This is not a spinoff of the famed Marvel character, but 26-year-old Jonathan ‘Thor’ McLaughlin is on his way to becoming a local hero.
The Bensalem native has had more than his fair share of struggles, including losing his father to pancreatic cancer while on six months old. Twelve years ago however, Thor started down a path that would ultimately shape his life for the better.
“I went to Bensalem High School which was down the street from the old Uptown String Band clubhouse and knew some kids who were in the band. They played a lot of complex jazz and Dixieland music which really interested and challenged me as a musician.”
It didn’t take long before Thor’s eyes were opened to what it was really like being involved with the Mummers.
“It was very unique; there is almost a subculture to it. There are parades and events you get to travel to and you are almost a celebrity when you travel to certain parts of the East Coast. I remember going up to Rhode Island and people just went nuts. It is pretty surreal.”
In 2011, Thor achieved two major accomplishments in Mummers culture, and was only 19-years-old at the time.
“In 2011 I won the Presidential Achievement Award for the first time, which is selected by the president of Uptown String Band. Earlier that year, I also became the Music Director for the Uptown String Band. It was really nice to get recognition for stepping up and taking over the position. Then in 2015, I won that same award again for my role in organizing most of the music and producing the production itself.”
It does not take long to see Thor’s dedication to his band, but the dedication does not stem from a wanting for recognition. This drive has blossomed from his desire to do the best possible job for his second family; the Uptown String Band.
“It was great having the band support me. There were a few times I couldn’t afford groceries and they would help, no questions asked. I remember one winter I couldn’t even afford oil to heat my house and three of the band members, without me knowing or even telling them about it, all pitched in to pay for my oil bill so I could have heat. People in the band know me so well, that even though I don’t show or talk about the struggle I was facing, they somehow know to be there for me.”
Not only have members of the Uptown String Band been able to support Thor in financial means, but they have also taken a mentor role in his life. One member in particular became a huge influence for the young band leader.
“I didn’t really know what I wanted to do and it changed every year. One of the greatest influences I had was Jonathan Bojarski. He is a genius sax player and Jon was playing all this great music and playing with artists while still having a career as a radiologist. It’s because of him that I realized I could keep music and the Mummers as a passion and a huge part of my life without making it a career choice. That idea keeps music a source of fun and joy for me instead of a job.”
If there is one thing that Thor maintains about the Mummers, and his band in particular, is that there is far more to being a Mummer then just performing on New Year’s Day. There is also a sense that members across the organization are tired of being judged in a negative light resulting from last year’s parade.
“I think that what is really interesting is that most people only see us one day a year on New Year’s Day, and they don’t know we are preparing every other day of the year. We have people ranging from 12 to 74 years old that come from all walks of life; this includes contractors, doctors, and lawyers. Yet people still typecast us because of the actions of a few dumb people when at least with my group, nobody is malicious and they are all great people.”
Part of the Mummers culture is doing things for charity. Kim Meehan, one of the captains for the Two Street Stompers Comic Brigade , said they had just finished raising $1,000 for breast cancer and were brainstorming for another project when Miller suggested the Purses Full of Hope.
Bill Mulligan, a proud member of Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars Fancy Brigade, has put a new spin on the meaning of Thanksgiving.
While others began preparing their annual turkey dinner with all the trimmings, Mulligan and his fellow Mummers spent the first three weeks of November collecting household items, bathroom and kitchen supplies, nonperishable items, clothing, and much more to give to the Philadelphia Veterans House, to help homeless veterans others in need who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.
Mulligan began this initiative three years ago with a handful of groups. Since then, the operation has grown – in fact, this year 38 Mummers groups participated in the drive!
“This is our way of saying ‘Thanks’ to those who have served our country and who helped protect our freedom,” said Mulligan. “A lot of guys come back from serving overseas and face problems trying to readapt to civilian society. The Philadelphia Veterans House does a great job to reach out to them and help them get the social, medical and other support services they need.”
Mulligan says all the Mummers organizations began collecting donated items on November 1st. The campaign will ran through November 19th, when all the donations were brought to a central location at the Bill McIntyre’s Shooting Stars Club House at 1931 South 3rd St.
On Saturday morning, November 19th, the at 8:00 a.m., Mummers from the various divisions and brigades gathered at the Shooting Stars Club House to load all the supplies onto a truck and deliver them to the Philadelphia Veterans House at 4108 Baltimore Ave. in West Philadelphia.
The scene was captured by several local TV stations, as well as KYW Newsradio
In addition, Mulligan and his team arranged with a local restaurant, Tollman Joe’s, to provide a holiday feast at the Comfort House to 150 veterans who would have nowhere else to go on the night before Thanksgiving,
“It’s a terrific effort on the part of all the Mummers organizations and the local sponsors and a great way to honor veterans in need,” said Mulligan.
