Majorette Betty Lambert, 79, leads the Ressurection Band along Main St (Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette via
Newscom …HARMONY, Pa.—Majorette Betty Lambert leads the Resurrection Band, twirling batons between her legs and above her head, and stopping several times along the route to perform the splits. The 79-year-old recently gave up cartwheels but still twirls knives, and fire-batons when it isn't windy.
Ms. Lambert, who threw a baton when she was in high school, then married and had children, took the sport up again in her 40s after seeing a small classified ad in the newspaper looking for people who wanted to start a marching band. The group called itself the Resurrection Band because members resurrected their instruments from attics. Ms. Lambert didn't play an instrument but offered majorette services. Cartwheels and baton twirling are like riding a bike, she found. "You don't forget." Since Ms. Lambert is naturally limber, the splits require only regular stretching and some exercises in the weeks before a performance.
The Resurrection Band performs mainly at parades in western Pennsylvania, the latest being the Fourth of July in Zelienople, although the musicians no longer march but ride on a float. "We're getting older," says Marlene Domhoff, a 74-year-old flutist for the band but not the oldest member; that title belongs to an 80-year-old snare drummer.
Ms. Lambert, though, marched the whole route as she has done for 32 years, then came around again on a float, where she was dressed as the Statue of Liberty. It is one of her 41 costumes, which include cats for Halloween parades, a Rudolph for Christmas and a Native American for the Horse Trading Days festival. For that she wears a feather headdress her late husband, Pete, found at a truck stop. Many of the costumes are homemade. Her husband, who died seven years ago, made a Statue of Liberty torch out of a table leg and Tiki lamp. The crown is a plastic milk crate that they heated and bent into shape. After 9/11, she appeared as Miss Liberty eight times in two weeks.
Most majorettes retire their batons after high school or college, says Bonnie Kupp, who is with Drum Majorettes of America, which holds clinics and competitions around the country for various age groups. The oldest active majorette she knows is a 37-year-old woman from Tennessee who competes internationally. Another national twirling group, the US Twirling Association, says twirling is a great sport for all ages, adding that some retirement communities offer twirling classes. "It's a great aerobic activity," says Anna Osborn Dolan, of the twirling association, which has played host to world championships.
Ms. Lambert has never twirled competitively, although she did enter a Classic Beauty USA competition in the 1980s, for women 39 and older, and won a trophy in the talent category for twirling. She prefers performing on her own, too, rather than in a group. "If I make a mistake and go left instead of right, no one knows," says Ms. Lambert, who improvises her choreography as she marches. "I go with the beat of the music"—which typically consists of patriotic songs, big-band pieces and the "Pennsylvania Polka."
Her four children grew up watching their mother march. "I thought this would be a phase she would go through," says her youngest daughter, Kim Marburger, who never twirled but did master the unicycle. Ms. Marburger and her daughters walk along on the sidewalks during parades, carrying water bottles, a variety of batons and tiki fluid to light the fire batons. They help with costume changes. It was so hot Independence Day that the green Statue of Liberty makeup was running down Ms. Lambert's face, and she had to keep cool compresses under her arms and at her feet.
Ms. Marburger tells her mother to take it easy. "I say, 'Mom, please keep it to two or three splits,' " says Ms. Marburger. Invariably, though, the crowd, four deep along the sidewalk and having seen Ms. Lambert every year for the past three decades, calls for more. Ms. Lambert obliges. This year, she did about nine or 10 splits. People stop her in stores and tell her she looks familiar. "I'm the old lady who does the splits," she tells them.
Ms. Lambert updates her routine to keep it fresh. Several years ago, she took classes to learn how to throw fire batons and, later, at the age of 76, took up knives. She had only one mishap when the yarn tassel on her boot caught fire. "She's an inspiration," said Jennifer Dimit Baldacci of Jen's Academy of Rhythm & Moves, who said Ms. Lambert attended her classes in 2009 and performed with all her other students in the recital that year. The theme was "TVLand" and Ms. Lambert twirled hoop batons and knives to the "Andy Griffith Show" theme song. "People went crazy," says Ms. Baldacci. "She stole the show."
Twirling isn't easy. It requires good hand-eye coordination, especially with multiple batons, and upper-body strength to propel heavy knife batons, which are often hooked together, high in the air. Ms. Lambert credits her longevity to good nutrition and keeping active.
A beautician and graduate of the Victoria Mannequin Modeling School in Pittsburgh, she continues to cut hair and give permanents to longtime customers of Betty's Beauty Salon, located in a small building next to her house, and makes house calls to her customers who no longer drive. Her other business, Betty Lambert's Picnic Shelter, which has a swimming pool and well-kept shelter pavilion, is a favorite for graduation parties and wedding receptions. She served as secretary of the local business and professional women's club and was named outstanding citizen of the year in 1993 by the local chamber of commerce.
Tim Sapienza, who retired after 32 years as chief of the Harmony Volunteer Fire company, was just a boy when he first saw Ms. Lambert, then in high school, twirling for the Harmony Harmonettes in 1949. That band and others, including the Butler Flame, were sponsored by local fire departments, which have since stopped organizing marching bands. "They quit, but Betty is still at it," says Mr. Sapienza who was particularly impressed to see her perform splits and twirl the baton for one length of the parade and then return as Miss Liberty. "She held that torch up the entire length of the parade," he said.
Ms. Lambert said she hopes to do it again next summer