Marching for God through Lutheran Vanguard

According to dictionary.com, the word vanguard is defined as “the foremost division or the front part of the army, advance guard.” How fitting that the summer marching band whose mission statement includes the slightly modified words of Matthew 5:16: “Let our light shine before men, that we may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven,” is labeled Lutheran Vanguard of Wisconsin (LVW).

LVW is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Originally the Fox River Valley Lutheran Youth Band, LVW was established in 1978 “to provide a musical marching experience for the students of three Lutheran high schools located in Wisconsin” (lutheranvanguard.org). Currently, an average of 60 students from nine Lutheran high schools participate.

Over the years, Vanguard has marched all over the United States and Canada, providing its members an opportunity to compete, develop their musicality, and grow in their faith. Former members now serve as directors, raising up a new generation of student musicians and leaders. “LVW is unique in that it combines the physical, mental, and artistic disciplines in a very intense and competitive activity that brings kids together,” says Charles Ungemach, a current LVW director and 2010 LVW graduate. “Being able to take a group of teenagers and mold them into a cohesive unit is not only an efficient way to build a core of young Christian leaders, but also to raise and train the next generation of Christian parents, pastors, teachers, lay workers, church musicians, and saints.”

James Neujahr, the current LVW executive director, marched with the band during its first three years of existence and has been on staff since 1987. He remembers the first large band tour in 1980 to Wyoming, Colorado, and South Dakota. “Many of the friends I met are still my friends today,” he says. As a director, he recalls “the numerous parade championships we have won from Massachusetts to Maine to Georgia to St. Louis to Traverse City, but my real favorite memories involve seeing the band grow and mature each year.”

He continues, “Many of our LVW members have gone into the teaching ministry. But I think that the lessons learned—work ethic, perseverance, team work, goal-setting, striving for perfection, and ‘letting our light shine’—have been beneficial no matter what vocation they went into after high school.”

Current Vanguard members agree. “Apart from making lifelong friends, I now have a greater appreciation and love for music,” says Jennifer Prillwitz, a junior at Fox Valley Lutheran High School, Appleton, Wis. “Vanguard has also taught me to work hard and to push myself to be my best in anything I participate in. We march for God, and I know that everything I do is for the glory of God.”

LVW will celebrate 40 years sporting new uniforms in a busy summer schedule of parades and field shows in Wisconsin and Michigan. An alumni band also will be part of the Appleton Flag Day parade in June.

And at the end of each event, the group will close with the common doxology. “This song of praise embodies the mission and ministry of LVW—to praise God through our music and our actions,” says Joel Ungemach, a current LVW director and 1985 LVW graduate. “What an honor to wear that LVW cross on our uniforms and to perform to his glory!”


Ann Ponath


For more information and this summer’s schedule, visit lutheranvanguard.org.


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Author: Ann Ponath
Volume 104, Number 4
Issue: April 2017

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