PHILADELPHIA – A number of different Philadelphia Mummers groups came together Friday, September 16, at the Eddie O’Malley (E.O.M.) Athletic Association with the aim of raising scholarship money for suicide awareness.
It was only a few years ago that tragedy struck the Mummers organization twice in just over one year. Michael Kubiak, a police officer and member of the Avalon String Band, and Sean Francis McCloskey, high school student and member of the Mummers JHJ Saints Club, each committed suicide, a few months apart. Their deaths were a blow to the Mummers community and were the inspiration behind the creation of, “The Fundraising Committee in Memory of Michael Kubiak and Sean Francis McCloskey.”
Since its start in 2012, the organization has raised more than $15,000 for scholarships and this year was no different. The fundraising dinner enabled the organization to provide two students with $2,500 scholarship each. This money enables the two students to attend Kubiak’s and McCloskey’s alma maters Roman Catholic High School and Mercy Career & Technical High School.
Students who have applied in the past were required to write an essay reflecting on topics such as depression, bullying, suicide and other thoughts that could make them feel alone. This year’s essay instructed applicants to talk about the increase in bullying and cyberbullying and it can affect student, their friend, and their families. Also, they were asked what they might do to create a more positive school environment and work toward bullying and suicide prevention.
Nobody involved in the Mummers wants members of their community to go through the loss of someone close due to suicide. It is because of this that the Mummers are taking the issue seriously and doing whatever they can to open up a discussion and raise awareness.
In addition to the dinner, the Mummers work alongside the fundraising committee and sponsor an annual kickball tournament. The funds raised at the tournament also go directly towards suicide prevention.
The fundraising committee also worked together on a community event moderated by Minding Your Mind, which offered both education and support systems for those affected. This is one of the many ways in which the Mummers and the community have come together for an important cause.
As part of the dinner, a group of approximately 20 Mummers from the Fralinger String Band, Avalon String Band, and other Mummers groups, performed to the delight of friends and family of Kubiak and McCloskey to help preserve the memory of the two men.
A Benefit for cancer survivors took place on May 7th at the Thomas R Melborne ballroom on Delaware ave. raising more than $350,000 for cancer research.
Mummers Band Raises Their Instruments to Salute Veterans
“I went on the 2009 trip which happened to fall on June 6, the anniversary of D-Day. All the veterans being led into the World War II Memorial area got a standing ovation. That was very special.”
This is one of the many memories that Fralingers member Nick McCann, 39, has of the South Jersey Honor Flight trip. The 2017 trip will be the seventh trip the Mummers String Band has participated in the program. Jenn McCann, who helps organize the trip to Washington D.C., explains how the Fralingers came to be involved.
“It started in 2010 when I was talking to my husband, who is a member of the Fralingers. I told him that we (SJ Honor Flights) were looking for a way to do something special for the vets before they left on the buses. For the first year, we had 10 band members come out and it has only grown from there. That first year, we completely surprised the vets with our second performance as they got on the buses.”
The morning event provides the veterans and opportunity to meet while enjoying a delicious breakfast. During the meal, the members of the Fralingers provide an orchestrated soundtrack to this highly emotional experience. While the breakfast performance is fun for McCann and rest of the band, it’s the procession to the buses where the Fralingers deliver.
“When we surprise the veterans on the way out to the buses, they love it. I was approached by spectators who told me they enjoyed the service. I remember one guy that was in the Coast Guard, and when we started playing “Semper Paratus” he just lit up. He was thrilled we played his song since he felt most people forget about Coast Guard veterans. It’s one of those moments you can never forget.”
For McCann, it is moments like these that make him proud to be a member of the Fralingers organization. The string band is about to celebrate its 106th anniversary and has recently been on a hot streak during the Mummers Parade. He makes no excuses for admitting that’s one of the reasons for joining the band.
“I was a member of a couple of other bands, and I had a bunch of friends in the Fralingers. They have always had a reputation as being a top band. In 2003 we won our first of eight 1st place prizes, which is a record, and we won in 2015 as well.”
With all the accolades and praise the band has recently received, one would think that their egos would grow, but not the Fralingers. Their desire to help those in the community is stronger than ever. With the 2017 Honor Flight trip around the corner, the Fralingers are sending approximately 20 members to play for the veterans. They even turned the trip into a “point’s event”, which means that those wishing to participate in the New Year’s Day parade can earn points toward that end by performing for the veterans.
However, Nick still knows what the true importance of the annual trip to D.C. is; the veterans.
“We are not used to living in a world where we are unsure of our safety on a daily basis. To talk to these guys who would go over to Europe or Korea, and not talk to their families for weeks and months, it makes you appreciate your life that much more.”