being in the service for four years, he started school at the University of Cincinnati under the GI Bill. “My father asked me what I was going to do for money, and said, ‘I want you to check out the Navy Reserves.’ I didn’t do it until I received a phone call from the chief of the Naval Reserve unit. He asked me to be the bugler for the military ceremonies and playing of “Taps” for the deceased veterans. I started that and stayed with it for two years.
“Later I found out about an Army Reserve band stationed in Fort Thomas, Ky. .... (and) went over and literally jumped ship. I went from the Navy to the Army. It was just a wonderful time. I met a great bunch of guys. From that band, we started our own band (Marksberry Big Band) commercially, and we would play at wedding receptions. We also have a trio.”
The St. Joseph American Legion Post 464 lifetime member has performed at events “primarily around the greater Cincinnati area. Most of the funerals are around here locally. In Cincinnati, it’s mainly ceremonies which would involve the military, like Veterans Day. I was at a Sept. 11 ceremony at La Salle High School, my alma mater .... I play at the First Presbyterian Church, Aurora, and St. John’s Catholic Church, Dover.”
Bill has also been a member of a local band for many years. “The Eureka Band was introduced to me by Fritz Turner, who was a dear friend. He invited me one Friday evening out to Liberty Park, just to sit and sight-read a few marches. Boy, did I get my eyes opened.
“I’m so thankful to (the late) Fritz, who kept the band going even when it dwindled to a small number of musicians. I think Batesville is so fortunate to have a gem like that. Iím so grateful to the folks in it for their dedication and hard work continuing this wonderful community band.”
He encourages young musicians to also become members. Eric Stauffer, Batesville High School band director, “has done a wonderful job getting his students involved in the Eureka Band, and the band has grown.”
The veteran also recalls, “When I started school at UC, my English professor was Bob Terry, Batesville. Bob introduced himself to the class, stating he also played music on the weekends. He and Bill Meyer played with the Terry Meyer Combo out of Batesville. We talked, and he invited me to go along and sit in. I did, and the rest is history.
“We would go on to perform for many years at various events. One of the regular performances would be at the Batesville Eagles, followed by 'Breakfast with Beer' at the Brown Bag Cafe/Restaurant."
The Cincinnati native credits his parents (Al and Loraine Bill) for getting him involved in music. "There was a demonstration at school, and I liked the trumpet the best, and they supported me on that .... My mother used to buy albums by Bobby Hackett and Al Hirt, and I would try to play along with them. As bad as I sounded, my mother would always say how wonderful it was."
The Southeastern Indiana Musicians Hall of Fame member remembers how he used to get discouraged with the instrument because of "playing songs over and over. Dad said, 'Give it a little more time.' Thank God he gave me that piece of advice because music is such a big part of my life today." Other family members are also musically inclined. His brother plays the trumpet, and one of his three sisters plays the guitar. Wife Kris, who is the First Presbyterian Church, Aurora, choir director, ìalso supports me big time."
The Donald A. Bill Agency owner stresses, "It's nice having served in both branches of the service because I can wear both uniforms" as a Navy musician chief and Army sergeant 1st class. In those positions, "I enjoy hopefully bringing to others a sense of solemn patriotism which our country needs, especially today."
Diane Raver can be contacted at 812-934-4343, Ext. 114; or diane.raver@ batesvilleheraldtribune.com.