Former Pickerington Band Director Mike Sewell to be Honored at Rose Parade

In memory of a beloved band leader, a Pickerington foundation will bring a band of band directors to the Rose Parade.

Richard Ades
Band director Matt Guirreri leads a class at Pickerington Lakeview Junior High School.

Fans of the Funky Winkerbean comic strip probably know that Harry L. Dinkle, the self-described “World’s Greatest Band Director,” was invited to march in the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day. What they might not know is that Harry—or, more precisely, 275 of his real-life counterparts—was given this opportunity thanks to a Pickerington educator. Or, rather, thanks to his widow. 

Michael Sewell spent 34 years leading the band at Pickerington High School Central. When he died in 2017, just two years after his retirement, his wife wanted to find a way to honor the man who’d taught his students to be both good musicians and contributing members of society. Pickerington band members “do a lot of work for the Ronald McDonald House,” Karen Sewell says, citing just one of the charitable efforts her husband instituted. 

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Equally determined to honor the band director was Jim Kuebler, the father of five children who studied under him. “They learned a lot more from Mike Sewell than music,” Kuebler says, including teamwork, generosity and the ability to set and achieve goals. 

Together, Karen Sewell and Kuebler launched the Michael D. Sewell Memorial Foundation and immediately began looking for ways the nonprofit could benefit music educators and students. Because Mike Sewell took Pickerington bands to the Rose Parade four times, they soon set their sights on Pasadena’s annual celebration, first by handing out annual cash prizes to participating bands that were active in community service. Then they hatched a really big idea. 

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“What would you think of doing a float?” Karen Sewell recalls Kuebler asking. This seemed like a good way to honor Mike Sewell and all band directors who work long hours to teach and inspire their students. A major hitch, they realized, was that Rose Parade floats cost a quarter-million dollars or more, but they solved this problem with a second big idea: Invite up to 300 band directors to march along with the float, which would be paid for from a portion of their participation fees. 

The ambitious plan was advertised all over the country with help from Funky Winkerbean creator and Ohio native Tom Batiuk, who supplied a promotional image of Harry Dinkle and even featured the project in his strip. The band of band directors came together to march in the 2021 Rose Parade, though their participation was postponed to 2022 due to COVID-19. Ohio State will face off against Utah at the Rose Bowl on New Year’s Day. 

Among the educators to be featured are two former students of Mike Sewell who now teach in Pickerington: Matt Guirreri, a band director for grades 6–12, and his wife, Janelle, an elementary music teacher and one of the handful of participants to be honored with a place on the float. Janelle Guirreri says she well remembers Sewell’s efforts to teach community service, especially when he took a band to the 2001 Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade just weeks after the 9/11 attack. Each student was assigned to write a letter of condolence to the family of a firefighter or police officer who’d died in the attack, and to march in that hero’s honor. 

“That has always stuck with my husband and I both,” she says, “that attitude of giving back.” 

This story is from the January 2022 issue of Columbus Monthly.