Mr. Van in tune with music royalty
Leavenworth's upcoming John Philip Sousa Star Spangled Spectacular is hitting close to home for one Tonganoxie resident.
Charles Van Middlesworth III, Tonganoxie High School band director, will not only be performing as a musician at the Sousa concert on Saturday, but through the process has learned more about his family's genealogy.
This isn't the first time Van Middlesworth, known as Mr. Van to his students, has made the connection that he could be related to John Philip Sousa's wife, Jane Van Middlesworth Bellis. But with this recent participation in a Sousa band, he said he thought it was time he took a closer look.
"Van Middlesworth is such an unusual name. There are not very many so I know that every single person who has that last name is related," he said.
Van Middlesworth's research began when he was asked by nationally acclaimed band conductor Robert Foster to perform in a concert of Sousa's most famous marches.
The two-day event, honoring the band leader and composer known as the "March King", is being organized by the Heritage Center, 109 Delaware St., Leavenworth. Van Middlesworth will be performing at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 19 at Warren Middle School in Leavenworth. The band will play Sousa marches and be dressed in period clothing to enhance the performance.
During his research, Van Middlesworth hasn't been able to trace the exact bloodline of his connection to Jane Van Middlesworth Bellis but he has discovered some interesting facts. He said he's learned that Jane Van Middlesworth Bellis was born in February of 1862 or 1863 to Henry Bellis and Louise Hyle Cornish.
She acquired the name "Van Middlesworth" when her father decided to name his daughter after his mother, Jane Van Middlesworth, which technically makes "Van Middlesworth" her middle name. Jane resided in Philadelphia until she was married to John Philip Sousa on Dec. 30, 1879.
Van Middlesworth said he's learned a lot about the family but that the missing link was getting past Jane Van Middlesworth Bellis' grandparents. He said he wants to continue to do research in hopes of discovering a closer connection.
"I think it's really neat," he said of his family connection to Sousa. "He's one of the greatest march writers of his time and he did so much stuff. It's kind of neat to be able to at least say there was a Van Middlesworth who married him."
This will be the first Sousa concert Van Middlesworth has played in. While the tenor sax player said he thought it was neat that he has the opportunity to play music from someone connected to his own family, he said it was the quality of conductor and other musicians that has him most excited.
"Mr. Foster really likes to have really quality musicians and good people in his band," he said. "I'm really excited to be a part of it because the musicians in this band are the best professional musicians that I know."
The two-day event will kick off at 6:30 p.m. Friday with "The Times of John Philip Sousa" dinner. The cost of a single ticket is $10. Those in attendance will see historical performers acting out characters who would have been alive during Sousa's time as well as presentations from a couple "Harvey Girls" who currently live in Leavenworth.
Scotty Brezgiel, chairwoman of the event's planning committee, said it was going to be an interesting night. She said it would be perfect for anyone who loved to learn about history.
The event continues from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday with a "Bands in the Park" at Leavenworth Lansing Park, featuring area marching bands. Following the performances, visitors are invited to eat lunch at the C.W. Parker Carousel Courtyard. Brezgiel said that all museums in Leavenworth would be open that afternoon as well as shops throughout downtown.
The Sousa concert will begin at 4 p.m. Tickets will be available in advance or at the door. Adults will cost $10 and students $5. For more information about the event or to purchase tickets, call the Heritage Center at (913) 682-2122.