Huzzah for Bill and Mary Beck
Glenn says that they originally lived in Mount Vernon, Wash., where his father owned a bakery. A mall opened up and the town’s business district was dying. The Beck’s discovered another town called Leavenworth, in the Cascade Mountains, that was modeled like a German village. It was love at first sight.
Bill Beck knew that his town had to change the way they did business. He decided that Leavenworth was a great town of people and had done a terrific job of preserving their heritage; why couldn’t Mount Vernon? The state of Washington didn’t know much about Colonial history, but it was named after the first President’s beloved home, Mount Vernon.
This was in 1973, Glenn notes; the Bicentennial was coming up. Bill thought they could make something really unique since the bicentennial was coming up, people were thinking about the history of our country, and they were in the state named after the great president, in a town named after his home.
“Why not brick the industries and put in, gas lamps and make the town into a little colonial town, a little Williamsburg?” Glenn relates.
That was his parents’ idea. About half the town liked it. The rest of the town didn’t. “Oh, we don't need to do that.”
“I remember my father standing in his shop over the bakery bench in the back with flour and icing all over him,” Glenn says, “and he would look at the jeweler and he would look at the guy who ran the Varsity Shop (the tailor?) and he would look at these guys and they would be, ‘Bill, Bill, it's temporary. It's not that bad. The mall is a fad.’”
But Bill Beck replied, “Things have changed. We're in this together. If we don't change, if we don't do something different, we're not going to survive.”
So the Beck’s formed a Colonial marching unit. Mary Beck made their uniforms by hand and they would march in parades.
“We marched in the Rose Bowl Parade in 1976. We were the first non-band marching unit ever to participate in the Rose Bowl Parade,” Glenn notes.
Glenn’s story stopped there. He promised he would finish it the next day. He may have told the amazing second half of the story on radio. But since I’m unable to listen to his radio program and he didn’t mention it on TV, I went to his bio to fill in some of the blanks.
What he said further was that the Militia Unit was the reason he discourages the Tea Parties from dressing up in costume. I can only read his transcripts, but it sounds like he was disparaging the notion. Born in 1964, he would have been 9 years old when his parents formed the unit, and 12 years old during the Bicentennial, on the brink of adolescence. Kids don’t like to dress up other than on Halloween. It doesn’t sound like he enjoyed it or understood it. We all know how kids that age are – they want to fit in. And authentic Colonial costumes are generally woolen. Think very hot on a summer’s day.
Apparently, according to the bio, the marching unit brought the Becks together, but the mother’s alcoholism drove them apart. Bill Beck filed for divorce in 1977, when Glenn was 13. Two years later, his mother was boating on Puget Sound with another man when something went wrong and they both drowned. Initially, the police ruled it an accident. But a later investigation raised the suspicion of suicide. Glenn himself believes it was a suicide.
Glenn broke his promise that he would never tell the Tea Parties again what to do. But the story may shed some light on why he’s so unhappy about Colonial uniforms and the notion that Tea Party people would don them.
I remember watching that Rose Bowl Parade and I distinctly recall the announcer stating it was the first time such a unit was admitted into the parade. I was instantly inspired, as I suspect many other Americans were. Glenn’s father was a true American hero, patriot, and leader. That is not the sound of a fan sucking up to a celebrity; it’s the truth. He saw something that had to be done to preserve America, and he did it, changing his town’s look and putting his best foot forward (and his kids’) to demonstrate that love of country.
Perhaps it seemed silly, even mortifying, to the 13 year old Glenn. But to those of us with fresh memories of the Sixties and then the early Seventies, it was an inspiration. Bill Beck, though no one knew his name, was an American hero, and so was Glenn’s mother. He knew something had to be done to preserve our country, its heritage, and its future. Putting his best foot forward, Bill, with his family and friends in tow, demonstrated their love for America.
A shop owner out in Washington recently sent Glenn an e-mail with a picture of the uniform coat Mary made for her husband.
“Dear Mr. Beck,” she wrote, “I don't know if this is yours or not, but it has your father's name on it. It says Bill Beck inside, and it says Mt. Vernon, Wash., and I happened to have found it. I'm in the vintage clothing business, and I happened to be going through all of these clothes to see what I was going to buy or not for my shop. I didn't really look at it. I just picked it up and I thought, ‘Wow, this is really unique. What is this?’ I looked at the stitching on it. I looked at the way it was done and I thought somebody really spent a lot of time on this and this was really made with love and it was made by hand. So I threw it into a big bag and when I got home and I was going through it for my shop, I really looked at it and I was looking at the stitching. I opened up the inside and the label said: ‘For the wardrobe of Bill Beck; The Varsity Shop.’”
The vintage clothier returned the jacket, free of charge, to Glenn.
Looking it over, Glenn says, “This was taken from one of my father's jackets. My dad only had one suit. My mother took the label out of the suit jacket and sewed it into the Colonial uniform jacket. This jacket was made by my mother. She took and she made the patterns. She was so amazing. She made the patterns. She looked at books and looked at old colonial uniforms and made a pattern and then made this by hand and she made all of the uniforms for this little colonial militia thing that my parents started.”
Glenn stopped his story there, saying that he was flying the shop owner into New York next week to finish the story, which he promises is already. That “little thing” was a pebble thrown into a water that created wide rings, in my humble opinion.
“It's a teaching mechanism. It's to show you what Obama is doing,” he says.
I don’t know. Maybe it’s me. I think it already is an amazing, inspiring story, without Obama and whatever he’s trying to do. I’m more impressed by what Bill and Mary Beck did, and Glenn did, reluctantly.
Three cheers for Bill and Mary Beck (RIP)! Average people with an enormous amount of courage, determination, and love for their country. If we have anything to “learn,” it’s by their example.